My Car Quest

March 28, 2020

John Toom – Engineer, Artist and Inventor

John Toom had a dream to design and build his own car. It turns out he also had the drive and the skill to do so, unfortunately he died just short of finishing his Jaguar Aerodyne. Ron and Sonya Kellogg bought it and funded its completion. The Jaguar Aerodyne was sold in January 2020 at an auction in Arizona.

Below John’s wife, Jan Toom, writes a tribute to her husband.

Mike Gulett, Publisher

by Jan Toom –

From an early age, John Toom was into wheels. It began with a truck model that he built when he was six or seven years old and by the time he was eight or nine he was building vehicles to ride on.

While attending High School in Pella, Iowa, where he was born and raised, he customized his 1947 Ford, entered it in the Custom Car Show in Des Moines and walked away (or should I say drove away) with the first place trophy. Somewhere along the way he developed a love of classic cars and began to sketch the car of his dreams. A design that would evolve over the years and a dream that would many years later, come to fruition.

John Toom

John Toom and The Jaguar Aerodyne Model

After graduating from Pella High he went on to Central University of Iowa and then to Kirksville State Teacher’s college in Missouri pursuing an Industrial Arts career. In the late 1950’s he left the icy winters of Iowa and headed for sunny California, settling in San Diego where his two sisters and their families were living. While working at a full time job, he continued his education at San Diego State University and Mesa City College by attending night classes and began working toward an Engineering degree.

John Toom and Aerodyne

John Toom and The Jaguar Aerodyne Nearing Completion

When I met John Toom in 1979 he was a divorced father of four and working as a model engineer for Magee-Bralla, a prototype shop in San Diego designing and building models for the space industry and prototypes for trade shows and museums. Some of his designs are still on exhibit at Old Town in San Diego, the Sacramento Railroad Museum and the Space Museum at Balboa Park in San Diego.

He also had an avid interest in photography and a collection of antique cameras. Perhaps this is what motivated him to invent and build a panoramic camera whose photos have been seen in National Geographic. By the time I met John he was heavy into his hobby of restoring tractors and antique gas engines (heavy being the operative word since his heaviest engine weighed three tons.)

Jaguar Aerodyne

The Finished Jaguar Aerodyne

In 1980 John and I married and moved to Alpine, a foothill community east of San Diego, where John built a 2,000 plus square foot building to house his engines, cars and machinery and it was, of course a place to work. With the stereo tuned to his favorite jazz station he was content to spend his spare time in his shop.

Nissan Design America

In 1982 John Toom went to work for Nissan Design America in La Jolla then known as Nissan Design International. The Japanese company decided they needed some western input for their car designs and John was among the first few top employees that helped launch the new American division of Nissan Design. John managed the model shop but his expertise was valued on many subjects.

His long time friend and co-worker Mike Anderson, spoke of John as “… a truly amazing man whose knowledge was astounding. Almost every day there is a time when it occurs to me that John’s input would be invaluable.” N.D.I. and its talented employees, were to have an important influence on John’s desire to pursue the design and development of his dream car.

Jaguar Aerodyne

John’s interest in antique gas engines began to fade as his passion for classic cars re-emerged. Over a period of years he bought a Jaguar XK 120, Jaguar XKE, AC Aceca and a 1937 Cord. The Cord was nothing but parts and pieces when he brought it home, literally a basket case, but he restored the car to perfection. When it was finished many car enthusiasts tried to persuade him to exhibit it at auto shows, but he wasn’t interested. “The fun is in the restoration,” he declared, and was eager to proceed with his primary project.

Around 1990 he began the actual design and work on the car he had been sketching for years. Over time it had evolved into a more sophisticated design with a definite 1930’s French influence. After considering a French name, he changed his mind and decided on Aerodyne.

A 1956 Jaguar XK 140 Chassis Was The Basis for The Jaguar Aerodyne

A man who believed that there was no such thing as spare time, John worked nights and weekends on his car. He purchased a 1956 Jaguar XK 140 chassis on which to build the body and that determined the dimensions of the car. During his lunch hours at work he built a 1/4 scale clay model of his car, getting a few tips from close friend, co-worker and top modeler, Larry Brinker.

Then with the high tech computer equipment at N.D.I. he was able, by using a touch probe, to digitize the surface of his quarter scale model. This allowed him to use that surface to build the wooden “bucks” for the full scale car out of 1/2 inch plywood, which he used as a pattern on which to form the metal. That alone was impressive, but when he brought home flat, straight pieces of sheet metal and shaped them into actual body parts, that was amazing.

John Toom Designed and Made the Tool or Machine Himself

“I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said, referring to the actual building of the car, “I just thought I would try it and see what happened.” He went to a few seminars on shaping sheet metal and watched some videos from Kent White of TM Technologies and found them helpful. But John often became frustrated when he wanted to make a particular shape and the tools or machines that he had just didn’t quite cut it. So he simply designed and made the tool or machine himself, e.g., a metrology machine to accurately measure different points on the car and assuring that both sides were equal.

He also designed the Panel Pro, a significant improvement over the standard English Wheel. His exclusive design allows the front faces of the wheels to be free and clear of any protrusions, thus permitting you to wheel tight against large flanges or any 90 degree bends in the panel. No other wheel on the market has this feature.

