Jaguar's design chief thinks cars should be surprising, as Andrew Noakes discovers.
Ian Callum, Jaguar Head of Design
The pictures on the walls of his office are of Jaguars and Aston Martins, but the scale model on Ian Callum’s desk is a black, ’32 Ford Model B coupé. A full-size version, with hand-beaten body and 450bhp V8, is nearing completion. “It’s buckets of money, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was about 14 years old,” reveals Jaguar’s Director of Design.
“I’m a car nut as much as a designer. Not all designers are but I just love cars.” Inevitably the parking space under his window contains a Jaguar, an XKR, but the Callum fleet also includes a modified ’94 Mini with "wheels so big I can hardly drive it". Jaguar engineers tell me that prototypes which come his way are generally driven hard, something which Callum confirms with a mischievous grin.
It was this enthusiasm which led him to the Royal College of Art’s vehicle design post-grad course, after completing a degree in Industrial Design at Glasgow School of Art. He then spent 11 years at Ford, contributing to image-builders like the RS200 and Escort Cosworth as well as bread-and-butter machines like the Fiesta and Mondeo. Callum also worked on the Via, Zig and Zag concept cars at the Ford-owned Ghia studio.
In 1990 he left to set up a brand new design studio for Tom Walkinshaw’s vehicle engineering group TWR. “Some of my colleagues came to see me from Ford, and I’d walked away from this giant studio at Dunton, the corporation, all that stuff, into this little tin shed in Kidlington. They thought I was utterly mad. But I was as happy as could be, I was doing something I wanted to do.”
Callum shaped bodykits for TWR-converted Mazdas and Holdens, and then hit the big time when TWR was commissioned to design and build the Aston Martin DB7. Further Astons and a variety of other projects for TWR followed, and then Callum returned to the ‘corporate’ fold in 1999 when he succeeded the late Geoff Lawson at Jaguar.
For a while Callum directed design for both Jaguar and Aston Martin, and he has clear ideas about the differences between the two marques. “Jaguars are more voluptuous than Astons, more curvaceous, more extreme. They shout a bit louder than Astons.” The E-type, he says, is the perfect example. “Though it was a beautiful car it was quite a statement. Visually it’s shouting at you. You couldn’t get more ostentatious than the E-Type.”
Another Jaguar of that era, the original XJ6, was a big influence on him. “I just stared at it and stared at it, literally for hours on end,” he says. “Basically it’s where I learnt about the proportion of a car. The wheels were enormous, and there’s this lovely lean piece of metal above them. Gorgeous. That was Lyons, he just knew how to do this.”
Recent Jaguars have tended to stick close to the tried and tested formulae of the past, but Callum is keen to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be that way. Together with Julian Thomson (head of Jaguar’s advanced design studio, formerly of Lotus where he designed the S1 Elise) he has produced a string of concept cars, starting with R-Coupe in 2001.
“Julian and I wanted to make a statement about what a Jag could look like that wasn’t what you’d expect,” says Callum. That statement was aimed as much at Jaguar’s own management and design teams, he says. “I had to convince them that there was more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.”
It was a similar story with R-D6, unveiled at Frankfurt in 2003. “It was a ploy from me to convince people that a Jaguar did not have to be a stereotype vehicle, as it has been in the past. I wanted to produce something that is very difficult to define. People don’t know whether its a coupe or a hatchback or a saloon car, or a sports car. They couldn’t work it out. That’s great.”
Jaguar's new XK
The most recent of those concepts is ALC, the Aluminium Lightweight Coupe, which made its debut at the Detroit show in January. Callum confirms that it is a preview of the new XK. Its similarity in profile to an Aston DB9 is a reflection of modern safety legislation, he says.
“If you take the set of rules we work to, by default you end up with the same profile. It’s inevitable.” Pedestrian safety is one problem, looking after unbelted occupants - an American safety fetish - is another. “That determines the height of the top of the screen, which is difficult if you’re trying to do a sports car. Then there’s a legal European line for the bonnet so you can’t bring that up. You can make it different by making it not as pretty, but I won’t do that, and if it means I’ve got to take a bit of flak because it looks like something else then fine, because its there for a reason. That’s something I’m not prepared to compromise on.”
While the XK is imminent, an F-type – a proper sports car – seems a long way off. Callum came up with a Boxster-like car which was ‘still clearly a Jaguar,’ with a mid-mounted transverse V6, but the project was cancelled.
Does he still think Jaguar should do a proper sports car? “Absolutely. We’ve got other things to do first, but it’s on the radar. It has to have the impact of the E-type, yet in a completely different way.” Coventry’s next generation of cars has to be "a big surprise", he says.
“Jaguar has adhered to the rulebook of what a Jaguar is for too long. With the new XK we’ve moved it on a bit, but the next stage is to throw the rulebook away completely - because that’s what Lyons would have done.”
Copyright © Andrew Noakes 2005