Ogle Design - The David Ogle and Tom Karen Story

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Ogle Design - The David Ogle and Tom Karen Story

David Ogle

Ogle Design

United Kingdom
David Ogle (1922-1962) was best known for his charisma, design skills and, above all, his great personality. Educated at Rugby School he briefly studied Law at the University of Oxford. In 1940 he joined the Fleet Air Arm. He flew the Supermarine Seafire in operations in North Africa, the Mediterranean and in the south of France. He rose to the rank of Lt Commander and was awarded the DSC and the MBE.

At the conclusion of the war he attended the Central School of Art and Design in London, studying industrial design. After working as an industrial designer at Murphy Radios, David Ogle founded his own industrial design company in 1954 at Stevenage, Hertfordshire, one of the first-generation new towns of post war Britain. There the studio set about designing radios, heaters, solid-fuel stoves, exhibition stands and packaging; in fact, any shape that they could sell to anyone. One of the best known designs was the Bush radio TR-82.

Tom Karen

He did well with studies and finished shapes for Murphy radio and TV sets after training at an industrial design school, and in 1959 expanded to employ four people and a secretary. One of the four was Tom Karen, a Czech who later took over the running of the company. In 1959/60 the company moved to Letchworth, Herts (UK), the original Garden City. Here, David produced the 1.5-litre Ogle Riley, his first car, and also set up a model shop where full-sized models of radios, cookers, and anything else anybody wanted were made.

David Ogle Associates

In those days, if a British firm wanted a car body styled, .the only people they knew who could do it were in Italy, but David was to change all that. Tom Karen had meanwhile gone to work for Hotpoint and Phillips when David Ogle Ltd came into being to design and build motor-cars. David Ogle Associates, the first company, had been run with private money, but when David Ogle Ltd arrived in 1960, money also came from millionaire motor-racing fan John Ogier and Sir John Whitmore, one-time saloon-car champion and Mini racer. Ogier remained involved but Sir John later took off for lusher pastures in sunny climates and fled the motoring scene.

The Ogle Mini

The pretty Ogle Mini, was launched in 1962 but in May the same year David Ogle was killed when driving a lightweight version to Brands Hatch for a race. Tom Karen was asked by John Ogier to come back from Phillips and run the show, particularly the design side for which he had a proven flair. Now the third company, Ogle Design Ltd, was formed from the old Associates company, and produced 80 Ogle Minis at the old grain mill which was their office/factory in Letchworth before the project sunk. There were several reasons for the failure. First, British Leyland did not like selling them the Mini bits, so Ogle had to resort to all kinds of stunts like buying Mini Vans complete and throwing away the bodies just to get the sub-frames and mechanicals. Then they had trouble making them, and they had trouble selling them.

The worst blow was that after all their troubles they were losing money on the baby GTs. Tom Karen, who had become the father of the company after David's death and was probably the best known and most successful man in this field in England, was not a native Briton. He was born in what was then Austria but became the new-born Czechoslovakia invented by the Allies after World War 1, and became a citizen of a country which had not previously existed. He was born in Vienna in 1926 and went to school in Bmo. His father had a brick and cement business, and all the family moved out ahead of the Germans in 1939.

Tom Karen's father succeeded in reaching England while the family wandered around Vichy France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal until 1942 when 16-year-old Tom got to England by courtesy of an ex-KLM air crew. Tom had an engineering bent allied to his artist's flair, and studied at Loughborough College (UK), taking aircraft engineering. He then moved on to Hunting Percival, makers of the Proctor and the Provost trainer. Tom then moved on to the Air Registration Board which regimented matters of airworthiness. He is quotaed at the time as saying 'I knew then that I wanted to do industrial design, so I enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts'.

Ogle Mini
Ogle Mini - it was based on the Ogle SX1000.

Rear view of the Ogle Mini
Rear view of the Ogle Mini.

Ogle Mini
Later versions of the Ogle Mini were powered by a 1275cc engine. The production rade of the bulbous cars rose to six per week before they were phased out.

