Ferrari vs Jaguar - Such a perfect day

Hang the day job. One throwaway line and a fantasy comes to life for Jaguar’s design chief Ian Callum – the Ferrari that fires him and the E-type that inspires him, set loose on the sweeping roads he’s loved since childhood
By Gordon Cruickshank

"Jaguar today announced…” said the newsreader from the hotel TV, and I looked up. Flashguns popped over the seductively gorgeous C-X75. “All Jaguar’s top names attended…” But I knew that wasn’t quite true, because one of the firm’s top names was with me in the north of Scotland, getting ready for dinner.

He should have been there. Ian Callum is head of Jaguar design and the man responsible for the supercar’s elegant flanks. He would have been there, until he discovered that the launch clashed with a date we’d made. A date with another beautiful supercar, a car which inspired the young Callum’s sketching fingers from way back. A 250 Short Wheelbase Ferrari. No, I’ll rephrase that. It’s the 250SWB. The Moss car. The TT car. Whichever you choose, those dark blue curves and white noseband instantly brand themselves on the mental plasma screen. I look out of the window, across Ullapool to Loch Broom where a fishing boat is stitching orange beads across blue and sparkling water. Between me and that boat, those same blue flanks glint in the evening sun. 

It’s Frankel’s fault. In his Twenty Questions to Ian Callum, he asked – one car, one road. Which? Callum answered “SWB Ferrari round Ullapool”. As soon as the magazine came out I took a call from Clive Beecham, guardian of the Moss car. “Would Ian like to take it up there?” Obviously it was a daft idea to go all that way. And obviously we had to do it. But there had to be a Jaguar angle to excuse Callum’s absence from duty, so in this E-type anniversary year we elected to compare it with the car which attempted to push the SWB off the podium – the Lightweight E.

Despite his Ferrari’s historical importance, Clive Beecham is not shy of it. It’s a car, and cars are for driving. I’ve seen him driving it up Baker Street in rush-hour traffic. This time he even suggests we drive it to Ullapool. In the end time dictates we truck it to Inverness, where Callum joins us, arriving in a bright red XKR with vast black rims. It was Callum who tore up the retro brief at Jaguar and struck out in a bold new path with the confident XF, and he doesn’t want his creations to fade into the background.

Rain soaks us as the Ferrari rolls down the lorry ramp. I’m worried, so I can’t imagine how Ian feels. Shortly he’s about to take over one of the crown jewels of our sport, on soaking roads, with the owner alongside. On racing Dunlops. Tick-tick-tick-whaaap! It fires without hesitation and Ian slides first into the passenger seat. He’s smiling already. I’ll be leading them to Ullapool, so I call to Clive if I should keep the pace down for the tyres or up for the throaty V12. He gesticulates a clear ‘up!’. This may be hard work.

It’s drying when we pull up in a layby and Ian slides into the other seat in this road-going racer’s spare, compact cabin. Gleaming in the afternoon light, the road ahead snakes into the mountains. But it’s busy. Ullapool may be tiny, but dozens of heavy artics plough in and out to collect its sea harvest, so Ian’s first experience of this Sixties supercar is joining a spray-clouded 50mph stream of traffic. But this man has driven a C-type in the Mille Miglia, has a wild hot rod in his own garage. He can’t be scared.

We wait for a slot, 12 cylinders wail and the curvaceous blue rump of the Ferrari squirts up the road. I don’t think I need to worry. I’ve told Ian and Clive not to wait for me, and they don’t. Over my own six cylinders I hear the Ferrari’s gearchanges, revs spinning higher as Ian gets to grips, the car’s elegant haunches dwindling ahead as he extends his lead. 

The harbourside at Ullapool has barely changed in years. The boats are bigger, and the lorries, but it remains a fishing port in the crook of a sheltered arm of the Atlantic. Craggy green mountains define the view on all sides, but some of us are simply enjoying the sight of a Ferrari parked in a row of hatchbacks. A Primera brakes suddenly and reverses for a better look, occupants pointing, and a German pair on a bike circle in the road to confirm what they’re seeing. 

