A small engineering boutique is proving a valuable weapon in automakers’ rapidresponse arsenals.
By Kevin Clemens
Edited by Stephen Mraz
There's an old saying heard around racetracks that a good small car will always beat a good big car. Small means nimble and quick, able to react without the paralyzing inertia that comes with too much mass. The same can be said for car companies. Smaller, boutique firms often deliver innovations at speeds much larger companies can't come close to matching, and many of today's automakers are taking advantage of that fact. Several car companies have shown up on the doorstep of Callaway Advanced Technology in Old Lyme, Conn., for example, looking for help building imaginative and technically sophisticated cars that meet fast-changing customer demands. Companies like Land Rover, Aston Martin, Holder, BMW Motorcycles, and Malibu Boats have all sent vehicles to be infused with the Callaway magic.
One of Callaway's best clients is Chevrolet. When the fourth-generation (C4) Corvette was nearing the end of its life, Chevy managers decided to reinvigorate it with some Callaway ingenuity. Callaway souped up the engine and suspension, added some bodywork, and came up with the Callaway Corvette. It quickly became a Regular Production Option (RPO B2K), the only time in Chevrolet's history a specialist manufacturer was entrusted with a technically advanced, high-performance RPO.
ENGINEERING AND RACING EXPERIENCE
Callaway's Managing Director Mike Zoner explains how the company's staff performs its alchemy. "We not only have deep individual engineering expertise, we actively encourage cross-pollination among those talents," says Zoner. Each engineer manages every aspect of the program he or she is working on, from concept through readiness for final production. Zoner has found that prior involvement in motorsports is a plus for engineers expected to be project managers as well.
"Many of our engineers have been involved in racing in some shape or form, from SCCA to Nascar," notes Zoner. "Once you've worked with or in a race team, you understand the importance of accountability and what it takes to manage an entire program." He points out that being part of a small team teaches one to be ready, willing, and able to work across a broad spectrum of challenges. "Our engineers are incredibly cross functional. No one is confined to just one area of the business. For example, a machinist isn't just a machinist, he's also part mechanic, part engineer, and a parts specialist. Everyone understands everyone else's job, and they support each other."
While pure engineering is an important element in any contract automotive company, the Callaway firm also relies on its sense of style and aesthetics. "Our customers are consistently amazed at our high-quality craftsmanship. Superior engineering is, of course, part of the magic, but our ability to balance form and function sets us apart from others," says Zoner. As a result, carmakers from all over the world go to Callaway based on its reputation in competition and its line of limited production, ultrahigh-performance sports cars.
PROOF OF THE CONCEPT
A recent project created for Land Rover highlights the advantages of Callaway's responsive and innovative small-team approach. Land Rover North America wanted to show off its new Freelander SUV at last year's Specialty Equipment Market Assoc.'s show in Las Vegas. The idea was to create a show vehicle combining Land Rover's legendary off-road capabilities with the extraordinary street performance Callaway is known for. The reworked Freelander was to have better engine performance, chassis and suspension modifications, and exterior changes. There was only one hitch: They only had six weeks for the entire project. And Land Rover wanted a working prototype, not just a static concept car. Faced with this deadline, larger engineering firms might have thrown in the towel. But the Callaway crew, used to working under the kinds of deadlines racing imposes, rose to the challenge.
The company's teams of designers, engineers, and craftsman in the U.S., Canada, and Germany, as well as those at Land Rover in England, worked together to create a concept vehicle that exceeded all expectations. Callaway's engine development group, for example, supercharged the Freelander's 174-bhp, 2.5-liter V6 engine, boosting output to 250-bhp with 260 lb-ft of torque at a useful 4,000 rpm. But high-horsepower numbers weren't the only important goals. The SUV also had to be drivable, reliable, and manufacturable in case Land Rover decided to put the concept car into production.
While the engine program was underway in the company's Old Lyme, Conn., facilities, springs, dampers, and antiroll bars as well as a new wheel and tire package were put together by Callaway to help the Freelander's four-wheel independent suspension system handle the increased engine performance.
Massive race-bred brakes from the Callaway C12 were adapted to the Freelander. The brakes are grooved with ventilated 332 32 mm front and 304 25 mm rear rotors and custom blue-anodized aluminum rotor hats. Engineers also added durable, lightweight carbon-fiber brake ducts. Ducts were integrated into existing front bumper assemblies to save time on the project.
Because the project was intended to spark both media and consumer interest in the Freelander, the contributions of Callaway's designer Paul Deutschman in Canada was critical. He was tasked with refining the SUV's exterior. Although fully versed and tied-in to Callaway Advanced Technology through PRO/E software, Deutschman used more traditional foam surfaces to create a compelling exterior. He attached foam blocks to the vehicle, carving them to shape, then applied a fiberglass skin over the foam to create just the look he wanted.
After just six weeks of intensive work, the concept vehicle, painted a vibrant Azul Blue and sporting a Callaway Freelander badge, made its debut in Las Vegas.
The overseas branch of General Motors in Australia also went to Callaway in the late 1990s. They wanted more performance from the LS1 V8 engine that would power the 2000 GTS Commodore from Holden Special Vehicles. The company approached Callaway after reading about their 440-hp C-12 sports car.
