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Jaguar designer really rocks

Wayne J Burgess, the man behind the new F-Type and many other Jags, may just have the best job ever

Published July 1, 2013

If any new car design could make your knees go weak, it would have to be Jaguar’s gorgeous new F-Type two-seater convertible.

But that’s just the latest model in the portfolio of Wayne J. Burgess, whose task as Jaguar Cars’ studio director is to manage the design team that creates all of the company’s production vehicles. It’s a position he achieved after working with most of Britain’s prestigious auto companies — and one very utilitarian one.

“I learned that I could draw well at a young age,” says the 43-year-old designer. “I have a memory of going to see Walt Disney’s Robin Hood when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I drew all the characters. My father said, ‘Who drew these?’ and I said, ‘me.’ It upset me that he said they were too good for me to have drawn them.

“From that point on, I was drawing all the time. Rolls-Royce and Bentley were based not far away, and that was my point of reference. I was designing Rolls-Royces and Bentleys when I was 6 years old, and that’s how it started.”

Related: David Beckham knows a sweet Jag when he sees one

Since he wasn’t sure how to get into the field, he studied art and design at school with the intention of becoming an architect. One of his tutors mentioned a transportation design course at Coventry University, and Burgess ended up there. “Had that not happened, I may have been an architect or a rock star.” he says.

Rock star? Yes, music is Burgess’ other passion, and he’s the lead guitarist for the heavy metal band Scattering Ashes.

“I’d describe it as semi-professional,” he says. “We have an album on iTunes, and we do one or two gigs a month in small-capacity clubs.”

When Burgess was fresh out of school in 1992, Britain faced a recession that hit the auto companies hard. After three months, his only interview was with London Taxi International.

“I thought I was way too good to work at a taxi design,” he says. “I was going to work for Ferrari immediately. But I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and, out of desperation, I went back to (London Taxi) and they took me on right away.”

He designed the exterior and interior of the TX1, London’s famous black cab.

“For (only) the second time in their history, they were making a new taxi. Now, in hindsight, I realize what an opportunity it was, because it has become London cultural history,” Burgess says. “So now I’m proud that I was associated with it, because of what it’s become. But, at the time, I was grumpy, because I was there and not at Ferrari.”

Following that iconic design, Burgess worked for a variety of automakers, including Honda and the Austin Rover Group.

“Ironically, I got sent back to Crewe and worked at Rolls-Royce and Bentley, doing the exterior for the Bentley Arnage,” he says. “That’s what I was doing when I got an interview with Jaguar in late 1997.”

Ian Callum, who was the joint design director of Jaguar and Aston Martin, had Burgess designing for both. Today, Callum is Jaguar’s overall design director, while Burgess refers to himself as Callum’s “left-hand man.”

“I’m not designing as much as before,” he says. “I’m in a guiding, mentoring, shaping role, but occasionally I get the opportunity to sketch. If I’ve got a good idea, I say we should try this, but it’s a collaborative effort. I negotiate with engineering teams to deliver the proportions, and I’m a diplomat as well as a designer.”

His major challenge today is designing cars that look good while meeting safety regulations.

“I’ve noticed in recent years how much is placed on pedestrian safety,” he says. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, it was airbags, but nowadays we spend a lot of time thinking of ways to save pedestrians, such as pyrotechnic bonnets (hoods), where the front throws pedestrians away, rather than going over the car.

“Plus there’s the cost of ownership, minimizing damage so that if (the driver) hits the bumper, they don’t also hit the lights. Part of the challenge is to deliver cars that look shrink-wrapped around the mechanicals, but have the protection.”

His 15 years at Jaguar mark his longest time with any company.

“I’ve always loved the products, and they’ve always given me interesting products to work on, with more responsibility,” he says. “I really enjoy growing with the company, and I’ve made the time investment. I no longer care about working for Ferrari.”

wheels@thestar.ca

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