Ian Callum Is Hot Rod Culture’s Happy Heretic

The Jaguar designer shares his lifelong passion for chopping and dropping.

Dick Barnatt

As Jaguar’s chief stylist, Ian Callum designs cars that are the definition of the British establishment: upper-crusty and redolent of afternoon teas at Goodwood House, even when they snarl with 550 horsepower.

So why is Callum tinkering with a classic hot-rod Ford? Apparently, even a Scottish teenager growing up 6,000 miles from SoCal was an easy mark for hot-rodding’s charms.

Callum traces his Deuce Coupe epiphany to his 13th birthday, when his younger brother Moray—the future design chief for Mazda and Ford—wrapped him three copies of Car Craft and Rod & Custom, American magazines as exotic in the small-town Scotland of the Sixties as the British Invasion was to Yankee teens.

“He got them from the local news agent in Dumfries, and it was one of the best presents I ever had,” Callum recalls. “The whole world opened up to me at that point, and I started listening to the Beach Boys.”

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The cinematic, chopped-roof rods, he says, “were just so rebellious and antisocial.”

“They just felt attainable to me, a cheap form of transport that could do anything I wanted it to do.”

It wasn’t long before Callum was penning a letter to Jaguar vice-chairman Bill Heynes, asking for advice, providing some car drawings—and requesting photos of the Bertone-bodied Jaguar Pirana. But another 33 years would pass before Callum would finally acquire his own ’32 Ford, a “High Boy” shorn of its front fenders. His friend Jonathan Golding built the car.

Courtesy Ian Callum

“He’s brilliant, the best hot-rod builder in the U.K. by far, on par with the California guys,” Callum says of Golding, whose mental latitude is implied by the palm trees that decorate his Home Grown Hot Rods in Southend—at least in summer months. That seaside town in Essex can only keep dreamin’ of California sunshine, but it was and is a mecca of the U.K. hot-rodding scene.

Callum’s Ford is ably powered by a Ford 351 Windsor V-8 with a racing cam and GT40 heads, which add up to more than 400 horsepower. Steel wheels—skinny 15’s up front, fat 16’s in back—are mated to a 3.5-inch dropped front axle and an eight-inch Ford rear axle with a coil suspension.

“It’s quite a handful,” Callum says. “The wheels light up in back quite readily.”

He recently put the front fenders back on, both for aesthetics and to avoid dousing cars—his own and others—with rooster tails of water off the naked wheels.

“It started off fenderless, but it looked a little too sweet, and I always thought I’d get pulled over and get a ticket,” Callum says. “I’ve also chopped another inch off the roof, so 2.5 inches total, which gets it to that mean look you like.”

Courtesy Ian Callum

The modern rodding scene, he believes, was getting a bit flowery and excessive. So he’s been taking his Ford back to a minimal look and feel, including ditching the electric windows and air conditioner.

“It’s that back-to-basics simplicity that I love about hot rods,” he says.

Considering that elemental nature, hot rods and high-tech Jaguars might seem chalk and cheese, as the Brits say. But Callum sees plenty of similarities that dovetail with his own design and performance aesthetic.

“The proportions of those cars, once you rod them, are absolutely fabulous,” he says. “You look at a ’32 Ford stacked up against an SS Jaguar, and I’ll tell you, there’s a lot in common.”

Callum’s other current babies are a ’56 Chevy and a restyled and heavily modified 1962 Jaguar Mk 2, with a modern 4.2-liter Jaguar V-8 and the bigger wheels that are his design norm.

“There’s a bit of resto rod in there, and it can keep up with any modern BMW,” he says.

He’s always wanted to hot rod an SS-1, the mid-Thirties model from when Jaguar was still the Swallow Coachbuilding Company; with founder William Lyons supplying his long-hooded beauties to companies including Morris, Austin and Fiat.

“That’d be cool, wouldn’t it?”’ Callum asks, and you can almost see the SS-1 taking shape and cranking over in his mind. “I’m sure the aficionados would string me up, but why not?”

Courtesy Ian Callum