Callaway engineers ended up reworking the production powertrain to crank out 405 hp, a 20% boost. Callaway now helps manufacture the engines. Base LS-1 engines built in one of GM's Canadian plants are shipped to Callaway in Connecticut where they are modified and then sent to Australia. There, they are installed on the regular Holden assembly line. The boost in power made the GTS Commodore the fastest four-door sedan in the world and helped it win top honors in the showroom stock class at Bathurst, Australia's most prestigious endurance race.
OEM PERFORMANCE PARTNER
One tactic OEMs take is to use Callaway to design and manufacture high-performance versions of OEM vehicles, thus creating a halo effect over the OEM's entire product line. Reeves Callaway, the company founder and owner, sees this as a win-win situation since he wants to make his small engineering firm an important part of car manufacturers' brand image.
"And what makes us successful getting engineering work is marketing things that were unforeseen or uncontrollable," says Callaway. "Today's buyers thirst for personalization and exclusivity," he further explains. "That's why limited-edition brand extensions that enhance, not compromise, a car's true character are ideal additions to a manufacturer's existing models."
And what of the company's small size? Callaway currently employs about 25 people, but growth seems inevitable. "When you're small, you take pride in and exploit the advantages of being small, and with every project to-date, our size has been an asset for our customers," explains Callaway.
"Of course there is a built-in conundrum. Our long-term goal is to get larger, because, after all, the car business is a game of numbers. And they are large numbers," he adds. "But being small makes you nimble, fast on your feet, able to pass on lower costs, and still give customers targeted expertise. If you consistently deliver these four advantages, as Callaway tries to do, you can certainly differentiate yourself from the larger companies."
From Humble Beginnings
Reeves Callaway started his company in 1976 after a successful career in sports-car racing that included a formula-car national championship. He and several friends started Callaway to build performance-tuning kits for small BMWs and Volkswagens. The kits rapidly gained popularity among auto enthusiasts and soon major car manufacturers were asking for help in developing ultrahigh-performance variants of their vehicles. Today, many auto enthusiasts know the Callaway name from his high-performance Corvette program, a program officially blessed by Chevrolet, and from his limited-production C-12 sports car.
Callaway Companies actually consists of three separate organizations working closely together.
Callaway Advance Technology supports specialized engineering and system development for automotive OEMs. It offers engineering support from initial design and development of a performance package through production machining and automated assembly. It has even worked with large manufacturers to successfully adapt assembly lines to small runs of specialized vehicles.
Because racing is such an important part of Callaway's heritage, it isn't surprising that one of the three companies is a competition arm. Located in Leingarten, Germany, Callaway Competition GmbH builds world-class competition cars such as the Callaway C12R that race in legendary events like Le Mans. The company has also become an industry leader in fabricating and molding composite structures and products.
Callaway Cars is the manufacturing and sales arm of the business for high-performance cars, motorcycles, and boats. It is responsible for the Callaway C12 sports car as well as engine parts for projects like the Callaway Limited Edition Range Rover and C10 Corvette Ski Boat, the fastest production ski boat in the world.
Putting the Super in Super Sport
Chevrolet turned to Callaway for its Impala SuperNatural SS in which they installed the firm's SuperNatural 400-hp, 383-in.3 engine, complete with CNCported, cast-aluminum cylinder heads, their low-restriction, high-volume "Honker SS" air intake, and a stainless-steel, low-restriction exhaust. They also added a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, and forged high-silicon aluminum pistons with low-drag rings.
The Callaway Impala meets all state emission standards and provides 50% more power throughout its rpm range. It does 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 sec and the quarter mile in 14.1 sec at 100.0 mph (compared with 7.1 sec 0 to 60 and 15.4 sec at 91 mph for the stock Impala SS).
The chassis and suspension are also modified with precision springs lowered 0.5 in., Koni adjustable shocks, stronger rear-axle lower trailing arms, wider wheels, and Pirelli rubber. Callaway/Brembo front brakes use four-piston, cast-aluminum calipers, and ventilated and crossdrilled rotors. Stronger rear lower trailing arms, with stiffer bushings and adjustable shocks, let Callaway tailor the suspension to specific preferences and driving conditions. Eibach springs improve both looks and handling by slightly lowering the body and contributing higher spring rates.
Pony car on steroids
The Callaway SuperNatural C8 is a logical extension of the Callaway Corvette's heritage applied to GM's 1993-96 Chevrolet Camaros and Firebirds.
The engine, the SuperNatural 383, has performance comparable to the Ferrari 355 and Dodge Viper, but at a much lower price. It is based on General Motors' current LT1 engine, but uses a series of complementary modifications involving cylinder head porting, combustion chamber shaping, camshaft timing, and intake and exhaustsystem refinements. The finished engine produces 404 hp and is essentially a completely new engine, retaining little more than the original cylinder block. Cylinders are carefully honed and a 4340 steel-forged crankshaft increases displacement to 383 in.3 Pistons are forged from a low-expansion, high-silicon alloy. And a four-bolt forged center main-bearing cap replaces the original two-bolt center mains. The result is a GM small block as strong as a good racing engine and it gives the Camaro a top speed of 172 mph.
There are also modifications to brakes, suspension, and tires, along with a custom CamAerobody, which is only applicable to Camaros. The whole package is backed by Callaway's 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, and meets federal emission standards. They can be installed at Callaway's shop in Old Lyme, Conn., at Callaway dealers in the U.S. and abroad, or at a shop of the owner's choosing.