Play in a successful band and you get to work on the same tunes for a lifetime: reinterpreting and subtly changing. But design a successful car and that's it - once design is frozen you move onto the next project and consider yourself lucky if you're still around for the mid-life tweak-and-tuck. In music terms it's closer to the note-perfect radio edit that finds itself on the Greatest Hits compilation.
It's something that, by his own admission, has always irked Ian Callum. Having worked as design boss for both Jaguar and Aston Martin he has been responsible for some stunning cars. His recent departure from JLR to set up his own business - CALLUM - has given him the chance to delve into his own back catalogue. This heavily reworked version of the first Aston Martin Vanquish that will be produced by Swiss outfit AF Racing's R-Reforged subsidiary is the first of these limited editions. What's more, it has the official backing of Aston Martin.
"I bought one a couple of years ago and started to think about it," he told PH, "the car was only produced for six years - quite a short life. I started to think about the facelift that it never had, doing the things to it that I always wanted to do."
This isn't just a bodykit and a respray, something reflected by a very serious price tag. You might want to pre-spit any mouthfuls of tea now to spare your screen or monitor: the Vanquish 25 is going to cost £550,000 before VAT, although that does include the cost of the Vanquish that R-Reforged will source.
It's a huge amount of money, but will buy a car that has been substantially changed and which Callum wants buyers to consider against new alternatives that won't get close to its exclusivity. Design has been tweaked, materials and technology dramatically upgraded and the performance improved.
Callum effectively defined what continues to be the basic form of Aston's radiator grille when he designed the DB7, with this Vanquish showing how he'd evolve it. It loses the toothy chrome of the original car for darker strakes and gains a second, lower aperture. The ur-Vanquish's lower bumper-mounted secondary lights - which Callum says were the result of needing to meet differing legislation - have gone, replaced by vents for the front brakes.
"I wanted to take it to the next level," Callum says, "the front end is definitely stronger, more intimidating... I'd say the other thing to bear in mind is that since I designed it I have improved as well, I find I approach any graphic or shape with a much clearer notion of what I want to get before I start."
There is plenty of new technology, too. There are LED headlights replacing the original projectors, new tail units which have allowed the reflectors built into the original Vanquish's rear bumper to be removed and new door mirrors incorporating turn signals; Callum admits the Vanquish's rear-views were taken straight from the first Jaguar XK on cost grounds.
Aerodynamic work has influenced many of the changes, too, especially at back where the a new bumper sits above a much bigger diffuser incorporating twin tailpipes. "We discovered that if we lifted the leading edge we got dramatically different aero from it," Callum says. At the side the CALLUM Vanquish has also lost the scalloped sills of the original. "It's something I was quite obsessed with at the time," says Callum, I remember putting them on cars like HSVs. We kept the graphic, but we have got a much smoother, technical looking surface."
The biggest changes have been made in the cabin, the area that Callum admits he was unhappiest about with the original car. "It was what it was," he says, "I wasn't entirely in charge of the interior to be honest, I tried to manage it from afar." Changes incorporate a new centre binnacle with a touchscreen interface and replacements for the original Jag-sourced switchgear and air vents. There is aluminium trim, new door pulls and a complete re-trim with high-grade Bridge of Weir leather. The rear seats have also gone; Callum says they weren't meant to be there in the first place.
"The car was never meant to have back seats, they appeared half way through the project - it was probably a marketing decision."
Instead there are a set of fitted bags - designed with Mulberry - to maximise luggage room. Interior trim makes extensive use of what is being described as Callum tartan, a "defragmented" pattern that that can also be seen on the leather of the parcel shelf. The centrepiece of the dashboard is a Bremont mechanical watch, which can be removed, with the same company also redesigning the instrument pack.
The first car built - as seen in these pictures - is also sticking with the automated single-clutch Speedshift transmission. But the plan is to offer buyers the choice of two alternatives if they want them: the manual conversion already offered by Aston Martin Works (with more changes required to the lower console) and also a full torque converter auto, in this case a GM-sourced six-speed 'box.
Callum is actually a fan of the Speedshift, reckoning he has grown to like it in his own Vanquish with later software. "The problem is that you need to treat it like a manual, do that and it's pretty good," he reckons, "personally the auto wouldn't be my choice, it's a bit genteel for me, but for people who do a lot of town driving it will be the best choice."
Other mechanical changes include revisions to the V12 engine which have liberated an extra 60hp and bringing output to 580hp. These include a carbon induction system, new exhaust and top-end changes which we presume are new camshafts. Chassis development has been led by Adam Donfrancesco, CALLUM's engineering boss, with changes including a 10mm lowered ride height, new springs and revised dampers and stiffer anti-roll bars. Brakes are now modern Aston Martin carbon-ceramics with new 20-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
Upgrading has only gone so far, the CALLUM Vanquish still doesn't have stability control (the original only having traction management) and there's no suggestion it will be as quick as modern alternatives. "It will be a better car, no question," says Callum, "will it be up to the standards of today's GT cars? That's difficult to say, I think it's appeal will be different... You have to do it in the context of what it is, you can't just throw massive statements of 2020 styling over it, that's not what this car is about."
Callum also admits that other cars from his back catalogue may become the basis for future R-Reforged models, but insists that he doesn't feel that he has to be limited to that. "We've chosen this size of project because we're going through a learning curve," he says, "it's manageable and we can do this - but each time we do a project we'll do something more demanding. Whether it comes from one of more old designs or a current car remains to be seen."
Aston's creative director Marek Reichman is backing the project. "We're very proud of the cars created during Ian's time and they are an important part on both our heritage and evolution," he said.
Ultimately, CALLUM projects may move beyond being based on any existing car. "I'd like to think one day we could do a complete body as coachbuilders used to do," he says, "there's no reason why we shouldn't. That's not a current plan, but it's certainly an objective."
No more than 25 of the CALLUM Vanquish will be produced by R-Reforged, with buyers involved in every step of the creation process for their individual cars. While hugely expensive, it's hard not to see the appeal.