Ian Callum is responsible for some of Britain’s best-loved cars of the past 40 years. It was his pen that created the stunning Aston Martin DB7, DB9 and James Bond’s Vanquish. Later he sculpted the Jaguar XK and coveted F-Type, yet the Scotsman is probably the most celebrated designer many people have never heard of.
Fortunately, petrolheads and those in the automotive business continue to hail Callum for his rich body of work. The ground-breaking Ford Escort Cosworth was his creation, along with Nissan’s R390 Le Mans car, the legendary Ford RS200 and now the new, all-electric Jaguar I-Pace.
“I was drawing cars from the age of three,” says Callum. “I grew up in the Scottish borders where you barely saw a vehicle in the 1950s, but my brother Moray and I were always fascinated by cars.”
Callum’s father was a lawyer in Dumfries and worked with a trade society for local car dealers. “We would go along to the showrooms and collect the brochures for every new model. They must have got really fed up with us, but we were tolerated because they knew dad. I shared a bedroom with Moray and we would pin the brochures across every available inch of wall. There were so many that when they were taken down to redecorate, the plaster fell away too.”
The hours poring over those brochures has clearly paid off for both brothers: Moray is now vice president of design for Ford and is also credited with the radical shake-up of Mazda styling from 2001 to 2006, including the best selling MX-5.
While Dumfries is the celebrated home of poet Robbie Burns, the starting place for Robert the Bruce’s rebellion against the English, and also boasts a renowned, world-champion haggis, Callum says he couldn’t wait to escape the town. “I felt trapped, cut off and became quite rebellious. I knew I had to get out as soon as I could,” he admits.
His love of car design never faltered though. His favourite make was Jaguar and in 1968, aged 13, he sent some drawings to Jaguar’s then vice president Bill Heynes, asking for advice on how to design cars. “Bill replied and I was bowled over. Neither of us could have known where I would end up working 50 years later.”
Callum went on to study at Glasgow School of Art, Coventry University and the Royal College of Art in London, where, sponsored by Ford, he left with a post-graduate master’s degree in vehicle design. His first job was based in Essex working on the Fiesta.
“I hated it and didn’t expect to last more than six months,” he says. “I designed a lot of steering wheels, including the Sierra. It was 11 years before I finally moved on and joined Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR outfit in 1990.”
Many of Callum’s colleagues at Ford thought he was crazy to leave the corporate world and move to a start-up in an industrial unit in Oxfordshire. “The fact is, I couldn’t have been happier. I was in charge of setting up the design studio and more able to express myself in the way I wanted to, especially when I began designing for Aston Martin.”
Despite his forward-looking design philosophy, which been so successful at Jaguar, Callum laments the ‘old days’ of working through the night to prepare a sketch or model. “We didn’t have to go through endless meetings designing the Vanquish for Aston Martin.
“We created a clay model of the car in just five weeks. Jacques Nasser [then CEO of Aston’s parent company Ford] flew in for one day, said ‘Change this, this and this’ and that was it. Now that’s how to design a motor car, not meeting after meeting with everybody having some form of input.”
Callum worked on the Range Rover before realising his lifelong ambition to join Jaguar in 1999, where he succeeded the late Geoff Lawson, creator of the XJ220. Slowly, he swept away the old-school image of the brand, personified in the S-Type saloon, and then floored critics with the radically styled XK sports car in 2006.
The much-lamented XK is still one of Callum’s favourites. He famously claimed the curvy bodywork of the grand tourer was inspired by the figure of actress Kate Winslet. “It was an exceptional car – the fact prices of second-hand examples of the XKR-S have risen substantially since production ended five years ago speaks volumes.”
The C-X75 hybrid concept followed in 2010. One of the first electric supercars, it was created with Formula One team Williams and would certainly have been a success, had Jaguar not pulled the plug on production due to the economic crisis. The C-X75 appeared in the Bond movie Spectre but never made the showroom.
Callum’s modest office at the Jaguar design centre near Coventry suggests he’s a fan of minimalist design. Apart from a giant painting of the iconic E-Type that’s placed behind his desk, there’s very little to hint at his imperious credentials. The man in charge of the metamorphosis of Jaguar over the past 15 years is currently working on a new XJ luxury saloon – or NextJ, as he likes to call it – and there’s seemingly no escape from the endless meetings crammed in his diary.
He lives 15 minutes from his office but says his house isn’t a design-fest of chic. “I have a Dyson vacuum cleaner and a Naim audio system. Otherwise, most of ‘me’ is in the garage where I keep my cars.”
His collection currently numbers 10 and includes two American hot rods that Callum loves to tinker with. “I’ve always been fascinated by American cars of the 1950s. Hot rods give people the opportunity to express themselves in a very individual way,” he says.
He also owns two Mini Cooper Ss, a Jaguar XJ-C, a Land Rover Defender and a Vanquish – plus more than 300 toy cars that he has collected over the years. “If the house was on fire I would grab the keys to my Porsche 993 – most designers love the 911.”
In February 2019, Callum was honoured at the London Classic Car Show, where he was presented with an Icon Award in celebration of his life in design. Seven of his most famous cars were on display, including the DB9, F-Type and RS200.
“It’s always an honour to win anything but I was very excited to see all these cars in one display for the first time. It was also a chance to speak to the audience and share how my car designs have evolved over the years, and what my inspirations have been. And if there were any young designers out there in the audience then I hope it inspires them, too. I certainly answer as many letters as I can from youngsters because
I remember how that spurred me on as a 13-year-old.”
Callum has had a hand in designing some of the best-loved British vehicles of the past 40 years. He has won countless awards but the true mark of his genius lies in the cars themselves. Here are our top six Callum Collectibles:
1. Ford RS200
There are very few collectible Fords, but the RS200 has almost mythical status. Designed as a Group B rally car, it was half Ford Escort, half supercar, created around a mid-engine layout with four-wheel drive and a fibreglass shell. Just 200 road-going examples were built, which now command huge prices.
2. Ford Escort Cosworth
The Escort Cosworth was a lunatic and redefined the hot-hatchback market when it was launched in 1989. The huge rear spoiler screamed muscle and was matched by a turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive.
3. Aston Martin DB7
Even Callum admits this is the one that gave him the biggest thrill. It’s been voted the ‘most beautiful car in the world’ on several occasions and described as “the most beautiful thing ever made by man” by a cooing Jeremy Clarkson.
4. Jaguar I-Pace
Jaguar stepped into the unknown with the I-Pace – an all-electric SUV that can cover 298 miles between charges and 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds. A challenge for Callum? Yes, but the I-Pace is bold, desirable and incredibly stylish for an SUV.
5. Jaguar F-Type
The hype around Jaguar’s first two-seater sports cars in decades was immense. Callum’s F-Type paid homage to the iconic E-Type of the 1960s but is very much a Jaguar sports car of the new millennium.
6. Aston Martin Vanquish
While the DB7 has won countless plaudits, for many people the Vanquish is Callum’s finest design. It’s just been replaced by the DBS Superleggera but in Vanquish S form was one of Aston Martin’s greatest cars.