End Of Line

Ian Callum has left Jaguar design. Time to reflect on his achievements. 

Ian Callum in front of one of his proudest achievements. (c) autodevot

After years of turmoil, suffering from an ill-fated growth strategy and management oblivious to the marque’s inherent qualities and character, Jaguar all of a sudden found itself with a new chief designer, whose main task was to lend a confused, humiliated brand at least some stylistic sense of direction.

This was in the year 1999, when Ian Callum was unexpectedly promoted to the post of Jaguar chief designer, in the wake of the sudden passing of Geoff Lawson, who had been the company’s stylistic custodian since 1984.

Twenty years later, the situation is both drastically different yet eerily similar. For once again, Jaguar has fallen prey to an ill-fated growth strategy and management oblivious to the marque’s inherent qualities – a state of affairs Ian Callum couldn’t prevent, just like Geoff Lawson before him.

But unlike 1999, when the brand’s most recent product was the unfortunate X-type, Jaguar isn’t kept going on the basis of hope for better times alone, but can rightfully boast about its I-pace EV crossover being among the most interesting and cutting edge designs on the market right now.

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So there’s hope that, after a string of highly disappointing models, JLR’s management have come to realise to a somewhat greater extent that Jaguar is no mainstream brand and therefore has no place competing head to head with mainstream models in a crowded market.

Allegedly, Ian Callum himself played a crucial role in bringing I-pace to the market in such relatively undiluted form. And yet I-pace also illustrates the limits of the Scotsman’s efforts. For despite the chief designer’s repeated public declarations that no Jaguar should ever run on small diameter wheels (an obsession of Callum’s similar to Sir William Lyons’ penchant for low canopies), I-pace can be ordered on wheels of a size that aren’t just visually unbecoming, but utterly ruin the visual impact of the car.

Which isn’t merely unfortunate, but can seriously hurt the prospects of an all-new model, whose customers need conquered without exception. Hence it would help of the car was introduced under the most flattering terms possible.

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Instead, some people’s first impression of I-pace can be that of a decidedly awkward and hence undesirable car – hardly the ideal association with an all-new selling proposition.

Clearly, one must assume that Jaguar’s senior management wouldn’t listen to their own chief designer, preferring to adhere to what so many of them had learned at BMW years ago (which is that only an expensive optional – and high profit margin – wheel may ever be a truly attractive wheel) instead.

That Jaguar isn’t BMW and that Jaguars have always sold on looks above all else obviously eluded these decision makers. That a brand with something of an image issue also isn’t helped by having unbecoming base model cars on the road seemingly has, too. And Callum, with all due respect, has failed at making them understand this very essence of the marque they all are supposed to nurture.

Obviously, any chief designer is only as good as his superiors allow him to be. And Ian Callum has experienced quite a few different sets of these over the past two decades, some of whom had a firmer grasp on Jaguar brand values than others. However, despite the current state of affairs not being quite as grim as it was at the turn of the century, despite I-pace, his mission to comprehensively reinvent Jaguar for the future remains incomplete.

It will be interesting to see whether his successor (and long-serving Jaguar design second-in-command, Julian Thomson) will be able truly fulfil this ambition. Anyone with even the faintest passion for Sir William Lyons’ creation certainly ought to wish him the best of luck.

Meanwhile, the brand that Ian Callum truly and unreservedly successfully did re-establish isn’t called Jaguar – but is also headquartered in Gaydon, Warwickshire. For just as Jaguar has been struggling with its core values twenty years ago, Aston Martin hit the bullseye with the DB9 and V8 Vantage models unveiled from 2003 onwards.

Callum’s masterpiece. (c) bringatrailer

These incredibly assured and magnificently accomplished car designs were created under the direction of Ian Callum too. There never were any questions asked by either commentators or the public about whether these cars were ‘proper’ Astons. They simply captured, refined and prudently updated the marque’s essence. And they could only ever be ordered with appropriately sized wheels.

Overseeing such a masterful generation of car designs is more than almost any car designer could ever hope to achieve. For that reason alone, Ian Callum ought to be congratulated for a stellar career. And wished the best for a fulfilled retirement.

