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The Supernatural Does Europe - Callaway Cars - Brief Article
Catching up with Reeves Callaway's specialty-car and engineering empire.
It's been more than a decade since Automotive Industries spoke with Reeves Callaway. When we last visited his Old Lyme, Conn., facility, it was known as Callaway Engineering, and the design room was full of drawings of Aston Martin dohc cylinder heads destined for a new V-8 engine that eventually powered the Virage. The back shop was devoted to the ultra-fast, very exclusive "Supernatural" Corvettes that have become inextricably linked with the Callaway brand.
Much has changed at his company since the late 1980s. It's now called Callaway Companies, under which there are three operating groups: Callaway Advanced Technologies (engineering services), Callaway Cars (the specialty-car maker), and Callaway Racing, whose Corvette-based C12-R racer is the only American entry in the Porsche-dominated GT class at this year's 24 Hours of LeMans. We spoke with Reeves at last month's New York Auto Show.
Q: Now you have a design/engineering facility in Germany. Why?
A: Yes, it's in Leingarten, near Stuttgart. Regionalized car production around the world and the regional attitudes that go with them led us to conclude that we really needed a base of operations in Europe. We need it run by people who speak the language and are part of the automotive community there. We don't want to be seen as visiting Americans.
Q: So if a German OEM wants your services, that is their direct contact?
A: Yes. Every country has a skill set. We do all of our engine engineering and metal-partmaking in Old Lyme. We do all composite plastic parts and molded structures in Germany. We have our own autoclave there. When Mercedes needs a full-scale, walk-in mockup of the interior of a new van, that's the kind of work we do in Leingarten.
Q: What sparked the creation of the separate companies?
A: Some of it was done for legal reasons; some was operational. The thinking was like this: some of the jobs that would accrue would be pure engineering; others would be engineering/construct; others would be engineering/construct and then sell. Callaway Cars actually sells cars to real people -- nearly 800 cars in the last 15 years. That has liabilities attached to it.
Our vehicles end up being a nice calling card for our engineering services, which is why we still produce them. They keep our name in magazines, and they're really great vehicles.
Q: Tell me about your Holden Commodore GTS program.
A: Imagine you're Holden. You've got a very competent, V8-powered, rear-drive platform in the Commodore, and a very enthusiastic owner base. Then the new generation small block V-8 comes out and your engine supplier (GM) tells you that you can have the 200 hp version or the 240 hp version. That's your only choice.
Tom Walkinshaw, who owns Holden Special Vehicles, called me. He knew Callaway could get more power out of the engine while meeting emissions, fuel economy and durability specifications. Well, we got 405 hp. They offered us the contract to make the engines in series production.
The new GTS won the Showroom Stock race at Bathhurst, right out of the blocks. It's an easy, low-cost program to put into place. We receive trailer loads of the engines from GM, disassemble them in batches of 30 to 40, install our new componentry, pack them back up into their shipping containers and feed them back into the system, which ships them to Holden in Australia.
Q: What does your LeMans program mean to the Callaway brand?
A: People in the States really don't understand what LeMans is all about. If you're running a specialized sports car company, the amount of product you can get out the door is small. Your costs are the same as everybody else's, however. You find yourself making a car that costs, say, $200,000. And there are six or seven other companies making similarly priced cars. What are you going to do to sell your car against theirs? That's where LeMans comes in.
The badge of courage you get in doing a 24-hour endurance race against all comers, who have been doing it a long time very well, gives an authenticity you couldn't buy for yourself.
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