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29 April 2013

TopGear India chats with Ian Callum

We bumped into the Design Director, Jaguar, at the Geneva Motor Show and sat down for a chat. Here's how it went...

Sriram Narayanan
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You’ve been around since Aston and Jaguar were one family. Did you have to ensure both had some family look?
I did the Aston DB7 and the Vanquish. At that time, I only approached Aston Martin without any consideration for the relationship with Jaguar. But as time passed and I had to involve myself with both, I consciously took some time to consider what’s an Aston and what’s a Jag. For me, an Aston is heavily tailored, tight… with a very constructed, yet simple feel to it. And a Jaguar is voluptuous, curvaceous with lots of exaggeration.

You started from where Geoff Lawson left off at Jaguar. How difficult was it to shift from the retro designs of that time to the forward-looking designs of now?
I took over when Geoff passed away in 1999. He had quite a difficult time because Jaguar had many masters. When you work on an Aston, nobody questions it. Put that grille and they’re all happy. But everybody feels like they own Jaguar and they all would get involved in giving their point of view. But when Geoff was given a free hand, he came up with the very modern XK8. When I arrived, I felt, as a designer and as a Jaguar fan, we needed to get back to the raw state of what Jaguar stood for. What Jaguar stood for in the days of Sir William Lyons. He was radical, innovative and had no room for sentimentality. He was ruthless and always wanted to move forward. I went through Jaguar’s archives. Historically, the gap we’ve had between new cars has been two years, four years, one year… then after the XJ of the 1990s, things never moved. The board got my point, and decided the only way ahead was forward.

The production XF did not have the sleek headlamps like the concept. How did you tackle that criticism?
When the concept was being prepped, the XF production car was already finished. And those lights hinted at old Jaguars and we did not have the LED technology at the time to make slimmer lights. Now that we do, you see it in the refreshed XF. But yes, I learnt a big lesson. We over-promised. Created something we couldn’t make. And I won’t ever be doing something like that again.

But isn’t the whole idea of a concept to let the designer go wild?
The days when you could present a concept as an indulgence, a work of art are finished. When you show something to somebody, they want it. And then you say well, you can’t have it. I grew up at a time when Italian design houses were doing these beautiful show cars. They were showing their talents. There was a reason for them to do it. “Look at what we can do”. Why should we do a car that is not going to see the light of day?

How does a designer react to this?
I love dealing with facts. A lot of people ask me where I have compromised. But a design is not about compromise, it’s about decision-making. Design is about taking all the facts on board and dealing with them. If you don’t deal with them, you can’t make anything. It’s irrelevant. We do push the boundaries, but we want to get back to the reality of trying to make everything work. You have to fit people in the car and you can’t escape that. But I will challenge how much room they need.

What’s a bigger challenge? Humble or expensive cars?
Cost is apparent in the whole process. When you understand how much each millimeter of plastic costs in the dashboard, you really understand the value of the money you spend on the car. Even the premium brands need you to watch every penny. I think humbler cars are a little more difficult than sportscars. But both need you to follow the same set of rules.

Since the split, Jags have gone way ahead and Astons have remained the same with design. What do you think?
Aston’s a much smaller company. As a designer, I am not in a place to tell them anything. I don’t know their circumstances. If we had only one car to play with, we would’ve been in the same position as them.

When did you decide a car designer is what you wanted to be?
A silver Porsche 356 coupe drove past my house. I was four. It looked like a spaceship to me. And I said I want to design cars like that.

What’s your best work as a designer?
The F-Type and the original Vanquish. And I hope my best work as a designer is the next one. If it’s not, I’d rather stop my work.

Before you sit down to design what do you do?
I get into a good state of mind. Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Have a glass or two of wine, maybe. I try to keep my mind at peace.

What’s a non-automotive product you love as a design?
I love Apple. It’s brought beautiful design to the masses in a way nothing else has. It’s pure. I love some old furniture, Bauhaus design and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

What’s the non-Callum car you like the most?
The first-generation Audi TT. I think it was very brave and very pure. I also love the DB4 and DB5 Astons and the E-Type and Mark 2 Jags.

What do you do at home?
I just draw things. I enjoy drawing things. I enjoy product design. I am just thinking out a briefcase right now. Figuring it in my head.

What do you drive? What’s the most fun you’ve had in a car?
My daily driver is an XKR-S. The most fun I have had in a car is the Jag C Type in the Mille Miglia. Love that mechanical feel. Other than Jags, I have and love the original Mini and also have this American Hot Rod. Another car I love driving all day is the Porsche Panamera.

What do you think of its looks?
I wouldn’t want to comment on that. But it’s a lovely car to drive. It’s one of our benchmarks.

Tags: ian callum, jaguar, xjr, xfr, xkr, xkr s, d type, e type, f type, s type, xj, xk, xf

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