Car People: Ian Callum Distilled Passion in Automotive Design

British designer had ups and downs through his entire career, but stayed strong in his pursuit of making car design according to what he truly believes

Ian Callum in front of a 2018 Jaguar I-Pace
Ian Callum in front of a 2018 Jaguar I-Pace
  • Ian Callum was passionate about cars and design ever since he was a child
  • Though he worked for Ford, his best jobs were at Aston Martin and Jaguar
  • Nowadays, he works at his own studio and creates many exciting projects

People who appreciate design often show it very early in life. Brothers Ian and Moray Callum, for example, spent their childhood sending letters to car dealers asking for brochures.

Ian went further ahead and began to draw cars. Some were similar to what he saw on the streets and others were more unusual. They even attracted the attention of their school teacher for that.

While I was doing my research for this article, reading all that reminded me of myself. I also love car design, so I showed similar signs at the same age. However, Ian once again went further.

In 1968, he sent a letter to Jaguar at age 14 asking for a job. The head of engineering gracious replied advising him to study engineering and work hard. We can say he definitely followed through.

Side view of the 1961 Jaguar E-Type in red
The Jaguar E-Type was one of the cars that inspired Ian Callum in his first years

Non-supportive environment outside

While Ian Callum had full support from his brother and parents in his hometown, the situation was quite challenging outside. In a nutshell, he started his early adult life right when the oil crisis took place.

Fuel was scarce, people were tense, and the auto industry had to take a conservative stance. He enrolled in Coventry’s School of Transportation, but car design was not a priority at that time.

Callum left his hometown in 1972 to study industrial design in the Glasgow School of Art, where he finally got the training he truly wanted. It was the time when his work finally started to shine.

In fact, that shine attracted Ford’s attention: he earned a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London, which had one of the most prestigious car design courses in the world.

Front quarter view of the 1983 Ford Transit FT100 Ghia in black and gray
Designing a steering wheel for the Transit was one of the reasons why Ian Callum decided to leave Ford in 1990

Ian Callum: first steps at Ford

Ford was the first automaker to employ Callum, though he actually wanted to start at Vauxhall. At first, he felt suffocated by continuously receiving tasks such as “a steering wheel for the Transit.”

As time passed and he made himself heard, Ford assigned him to tasks in other regions. He would spend time in Australia, Japan and even Italy, the latter at the Ford-owned Ghia studio in Turin.

Ghia was one of the best parts of this time, as well as working on cars such as the RS200 and the Escort RS Cosworth. However, a steering wheel for the Mondeo finally broke the camel’s back.

Callum left the company in 1990 so as to work with Tom Walkinshaw and Peter Stevens. They founded TWR Design, at first with a small facility, seeking more freedom to work with car design.

Front quarter view of the 1993 Aston Martin DB7 in silver
The Aston Martin DB7, released in 1993, was Ian Callum’s breakthrough in car design

Ian Callum prospered at TWR Design

The designer faced heavy judgement for having left a big corporation for a small, independent project. Fortunately, he would make TWR shine thanks to two Aston Martin cars: DB7 and Vanquish.

The first one drove the company out of financial trouble and became its highest seller. The other had the emotional appeal of being a flagship car, and finally established Callum’s reputation in the field.

Since TWR had other clients, Callum obviously ended up adding other notable cars to his portfolio. Some of them are the 1995 HSV GTS R, the 1996 Volvo C70, and the 1997 Nissan R390 racing car.

Callum’s success led him to work at Aston Martin itself as well as Jaguar, his old-time favorite. The irony, however, is that it meant going back to Ford, since both brands were part of its luxury division.

Rear quarter view of the 1996 Volvo C70 in red, which was designed by Ian Callum
Ian Callum was also the responsible for the first generation of the Volvo C70

Making a childhood dream come true

Callum entered when Jaguar had many projects already at a late stage of development. As a result, his first work was the Aston Martin DB9, the direct successor of the cornerstone of his design career.

His effect on Jaguar would only appear in 2006: the second-generation XK paired modern style to many references to classic Jaguar cars such as the E-Type. It came as a coupé and a convertible.

That model was soon followed by many others. The XF, the new XJ, and the F-Type strengthened the brand while the XE and the F-Pace took it to other segments and new buyers for the first time.

Now, the fact that those models were successful did not mean Callum had an easy life at Jaguar. The XK, for example, faced some criticism because its sharp edges did not respect the original design.

Front quarter view of the 2006 Jaguar XK in blue
The 2006 Jaguar XK was Ian Callum’s first work from beginning to end for that brand

CBE, Callum, and new independence

In 2019, Ian Callum once again left the Ford group. That was the same year when he was appointed Commandeer of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services for the British auto industry.

Now, you are wrong if you think he retired. In the next year, he founded Callum, a design and engineering consultancy. The agency is open to other product categories as well, such as pieces of furniture.

At first, he says the goal was to build a diverse portfolio. Now that this is done, he is going back to car design above all. His first independent project was an upgrade to the first Aston Martin Vanquish.

More recently, his agency is also working on other projects, including the Prodrive Hunter. At a personal level, Ian Callum is also dedicating himself to a hobby which I am sure you can easily guess.

The 2022 Hunter Prodrive is one of Ian Callum's latest creations
The 2022 Hunter Prodrive is one of Ian Callum’s latest creations

Cars Ian Callum has owned

The actual first one was a Volvo P544 with hot-rod modifications. Since Callum could not afford its fuel consumption back then, he eventually moved on to a Mini Clubman then to a Vauxhall Chevette.

After those cars, there were other dips into tuning and restoration. A Morris Minor with a Sprite’s engine, a restored Beetle convertible, and two generations of the Fiesta XR2 were only some of his cars.

Once Ian Callum reached a more comfortable stage of life, he turned into a car collector. He has owned a Ford Escort RS2000, a Jaguar XJ Coupé, a Porsche 911, and a Triumph TR6, to mention just a few.

Among his tuning projects, there have been a Ford Model B hot rod, a lowered Volkswagen T6, a Jaguar Mk2 restomod, and a Porsche 914 and an Alfa Romeo Giulia which were bought as project cars.

Ian Callum is a realistic example of how careers can be. Even though he had support to pursue his dream and even landed a job in the field at an early age, it still took time for him to do what he loved.

Nowadays, after all those years of hard work, he is in a position where he can finally dedicate himself to car design in the way he has always enjoyed. Which of his design projects is your favorite?

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Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.