My life in 12 cars: British design hero Ian Callum

Plenty of stories about great car heroes turn out to be based on sand, but the one about Ian Callum finding his future career with his six-year-old nose pressed against the showroom window of the Edinburgh Jaguar dealership, Rossleighs, most definitely isn’t. His indulgent grandfather had taken him 80 miles from home in Dumfries just to see the extraordinary new E-Type sports car – and the rest is history.

That experience famously encouraged 14-year-old Callum to write to Jaguar boss Bill Heynes, who politely and correctly suggested he study design. Callum still has the letters and eventually followed the advice, finding a variety of car design jobs after graduation and eventually progressing to the top design job at Jaguar – where he not only redesigned every model, some several times, but also created a portfolio of new ones.

Then last year, he left Jaguar to launch a Warwick-based design studio with three partners but under his own name, promising to tackle car and non-car work. The studio’s first big job is a hugely detailed design upgrade, just launched, of the original Aston Martin Vanquish, a Callum original from the late 1990s.

Jaguar E-Type Coupe

“My grandfather used to get Life magazine, and it was my reaction to the famous photograph of Sir William Lyons and a grey metallic E-Type coupé on the back cover that encouraged him to take me to see the car in that Edinburgh showroom. If I hadn’t seen that E-Type in that magazine on that day, I’m not sure my life would have been the same.

“When I saw the E-Type in the flesh, it seemed to me that the future had arrived. It was so different and perfect and so utterly beautiful. I’d never seen beauty like that before. It was the exaggerated proportions that affected me, long before I realised that this was what the car’s designers, Malcolm Sayer and Sir William Lyons, were playing on. Little old British sports cars – and even the Porsche 356, which I also loved – all had more normal proportions. But the E-Type seemed so special, and it’s still special today.”

Standard Flying Ten

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The other favourite is the much-honoured I-Pace electric SUV. “I’m proud of that car and what it stands for,” says Callum. “It shows you can junk a lot of traditional Jaguar rules – long bonnet, small rear-mounted cockpit, low, tapered tail – and still have a car that’s obviously a Jaguar. When I see it today, I still believe it’s ahead of the competition, and I take pride in that. Especially since it has been very successful. “I took the I-Pace project as an opportunity to demonstrate that you could still do something pretty creative but not give up on beauty. I’ve had some great drives in that car. I probably should get another one. But I guess you’d say the I-Pace was my Jaguar swansong. There are still a couple of other cars in the pipeline but, as I say, things are changing at JLR. Best to let it go.”

The cars that Callum owns

Ian Callum brought six cars from his own collection to the recent London Concours and kindly took the time to talk us through them…

1932 Ford Model B: “It’s good for 400bhp, and with only around 1200kg, you have to treat it with respect. I’ve taken it to 120mph on tracks, but I reckon it could do a fair bit more than that!”

1976 Jaguar XJ-C 4.2: “The pillarless design is exquisite. I gave mine fatter, 225 tyres; with a smaller, 14in steering wheel, they communicate a surprising amount, but it still keeps that classic XJ experience of effortless driving.”

1995 Mini Cooper: “This is the car I’ve had for longest. It’s a brilliant design. The shape derived out of efficiency is perfect. Wearing the right wheels, it has one of the best stances of any car.”

1974 Triumph TR6: “Of all my cars, I use this one most. It’s perfect for a sunny Sunday. I’ve only driven it once with the roof up, when I got caught out in the rain.”

1995 Porsche 911: “I love the 911 shape, and the 993 is my favourite. Perfect modifications from Roock Racing chopped a fair bit of weight out. It’s lowered, with a track set-up that gives it just the right handling.”

2005 Aston Vanquish S: “Of the cars I designed, this is my favourite. It was a concise, precise process. When I drove it again, I was frankly surprised by how good it was, and it didn’t feel old.”

His favourite of all?

“I don’t like that question! But if I were forced, I would have to go for the 911. Oops: I guess I was supposed to say the Vanquish!”