Lamley interview: Ian Callum – car design maestro, diecast fan and Hot Wheels Legends Tour UK judge

The Hot Wheels Legends Tour makes its second visit to the UK on October 14th. Joining the judging panel this year is Ian Callum, former design chief for Jaguar and Aston Martin and current head of the CALLUM design and engineering business. Callum is also a big diecast collector and kindly agreed to chat to us about some of his favourite cars, in both full scale and miniature.

(Lead image courtesy London Concours via Newspress)

Even if you’re not familiar with Callum’s designs, the chances are you’ve encountered one in diecast form. Much of his later work at Jaguar has been modeled by Hot Wheels in recent years, including the F-Type, F-Type Project 7, XE SV Project 8 and the I-Pace eTrophy (I need to find that beautiful id version!). Then there are cars from earlier in Callum’s career like the Ford RS200 and Nissan R390 GT1 – both of which are now Hot Wheels models – and the Jaguar XK and Aston Martin DB7, which have been made by Matchbox in the past.

(find Hot Wheels Jaguar on eBay)

Ian grew up in Scotland with brother Moray, who retired as Ford’s vice president of design earlier this year and apparently has the boys’ childhood toy car collection with him in Detroit (“I got the car brochures!” says Ian). From a young age the two car-lovers played with Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox. Hot Wheels were launched when Ian was 14 years old.

“Toy cars represented what you wanted in real life when you grew up,” he says. “I started collecting a few Hot Wheels and it was fun to build the track over the furniture, trying to get them to go further and through the loops. Better than zooming cars across the carpet and chipping the paint on a table leg!

“The great thing for me was that Hot Wheels represented American hot rods and custom cars – cars that, at that age, we didn’t see in the UK. I remember the first time I experienced them. I couldn’t believe how freewheeling they were. I liked the exaggeration, the oversized wheels and that the cars were more affordable than some of the others. They were a part of growing up.”

The first two Hot Wheels Legends Tour winners to make it into diecast: 2JetZ and The Nash (or Nashole, as the original car is called)

Callum later collected 1:18-scale Hot Wheels models and handmade, white metal models by Brooklin. He still buys other 1:43-scale cars for display.

He struggles to single out a favourite model from the many in his collection but is fond of the blue-and-silver First Edition of the Hot Wheels Fish’d & Chip’d, which reminds him of a childhood Corgi Jaguar Mk X. He still adds to his collection every month (“I can’t help myself”) and is currently looking for someone to build him a sleek new glass display case.

Period Correct special edition of the Hot Wheels Ford RS200

Also in his collection is the Hot Wheels Ford RS200, Mark Jones’s expert interpretation of a design from Callum’s 11 years at Ford. The original Ghia design study didn’t meet Group B rally regulations or performance demands, so, “I basically re-sculpted the whole car, keeping the original theme,” he explains. “The only surfaces that weren’t touched were the glass, which was from a Ford Sierra. I also designed the interior.” He even served as passenger ballast when the car was being tested by Malcolm Wilson, who now runs the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: “A bit unnerving!”

(find Hot Wheels Ford RS200 on eBay)

Hot Wheels’ Nissan R390 GT1 has been issued in blue and red in its debut year

Callum is still on the lookout for the new Hot Wheels Nissan R390, though. He penned the sports-racer while serving as chief designer and general manager for the late Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR Design. He recalls that the R390’s aerodynamics-focused body design was turned into the first complete car in only 15 weeks, adding that the Hot Wheels model represents the second, long-tailed iteration of a machine built for Le Mans homologation. Note the split grille at the front, which Callum incorporated to provide some brand consistency with Nissan’s road cars of the period like the Micra/March and Primera.

(find Hot Wheels Nissan R390 on eBay)

A peek inside the CALLUM design centre, including Ian’s ’32 Ford Model B hot rod

Meanwhile Callum’s full-size car collection encompasses everything from a classic Jaguar XJ-C, to a Mini Cooper, modified Porsche 993 and a Ford Model B hot rod that’s in its third iteration (“I could have bought a house with what I’ve spent on that car!”) Are there clues here to what he’ll be looking for in the Legends Tour judging process?

“When I’m judging cars, I try not to preconceive,” he says. “I don’t even look at the list of entrants beforehand because I want to see each one spontaneously, see if it has an effect on me. But I certainly want the winner to be something that I would drive myself. I’d like to think that it would be a mid-70s sedan with really great stance and big wheels – tastefully done but not too subtle, otherwise it’ll never work as a Hot Wheels.

“Much as I love hot rods, and have one, that’s not something I think will move the needle in terms of a Hot Wheels model,” he continues. “From that point of view, it has to be quite British. A wide-bodied Ford Capri would be great, or maybe an Austin Allegro with a V8 in it! A slammed E-Type with silly big wheels is the sort of thing I’d like to see but most people would regard them as too precious [to modify]. I disagree! Whatever it is, I’d like it to be something I remember seeing on our roads, because the world already knows what runs around on American roads – because of Hot Wheels.”

As a big fan of the Hillman Imp, I’d love to have seen last year’s UK Legends Tour round winner, James Williams’ modified ’76 Imp (pictured above), go on and win the final. Callum agrees with me that it would have made a fantastic Hot Wheels model, but that the car probably lacked enough international recognition to win the overall competition.

“That was a slightly exaggerated British icon,” he says. “[For this year], something that’s relatively unknown to people in other countries would be nice, but that has enough exaggeration about it to appeal to those who might not even know the brand or the marque.”

UK readers hoping to wow Callum and his fellow judges can submit a video of their car at before 1st October. As usual, the panel will pick the car that best captures the Hot Wheels spirit when judging takes place on 14th October, broadcast live on Car Throttle’s YouTube channel.

(find Hot Wheels Legends Tour models on eBay)

(follow me on Instagram @diecast215)

2 Replies to “Lamley interview: Ian Callum – car design maestro, diecast fan and Hot Wheels Legends Tour UK judge”

  1. I would love to see some lesser-known car make to win the Tour and gets turned into a Hot Wheels model. Scale models are how many could learn about obscure cars, like Matchbox did with the Powell Sport Wagon and the upcoming Kurtis Sports Car.

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