Carl Adams, a long time friend who has built sprint cars for many top name racers and teams, and now builds water pumps for race cars in North Carolina said. “John’s major difference between the Panel Pro and the original English Wheel was that John made a gauge that determined the strength that the machine was putting onto the metal. If it’s too weak it takes forever.

If it’s too strong it distorts; it’s hard to blend. No one ever did that before.” He went on to say that he thought John used the gauge for his own curiosity. Then John used it to design the Panel Pro giving it the most sensitive pressure control on the market.

Jaguar Aerodyne

John went a step further and built the Shrink Positive, a convenient, light weight table model shrinker that Carl Adams now builds and sells to racing teams in his area. He recalled taking it to the Earnhardt team. After trying the Shrink Positive they found that they did in fifteen minutes what normally took them five hours. “John wasn’t a follower,” Adams said. “He created his own thoughts in everything he did. He could envision something in his mind then work with the piece until it became a mechanical piece of art.”

Ron and Sonya Kellogg

Eventually all of John’s antique gas engines were sold to buy material to build his car, and he had long since lost interest in the Cord. Ron and Sonya Kellogg, classic car collectors and enthusiasts, from Whittier, California, bought the Cord and the Aceca and expressed an interest in the partially completed Aerodyne. “If you ever want to sell it,” Ron ventured, probably never dreaming that one day he would be the owner. But John and I agreed that if anything ever happened, the Kellogg’s would be the ones to be offered the sale of the Aerodyne. John was confidant that they would carry out his plans and finish his dream.

However, at that time selling the Aerodyne was not an option. The overriding goal for John was to complete the car. He retired in January of 2000 so he would have time to finish it and move on to the many more projects he had planned. The body was completed and primed for paint. The rebuilt 1963 Jaguar XKE 3.8 liter engine sat in place beneath the hood. The steering wheel and door handles he had fashioned were works of art. The window mechanism worked perfectly. The instrument panel he had designed, but not finished. He figured it would take about another 200 hours of work before the car was completed.

“The hardest part is finding time to do it and basically learning how,” John said. “It can be very frustrating. You can work on a part, say a fender, for a month and then ruin it and have to start over.” He was a perfectionist in everything he did.

When Japanese editor, Eizi Hayashi was visiting America, he visited John Toom at his home shop. Impressed with John’s work, he took photos of the Aerodyne and wrote an article for his slick Japanese magazine, “Axis”. The article and photos were published in the November 1998 issue of “Axis” magazine, vol. 76.

Reflecting back, John said that the car represents to him everything that he has learned over the years and he gets his inspiration from shapes in nature. His greatest enjoyment? “It was designing it, and the fact that I could build it. That was pretty amazing to me. I didn’t realize I could do it. I thought I’d just give it a shot and I learned as I went along.” When asked what he wanted most, he would always say, “more time.” Ironically on July 3, 2000, six months after his retirement, at a robust 63, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

John Toom’s Legacy

On August 7, 2001 John left this world for a better one, and left us with a legacy of a man who had a talent that few could hope to equal.

Perhaps John’s work is best described as expressed by his co-workers at N.D.A. “John headed the model shop at Nissan Design America from October 1982 until his retirement in January of 2000. A mechanical engineer, John had an artist’s eye and an inventor’s soul. He could fabricate with great beauty virtually anything, in any medium. A master of machinery, if he couldn’t make a part with existing equipment, he would invent a machine to do the job. His welcoming smile and sense of humor made him a favorite at N.D.A. His great talent and depth of humanity will be greatly missed.”

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 

Slideshow No. 1 – photos by Mike Gulett

 

Slideshow No. 2 – photos supplied by Ron Kellogg

1956 Jaguar Aerodyne Streamliner Coupe

Jaguar Aerodyne John Toom Badge

Summary
John Toom - Engineer, Artist and Inventor
Article Name
John Toom - Engineer, Artist and Inventor
Description
Around 1990 John Toom began the actual design of the Jaguar Aerodyne, the car he had been sketching for years. Over time it evolved into a more sophisticated design with a French influence.
Author

Comments

  1. What a lovely article as always and a beautiful automobile! So tragic John Toom was diagnosed with with terminal cancer at 63 only six months after retiring. Would have loved to have known this guy. Enjoy the day as if it is your last.

  2. NIGEL PERKINS says

    What a car ! The man is a master builder I say is because skills ,like his will live on with the car as an example of his art.

  3. wallace wyss says

    It is a great tribute to read. It was akmost an impossible task, doing the work that is usually done by dozens at an automaker. I am glad the Kelloggs carried it to completion so at concours, when it’s displayed by the new owner, we can see what John saw in classic prewar design.

  4. Glen Durmisevich says

    A great article. Always interesting to read about creative and talented men like John Toom. Many people would love to design and build their own car but very few in the world can actually do it. The Aerodyne is a beautiful piece of automotive sculpture.

  5. At the Gooding and Company auction in Scottsdale this car was put up for sale. I saw it in the catalog and was intrigued, but once seeing it up close I was mesmerized. Truly the most fantastic automobile there to my eyes, and I wished so deeply that I could be the next owner. I knew nothing of Toom, and this article fills in the story perfectly. Thank you for publishing it. It makes me want the car even more.

    Oh…and it sold for double the auction company estimate…and was still a bargain in my eyes.

  6. Bruce Caron says

    Great article!
    Thank you

  7. Well done!

    Great read and a nice tribute.

    Wish I could have met him.

  8. Thak you Jan for sharing your story with us. He was truly someone special.

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