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

Auto-Didakt

47 thoughts on “End Of Line”

  1. Sorry, a rwd premium gt with a longer front overhang than rear overhang is an automatic styling fail.

    Longer front than rear overhang is an entry level fwd economy car format forced by engineering hard points.

    A large engine rwd gt naturally has a short front / long rear overhangs (just look at the history of these cars). The opposite must be a deliberate choice to ape economy car styling constraints.

    Why?

    1. Because aesthetically challenged people such as myself consider this apparently misbegotten concoction the last flawlessly beautiful car design.

    2. I like that long, pointy bonnet and grille a lot! shortening it would make the whole front part look too light and truncated.

    3. different picture,

      more like fwd proportions, not traditional gt

    4. I think the photo above is unrepresentative in that the angle of the shot exaggerates the front overhang significantly. The photo below of the Vantage, DB9 and Rapide is a fairer representation and for my money, all three are lovely designs, even if the Rapide is a marginal four-seater:

      I considered a second-hand V8 Vantage convertible before buying my current Boxster, but poor transmission options and astronomical service charges put me off.

    5. May I ask as to what point exactly you’re trying to make here, Angel?

      You’re entitled to disliking the DB9’s looks or preferring the V8’s more pert appearance – fair enough. However, if you’re expecting some penny to drop, I’m afraid you can post as many GT profile photos as you like to illustrate how ‘wrong’ the DB9 is. To me, this car is as close to perfection as it gets.

    6. Love the Rapide – it’s a stupid car, but it’s also a glorious piece of nonsense. There are two in the town where I live, so I get to see them regularly (lucky me). If I got a windfall one day, I think one of them would finally pension off my C6 … maybe!?

    7. S. V., take a seat in the second row of a (Fisker) Karma, and the Rapide will all of a sudden appear as sensible as a Mercedes W124 to you!

  2. You are very right about the wheels on the iPace. I saw my first iPace on the road a week ago. It was on the small wheels. Not only did it fail to impress. It just looked weird and wrong – which will now be my opinion of the iPace until I see one on larger wheels. But the second impression will fight an uphill battle against the first.

    1. … but the larger wheels are really high profit margin items! Isn’t that worthing shooting yourself in the foot, just a little bit?

  3. Good morning, Christopher. Your images of the I-Pace are very striking. The design is extraordinarily sensitive to wheel size and it’s a shock to discover that the standard wheels, which look ridiculously small, are actually 18″ items. A Google search for I-Pace images shows virtually all cars on larger optional wheels, but the majority of these images would be of publicity or road test models, so the Google sample may not be representative of what’s actually on the road.

    When one uses the configurator on the Jaguar website, the first “default” image one sees is of a white example on standard wheels, and it looks just awful:

    The photo above is of an example from the Jaguar Approved Used selection. Its the only one on standard wheels out of 68 available, so Jaguar’s “up-selling” in this regard seems a to be successful, if rather cynical, tactic.

    The configurator offers three sizes of wheel; 18″, 20″ and 22″. Larger wheels cost anything from £1,600 to £4,800 and the 22″ wheels incur a mandatory additional charge of £1,100 for air suspension. That’s a total of up to £5,900 to make your new I-Pace look “right”, that’s roughly a 10% premium on the list price!

    1. Regrettably, I’ve heard variations on Max’s story too many times.

      This winter, Jaguar ran a pop-up store in the centre of Hamburg to promote I-pace. The two cars in the showroom were top-spec, but the demonstrator cars cruising through town for a few weeks were mostly fitted with the smaller/standard wheels. And boy did they look awkward, which was a fair few people’s first impression of the car.

    2. There is unusual sensitivity to wheel-size in evidence among DTW´s merry band of readers. I accept I might be an outlier. Unless wheels are very small I just ignore them.

    3. There’s unusual sensitivity amongst DTW’s merry band of readers to all things relating to automotive design: that’s why we’re here!

    4. Daniel, this made my day! These pictures remind me of the Japanese replicas of cars like a Jaguar MK2, based on a Nissan Micra or other small cars.

