Tom Daniel: Designing Cars For Monsters, Modelers And More!

When a specific talent closely matches one’s passion, the result is a lifetime of fulfillment for not only those so blessed, but for those who share the same interests. Such is the story of Tom Daniel.

Tom is most widely known as the designer of so many wild and wonderful model kits built by Monogram. Some would say that he could be credited with saving the company from the freefall they experienced when the slot car market plummeted in the early ‘70s. Reportedly, there are 85 model kits directly attributed to Tom Daniel’s design, which would be impressive enough in its own right, but there is much more to Tom Daniel than our childhood memories would suggest.

The car show scene in southern California was beginning to burn hot and heavy, pushing the boundaries beyond folks’ imagination. This was the fertile breeding ground for Tom’s imaginative style and would serve him well throughout his career.

Before enamoring the eyes of prepubescent youth with wild creations and monster-driven caricature cars, Tom actually created much larger-scale designs for a much more reserved market. Recruited right out of art school by Chuck Jordan, GM’s head design man for Cadillac. Tom spent time at the GM Advance Design Studio, whittling away at designs folks would find in their driveways around the globe.

GM’s Chuck Jordan hired Tom right out of art school. While the designs would be futuristic, it’s hard to imagine Tom designing reserved and realistic cars such as a Cadillac. Perhaps we may have seen a “Caddy-Rack” featuring surf boards?

Tom’s stay at GM would be a short one, as the Cuban Missile Crisis pulled Tom, an active reservist, into his country’s service. After Tom received his honorable discharge, he found himself employed by North American Aircraft, working on designs that folks would find circling high-above as part of the Apollo missions.

Tom’s design acumen also caught the eye of folks at Petersen Publications, where he contributed to various titles. He also began designing model kit box art for companies like Revel. Tom’s deeply-seated automotive roots always kept him mostly within the circle of wheel-driven fun, but his talents typically propelled him to the forefront.

Tom's full-scale foray revealed itself in the written pages of various magazines and on the small screen through vehicles such as Drag-u-la and the Munster Koach, which were built by George Barris but designed by Tom Daniel.

As if working on advance designs at GM, helping to create objects intended to circle the globe high above the atmosphere, and having your work published in some of the leading automotive publications at the time wasn’t enough, Tom’s talents were sought out in another way. As this video explains, Tom was responsible for designing two of the most influential monster creations to come out of the Barris workshop.

Both vehicles appeared on the TV program “The Munsters,” a show highlighting the antiquated antics of a family of ghouls trying to fit into a “modern” society in the rapidly-changing 60s.

While George Barris is rightfully credited with building both the Munster Koach and Drag-U-La, this video explains that it was Tom’s dexterity with pen that drew the creative minds of several customizers to Tom Daniel paper for inspiration. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the connection between the designs of either of these icons to Tom Daniel creations in miniature that would come later.

Goin’ Mini In A Big Way!

Capturing the hearts and minds of teen and adult-aged viewers and consumers would make for a fine resume for most folks, but that was merely the breeding grounds by which Tom Daniel honed his craft. His work in the small world would inspire many more youths and instill an automotive passion within them than his larger works ever would.

Tom is credited with creating upwards of 85 different “kit” designs for modelers of all ages. While not his first creation, the Red Baron was by far his most prominent effort. This design so resonated with those car-crazy enthusiasts over the years that it still stands as the best-selling and best-known model kit, according to Monogram sales numbers.

Tom's first kit design was the "Beer Wagon," which was derived from an old chain-drive Mack truck.

From those humble beginnings, Tom continued to fill the need for America’s young enthusiasts to have something to do and to stretch their ideas beyond stock builds. Many of today’s custom car builders can look back at their time building models and see the seeds of “non-stock” assembly beginning to take root.

The most widely-known of Tom’s work is the “Red Baron”. This design has been built in many sizes ranging from Hot Wheels to full-sized and is the best-selling model in Monogram history.

Tom Daniel still carries on his work. Recognizing his adept talent of designing cars and other imaginative objects early on, Tom has also set out to help other young enthusiasts to develop their craft. He offers a book titled, “How To Draw And Design Cars”, in which he helps guide aspiring artists hone their skills. The book is available on his website.

The skills that Tom Daniel possess not only afforded him a living by doing what he enjoys, but also gave him a plethora of life-experiences which reside nicely in any album of accomplishment. The fact his work touched the hearts of millions of modelers, captured the imaginations of scores of viewers, as well as touched the limits of space itself, just goes to show what one person can do when they find their talent early and continue to hone it throughout their life. This video ties the life of Tom Daniel together much better than we could with just a few words. It’s worth the watching!

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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