This far north the day lasts an extra hour or more; the evening light is rich and gold, and snapper Pajo cracks the whip. The E-type arrives tomorrow, but the Ferrari is just sitting there… As if anyone needs an excuse for another blast. Up here, even the main roads resemble the Nürburgring, with sweeping, open bends, stomach-tingling crests and plunging dips, and barely a junction for miles. This time Ian is straight on it, and with pictures in the bag I let him off the leash. When we reassemble at the Royal Hotel for dinner there is a light in his eye.

“This is my favourite car ever,” he smiles. “Actually it took me a week to realise which SWB it was. Even the thrill of watching it unload – like seeing your favourite film star in the flesh!” 

That’s the car. Why this place? “We holidayed in Ullapool when I was a kid, and I used to dream about driving a car on these roads. We stayed in a caravan and looked up at the Royal as we passed, thinking ‘that’s where the rich people go…’ ” It’s been a fair step to the private jet Jaguar offered so he could try to fit C-X75 and Ullapool into the same day. In this unassuming hotel bar he doesn’t stand out; no pointed shoes or designer black, just crew-neck and jeans. No one would know he is a star of the design world.

“I was nervous,” he concedes about his wet start, “but I started to feel part of it surprisingly quickly, about 10 miles in, once Clive had persuaded me to take it past 6200. Which took some bravery! From there to 7000 it transforms itself. It’s not about acceleration or outright power – I drive an XKR every day – but it’s a light car so it feels fast. And that pure mechanical noise – that wasn’t produced in the sound studio! The fascinating thing is that you’re confronted with what at first seems its rudimentary nature; the question is, can you get control of this mass of metal? Then you grow into it.”

“On that last stretch Ian really got it,” Clive says enthusiastically. “Everything came together, the road, the scenery, the noise…” He not only loves this car, he loves to see it driven properly.

“You’d have to drive a modern car twice as fast to get the same buzz,” Ian concludes. And he came up here in a car packing 510bhp.

After breakfast Clive and Ian look through Clive’s five volumes of history on his car. Despite the sunshine and the lure of these roads they’re in no hurry because a) the E-type is delayed with a hot-starting problem, and b) the SWB is up on the ramp in the Ullapool Garage. It’s developed an unhealthy clonk which turns out to be a broken shock absorber mount. Though this could scupper the entire exercise, Clive seems blithely unworried. “I expect they can weld it. It may be a historic car but it’s just metal, after all.” 

He has assembled every report, photo, letter or reference he can find into a dossier MI5 would be proud of. Rob Walker’s original order for the car, letters from Ferrari claiming 300bhp (clearly Moss was a special customer and nothing was too good for him), a frosty note to Walker from Ronnie Hoare about a noise fine, Ken Gregory calling it “the old berlinetta”, entry passes from Nassau Speed Week, the eye-watering photo of the ’62 TT when it crashed into Clark’s Zagato Aston 2VEV and Surtees’ GTO. 

And race reports which chart this exceptional machine’s glory days and the inevitable slide to obscurity of an out-of-date racing car: in 1961 the finest GT Walker could buy for the finest driver, contesting Le Mans under Moss and Hill (DNF), winning the TT and a string of other races; being sold to BRP for Innes Ireland with less success, then to Chris Kerrison who had the Goodwood smash which left the body in tatters. He fitted a new body, but of a much lower Drogo profile to emulate the GTOs, and in this form it raced on, coming eighth in the ’63 Nürburgring 1000Kms before subsiding to speed trials, drag racing and even the Pomeroy Trophy, when the Hon Pat Lindsay took FTD. 

After several more new homes Clive Beecham obtained it in 1983 and quickly restored a berlinetta body to it, the muscular shape we have come all this way to admire. The apposite number plate was a present from his brother. And remarkably, the Ferrari wearing it has been repaired within the hour thanks to Rob and Robin at the garage, and is sitting in the sun awaiting its erstwhile rival. 

