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Ian Callum and Julian Thomson in conversation with Philip Porter

Above: photo courtesy of Max O'Neill


Article by Georgia Williams


Former Jaguar design directors Ian Callum and Julian Thomson teamed up to talk about their careers in automotive design on the first day of the Motoring Literary and Art Festival in December.


Ian led Jaguar design from 1999 to 2019, bringing in Julian to run the advanced design studio. When Ian left, Julian stepped into the design director role, from 2019 to 2021. He now works as design director at General Motors Advanced Design Europe, while Ian has founded his own design consultancy, CALLUM Designs.


Julian explained that as a child he didn’t excel in academia and therefore didn’t enjoy going to school. “I failed all my exams because I was busy playing with cars,” he said. Ian’s story was different: a high achiever in maths and physics he struggled to convince his teachers that a creative career like car design was worth pursuing, and to let him study art.

Ian revealed he once applied for a job at Lotus but didn’t get it. Julian did join the Norfolk sports car firm, where he designed the first Lotus Elise. “It was very nice to be part of it,” he said.


At Jaguar they faced a controversy over the Ford Mondeo platform being used for the Jaguar X-type. Ian said, “I think people put too much emphasis on platforms. They made a big thing about it being a Ford platform – I don’t understand why. It’s about what you do with the platform.”


Ian also led the design of the C-X75 which never made it to production. He said it was the “ultimate designer statement”. When asked what was wrong with it, he said, “nothing, it was magic.”


The C-X75 was the car he’d most want to own of those he had been involved with during his career. But Julian said: “You shouldn’t buy the cars you design.” He did once run an Elise but said he felt like he was “going round wearing a jumper I’d knitted myself.”


Ian discussed Jaguar projects which never got off the ground: “I always wanted to design an urban car, but the proposal was rejected by JLR marketing and the CEO at the time.”


Julian, meanwhile, revealed the problem with making a good design for the biggest selling cars of today, SUVs: “Sports cars look like they’re going 100mph when they’re standing still and an SUV looks like it’s standing still when it’s going 100mph.”


By Georgia Williams

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