Ogle Design Triplex GTS
The Ogle Design Triplex GTS, which was based on the Reliant Scimitar GTE. It was once owned by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

Top view of the Ogle Design Triplex GTS
Top view of the Ogle Design Triplex GTS.

The rear tail light treatment of the Ogle Design Aston Martin Sotheby Special
The rear tail light treatment of the Ogle Design Aston Martin Sotheby Special.

Ford of Dagenham

He was then hired by Ford of Dagenham where he spent four years styling and designing. During this time he won the 1958 IBCAM prize, awarded by the Institute of Carriage and Automobile Manufacturers for car design, for a car called the Rascal, which had a divided screen, half of which opened with each door. It was at this point that Tom Karen moved to Ogle, where he produced the shapes for which the company had become famous, like the Reliant GTE. He later became managing director. While the Ogle Mini was dying Tom produced a shape to go on the chassis of the then-current Daimler SP250 chassis which was at the 1963 London motor show. This went from unfinished clay to motor-show model between May and October, which must be a record when some shapes are five years getting themselves born.

The Reliant TW9

A wealthy cosmetic manufacturer commissioned the device, and the theory was that six cars would be made, one for him and five for friends, and the costs split between the batch, but in the event only two ever saw the tarmac. About this time too the company began to be involved with Reliant, and also with Plaxton, luxury coach makers, both of whom became long-term customers. Ogle provided them with designs for interiors of coaches. The first Reliant vehicle was a commercial van on three wheels, the TW9, which was still being made in Greece in 1975 as a milk float or a dustcart. The four-wheel Rebel economy car was also started at this time. This was a four-wheel version of the three-wheel Rebel, using the same door-handles and furniture.

Turkey's Anadol and the Reliant Triplex Special

Another project was the Otosan Anadol, made in Turkey. This was a Cortina-sized car with a big domestic content and a glassfibre body made by the Otosan company. Nothing was lost over the Daimler project, as the design was later adapted to fit the chassis of the Reliant Sabre, a Ford-engined sports car which was in production for some years. Then in 1965 came the Triplex Special, which was an advanced styling exercise from which sprang the Reliant GTE, considered very advanced in its day. The purpose of the Triplex, commissioned by the safety-glass firm, was to show off the best possible use of glass in a motor-car.

The Bond Bug

The vehicle was bought by the Duke of Edinburgh, who used it for two years and then sold it back to the company. He found himself somewhat conspicuous in the goldfish bowl. Then in 1968 came the launch of the Reliant GTE. With a new upswept rear side-window line, it made a big impression on the market and work began to flood into Ogle. Meanwhile they were still building Plaxton coach bodies and interiors, motor cycles, dumper trucks and other design work. Then 1970 was the year of the Bond Bug, an oddity on three wheels which looked like a dart and was supposed to wow the teenagers. The best Bug story was at the launch in Woburn Abbey grounds, where a journalist who nearly went into the roadside lake, and commented to the Bond man alongside that he kept his cool pretty well at the moment of truth. 'Ah well, Sir,' said the man, 'you see ... they float'.

The Aston Martin Sotheby Special

January 1972 saw the advent of the Sotheby Special, a UK£30,000 extravaganza with 22 tail and stop lights on an Aston Martin chassis. It was shown at the Geneva show in March albeit without an engine. There just had not been time to fit one, and there never was time. Tom Karen was proud of his use of glass, which was laid straight onto the top of the windscreen - the roof was partly glass - without any framing. Wills, the cigarette company, was impressed by the car and ordered a second one to be made in Embassy red-and-white livery for motor-racing promotion purposes.

The story goes that a wealthy middle-aged woman fell in love with the Sotheby Special and told her local garage to order one. No-one wanted to make it and she was quoted a price 'somewhere between £20,000 and £30',000'. 'Well,' she said, 'I have the money so just get on with making the car.' They did at a cost nearer the higher figure than the lower one, but it covered less than 3000 miles in several years and was eventually offered for sale again with a price tag of £35,000.

