It’s tough to pin down the story of the late designer/carbuilder Tom Meade. There’s been little written about him, and not all of it agrees. The most common storyline is of a young blond-haired Californian who set off to Italy with the dream of designing and building his own brand of exotic cars—and build them he did.
From his base in Modena, Meade made his living buying, selling, modifying, and designing various Ferraris and Maseratis. His first brush with fame may have been the NART Spyder-like “Nembo” roadsters (a contraction made of letters of the car’s main three protagonists, Neri, Meade, and Bonacini), but most Americans learned of Meade in December 1970 issue of Road & Track, which featured the successor to our featured car, the Ferrari V12-powered Thomassima II, on its cover.
The Thomassima tale starts in the early 1960s, when Meade, just out of the Navy, returned home to Newport Beach with the dream, according to the R&T story, of someday owning an exotic car. “What really lit his fuse was the appearance in town of a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa,” wrote author Pete Coltrin, who quotes Meade as saying, “I fell in love with it and spent hours just looking at it.”
A friend told Meade the TR’s owner bought his car out of Rome, that the city was packed with similar machines, and that such cars could be found and bought on the cheap. Meade was sold. He found a job on a freighter headed for Norway, fixed up a non-running BSA motorcycle he found when he arrived, and rode south toward Italy and its endless supply of affordable, used Ferraris.
Once there, of course, he discovered it was all a myth. But rather than simply return to the U.S., he aimed his BSA at Modena, the home of Maserati. Once there, he showed up at the factory and asked for a tour. As Coltrin tells it, Meade was ultimately introduced to factory engineer and test driver Aurelio Bertocchi, who showed him around—and, eventually, sold him an outdated, mostly stripped 350 SI sports-racer missing its engine, transmission, differential, etc. for $400.
Bertocchi provided a truck and driver and directed Meade to a nearby garage. The American negotiated a rental space, and, with his new/old Italian exotic, spent his first night in Modena on the garage floor.
Soon thereafter, he met racer and race-team owner Lloyd “Lucky” Casner, who sold him a Corvette powertrain. Meade rented an unused barn, where he mated the Maserati chassis and Chevy hardware, then sketched out a body with a removeable hardtop and sent everything to Carrozzeria Fantuzzi. In early 1962, he and his rebodied Maserati-Corvette returned to the U.S.—where a couple of friends soon drove the car off a cliff. Nobody was hurt, except Meade’s dream machine. He reportedly sold the wrecked leftovers for $2,700, about what he’d invested in the car.