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Jaguar’s design director and Britain’s top culture critic meet to discuss Jaguar’s design provenance and XJs old and new.


    Ian Callum is responsible for developing Jaguar’s new design language and has led the redesign of the XF, XK and XJ. In 2008, he was presented with the Walpole Award for British Luxury Design Talent. He has previously worked for Ford, Aston Martin and TWR.


    Stephen Bayley is an author and magazine and newspaper columnist, specialising in architecture and design. He is a consultant for various global brands, and was a former curator for exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, as well as being a founder of London’s Design Museum.

  • "What if it had been 'Lion', or perhaps 'Tiger'?" muses Ian Callum, Jaguar's chief designer. I think about his question for a moment. A lion or a tiger would be too cartoonish. Too obvious. A jaguar is a much more subtle idea, and a more elegant animal. "Besides, the word sounds like a shape," Callum continues. "It's got a certain voluptuousness. It even looks good: the letter forms work together."

  • I've come to Coventry to talk to Callum about Jaguar design - past and present. Car design is a matter of reconciling niggling details and bravura gestures into a meaningful whole, and Callum’s new XJ is car design at its sophisticated best. Every detail has been interrogated, and every line cross-questioned. So the car stands witness to everything a Jaguar should be: imposing, but well-mannered and just a little bit aggressive.

  • Callum and I are having our conversation in a modern warehouse in Coventry, England. What we have here is an informal Jaguar museum, containing cars for which there is no room in the Jaguar Heritage museum at Brown's Lane. These are last-off-the-line models under covers, and curiosities including a limousine (stretched to near Papal grandiosity) and an XJ-S motorway police patrol car. There are also rare Daimlers, prototype XKs, Formula 1 cars and a clay model. But the car we are here to study is the first XJ. An example is spotlit behind us. Here we sit in a state approaching reverence.

  • The 'Experimental Jaguar' programme was launched in 1964 to redefine and modernise Jaguar's range, creating a large all-encompassing saloon that could replace most of Jaguar's diverse four-door models in one stroke. The result - which appeared in 1968 – was routinely described, even by Italians, as ‘the most beautiful saloon in the world’.

  • The 1968 XJ was the last Jaguar in which Sir William Lyons' influence was apparent. The Sable-coloured car in these pictures is the one Lyons himself pulled off the production line for his personal use. Speaking in 1971, he described this car as his "personal favourite" saying: "It comes closer than any other to what I have always had in my mind as the ideal car." If you want to understand the essence of Jaguar, this is a good place to begin.

  • The 1968 XJ was the car a 12-year-old Callum saw in a Scottish car dealer’s window; the one that inspired him to become a designer. “At the time my father had a Vauxhall Victor,” he tells me. “The Jaguar was the closest to exotic you could get in Dumfries. I fell in love with it.” Callum was struck by the proportions and by the drama of what were, for the time, enormous wheels with very little metal bodywork above them. So much so that he wrote to Jaguar submitting his design sketches and enquiring about work. “I looked at the XJ for two solid hours. In a teenage intellectual sort of way, I tried to understand why it looked so good.”

    Since this schoolboy meditation, Callum has become, of all contemporary car designers, the one who understands morphology best. It is this investment of thought and passion that gives the resulting shapes meaning; every contour is invested with value. A Jaguar should be “the optimum expression of metal”.

  • Callum’s is a daring appraisal in a cautiously corporate world. “William Lyons’ aesthetic was to go to extremes. His original SS1 had a longer bonnet than anything in its class. There is almost always an extremity in a Jaguar. This is why the XK150 is so much less impressive than the XK120: it’s normalised, sensible. It’s not… extreme.” A 1959 3.8-litre Mark II, on the other hand, is perfect: compact, uncompromised, meaningful and seductive. Of course, design reveals psychological states.

  • I have known Callum for a long time, but am fascinated by his remarks about sketching. He sketches often. “I attach special relevance to drawing,” he says. “It is still very important. If you can understand something, you can draw it. If you can draw something you can understand it. But I’m terrible at people. I could not even do a self-portrait at art college.”

  • As Ian Callum and I walk out of the warehouse to his car. He fishes around inside and brings out a small portfolio. It contains teenage drawings and a reply to the letter he wrote in 1968, from the then Jaguar engineering director Bill Heynes. Alongside encouraging words about his flair for styling, Heynes advised the young Callum to develop his talent at art school, which he did. This was the journey Jaguar sent him on: a mission to continue designing the most beautiful cars in the world.

  • Photography by David Ellis

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