    5. Daniel – those ‘photo-shopped’ pictures … had me laugh out-loud in a meeting (serves me right …). Genius!

    6. Yes, genius indeed, but not mine, I must admit. They’re way above my Photoshopping abilities. I just Googled “big car tiny wheels” and there they were.

      My working life was largely in the pre-smartphone era, so meetings often did seem interminable. That said, I did observe a colleague completing his Tesco online weekly shopping during a particularly tedious presentation by the Finance Director.

      Richard has not taken the bait…yet.

  4. When we bought our F56 Mini Cooper hatch, we were faced with a similar dilemma. Although not as bad as the I-Pace, the standard 15″ alloys looked too small, and not particularly attractive either:

    We spent £1,100 on an upgrade to 17″ items which, I think, look rather more appropriate in scale, and a nicer design too:

    1. By coincidence, this morning I spotted this picture of the Mini hatch’s standard-fit 15″ alloy wheel:

      One aspect of its design is particularly interesting to me: the (superfluous?) thin rim around its perimeter that apes what one finds on a steel wheel. Note also the ugly placement of the balance weight, again characteristic of how a steel wheel is balanced.

      Some years ago, Opel/Vauxhall produced steel wheels with corresponding plastic wheel covers for its Vectra model that very closely resembled an alloy wheel. It was presented as the solution to a conflict between company car users, who wanted the prestige of having alloy wheels on their car, and their fleet managers, who hated the costs involved in repairing or replacing damaged alloy wheels.

      It seems to me that Mini have done precisely the opposite, and produced an alloy wheel that, as closely as possible, resembles a steel item!

    2. Here’s a set from Ebay of (rather tatty) Vectra steel wheels with matching plastic “alloy”covers:

      The fact that I’ve never noticed them on a Vectra must mean they’re pretty convincing.

  5. Thank you for another interesting and well-argued piece.

    Ian Callum can certainly look back on his career at Jaguar with pride, and I think his achievements are sometimes under rated. There have been a few weird mis steps along the way though.

    People will often point to details such as the odd blacked-out D pillar on his XJ, or the XF which was previewed by a slinky concept car and then launched with bug-eyed headlamps that just looked wrong.

    But, in my mind, the biggest mistake was ignoring the praise heaped on the cabins of the first XF and the XJ and landing the XE/XF cousins with such dreary interiors. This stuff doesn’t really bother me, but it no doubt cost a number of sales from prospective customers who base their purchasing decisions on being wowed by a showroom visit and 15 minute test drive.

    1. The post X351 cars’ cabin designs still baffle me, too.

      There doesn’t seem to have been much turnover in terms of design staff by that point, so the same people would’ve been in charge from F-type onwards that had created some fine interiors previously. What had changed though was ownership and management. Tata had taken over and Jaguar was redefined from a ‘large luxury brand’ (so something more akin to more affordable Maserati in terms of image) into a ‘premium’ brand that was intended to chase volume and BMW. Hence the changes in corporate ID, hence, one must assume, the reduced focus on pleasing interior ambience.

  6. I don’t see the wheel diameter as the main problem here. I have to say that for the sake of comfort I tend to not like big wheels with too low profile tyres.
    The issue I have with these wheels on the I-Pace are rather their design. It seems that many manufacturers deliberately make their standard wheels ugly in order to push the customers towards ‘high profit margin items’, as Christopher puts it. The fine spokes and uninspired overall design just don’t match with the clean, simple lines of the car. I guess that wheels with the same diameter, but a simple, relatively flat surface would already put the looks in a completely different league.

    1. Hi Simon. The “utility” appearance on many standard-fit alloy wheels is, I’m sure, a deliberate ploy to coerce the buyer into an expensive upgrade. Even Porsche does this on the Boxster, a car with a £47k entry price.

      Here’s the standard-fit 17″ alloy on the Boxster:

      And here’s a typical example of the 19″ upgrade that many buyers (including me) seem to choose:

      The upgrade cost something in the order of £2.5k but the extra cost of manufacture of the larger wheels is what, maybe £200? That leaves a lovely fat profit margin for manufacturer and dealer to share. Its no wonder that the standard-fit items are so plain and unattractive. (The brief to the designer must be interesting.)

