If you're reading this, chances are you drew cars when you were a kid. Quick doodles in the margins of your notebooks. Painstakingly colored portraits for your art class. It's a car-guy thing: Long before you could drive, you knew what you wanted to drive. You could hear the engine, feel the acceleration, smell the hot oil and metal of your dream car as you sketched, and it didn't matter if it looked like the random daubs of an arthritic baboon; to you it was the fastest, coolest, best car in the world.
Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum used to draw cars when he was a kid. Like the rest of us, he knew exactly what he wanted. Unlike most of us, though, he had some talent with a pencil; talent he, of course, ultimately parlayed into a full-time job as a car designer. And he's now one of the very few people in the world to have turned their teenage dream car into the real thing.
The Jaguar Mark 2 by Callum is a handbuilt reimagination of one of the world's most iconic sports sedans. The vision is Ian Callum's: subtly restyled bodywork, bigger wheels, more power, better suspension, upgraded interior. The execution is the work of leading British classic car restoration and engineering company Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth (CMC). The Mark 2 by Callum is more than just a serious personal obsession, however: CMC will build a limited number of copies for customers with deep pockets and a desire to drive something truly unique. And Callum himself will oversee the final detailing. The Mark 2 by Callum can be built in left- or right-hand drive, and with manual or automatic transmission. No two cars will be exactly alike.
"When I was growing up I used to love the Mark 2 Jag," Callum says as we chat in his office at Jaguar's Whitley Engineering Center near Coventry, England. "I always thought that one day I would own a Mark 2, and I used to draw pictures of modern houses with Mark 2s in the driveway." But what made the Mark 2 such an object of desire? "It really was a performance car with four or five seats and four doors," he says. "When you think about it, it's a four-door XK150. And I always loved the shape."
It helped, too, that the Jaguar Mark 2 oozed a faintly louche swagger on streetscapes dominated by staid British sedans like Morris Oxfords and Vauxhall Victors. "On television, Mark 2s were what all the baddies drove," Callum says with a smile, "because they were the fastest getaway cars in town. I remember when I was a teenager, our local police force got its first Mark 2s. Because the baddies had Mark 2s, the cops had to get them."
At some deep, elemental level, the whole classic car game is all about middle-aged men reconnecting with their childhood. You can see it in the way the center of gravity of the classic car world is shifting at the high-end concours events: The guys who remember Duesenbergs and Packards and V-16 Cadillacs when they were kids are being replaced by guys who talked about Ferrari 250GTOs, Shelby Cobras, and Lamborghini Miuras when they were in middle school. You might expect, then, that when Ian Callum finally got his hands on a Mark 2, he'd have one restored to showroom-perfect condition.
Callum replies that he'd always wanted to redesign the car, removing the bumpers and the excess chrome to make it look simpler, lighter—more like a 1960s racer—even as a kid. "So when I thought of buying one," he says, "I thought, 'Why don't you make it the way you always wanted it to be all those years ago?' I was determined I would capture the spirit of what I wanted then, now. And that's why I did it the way I did it."
After stripping a clean, straight, relatively rust-free Mark 2 back to bare metal, the first order of business was to ditch the chrome bumpers and cover the void underneath with tightly fitted, body-colored metal panels. The idea, says Callum, was to take visual mass out and get a sense of the body wrapping back on itself.
Most of the exterior chrome was removed, with the exception of the glittery framing around the Mark 2's distinctive curved greenhouse. One especially subtle touch: The removal of the chrome strip that runs from the front of the hood and along the body side at the top of the doors. "You can see this gorgeous section that has been hiding away for 50 years," Callum says. "It's got that lovely crease and then it folds out... You know the Mark II door is gorgeous. There is nothing on it. It's just this wonderful full shape that goes on forever. I can't help but enjoy that sense of... people might call it nothingness, blandness, but it's not. It's just very beautiful simplicity."