Gurgling sidedraughts announce the E-type’s arrival and we pile outside. It’s been wrested away from a private tour, meaning a 6am start from Aberdeenshire. Maybe that’s why it’s not happy. This was almost Jaguar’s last throw as it attempted to catch Ferrari on the race track. After the fallow patch which followed the C- and D-type glories, patriots expected the new E to plant the Union flag on top of the Le Mans podium, but there was a fundamental division in attitude between the two companies. Sir William Lyons wanted to offer a well-priced, sophisticated grand tourer, promoted by racing; Enzo was driven primarily to race and win, funded by the wealthy buyers who could afford his road-going racers. Simple, strong and powerful, his cars were always going to allow more development than the advanced but inflexible E with its central monocoque and non-adjustable independent rear suspension. Victory in the E-type’s first race, Oulton Park in 1961, was a flattery which deceived, as Ferrari already had in its arsenal a sleeker, more powerful 250, the illustrious GTO.

Today we see the Lightweight as the acme of what Browns Road could do in the Sixties, and as our battleship grey example pulls up we can’t help but gaze at the bumperless purity of Malcolm Sayer’s profile, sharpened by the trademark kick of boot vents and those D-type Dunlop alloys. It’s mean, it’s gorgeous, and it wasn’t quick enough.

Perhaps that’s unfair. With their alloy hulls and panels, alloy block and stripped interiors, the Lightweights undercut the GTO on the scales, and the best of them, with their wide-angle D-type heads and fuel injection, outstripped Ferrari’s optimistic dyno readings. Yet victories were sparse and hard won, by privateers instead of a works team, and Ferrari was hardly troubled. While Bill Heynes and Lofty England at Jaguar knew what they needed to win races, even Le Mans – the still-born G-type should have been their 200mph mid-engined rival to Maranello’s prototypes – Jaguar’s business was building road cars. There was a saloon range to develop, the E-type ruled in the King’s Road, and Jaguar was not prepared to play Ferrari’s homologation games. Plans for a run of low-drag coupé Es dwindled to a reality of one, while Lightweights totalled a mere dozen.

A baker’s dozen, actually, because this one ticking gently in the car park is, if you like, the 13th real one of the 12 built. Sir Hugh Ropner, a keen Jaguar customer, wanted a fast road car, so the factory took a steel tub and applied to it most of the Lightweight attributes, except for its iron block and triple Webers. The current owner has cherished the car for 30 years, but since we arranged this shoot his health has deteriorated and he now feels he must give it up – very reluctantly. If the tougher steel and iron elements have helped it remain impressively unchanged over the years, it’s those huge Webers which are delaying us today. It won’t restart, so Robin appears with his toolbox to bale us out again. This small local garage has handled several million pounds worth of machinery already this morning – but as Clive says, it’s only metal.

A blare from the E-type exhaust tells us we’re rolling again, and we head north from the town, plunging through a fast right to the gleaming white sands and aquamarine water of Loch Kanaird with the steely Atlantic surging between craggy headlands, and on up the strath. There’s barely a car on this sinuous, surging ribbon and the sight and sound of two competition cars eating up the road overlooked by stern grey hills stirs the blood. Callum is in the SWB, confident, precise and rapid, the pursuing E looking sleeker in its muted grey livery. Whistling past signboards with resonant names like Stronchrubie and Inchnadamph we see Loch Assynt glinting blue ahead of us, with Ardvreck Castle crumbling into its tiny island by the shore, and our convoy stops for a driver change. Ian slides through the E’s tiny door and straps in. He’s driven many an E-type before, so this won’t feel as different as the SWB. There’s some irritating photography to get out of the way, burbling in a frustrated third gear behind my car, but finally he gets to let loose, and these empty hillsides echo to the Jaguar’s bark counterpointed by the choral V12. Music I hope the hill sheep appreciate.

A short break back at Loch Assynt – partly because the Jag won’t restart until it cools down – gives us time to debate the two cars, leaning on the fence in the sun while seagulls squabble above the loch.

“The E felt very familiar at first, like a normal E,” says Ian. “It didn’t feel different until I got it wound up. The weight loss makes a real difference – it really opens up as you get quicker. I’d got used to the stiff sidewalls on the Ferrari so this felt looser on its road tyres, but the performance is impressive. I’d be hard-pushed to say which car was quicker. But compared to this the Ferrari feels more like a C-type, even though they’re similar eras.” 

A Dutch VW pulls into our layby, the occupants pointing at the cars, and at Ian. Maybe they recognise him.