      Should we know better, and not let ourselves be exploited in this way? Well, I would dismiss a (relatively rare) second-hand Boxster on the standard-fit wheels, and I suspect many others would too, so it’s residual value will be marked down accordingly.

    2. Here’s the car on 17″ standard-fit wheels:

      And on 19″ optional items:

  7. I think Angel raised a fair point about the car billed as Callum´s masterpiece. While I am not particularly bothered by the way way it looks, I can see why one might be. And the question is how does what many would call a fairly nice looking car get away with the long overhang at the front. And also, was there any leeway to make it less overhangy?
    It´s not a design that will make me faint with disgust but it is a design that trades beauty for interest.

    About Mr Callum generally: he probably inherited one of the toughest design jobs along with Alfa Romeo and Ford. We can´t see the effort expended to get the designs out into the show-rooms but I think that despite some misjudgements, he´d get full marks for producing a very good tally of decent cars. As time passes we´ll see which if them endure. If there is a hazard it is that the small quirks that typify a Callum Jaguar will tell against them for some years before becoming appreciated design flourishes.

    1. You may well call the DB9 my Opel Astra F, if that helps putting things into perspective.

    2. I don’t think Ian Callum is a bad guy, I like listening to him talk about the design process and what goes into it, and what the constraints are, but it’s the ultimate designs that matter, and I don’t think the Jaguar designs he is responsible for are successful.

      As for the DB9, the reason why the classic large engine GT had the proportions it did is because the front wheels were pushed forward for weight distribution and handling, the wheelbase was kept short because the cabin was short (and to reduce weight and improve agility) and the rear overhand was long to provide significant trunk space for the affluent occupants, space for a large fuel tank, mufflers etc., as well as move the weight distribution further back.

      The DB9 deficiencies include an inadequately small trunk due to lack of rear overhang, and poor weight distribution so that a rear transaxle is needed to get to 50:50 (many cars have 50:50 without a rear transaxle).

      As for extra nose length tacked on for stylistic rather than engineering reasons, when a designer does that they are in the realm of the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – and I don’t think that is where they should want to be.

    3. When you look at the DB9’s engine bay you see that the engine is pushed back far enough. But the engine is quite big and you need some space/length to make the bonnet flow into the low grille. You also might want to have a bit of crumple zone in front of all that metal.

  8. I have to admit that I had not appreciated that Callum can be thanked for the DB9 and V8 Vantage … so old Fisker just took the glory, did he?

    I prefer the V8 to the DB9, but am happy to accept alternative arguments. The new Vantage looks utterly gauche in comparison, and the DB11 on a little less so (although I rather like the Volante version).

    As for his Jaguar legacy, I have read some really scornful comments on other sites, which I think are horribly unfair. For the record, I really don’t like a number of the recent cars … E-Pace, F-Pace, XF (Mk2) both saloon and estate. I think the XE is OK, just lacking a little in pizzazz, and agree with the views about the i-Pace and its sensitivity to wheel-size.

    1. Fisker ordered a redesign of the rear lights, which was a valid, yet hardly crucial addition. That’s as far as his contributions stretch.

      I don’t blame the underwhelming to disappointing recent Jaguar designs not on Callum’s skills as a designer – but if there is something which he could be accused of, it may well be that wasn’t enough of a stubborn bastard in his dealings with superiors who clearly didn’t know better.

      This is all, of course, viewed from an outsider’s position. But one does get the impression that Gerry – for better or worse – was more successful at getting his way.

    2. Ah, so was Fisker responsible for those slightly naff body-coloured inserts on the rear lights? That’s the one aspect of both the DB9 and Vantage I dislike:

      I think it’s because the inserts are unconnected to the surrounding bodywork, as there is a shut line to the bootlid at their inboard edges. I think that the latest Vanquish handles this detail in a rather more convincing way:

    3. I actually liked those inserts – to me, they were a novel graphical approach and made the lights appear more delicate than a standard item (as on the original Vanquish). The Vanquish II’s solution, on the other hand, I always found deeply unconvincing. I never understood why the upper ‘arm’ ended abruptly by the boot lid’s edge, when the arrangement was so obviously screaming for this part to be continued, à la One-77:

      By the way: The DB9’s exterior designer was Wayne Burgess, whose name might ring a bell.

