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After a two-decade run, Ian Callum steps down as head of Jaguar Design

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Ian Callum pilots a Jaguar at the Mini Miglia 2015. Photo courtesy Jaguar Land Rover.

Ian Callum was 14 years old when he penned a letter to Jaguar, declaring his desire to design sports cars for the esteemed British manufacturer. In 1999, 31 years later, Callum got his wish when he replaced Geoff Lawson as Jaguar Design Director, a position he held for the next 20 years. On July 1, Callum will step down from this role, retiring after an impressive 40-year career in automotive design.

As the New York Times reported in 2006, the advice Callum received from his letter to Jaguar — reportedly from the firm’s head of engineering, William Heynes – was to “stay in school and study engineering,” though Callum chose to follow a different path. After receiving a degree in industrial design from the Glasgow School of Art, Callum furthered his studies at London’s Royal College of Art, where he earned a master’s degree in vehicle design.

Callum assisted with the design of the 1984 Ford RS200 rally car. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.

In 1979, Callum began his automotive design career with Ford, where he would contribute to the design of the 1984 RS200 Group B rally car, the 1989 Ford Ghia Via concept and the 1989 Ford Escort Cosworth. At Ford, Callum worked in a variety of countries and studios, and by the time he left the automaker in 1990, had worked his way up to design manager in charge of the Ghia Design Studio in Turin, Italy.

Ford may have offered job security, but climbing the corporate ladder took Callum further and further away from his true passion, designing automobiles. From Ford, he went to TWR Design, where he worked alongside Peter Stevens and Tom Walkinshaw, designing cars and concepts for a variety of companies. In 1991, Callum was named chief designer and general manager at TWR, and during his time there worked on the Aston Martin DB7, the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Volvo C70 and the Nissan R390.

Nissan R390. Photo courtesy Nissan Motor Corporation.

When Jaguar’s Geoff Lawson died unexpectedly, it was J Mays — then head of design for Ford’s family of brands, including Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo, Land Rover, Mazda, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury – who asked Callum to  step in as head of Jaguar’s design department. It was a tough act to follow, as Lawson was the force behind such projects as the XJ220 supercar; the XK, which replaced the XJS and initially borrowed design cues from the legendary E-type; and the commercially successful X-Type, which soon became a best-seller for the automaker.

While Lawson favored heritage-influenced designs, Callum preferred to begin with a clean sheet of paper. This is most clearly seen with the launch of the 2010 Jaguar XJ (the X351), the sedan that laid the groundwork for the brand’s styling in the post-Ford years and looked nothing at all like the car it replaced. Though critics accused Callum of carrying over too many influences from Aston Martin, there’s no doubt that Jaguar’s newly contemporary lines have drawn consumers to the brand.

Jaguar’s C-X75 concept. Photo courtesy Jaguar Land Rover.

Callum was also behind the 2010 Jaguar C-X75 concept, a car that (briefly) promised to re-write the rules on what a supercar could be. Instead of a thirsty forced-induction V-8 or V-12, the C-X75 was to use an electric motor in each wheel (for a combined power output of 778 horsepower), powered by batteries recharged by onboard micro gas turbines. A year later, in 2011, Jaguar announced limited production of the C-X75 beginning in 2013, though these models would be powered by a more conventional parallel hybrid drivetrain. A total of 250 cars were to be built in association with the Williams F1 team, each carrying a projected price of $1.2 – $1.5 million.

Ultimately, it was the ruined global economy that forced cancellation of these plans, after just five developmental prototypes were built. A C-X75 replica, built atop a spaceframe and powered by a turbocharged and supercharged engine paired with electric motors, starred in the 2015 James Bond film Spectre, where it was pitted against 007’s Aston Martin DB10 in a chase scene set in Rome. Seven replica C-X75’s were created for the movie, with all likely destroyed during filming (along with a record-setting seven Aston Martins).

Callum poses with the Jaguar F-Type coupe.

More recently, Callum was behind the design of the Jaguar F-Type, the brand’s first two-seat sports car since the E-type, the XF sedan and station wagon, the F-Pace and E-pace crossovers, and the battery-electric I-Pace, named as the 2019 World Car of the Year, the World Car Design of the Year and the World Green Car. Callum will continue to consult for Jaguar, and will  be replaced by Julian Thompson, who joined Jaguar in 2000 following his time at Volkswagen, Lotus and Ford.

Speaking on his decision to step down as design director after 20 years, Callum said,

I have had an incredible career at Jaguar. One of my biggest highlights was creating XF because it represented the beginning of a new era moving Jaguar from tradition to contemporary design – it was a significant turning point in our story. Designing the F-TYPE was a dream come true for me, and I-PACE was an opportunity to create something hugely innovative that would really challenge the perception of Jaguar – and its success is testament to just how far the brand has come. I came into this role with a mission to take Jaguar design back to where it deserved to be. It has taken 20 years, but I believe I have achieved what I set out to do. Given the strength of both our products and the design team I feel that now is the right time to move on, both personally and professionally, and explore other design projects. Designing Jaguar cars was a lifelong dream for me and I’m delighted to remain involved as a consultant for the brand. I have worked closely with Julian Thomson for 18 years – he is a hugely talented designer and absolutely the right person to lead Jaguar design into its next chapter.