This is part of the “Unsung Heroes” series, highlighting outstanding individuals who don’t always get the public credit they deserve. “Unsung Heroes” is sponsored by Aramark. Read more posts in the series »
If you don’t spend your days thumbing through car magazines and religiously watching reruns of “Top Gear,” the name Ian Callum probably won’t ring a bell.
But if you have even a passing interest in cars, you’ll recognise his work. There’s the Aston Martin Vanquish that starred in the 2002 James Bond flick “Die Another Day” (and turned invisible in the movie).
There’s also the DB7, which became one of the most popular Astons. Cult classics like the Ford Escort Cosworth and the Nissan R390 are part of Callum’s oeuvre.
More recently, Callum has helped along the resurgence of Jaguar with a wave of beautiful sedans and the F-Type, the brand’s first true sports car since the legendary E-Type passed away in the 1970s.
Even the industry’s harshest critics have found a soft spot for Callum’s work. “I’m not saying the Aston Martin DB7 looks good for a car. For me, this is the most beautiful thing ever made by man,” gushed Jeremy Clarkson, the curmudgeonly host of the BBC’s “Top Gear.”
Callum has built a 35-year career around his seemingly effortless ability to bring simple and elegant designs to life. His work has staying power: More than two decades after the DB7’s debut, the car’s design DNA can be seen in Aston Martin’s current product line.
The Dumfries, Scotland, native started his design career with Ford in 1979 after graduating with a master’s in vehicle design from the Royal College of Art in London. For the next decade, Callum climbed Ford’s corporate ladder, ascending to the position of design manager at the company’s Italian Ghia studio.
He left Ford in 1990 to join engineering consultancy TWR Designs as its general manager and chief designer. There, Callum worked on some of his most glamorous projects for clients like Aston Martin, Nissan, and Range Rover.
But his greatest achievement may be the turnaround he helped engineer at Jaguar after being appointed its director of design in 1999.
In the late ’90s, the luxury carmaker was mired in an overly nostalgic design rut with such a heavy emphasis on retro-themed designs that it struggled to find a way forward. Callum immediately installed a new styling philosophy.
“There isn’t a specific visual cue that makes a Jaguar,” Callum told Business Insider. “If you look back at the history of the Jaguar, it’s an ever-changing [design] profile on the cars.”
Jaguar cast off its rigid design theme for what Callum calls “a set of values” that allows for new styles while maintaining basic principles. These values include simple yet beautiful lines, a striking grill and headlight design used across the Jaguar lineup, and, most important, an eye-catching profile that would make any passersby look twice.
Within the auto industry, Callum’s work is well recognised, earning him awards from Auto Express, Top Gear magazine, and the British Royal Society of Arts.
But Callum himself is mostly unknown, even to many Jaguar and Aston Martin owners. Though he feels that car designers deserve more recognition and social standing in the artistic world, he is content with his level of anonymity.
“I have two pleasures in designing a car,” Callum said. “One is the creation of the design itself, when you take a look back and enjoy the design with your team, and two is when the public gets a kick out of the design.”
Fortunately for Callum and Jaguar, that public reaction has translated into business success. Jaguar sales jumped 19% in the first quarter of 2014, and the F-Type convertible and coupe have been piling up rave reviews.
And there’s no reason Jaguar’s new philosophy won’t keep producing hits. “That can take us anywhere as we move forward — we can change the details,” Callum said. “As long as the values of beauty, simplicity, and a sense of visual power remain, then it will be a Jaguar.”
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