What do the 1959 Jaguar Mk. II, 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, and 1965 Buick Riviera have in common with the 1994 Aston Martin DB7, 2001 Aston Martin Vanquish, 2014 Jaguar F-Type, and the ProDrive BRX Hunter that took second at the 2022 Dakar Rally?
The first three classics helped inspire a young Scot to seek a career in automobile design. The other four are among the products of his still-going career that included leading Jaguar design for 20 years and getting Aston Martin design back on track for the new century. Designs that he says inspired him, and those that he later created, share the common thread of making an emotional impact that resonates across generations.
The BRX Hunter comes from Callum’s design firm in Warwick, England, named, simply, Callum. A supercar yet to be announced will also join the firm’s portfolio. Meanwhile, Callum’s firm has also turned to projects as disparate as future “mobility hubs” for cities and, what Callum calls a “first love,” furniture design. The latter includes his own modern take on the classic Eames Chair.
Callum spoke with Hemmings to discuss the art of infusing modern automobile design with the kind of emotion that can make cars compelling and memorable—regardless of the powertrain. We started with his own connection to the American classics he loves.
Though Callum does not own a Riviera or C2 ’Vette, he does have a ’32 Ford hot rod and is restoring a 1971 Chevy C-10 pickup. For a while, he owned a ’56 Chevy that he says was an internet impulse purchase. The pickup has a Chevy small block, but, down the road a few years, Callum envisions an EV conversion for the truck and a pair of classic Mini Coopers.
The Exotic Buick
Many Hemmings readers (and authors) grew up seeing the first-gen Riviera and the C2 Corvette as daily drivers in their towns, but Callum, born in Scotland in 1954, mainly saw those cars only in photos. He tells Hemmings that rarely seeing these cars in person – and almost always at special events rather than on the road – gave him a unique perspective that helped shape his ideas on design.
“I didn’t grow up with these cars,” he says. “My context of them was something very exotic. I grew fonder of them as I got older and understood the depths of their design. They’re just beautiful pieces of design. That size of the Riviera, common in the U.S. back then, was so exotic to me when I was younger. Because it was so large and long, designers could express themselves more easily.”
That’s not to say Callum treats those classics as sacred artifacts. Given the chance, he says he would “retro-mod” them. (We Yanks call it restomodding.) Callum believes that thoughtfully chosen design, mechanical, and interior upgrades don’t hurt a classic but rather can renew it for more years of even greater enjoyment
“I appreciate original designs, but there’s always room for improvement with a better powertrain, suspension, wheels, brakes, and instrumentation,” he says. “My rationale is, if the original designers of those cars had what we have at our disposal now, they’d probably do some of the same things. If I had the Riviera, I’d lower it and put on bigger wheels.
”That particular idea has a solid precedent. William L. Mitchell, the eminent head of GM design who instigated the Riviera, was said to feel that the chopped-roof 1963 Silver Arrow I concept was the best expression of the design. Callum cites Mitchell as one of his design heroes, along with Giorgetto Giugiaro and Sergio Pininfarina.
“I’m sure Bill Mitchell would have liked to see 19-inch wheels on the Riviera,” he says.