    4. Christopher, that’s a fair point about the Vanquish. It would have been very easy to have a red reflective strip inset into the bootlid, to continue the upper line across the tail, so a strange omission.

      I hadn’t noticed before, but the One-77 appears to have no external access to the boot. I suppose, if you can afford one, you can afford to have your luggage sent on ahead to the Hôtel de Paris as you motor down to Monte Carlo.

      We’ll have to agree to differ over the DB9 and Vantage rear lights. I appreciate that it does slim the lights down, but it’s still a bit “facelift 406” for me (but hey, what do I know..?!)

    5. Daniel,

      I’m not trying to persuade you, but explain why I believe there’s a difference between the Astons’ and the facelift 406’s body colour inserts: In the former case, there’s no shutline between the insert and the rest of the body, which is one of the reasons why the Peugeot’s solution looks rather untidy and more like an aftermarket affair.

      The Aston cleverly (in my opinion) circumnavigates this issue by having the insert next to the boot opening, where a shutline is inevitable and hence doesn’t suggest a cutting of any corners (figuratively speaking).

      Gorden Wagener’s initial W221 S-class design also featured body colour inserts in the rear lights, incidentally, which were more Peugeot than Aston-like in term of how they were incorporated.

  9. As for going out for a pint with a designer, Mr Callum gets my Guinness over McGovern any time.
    and laughing out loud in meetings over photo-shopped vehicles (very good btw) who would have thought it.

  10. Reading this article you get the impression that BMW managers don’t understand Jaguar. Considering what Karl-Heinz Kalbfell did at Alfa Romeo it seems that BMW managers in general don’t understand other brands.
    Looking at the current state of affairs at BMW, they seemingly don’t understand BMW, either.

    Or maybe Jaguar’s bunch of ex-BMW looked at what happened to BMW and simply came to the conclusion that you shouldn’t listen to chief designers because doing so you might ruin your brand…

    1. What exactly did Kalbfell do at Alfa? He was at the company for barely two years, during a period when hardly any product decisions were made, I hence find it rather difficult myself to ascertain what he did or didn’t achieve and what his concrete goals were.

      Given this lack of insight on my part, I’d be very curious to find out more.

    2. After getting in the hot seat at Milan Mr. Kalbfell told a journalist that he was astonished how low the production numbers of Alfa were. He said that before getting there he’d thought that Alfa made 600,000 cars a year only to find out that the number was less than 200,000.
      If someone asked me to become CEO of his company I’d at least try to find out what the econommical dimension of the company in question is. Maybe that’s simply too trivial for a true manager.

    3. To be honest, given its damning nature, I believed your indictment was based on more than a single interview.

      Incidentally, having talked to a fair few people who worked with him, KHK’s reputation, as far as understanding and respecting a brand, was outstanding. Considering the fact that many consider him the spiritus rector behind BMW’s reinvention of Rolls-Royce, I’d be inclined to agree with such an assessment.

  11. The surfeit of visual noise around the I-Pace’s door sills doesn’t exactly recall Browns Lane. But another noise flies more directly in the face of storied Jaguar heritage: Faux engine sounds are piped through the audio system.

    There’s a word for it in German: “zwölfzylinderkatze” just kidding, it’s “soundaktor”. That was a design decision, the kind taken in Munich, Wolfsburg, and Dearborn, it probably isn’t Ian Callum’s fault.

  12. On the Jaguar design director retirement piece, we’re talking about Astons and Ferraris. On the Saab facelift piece, we’re taking about BMW L-shaped taillights.

    You guys are simply the best, I don’t mean it sarcastically. Awesome stuff!!!!

    1. Yes, Millions, DTW is just like one of those conversations you overhear amongst groups of hard-of-hearing OAPs. I’m one of the serial offenders in taking threads off track, but we often end up in interesting, if obscure places!

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