Sculpting a Reputation: Jaguar Design Guru Ian Callum on the 2011 XJ


Jaguar chief of design Ian Callum knows a thing or two about cars. As an automotive designer for 30 years, Callum has laid his fingerprints all over some of the past decades’ most iconic vehicles, from the Jaguar XK to the Aston Martin DB12 Vanquish. With his latest work, the Jaguar XJ, Callum was tasked with preserving the stately luxury Jaguar has always been known for, while moving the brand forward into a more contemporary light. We had the opportunity to sit down with the congenial Scot to talk about designing the new XJ, the nerve of body kit designers, and where Jaguar is headed in the future.

Where did you begin with the XJ?

The car starts off as the platform from the previous car – which is a very good platform, by the way. It’s certainly worthy of another 10 years, no doubt about it. But we changed it. We changed some of the major dimensions, including the track of the car. So getting the stance of the car right was our first and foremost priority. So we wanted the track right. The wheelbase is the same, but we wanted to give the car a little more presence. Because when you get a wider track, you can then build the car inboard of that, it all comes from the wheel and goes outward.

The swoopy coupe-like profile of the XJ defies the traditional three-box design of most sedans.

The swoopy coupe-like profile of the XJ defies the traditional three-box design of most sedans.

That was the first priority. The next one was to decide whether it would be a three box car, like a generic luxury car – Audi, BMW, Mercedes – or to do something different. We went a marketing clinic with this and asked people what they thought, and they unanimously came back with the answer that we should do something different, because it’s Jag. We’re allowed to do that. They expected that of us. So the coupe profile was evolved at that point. So you’ve got the track, you’ve got the profile, and you build the car over that.

I always say when you’re designing something, you need a hook. You need something which drives everything else. There needs to be a hierarchy of discipline in it. In this car, that really is the graphic of the window. Visually, it’s a very strong graphic. It gives the car some visual length. We established that this graphic would be a primary part of the overall style of the car. And we designed the car around that, really. That really was the process.

Why did you choose a glass roof?

The glass roof came into play for two reasons. One was, we wanted to the car to look modern and exotic, and glass roofs I think do look exotic. But also, it’s a package advantage, because it takes up less room than a conventional sunroof by a height of about 25 or 30 millimeters, so we gained that in the height of the roof. It allowed us to lower it a little bit more, which is always good, from a design point of view. Yea, we could have put more room inside, but it’s a Jag, it needs to have that sense of sort of exotic sportiness to it. We just evolved from there, really.

How did you decide to shape the front end?

2011 Jaguar XJ

2011 Jaguar XJ

It had to be very bold. Because people who drive cars like these want the world to know they drive that car. They’re not shrinking violets, most of these people. They’re usually very successful people, and the have a lot of character. They want their car with a lot of character.

What parts of a traditional Jaguar design did you preserve?

The tail lamps were an interesting exercise. We put vertical lamps in because that was traditional, for Jag, the older ones. So we’ve picked up traditions, but we’ve sort of taken them another step forward, and ran the lamps over the top, which was a bit of fun.

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