Last week the sad news reached me that Robert Opron passed away at the age of 89 in Paris.
He was one of the greatest car designers of the 20th century. I was lucky enough to get to know him on a pivotal moment in my life when I decided to make a documentary about him, as a young art school student, 21 years ago… The film can still be found online, although in low resolution and only in Dutch and French: https://www.vpro.nl/speel~WO_VPRO_037950~vpro-13-augustus-2001-41-min-jongensdromen-dokwerk~.html
In this film I ask Opron to reflect on the concept of an ‘Ideal Car’, which leads to many confusing and funny moments between the old master and the very young student (me).
Now looking back, I realize that without Robert Opron the company Tonke would not have existed. I always kept looking for the ‘Ideal Car’, it was the reason to start Tonke in the first place. I also realize that I’ve organized Tonke the way Citroën was organized back then: starting from passion, looking for beauty, in service of employees and customers. Marketing, commerce is important, but supportive and not directional. He told me this and was a great mentor. Tonke thus became the largest camper builder in the Netherlands. I suppose people recognize immediately that it’s about them, that the vehicles are made for them and not to please some remote shareholder. In the same way the Citroën DS was created by a team of talents. Opron left Citröen when it merged with Peugeot and it’s unique corporate culture ended.
Robert Opron was modest, communicative, playful as a small child and averse to conventions. He had matured in the unique culture that Citroën had at the time and it must have been difficult for him never to have found that culture at other companies afterwards. At the same time, he hated to look back, although it pleased him to see how many people admired his designs. Farewell Robert Opron.