Designer Ian Callum retired from Jaguar with a portfolio envied the world over including designs driven by millions of people every day. So what happens when a guy like that wants to remake one of his most iconic cars, the Aston Martin Vanquish? You get the 580 horsepower CALLUM 25—manifested nostalgia in a beautiful $587,000 package.
(Full disclosure: The folk at CALLUM invited me up to drive the latest version of the Vanquish, and I accepted. They gave me lots of tea to wake me up in the morning, and provided some pretty mega pictures.)
(Editor’s note: I’ve been told I mixed up the embargo date, so if you’re seeing this early, I’m sorry, it’s my fault, not Alex Goy’s.)
After recently leaving Jaguar, famed designer Ian Callum’s attention turned to setting up his own design house, CALLUM. (Yes, it’s ALLCAPS. –Ed.) Its first project is finally nearing completion: The Aston Martin CALLUM Vanquish 25—the second go that Callum always thought the Vanquish deserved.
Jumping into the CALLUM prototype, the interior changes over the original iconic Aston Martin Vanquish are overwhelming. The whole cockpit has been completely redesigned so even the knackered old early-aughts shapes are all gone. Even the steering wheel is different, if you can believe it.
Carbon fiber, metal, and leather create a cocoon of modernity, while plugging your phone into the car’s USB port brings up Apple CarPlay, so you can listen to your own music and use your favored GPS apps. The finished cars will start at $587,000 (if you provide a donor car, before options, and before local taxes) so phone bills are unlikely to be an issue for CALLUM customers.
The V12 is no shrinking violet, making its presence known at the slightest provocation. The new exhaust system is clearly worth its weight in gold. A gentle hum fills the cabin. Smiles happen. Smug, shit eating grins break out. This here motor is special.
“It started off as a personal project for me and I just decided to buy a car. I never owned a car that I’d worked on whether it be in part or even in full. The Vanquish is one of my favorites and not least of all because very few people got involved in its making. It was more indulgence on my part than anybody else’s. So, that’s why I bought it.”
“When I got it home, I realized it could be so much. It just reminded me of the process we went through and there was nothing wrong with the process, it was normal, but it was a production car and there were certain things were not going to happen because of the investment. So, I thought, ‘Well, you’ve got this car. You’ve done it with the Mk II Jag. Let’s do something again,’ and then [after] conversations with the rest of the guys, it turned into a much bigger project… it turned into a business.”
Callum’s business, at the moment, is turning 25 existing copies of the first-generation Aston Martin Vanquish into the car the designer believes it could have been if not as stringently cost-prohibited in their original period. Think of it as the Vanquish facelift Callum thinks the car always deserved. The headlights, rear lights, front and rear fenders, brightwork, and the entire interior have been given a thorough going over.
A few things on the original car stood out to Callum that simply couldn’t stay from the get go: “The front lamps, I never really liked these. A lot of people love them but I don’t like them. Although I designed them. There’s little fixings visible on them which were never meant to be there and it always frustrated the hell out of me. The tail lamps, I remember the story of that. They were done in a shoe string and didn’t work well, and then the window frames, which always irritated me, the door mirrors were XK. All these little details, I just flinched at them.”
You don’t even need to see an older Vanquish and the new CALLUM take on it side by side to notice the huge difference between the two. There are brake ducts where fog lamps used to be, bigger wheels giving it a stronger stance, dark chrome drawing the eye in… And that’s just the big stuff.
Callum’s own abstract tartan motif features on the hood’s air vents, a musical reference (Bowie on the original blue show car, Springsteen on the red Prototype 3), leather under-hood NVH pads with the same abstract tartan, gills on the side skirts. It’s like he’s been thinking about this for awhile.
The inside was perhaps the most obvious room for improvement. The only thing it has in common with the original car is the airbag covers, and even they’ve been re-trimmed. Cosmetically it’s hugely different.
Under the skin it’s been refreshed as well—how could it not be? The 5.9-liter V12 has been breathed on, with 80 new horsepower and 52 lb-ft of torque more added on top. A new exhaust setup gives a crisper engine note, and the suspension tweaked for a smooth ride that’s meant to feel some 20 years newer. And then the engine bay is as much a thing of beauty as the exterior.
One major sticking point of the original car was its gearbox. A robotized manual that required some learning to get the best out of. It was slow, clunky, and didn’t like being left in gear at the lights. To get it feeling halfway decent you’d have to lift off the gas, pull the paddle, wait while the car decided what the concept of “gear” was before changing ratio, and then step on the loud pedal again.