“Oh no,” comes the reply in his soft south Scots accent. “I don’t think of myself as famous. I just love cars. And Jaguars are probably my first passion.” This from the man who while at Aston Martin designed the DB7 and the Vanquish, a car which for me has the same muscularity and tension as the SWB. He talks about early Jaguars, about the SS1’s unfeasibly long bonnet hiding a modest Standard motor. 

“William Lyons was always about style until Bill Heynes built him some good engines. Lyons always exaggerated something, went off-centre, and we try to do that too. New design must always advance.”

This is why the XF took Jaguar in a new direction – Ian is gratified to find that both Clive and I run XFs – and the recent XJ took that further – radically further. How did he feel as millions watched his car transport the Middletons to Westminster Abbey? 

“Oh boy,” he grins, innate modesty showing a tiny chink, “didn’t I feel good?” 

He climbs back into the tight cabin of the E. “There’s an authentic rawness about this. And the colour is fantastic, very distinctive. We’re looking at a similar grey for the XK, in fact.” This time it fires up, and both cars take off to consume more of these tempting roads. I’m frustrated that photographer Pajo won’t let me send them on my planned route around the Drumbeg loop from Lochinver. It’s one of the UK’s great drives, a scenic clifftop switchback dropping to snow-white sands and soaring to precipitous heights where the roaring Atlantic has bitten hungry chunks from the land, with a backdrop of green seas and rugged cliffs and an infield of tiny lochans sparkling with wild waterlilies. Names straight from Tolkien add to the drama – Stoer, Edrachillis, and a mountain called Quinag. But it’s all single-track, so we wouldn’t be able to get photos of the cars together… 

It doesn’t matter. There are no boring roads in this area. Whatever direction we take, we’ll be tackling sweeping, empty blacktop. No wonder Ian loves driving here. No wonder I can hear the Ferrari’s revs soaring, snapping back and soaring again as Ian leads our convoy off.

Miles later, but never enough, we sit on the Ullapool quayside smelling salt air and fish boxes and watching the Stornoway ferry tie up. “What a contrast,” says Ian. “Driving this gorgeous Ferrari in my favourite part of the world, instead of immersed in the corporate world doing my duty. For the company I love, of course.” And he means that. How does he feel about skipping the C-X75 launch? “I feel like a naughty schoolboy playing truant! But today was important for me personally. That announcement today will carry on regardless; a momentous occasion, but I can still enjoy it 500 miles away. I’ve had my moment of enjoyment for that car in Paris [at the concept’s launch].” 

Callum gazes at the blue SWB across the road. “As a designer I get a thrill from how a car looks. I’ve no car snobbery; for example I admire the current Kias.” He’s not embarrassed to criticise his peers either: he thinks the Veyron “bug-like”, the MP4-12C McLaren “bland”, and modern Lamborghinis “brittle”, though he admires much else about them. On the day when we learn that some lucky people will be able to buy Callum’s voluptuous new supercar he perhaps has every right to be frank. 

“I sketched the 250SWB repeatedly through college,” he continues. “We sometimes play Fantasy Garage at work and other things come and go, but this one always stays.” He turns to the owner. “I must do you a sketch of it, Clive.”

Drawing is one of Callum’s relaxations. He draws boats and architecture, but his real love is landscape painting, in the style of racing artist Dexter Brown. “I’ve done a car in the same style, too.” Which car? This SWB…

As a fan of Jim Clark, Callum is moved to have driven a car Jimmy often raced against. Not to mention the Moss connection.

“Did Stirling have a special bond with this car?” he asks the owner. Clive has the answer: a photo of Moss and 1SWB inscribed in bold felt tip ‘Clive, you have the best GT car ever! Ciao, SM’. 

And what was it like to sit where Moss sat, and see what he saw in 1961?

“You feel so in touch with it.” Callum says. “The clutch is far lighter than the C-type I drove on the Mille Miglia, and the steering is vague at low speed on these racing tyres, but the faster you go the better it gets. I’d love to try the Lightweight on racers.

