Joop “Jan” Tjaarda van Sterkenburg, who later changed his name to John Tjaarda, was born in the Netherlands in 1897. As a young man, he studied aeronautical design in the UK with Dr. Alexander Kleminand. He later served in the Dutch Air Force as a pilot and instructor.
In 1923, after moving to America and ending up in Los Angeles, California he worked for a time with Harley J. Earl at Don Lees’s coachbuilding and design shop. Tjaarda next moved to New York State and ended up at Locke & Company in Rochester, working on designs for the coachbuilder.
He next worked for Duesenberg and then for Harley J. Earl in the Art and Colour design section at GM in 1930. At about the same time, Tjaarda was also working on his own series of designs first started in the mid-1920s. He referred to them as the Sterkenburg cars (named after his home in the Netherlands ), the drawings above show two examples. Both of these concepts included a unibody structure and one was designed with a rear-mounted V8 engine, both were featured in the Modern Mechanics July, 1931 issue.
Tjaarda next moved to Briggs Manufacturing Company in Detroit where he was appointed the chief of body design. At Briggs he and Howard Bonbright designed a new concept car, which was a streamlined rear-engined design, similar to his earlier work. On November 1st 1933, Tjaarda’s name was listed as the inventor of the concept seen in the patent application photos for Briggs above, the patent was later granted in January of 1935.
Briggs was working on designs for the Chrysler Airflow when Edsel Ford approached the Company in 1933 for help in designing a new smaller-sized Lincoln that Ford was considering putting into production. Briggs responded with the Tjaarda-Bonbright design that was accepted and exhibited at the Ford Pavilion at the Century of Progress Exposition. It was followed up with a complete running and driving rear-engined prototype that was successfully tested in 1934.
The design was reengineered at the Ford Motor Company to make it suitable for production. It emerged as the innovative new 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, a more conventional front-engined car with a different hood and grille designed by Eugene T. Bob Gregorie under the direction of Edsel Ford.