“Please Sir, may I have a job?”


Wheels (Australia) - - First Drives -

SEPTEM­BER, 1959: on his first day at school, Ian Cal­lum pre­sented the teacher with a draw­ing of a car and told him, “I want to be a car de­signer.” The teacher wasn’t im­pressed, ei­ther with his sketch or the am­bi­tion. Yet, some­how the young boy un­der­stood his mother’s Hoover 216 vac­uum cleaner was the re­sult of design. If this hor­ri­ble, now clas­sic, plas­tic de­vice was de­signed, Cal­lum re­alised that cars were also cre­ated by peo­ple. He had to be one of them.

He drew his first car when he was three. “When I was about seven, my grand­fa­ther gave me two books – Moray [Ian’s younger brother, who is now global design boss at Ford] still has them – by Frank Woot­ton, an artist. One was How to Draw Cars and the other How to Draw Aero­planes.

“They taught me how to draw el­lipses and un­der­stand per­spec­tive. This was Michelan­gelo stuff as far as I was con­cerned. My draw­ings were im­me­di­ately in­flu­enced by el­e­gant sketches of the Rolls-royce Sil­ver Cloud and Mk VII Jaguar.”

When he wasn’t draw­ing Jaguars, Cal­lum re­mem­bers stand­ing out­side the fam­ily home in Dum­fries, Scot­land, “to watch the cars go by”. The first to make a real im­pres­sion was a sil­ver 356 Porsche – “I fell in love with it”. A few years later his grand­fa­ther showed him an Amer­i­can Jaguar ad­ver­tise­ment. “It was for the XKE,” says Cal­lum. “I couldn’t be­lieve it; I knew the fu­ture had ar­rived. The E-type looked like it was moving when it was stand­ing still. Like a bul­let, it was a shape that runs through the air, though I know now that the aero­dy­nam­ics were ap­palling.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing how con­ser­va­tive the [As­ton Martin] DB4 was by com­par­i­son. They were two dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. Jaguars were the most ex­otic cars that were read­ily avail­able to me. They were per­for­mance ori­ented, faster than any­thing else – even the sa­loons were sports cars.”

The car-mad boy soon dis­cov­ered car mag­a­zines and the ubiq­ui­tous Ob­server’s Book of Au­to­mo­biles. Through 18 months at board­ing school, the weekly Au­to­car was his saviour, art his best sub­ject. He was, he says, “Not a fine artist, not an in­tel­lec­tual, more a tech­ni­cal artist.”

In 1968, at 13, Cal­lum wrote to Jaguar ask­ing how he could be­come a car de­signer. He didn’t bother with any other car com­pany. Today, he doesn’t re­mem­ber to whom he ad­dressed his let­ter. The re­ply came from Bill Heynes, Jaguar’s di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing, and vice chair­man and the en­gi­neer re­spon­si­ble for Jaguar’s clas­sic dohc straight-six and V12.

“He sug­gested I join Jaguar as an ap­pren­tice and work my way up to the styling depart­ment. It wasn’t the an­swer I wanted be­cause I wanted a more aca­demic ca­reer. So I wrote back and sent some of my draw­ings.

Heynes’ more thought­ful re­ply (re­pro­duced be­low, left) went into some de­tail: ‘Your gen­eral con­cep­tion and ideas are good. It is ap­par­ent that you in­tend to en­ter the styling side of the in­dus­try … as you have ob­vi­ously a flair for this side of the busi­ness.’

“I thought it was tremen­dous for such a man to write to me,” says Cal­lum, still not quite be­liev­ing it had hap­pened. “And the let­ter came from Coven­try, that won­der­ful place where they built cars.”

Cal­lum en­tered the Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Crafts­man’s Guild com­pe­ti­tion, for decades a tal­ent school for fu­ture car de­sign­ers un­til it was phased out in 1968. His clas­sic coupe didn’t win, but he was in­vited to Lon­don for four eye-open­ing days with the other en­trants. Af­ter study­ing trans­porta­tion design in Coven­try and in­dus­trial design at the Glas­gow School of Art, he grad­u­ated from Lon­don’s pres­ti­gious Royal Col­lege of Art with a master’s de­gree in Ve­hi­cle Design in 1979. Jaguar wasn’t hir­ing so he worked at Ford. His first task was de­sign­ing a wing mir­ror for the Tran­sit van. “That’s how it worked back then – very hier­ar­chi­cal, very com­part­men­talised. You didn’t get a chance to design cars un­til you’d earned your place.”

A stint in Aus­tralia work­ing on the EA26 Fal­con fol­lowed: door mir­rors, door han­dles and other de­tails. In the late ’80s he was design man­ager at Ford’s Ghia stu­dios in Italy and styled (with brother Moray) the lovely Ghia Via con­cept un­veiled at the 1989 Geneva show. It was there, on the Ghia stand, that I first met the Cal­lums.

In 1990 Tom Walkin­shaw en­ticed Cal­lum to TWR to cre­ate a design fa­cil­ity that was to be­come re­spon­si­ble for the Volvo C70 and As­ton Martin’s com­pany-sav­ing DB7, plus a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions of HSV Com­modores. His proud­est mo­ment, un­til the I-pace, was ap­pear­ing on the As­ton Martin stand at the 1993 Geneva show with Moray. “I’d just un­veiled the DB7 and he’d just un­veiled the Lagonda Vig­nale.”

In Septem­ber 1999, af­ter the sud­den death of his friend and pre­de­ces­sor Geoff Law­son, Cal­lum be­came Jaguar’s design di­rec­tor. He continued work­ing “on the side” on As­ton Martins and can claim re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Van­quish, DB9 and most of the V8 Van­tage’s exterior.

A week af­ter Cal­lum started at Jaguar, he told me, “My ob­jec­tive is to build the most beau­ti­ful cars in the world.”

Like the I-pace.

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