When Ian Callum announced that he was leaving his role as Jaguar's design director earlier this year it seemed like an anti-climax, a disappointingly quiet end to a career with more highlights than almost any of his contemporaries.
But it turns out that wasn't the case. Despite having recently turned 65, Callum isn't heading to a golf course or a bowling green for a well-deserved retirement just yet. Instead he is launching his own consultancy business, one that will offer design and engineering for limited-run products, not all of which will be automotive.
Named CALLUM - imaginative, that - the new business has already got an office in Warwick and 18 staff. This number includes both Callum himself, who will serve as design director, and Dave Fairbairn, who did much of the work on Jaguar Classic's recreation Lightweight E-Type and will be programme director. We're promised that we will see the first new project in September, but PH grabbed the chance to talk to Callum about his radical direction change as the new firm was launched.
The first question is over why he chose to leave Jaguar when he did - ahead of the launch of the new, pure-electric XJ which we will be seeing later this year. Didn't he want to stay and be the one to whip the sheet off?
"I've always had the ambition to work for myself," Callum says, "to come into work in the morning and do what I want, not do what somebody else wants. The time felt right, I've been hugely fortunate in my career, but this was something I felt it was the right time to do."
Callum will have an ongoing relationship with Jaguar - he still has a contract as an ambassador - but says he doesn't mind the idea of his work being shown by somebody else. "There will be a few cars coming which I feel very close to - like the next XJ, a coupe of facelifts next year which are already done and something after that I still can't talk about. But it is [new design boss] Julian Thompson's domain now, and that's how it should be. There's always an overlap."
Callum has plenty of experience of divided credit for designs. He joined Jaguar after the sudden death of previous styling boss Geoff Lawson and had to publicly present several models he had almost nothing to do with, including the X-Type. But he also left Aston Martin after leading most of the work of the 2003 Vantage and DB9, both of which were subsequently credited to his successor, Henrik Fisker. "You've got to accept the fact somebody else is out there and talking about it. Julian is gracious enough - he's never going to stand there and claim all the credit. I'm not precious about these things, I know who did it and those who need to know know as well. I've had my ego stroked for long enough."
Callum has always had a wider interest in both design and car culture than one that could be channelled exclusively through his day job. This is the man who lovingly built a 1932 Ford based California-style hot rod and then a modernised Mk2 Jaguar as his own private project. He says he that CALLUM is likely to draw on some of his previous work for similarly updated projects, but insists that won't be the company's sole focus.
"I'd like to take some of the cars I've designed and maybe redo them a little bit," he says, "it's a good starting point because I think I've got the right to take those cars and do something with them, whether they are Astons or Jaguars. But ultimately I want to do something more than that - to bring a sense of story and to work on forward-looking projects, I don't want to be seen as just a chop shop."
Callum admits that he has been "hugely inspired" by Singer and the work it has done with air-cooled 911s, but won't be trying to copy the model with different cars. "I'm not going to emulate that to a significant degree, but there is the chance to take iconic designs and make them a bit better, to take them to the level they deserve to be at now... but I want to be looking forward, that's where design should always be."
The ambition isn't just cars, Callum says he wants to work in other areas including watches and luxury goods. "There's lots of stuff out there to be designed, bespoke products could be cars or they could be something totally different. I've got a great team behind me and I don't want to work in corporate OEM land any more, I want to do stuff that I can control the building and making of rather than just designing for others. It's a hugely exciting thing to be doing."
Callum has always been passionate about design, but he is clearly more excited about the part of his career that still lies ahead of him rather than the one behind. "Time is of the essence when you get to my age," he says, "I think I've got maybe 15 years of design aptitude left and I want to make the most of it. I want to leave a legacy of what Ian Callum can do, not what Jaguar might need or what Aston Martin might need... I could have stayed at Jaguar and carried on, but this to me is the next level, this is about pushing myself seriously. And the biggest judge of myself will be me."