“The gearbox has always been very subjective. I’ve driven mine a few miles now and I never really minded it but you have to be aware it’s a manual box which is being hydraulically changed. So, if you treat it with that empathy, it’s absolutely fine. In automatic mode it’s a bit clunky but in manual mode is actually fine, and I’ve gotten used to it. But we’re now offering a full automatic box with a paddle change. So, if you just want an automatic box with paddle change, that’s something that we can put in the car.”
Initially, the CALLUM car was only going to come with the option of the original and a fresh auto option, but– “[Prototype 3] is a manual ’box, six-speed, which is the same ’box, incidentally, as the original. Just without all the hydraulics. It’s just a manual change. So, we sourced that through Aston Martin which is the right thing to do.”
The changes, 350 in all, point towards a comprehensive upgrade. The original Vanquish certainly doesn’t feel slow, bar its woeful gearbox. It’s a touch floaty, which hides it weight well. The steering is a little light by today’s standards, too. And, according to one dealer, to not have a cup holder full of parts that have shaken themselves loose (the Vanquish was, before Aston Martin’s Continuation models, the last car hand built at its Newport Pagnell factory) is rare. The spoils of owning a well-sought after car, perhaps.
The reworked car’s clutch is decently weighty, though not so much as to cause exponential muscle growth in your left leg that becomes difficult to explain. The ’box itself is an Aston Martin manual, which means the gates are tightly squidged together, and you need to give it some muscle to get the lever where you want it to go. For a former Bond car, this seems apt.
On a back road, much like the original, it feels lighter than its nearly 4,000-pound curb weight. The steering is sweet, light enough to keep most of the customers happy, and gives enough feedback that a spirited drive will not feel like you’re playing a very expensive video game (which I do from time to time). Though if you’re looking for Caterham levels of feedback, this ain’t it.
Give its sharp throttle a tickle and you’re not only treated to a delightful burst of speed, but a hollow, mechanical, glorious V12 scream. It’s one of those noises that you want to hear over and over and over again. Tuned to perfection. It’s not quite as in your face as modern Astons. It’s a little more calm, and a lot less “programmed.”
The V12 really wasn’t short on power to start with, but the extra 80 horses (about one Volkswagen Up!’s worth over here in Europe) certainly add to the fun, for a total of over 580 HP.
Naturally, the CALLUM Vanquish is not slow. Power delivery is linear and smooth. Roll the gas and you’ll start flying without any of the turbo urgency you find in 2020’s performance cars. It’s a nice change to feel the motor working with you, rather than having a big ball of zing blown up its ass from the get go.
Once you’ve built up silly speeds, the brakes, though grabby at first acquaintance, are stellar. You’ll scrub off any license-risking speed with ease.
But the tweaks to the car haven’t changed one thing: It still feels large. The Vanquish comes with wide hips that can make British country lanes feel awfully narrow, that said you get used to it with time. What you’ll hope to never get used to is the view over the hood. In the deep metallic red of the prototype, it’s one to savor and then some.
Rather than being a balls-to-the-wall track monster that destroys a good crop of existing GT cars, it’s gratefully still a cruiser. Something with a V12 and godly sheetmetal to gently roll you down to a holiday home somewhere sunny. Its biggest flaw is that its large wheels make a fair ol’ rumble on the highway. Nothing you can’t get rid of by turning up the volume on the sound system, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.
Compared to the original, it feels like a suitably extreme evolution. There are a few prototype issues: A wobble here, a few teething problems to keep an eye out for, a rattle there, but they’re being worked through. It’s a prototype after all. The way it drives, the way it looks, and the way it makes you feel… it’s hard to walk away unhappy.
Its stratospheric cost, nearly $600,000 before tax, options, etc, may make some people appropriately balk. However, what you get for the money is a creator’s vision made real, an original concept purified and updated for today. The 25 clients who end up with these things will have something truly original on their hands.
The Vanquish is the first project from CALLUM. As a starting point, one of Ian Callum’s greatest hits is a strong one. Is it the first of many second takes?
“Well, I would love to do an F-Type because it’s very close to my heart and I would love to do a really hot version of that. We haven’t discussed it. It’s a difficult business case because these cars have an inherent value and so getting that balance of how much you put into it just defines the cost of it.”
“For instance, to put it to an extreme case, I could do a Ford Puma but can you imagine a £350,000 Ford Puma? It’s probably not going to go down too well. It would be really nice to do a special Puma, but it’s about getting that balance of its perceived value.”
So… no then. But as a starting point for what the business wants to be—a company that designs, engineers, and develops products under its own name—the Vanquish is a hell of a showpiece.
“What we want to do is create bespoke items in limited volume, and the reason we say that is because we want to be involved in the making of things that we design. I don’t want to be a designer who throws it over the wall and has somebody else make it in their name.”