“Please Sir, may I have a job?”
FROM AMBITIOUS SCHOOLBOY TO JAGUAR DESIGN DIRECTOR IN FOUR SHORT DECADES
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.