The Reliant Robin

Other design projects went on at Letchworth, including sleeper cabs for Motor Panels of Coventry. This-truck cab provided not only bunks but ventilation, bedside lamps, a washbasin, and orange cloth seats with tan trim. The three-wheel Reliant Robin which came on the market in 1973, began to be born around 1964 and was a long time in development before it reached the market. Truck cabs were also designed for Seddon, and at the Commercial Vehicle Show of 1974 came the Motor Panel MPO vehicle, which had a central seat for the driver with two passenger seats behind them on either side. This five-seater was intended for use as an airport vehicle or on desert rigs and had outstanding driver visibility.

The Meccano Mogul Range

Alongside the special vehicles like the Scimitar, from which the GTE sprang, design was still going steadily along in the fields of radio, domestic appliances, cookers, fridges, washing machines and heaters for Cannon, GEC, and others. An award was won for the best-selling Bush radio in India which sold a million, and for the Baron radio set. Toys were another featured product, and as Tom Karen had four children he got plenty of feed-back if his team got it wrong. They were proud of the Meccano Mogul range which competed with the American Tonka, leaders in toy trucks, and had new models at the 1975 Brighton Toy Fair. They made a display model thirteen times the size of the actual toy, which was an amusing promotional exercise.

Crash Test Dummies

Other designs and studies had been for computers, sack printing machines, copying machines, emergency ambulances, which were apparently badly laid out for their function, and even the infamous three-wheel invalid tricycles. Ogle were asked to look at these to see if they could be improved. Another Ogle speciality of which they were very proud was the production and design of crash-test dummies, as they were the only company in Europe involved in this; all the others came from the States. The Ogle dummy, which was special in having a pelvis and proper arm and leg joints, cost UK£2500 each. They also made child dummies for the 6 to 10 age group. This dummy project began in conjunction with MIRA, who were not satisfied with the imported ones. It took two years to make production prototypes which would have more lifelike behaviour in crashes.

There was also a 40-ton dumper-truck cab which was made full-size in the studio so that the controls could be arranged in the best possible way, and a levitating vehicle for experiments by Sussex University, as well as an urban transport project for Hawker Siddeley. The list was very nearly endless. If someone wanted an improved shape, a better package, or a more pleasing or functional envelope for an object large or small, the Ogle industrial-design team were there to make it or tell them how to make it. Tom Karen, who controlled the 40 staff of talented artists, refuted the general idea that only the Italians could design beautiful motor cars. 'The Italians are too much praised,' he said. 'People who don't understand design for transport - good design - think the Italians are superior to anyone else. There is a lot of ignorance. Some of the best and most creative design work comes from the States, and the Italians are every bit as much influenced by the US as we are.

In 1977, the business of design and development continued apace, and with such successful projects as the Lucas/Ogleraxi and Luke Skywalker's XP-34 Landspeeder (for George Lucas).

Ogle Design Products:

  • The iconic Chopper bicycle for Raleigh, launched in 1970
  • For the Birmingham Small Arms-Triumph motorcycles company
  • The BSA Rocket 3
  • The Triumph Trident T150
  • The Scimitar GTE, launched in 1968.
  • The Bond Bug, launched in 1970, available in orange and lime green.
  • The Robin, launched in 1973.
  • The Plaxton Panorama I of 1964
  • The Plaxton Panorama Elite of 1968
  • The Duple Dominant coach body launched in 1972
  • The Plaxton Paramount range of coach bodies, both 3200 and 3500 series
  • The Leyland Road Train range of Design Award winning truck cabs.
  • Luke Skywalker's XP-34 Landspeeder
  • The Anadol A1 (FW5) launched in 1966
Ogle Design Aston Martin Sotherby Special
An Ogle design study on the V8 Aston Martin was known as the Sotherby Special. It was a 3 seater, with the back passenger sitting sideways.
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