At the age of 14, Ian Callum wrote to Jaguar’s then Vice Chairman of Jaguar Cars, Bill Heynes, asking for his advice on breaking into the world of car design, and sent him a collection of his own drawings.
“You obviously have a flare for this side of the business,” came the reply from Heynes, who advised him to go to art school.
Ian went on to study at four art schools, at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Lancaster and London’s Royal College of Art, from which he earned a masters in Vehicle Design. His younger brother Moray followed soon after, and is now Vice President for Design at Ford.
Remarkably, Ian’s interest in design predates even his teenage interactions with Jaguar “I used to sit around the house drawing mechanical items for hours on end,” he says.
“In those days we didn’t have television. You had to make your own entertainment. Growing up in a small town in Scotland [Dumfries], not every day was sunny so you had to spend a lot of time indoors.”
Ian’s grandfather had a passion for cars and used to help him learn all the individual models he could.
“When I went for my first day at primary school I told my teacher I wanted to be a car designer so that’s how defined my life was – at the age of five!”
Ian spent 12 years at Ford, where he contributed to the Escort Cosworth and RS200. Another stint at an agency, TWR Design allowed him to work on the iconic Aston Martin DB7, DB9 and Vanquish as well as projects for Nissan and Range Rover.
In 1999, he took up his current role as Director of Design at Jaguar, at a time when the company was very different to the one he remembers when he was growing up.
“When I was a boy I saw Jaguar as a really exotic, cool car company – dare I say, a sexy car company. They were what rock stars, footballers, lawyers and doctors drove. It certainly wasn’t a car for old men.”
“When I reached Jaguar in 1999 it was stuck in the past, mostly because the people involved didn’t know what to do with it to be honest. I thought: here’s my opportunity to turn this company back to what it should be.”
Ian set about re-imagining the company’s image, drawing on Jaguar’s rich sporting heritage to create a series of vehicles that have redefined the brand. Today Jaguar is widely regarded as having had both a commercial and stylistic turnaround, but Ian was met with considerable resistance when he started his turnaround project.
“There were days I went home almost in tears thinking I couldn’t do this anymore,” he says. “I thought it would take me ten years and 18 years later I think we’re just about there”.
Managing a team of over 400 designers, Ian does not always get the time to be alone and experiment creatively, but when he does he has a few tricks for getting into the right frame of mind.
“I do a lot at home and when I’m there I try to ensure I have a clear mind, and an open mind. Lots of sleep always helps. I look at objects I have that inspire me, whether it’s books on photography or architecture, or anything else it might be. It just gives me that sense of wanting to be creative”.
“I also listen to lots of music which is a fairly eclectic mix. I listen to music that inspired me when I was at college in my early 20s. I was so hungry then, not necessarily to be successful, but to be creative. When I listen to music from that time it takes me back to those days.”
“Last resort I go for a drive in one of my cars.”
In case you’re wondering it really is an eclectic mix of music – ballet, Bruce Springsteen, the Arctic Monkeys, Pink Floyd are all on Ian’s playlist.
Ian had initially resisted calls to design an SUV at Jaguar, which had started as early as 1999. The F-PACE he eventually designed has been a huge commercial success for Jaguar, with 45,965 cars sold in 2016.
Last year the company unveiled one of the most radical designs in its history, the I-PACE, a luxury all-electric SUV with a four second 0-60mph speed and a range of 310 miles. For Ian, it was an opportunity to create a car that remained true to the Jaguar brand whilst demonstrating considerable innovations in the field of electric vehicles.
“Pure electric cars really open up the doors a lot,” he says.
“You have one or two electric motors, which are not hugely space-occupying. You can move them to the level of the wheels so the scope of and opportunity for car design becomes a lot greater.”
“You have a car the same length of a Porsche Macan, but we’ve managed to make the cabin a lot bigger, which is a really astonishing achievement for a Jaguar. Its an SUV but I wanted it to capture the spirit of a sports car.”
As it stands, the I-PACE remains a concept car, so the production model may be different to the current design. But included in the concept design is 530 litres of boot space, two intuitive touch screens on the central console and twin-needle stitched Windsor leather on the seat cushions. Two 200hp electric engines provide 4X4 power to a set of domineering 23-inch Nighthawk wheels. It’s Jaguar refinement combined with the some of the most sophisticated technological developments to come out of the industry in recent years.
“For a while it will be one of the few mass market fully electric cars from the European car industry, so it will be a hugely significant car. We’re all really proud of it and I think we will be at the tip of people’s tongues in a way we haven’t been for many, many years”.
Having studied cars from the age of five, Ian has a number or cars that are particularly special to him, but his all-time favourite is the Ferrari 250 SWB.
“It has a beautiful sense of assertiveness which is where I base my design thoughts. It’s got an attitude about it, it looks as though it wants to move forward”.
He liked the 250 SWB so much, Ian says there are elements of the car that are visible in the Aston Martin Vanquish he helped to design – something to look out for next time you’re near a 2002-era Vanquish.
I asked Ian if anything troubled him about the future direction of car design.
“There’s a lot of fussy stuff going on, people are adding a lot of unnecessary detailing to cars, which is great because it makes ours look better.”
“Things have to tie together, there has to be a good story and if it’s not there, or something looks out of place then the designer hasn’t done a good job.”
“Something that concerns me for the future is legislation is becoming so counter-intuitive and so tough to work with. More and more we’re being forced into profiles that will look very similar. In the future we’ll need teams to find ways to work around that”.
Ian was extremely proud to deliver Jaguar’s new compact performance SUV, the E-PACE which was unveiled at London’s Excel Centre last month. The first I-PACE models are expected to be on our streets in 2018.