Callaway Cars – Old Lyme Powerfully Engineered Automobiles
Photos and profile by Caryn B. Davis
Reeves Callaway was an out of work race car driver seeking his next adventure. It was 1973, and he just won the National Championship in the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Formula Vee. But even with this distinction, he still needed to earn a living, so he went to work as an instructor at Bob Bondurant’s School of High Performance Driving. Bondurant was a former Formula One racer who had trained many NASCAR drivers and racing enthusiasts including actors Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Newman.
During his stint with Bondurant, Callaway was part of the driving instructor team that helped introduce the then new 3-Series BMW to dealers in North America. He came to know this vehicle intimately as its driver, but also as an engineer having developed this aptitude from his racing days. He envisioned new ways to improve the car’s power and performance and decided to take one back to his garage. There he constructed and installed his first of what would become many turbocharger systems.
His friend, Don Sherman was a writer for Car and Driver magazine at the time. He invited Sherman to his Old Lyme home to come and see his new creation which impressed the journalist so much, that he wrote a one-page article. It appeared in the back of the publication, praising Callaway’s ingenuity and workmanship. The phone began ringing off the hook; and in 1977 he opened Callaway Cars, Inc.
“In the late 1970s cars were pretty pitiful in performance. To be able to bring more power to an automobile was a big deal,” says Zoner. “ With turbocharging you are increasing an engine’s efficiency by compressing and forcing more air into the combustion chambers than atmospheric pressure alone. You are ingesting the engine with more pressure, thereby increasing air density to make more horsepower.”
The company gained a reputation for providing fine craftsmanship and execution with sound technical engineering. Initially Callaway thought he would design engines for the racing industry. One of his earliest projects was to design, construct, and supply turbocharged engines to teams competing at the Indianapolis 500. But Cosworth, another independent engine manufacturer located in the U.K., won that contract instead.
Callaway was undeterred. Like his father, Ely Reeves Callaway Jr., founder of Callaway Golf Company and Callaway Vineyard & Winery, the younger Callaway already understood the art of perseverance and hard work. Through word of mouth, as most of his new business is still generated today, Alfa Romeo heard about an ex-race car driver building engines in rural Connecticut. They hired him to create a turbocharger system for their GTV6. One of these cars made it to the General Motors (GM) Proving Ground, a facility where vehicles are put through a series of intensive tests including crashes, driving through ditches, wind tunnels, floods, and extreme weather.
Chevrolet, owned by GM, wanted to add greater performance to their recently launched fourth generation Corvette. Witnessing how the GTV6 was giving their new vehicle a run for its money around the test track, GM contacted Callaway about getting a turbocharger system for the C4.
“At the time they were the world’s largest automotive company; and they were calling us and asking if we would like to do a program on their flagship performance car,” says Zoner. “In nine weeks we constructed and presented a prototype. The plan was to build 50 cars with GM for the 1987 model year, but we built over 500 from 1987-1991. It’s the only time GM has gone out of house for a production option for a Corvette, even today.”
The Corvettes were drop shipped to Old Lyme from GM’s Kentucky plant. The engines were removed and stripped down to the bare block. They were re-machined with new components installed and put back into the vehicles with horsepower increased to 403 (in model year 1991) from the original 245. The cars were for consumers who wanted more bang for their buck and did not mind paying for it.
“When we do work for the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers), we typically are providing a technical solution to a marketing problem. Often times the car companies have the capabilities to execute all this work. But when time and budget are constrained, they go outside,” says Zoner.
Since then, Callaway has been commissioned to fabricate turbocharging systems and/or modify engines for Mazda, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Holden (GM Australia), and other companies under Callaway Engineering.
“He is not an engineer by degree, but one of the best you will ever meet. He was an art major at Amherst. With his art background he has the ability to have form equal function, so it’s an artistic execution of a highly engineered product. This is part of the reason we have the position we do in the market,” explains Zoner.
Callaway applies this same artistry to his own series of limited edition, custom crafted “C16” automobiles, which retail for $225,000 to $335,000. New Corvettes come to the Old Lyme facility completely intact and then get stripped down to the bare chassis. When they leave the shop, the only pieces from the original manufacturer that remain are the glass, roof panel, the frame, and the B-pillar.
“We design, develop, and manufacture all the parts and build the cars here. We redo the interior to make it our own. We look at every fine detail and all the touch points the consumer is going to have with the car. It’s not just about great power but also about correct execution,” Zoner says. The owners of these “powerfully engineered automobiles ” have formed the Callaway Owners Group, dedicated to the preservation of the world’s most powerful Corvette.
“They are like-minded. They know what quality execution is and are looking for someone to provide them with a like-minded product,” Zoner says. “We are not just creating an automobile, but we are creating an experience too.”
Callaway currently offers four packages to the public that include: the Callaway Camaro, a supercharged four-seater; Callaway SportTrucks with their “GenThree” Supercharger System as standard equipment in all their Callaway Silverados, Tahoes, and Suburbans; the Callaway Camaro SC652, which boosts power to 652 bhp and 620 lb-ft of torque; and their seventh-generation SC 627, “the most sophisticated, most feature-packed Corvette produced to date.” All are limited editions.
Their Old Lyme headquarters has 20 employees which is the same number as Callaway Carbon, their west coast facility in Santa Ana, California. The two locations work in unison. Callaway Cars has a traditional machine shop with metal fabrication capabilities, while Callaway Carbon designs, tools, and manufactures carbon components for their vehicles and for the military, medical, and aerospace industries. Between the two shops they can build nearly everything they need.
They also have a third location in Leingarten, Germany and are responsible for the “homologation, construction, sales, and campaigning of the Corvette Z06.R GT3 series of race cars,” which are sold to professional racing teams whom they support both on and off the track.
“We started Callaway Competition in 1994 with the purpose of competing at Le Mans, the world most prestigious endurance race,” says Zoner.
The Callaway Corvette Z06.R is one of the most successful lines of racing cars to participate in the FIA GT3 European Championship Series. Considering they are competing against the world’s best manufactures like Audi, BMW, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari, that’s saying a lot.
While they have constructed race cars from scratch using carbon fiber technology for their own factory team Callaway Competition, they also used this lightweight material to build cars for race teams worldwide.
“The private professional teams are purchasing our product and engineering services to race. The reason we race is to support the customer. The only way to know how well the car performs and what improvements can be made is to walk in their shoes,” Zoner says.
On the pro side, Callaway races throughout Europe and has raced in the United States and other countries, winning multiple national and international championships. On the consumer side, they provide experiences at Lime Rock in Connecticut where they go to the track with owners. Zoner has been a team manager and crew chief for some of Callaway’s championship winning teams and is a champion amateur racer in his own right.
“Making the horsepower is the easy part. Any hot rod shop that can promote a big power number can do that. What really differentiates us is reliability. We stand behind what we do with a full warranty. Is the car powerful, reliable, drivable, and emission compliant; and can you make more than one in production with a complete dealer network that can support the consumer? That’s what we do. We create powerful, well-engineered automobiles,” says Zoner.
For more information log onto www.callawaycars.com