“The SWB cabin feels the perfect size, and I love the wrap-round screen – it’s like being inside a crash helmet. It’s short and steep, not a long one like today’s cars. Thanks to people like me… Of course the mechanical part appeals to me too; you can identify subtleties in an old car – tyres, steering, shocks etc – and feel what’s happening under your hands and feet. A modern car feels soft and spongy in comparison. But I enjoy contrast. I have a hot rod and I love to step into that from my XKR. I get something out of all of them.”

Conversation turns to wider things. Still cars, of course. Ian is tickled by stories of Ken Gregory hammering the SWB from Maranello to England just in time for the British Empire Trophy. Clive relates the tale of Kerrison smuggling a girl over the Italian border in the Ferrari’s boot – and in his pursuit of historical completeness he has tracked down the lady and plans soon to give her a ride in the car. Among the occupants of the Beecham garage is an Alfa Giulia GT – my first car and it’s in Ian’s fantasy garage too. It’s not all about power or rarity. “Such a sweet car,” Callum says. “So compact. You just couldn’t build it today when we need crumple zones and airbag space.”

It’s soon clear that Clive is a serial Ferrari man. Enzo even gave him a signed copy of Pilote che Gente (which almost made up for having his Daytona stolen on the way home) while Ian is impressed to learn that he used to co-own the magnificent Ferrari transporter.

Nowadays Callum is a supremely busy man, and while he could happily stay here for the weekend, or the summer, he needs to get going.

“I’ve had a ball,” he says. “Driving two of the world’s most beautiful cars in my favourite part of the world… My dad would be so proud I chose Ullapool for my special day. And these roads are wonderful – I love being able to straightline the corners.”

It’s true: with no hedges or walls in these parts a driver can see right through the next bend, and probably the two after that. The racing line is also the safe line, and the surface is smooth as Silverstone. Both these cars, the finest grand tourers of their time, were designed for the open road and there are few roads more open than these. It’s been the perfect combination, and if we haven’t tested them to the ultimate, we have made a fantasy come true and learned about two differing approaches to racing: the sophisticated long-limbed E-type attempting to throw off its blazer, undo its cufflinks, roll up its shirtsleeves and square up to the sturdy, stocky Italian bred for the job. In the end it didn’t matter; when the SWB stopped winning Ferrari simply sold them off and built a lower, lighter, faster car. That was Ferrari’s raison d’etre; it wasn’t Jaguar’s. It has taken the historic resurgence for the Lightweights to receive the development they needed to corral the Prancing Horse.

As he gathers his goods, Callum has more urgent mileage to look forward to. He and Clive will shortly head back in the Ferrari to Inverness – another sweeping, scenic route. A shame it’s a 60mph limit… In contrast, the E’s carbs are leaking fuel, so it’s going home on a flatbed.

Ian pauses. “There was a moment by the loch when I was sitting in the Lightweight E looking out through that screen at the SWB standing there – I just wanted to look at it all day. And here it was, all the way up here in Scotland with me! The planets had come together. A perfect moment. Then in that pure highland silence the Ferrari started up, a gorgeous metallic sound…”

I don’t ask the question, but Ian answers it. “If I had to drive one home it would be the Ferrari. I loved the E, but the Ferrari was always my choice – as much for that V12 as for the shape. It’s restored my faith in the marque; recent Ferraris had lost the romanticism for me.”

The two men squash their bags around the spare wheel and enormous Le Mans fuel tank behind the seats and settle inside. 

“A wonderful day,” says Callum from the captain’s seat. “I’ve got an XKR to drive home, and that will be fascinating. It will feel soft as a limousine, and that will irritate me for a while – I’ll want it to feel harder, more real. But I’ll be driving with great caution. I’ve had my thrills. Now I can get back to my mundane everyday life.” Quick laugh. “Which includes designing a supercar!”

The V12 fires, echoing from the grey stone walls as Ian takes a last look around this small port which may or may not have noticed two of the great Sixties road cars parked on the front.

“I wonder,” he says thoughtfully, “if in 50 years time someone will drive a C-X75 along this quayside and up onto those roads for their dream drive. Some kid who’s walking along this pavement right now…”

I can hear the V12 singing long after the car is out of sight.

With thanks to Clive Beecham, John Foster, Incarnation, and Rob, Robin, Amy and Cathy at Ullapool Garage