The side vents are a nod to Callum's passion for hot rods and street machines—he owns a '32 Ford coupe and a modded '58 Chevy sedan, among other things—but they're not merely cosmetic: "I made sure when we re-engineered the car, air actually comes through them out of the engine bay," he says, "because we all know these old Jags need as much help with the airflow through the engine bay as they can possibly get." And as a designer he, of course, wanted plus-size wheels, in this case 17-inch split-rim wire wheels with polished alloy outers and body color spokes, and 205 section front and 225 section rear tires. The ride height was dropped 30 mm, and the stance, already terrific on a standard Mark 2, is now perfect.
Paint color was a simple choice, Callum says. "I wanted it metallic gray because I remembered the most beautiful Mark 2s were always metallic gray." Inside are acres of vibrant red leather—seats, door trims, roof lining. "I love to offset the interior color with the exterior. I love the idea of this glow coming out through the windows, and with as much intensity as I can make happen." Callum might be a modernist, but that doesn't mean he's banished wood from the interior. It's there, but is an elegant linear-grained wood from the XFR, stained black. The instrument dials are all bespoke, as are the line of aircraft-style rocker switches across the dash.
The guys at CMC rebuilt the iconic twin-cam XK straight-six, taking the capacity out to 4.3 liters, and artfully hiding away all the wiring during the installation. There was some agonizing over fueling—fuel injection or Weber carbs were considered—but in the end, Callum opted for a pair of SU carbs in the interest of simplicity and daily driveability. The engine drives through a tough, durable, and easy-to-use Toyota HiLux five-speed manual transmission.
CMC also re-engineered the entire chassis. The front suspension comprises uprated coil springs, antiroll bar, and bushes, plus adjustable shocks. The suspension subframe features solid mounts repositioned to improve anti-dive characteristics. Steering is now by way of a custom power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup, and the front brakes have been upgraded to large diameter vented steel rotors and four-pot calipers.
The rear suspension is totally unique to the Mark 2 by Callum, with control-blade wishbones (sourced from an AWD Jaguar X-Type) and a Ford Costworth differential mounted to a custom-fabricated subframe. As with the front suspension, the coil springs and antiroll bars have been uprated and the body motions controlled via adjustable shocks. The rear disc brakes are mounted outboard.
Sliding behind the wheel of the Mark 2 by Callum is like tumbling down a wormhole in Jaguar space/time. The upright seating position, the light and airy greenhouse, and the graceful arc of the roof high over your head tell you you're in a car from another era, yet there's something oddly contemporary about it. Maybe it's the 14-inch-diameter wood rim steering wheel, smaller than the original, or the sound system head unit that artfully articulates to reveal the screen for the standard backup camera. Or maybe it's just that stripping the Mark 2 of period detailing like burr walnut and muted leather reveals a car that was ahead of its time.
Twist the key and thumb the start button and the big straight-six crackles into life. Select First gear, ease out the clutch, and the Mark 2 by Callum surges away. First impressions: This is a light car with a big, torquey engine. Acceleration is brisk through the gears, and before you know it, the Jag's loping along comfortably at 90 mph or so on the freeway, onlookers staring out of their Fords and Renaults and Vauxhalls as it growls past in the fast lane.
Twisting British back roads are a ton of fun. The Mark 2 by Callum rides well but feels remarkably planted at all times, with none of the old-school rubbery shudder that came from the softly bushed suspension mounts Jaguar insisted on using. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is accurate and nicely weighted, the front end goes exactly where it's pointed, and there's a lot of grip at the rear out of corners. It feels modern to drive, this car, yet uniquely different. There's an analog crispness to the throttle response from the 4.3L straight-six you simply don't get from a modern drive-by-wire system, and the five-speed manual feels lighter, oilier to use than modern stick shifts.
The Mark 2 by Callum doesn't feel like a restored classic, or even a well-executed restomod. It feels like a car you could drive every day. It's not cheap—if you want one built, it will cost you north of $500,000, and CMC will build left-hand-drive versions. But for the money, you get a beautifully built, uniquely different automobile that represents a deeply personal and singular vision of one of the world's most talented car designers.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," Callum says. "Some people don't get it, but you know what? It doesn't really matter. I didn't do it for them. I did it for me. But I'd like to build some more—in fact, I've had requests from a few people for equivalent cars. I love the idea that somebody else wants my car, with my name on it."