This LEGO Designer Drives Differently
Photography by Florence Walker
Can you honestly say you wouldn’t live in a fairy tale if you could? Imagine living in a thatched cottage that you work on with your own two hands. Now imagine you work in a town whose history is built on one man’s mission to make childhood more fun. You’ve still got to get to work and back though, so you of course drive a car named after a character from a bedtime story. For Craig Callum, this isn’t fantasy, it’s just life.
This is Craig’s third appearance on Petrolicious, but rather than talk about other people’s cars or the cool toys he’s made for LEGO, this time around he spoke with us about his own car. We caught up with him in Billund, Denmark, where he had immortalized the Ford GT and the Ford GT40 in LEGO, to talk instead about his 1:1 scale Ford.
Pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa, make yourself comfortable, and let us tell you a tale.
Florence Walker: Tell me where you got “Old Red.”
Craig Callum: “Old Red Riding Hood.” I bought her in Copenhagen. She’s a Ford Model A Coupe from 1930. Originally it was from Vejle, which is a town just 10 kilometers from where I live now. So, I bought her in Copenhagen and brought her back home. I have all of the records—right from the beginning. She was passed from butcher to butcher for a while.
FW: And if I heard correctly earlier, you race her?
CC: I do, but only a few times per year. We have a few races for pre-1948 cars, the biggest one being Romo Motor Festival, which is on the beach in September. That’s just started last year, but it was fantastic. I’m not sure how many exactly, but something like 30, 40 cars turned up on the beach and we just went racing these old machines along the sand all day. It’s super cool. Then there are a couple others, things like dirt track races and little bits and pieces like that that I’ve attended.
FW: So, where does her name come from?
CC: From Tex Avery, the cartoonist; I’m obsessed with his work. There was one cartoon in particular, Hot Red Riding Hood, which is the story of Little Red Riding Hood but set in the 1930s. There’s also the link to the term for when a hot-rodder isn’t in a club—a “Lone Wolf”— and I’m not a member of any clubs. Mix them together and add in the fact that she’s red, and hey presto, Old Red she is.
FW: You also told me that there’s a weird coincidence with your last name and Old Red.
CC: Yes. I’ve been working closely with Ford and getting to know the people there. One of them is Murray Callum. Obviously with my name being Callum as well, we started to discuss where the name comes from and who we are. We must be related from five or six generations back because my granddad was from the same town that his family’s from—so there’s Murray at Ford, and Ian Callum of course of Jaguar, and it turns out they both build and drive hot rods too! I believe that maybe we really are related. I think Ian has a ’32 and Murray has a ’31 or a ’30. Apparently it’s in the blood and we don’t get to choose anything in life; it just directs you.
FW: What race would you race the three against each other in, and who do you think would win?
CC: I would race them to see who could be the slowest down a drag strip, and I would definitely win.
FW: Tell me more about the car—you don’t have any windows in there at the moment—it’s basically a tractor right?
CC: It is, yeah. They re-bodied a tractor and sold it to the masses. The car is bare bones, but that’s how I want it to be. It’s very raw. It’s never been painted—it’s the original paint. It’s pretty battered up. For 30 years of its life it was stored in three separate barns and then it’s just been thrown back together. It doesn’t have windows because they couldn’t find them. It still has the original motor though. And of course it doesn’t have any fenders or wings. Everything’s missing. It’s pretty back-to-basics in that sense.
FW: So do you work on it as well?
CC: Yeah, I do everything myself, where I can. I sort of draw the line at welding at the moment, but I’m starting to pick that up now too. With that car, it’s not necessarily that you’re trying to … I’m not improving things or trying to make things better; it’s just to keep it running. That’s enough work for one person.
FW: Do you use it as a daily driver?
CC: I use it as much as I can in the summer. But, as you mentioned, it doesn’t have windows. So if there’s any hint of rain, then obviously you don’t want to drive it. So I drive it when I can, but it’s not the most efficient motor on the road these days. It gets points for style, though.
FW: And you’ve made a model out of it as well?
CC: Yeah. Our partnership with Ford started last year where we had two sets released. We had the Ford Mustang, and we also did a Ford Model A Hot Rod paired with the F-150 Raptor. In that set we have a hot rod with flames on the side, so a bit different than mine, but Old Red was one of the first concept models of course!
FW: So what’s your driver for times when the weather isn’t cooperating with your windowless car from the 1930s?
CC: It’s a new, boring car, just an appliance. This is the thing: Old Red has so much character. It brings out emotion each time you get in it, but when it comes to my daily driver, I get in and I don’t even really notice anything. I also have a 1967 Fiat 850 which I just picked up a few months ago. I’m preparing that for hill climbs and sprint racing on the track though, so probably I’ll still be driving my boring car a while longer.
FW: As for the Fiat, will you be doing those events around Copenhagen?
CC: They will be, yes, around Denmark. There aren’t many hills in Copenhagen, but we do switchback turns up the hill to the top where there’s a casino and a hotel. It’s very glamorous, I guess, but it’s kind of fun too. The Fiat’s a new one for me, so that’s sort of heading towards a proper race car, but not entirely so.
FW: Do want to take your racing career further?
CC: I would love to. I think racing has been something I’ve loved since I was a kid. I used to go go-karting whenever I could.
FW: Where did you pick up your mechanical skills? Or is it just because you work with your hands all the time?
CC: When I was 15, I started saving money because I knew I was going to buy a car at 17. And when I passed my test, I bought a 1976 Mini. Obviously when you drive a car like that every day, you have to be able to fix it. I was really fortunate: one of my friends’ dads was a classic rally car driver and mechanic, so he used to do his own work. He heard that I had this Mini and he heard that I was into classic cars, so he decided to give me a hand. He taught me everything I know. The first car’s always the hardest. Learning it for the first time is when it’s difficult because you just have no idea, no reference points. But once you pull something apart, you realize that it just goes back together in reverse.
I’m down to three cars now, but I’ve had about 20 or 30 different ones since passing my driving test.
FW: That is quite a few! Tell me how you got into cars in the first place and why you’re so fixated on driving the more “out-there” examples.
CC: Well, when I was 17 and bought my Mini, I said that I was never going to have a car that people would just drive past and not think about. I want to drive these cars because I love that they stir emotion. That’s why I drive Old Red as much as I can. I enjoy driving it and it’s great for me, but also I just love the reaction of other people. That’s not a, “I want to show off and I want people to notice me,” way, but more in the emotions it stirs up inside people who see something they don’t usually get to. The stories you hear. When I stop for petrol and people come by and they say, “Oh, I know someone who had this,” or, “How is that thing still running?” and those sorts of questions. That’s what it’s about for me.
Maybe I’m just really old at heart. I used to hang out with my friends’ dads all the time, and the one I’d mentioned that was a rally mechanic, he was racing and driving classic cars all the time. My other friend’s dad has a 1947 Bentley Mark VI, and again that’s such a status symbol of a car, but actually he just drove it around like anything else—it was just his car. He’d polish it and keep it clean of course, but I suppose it was that frequent usage that taught me that these weird old cars don’t have to be about showing off or going to special events, because they are extensions of your personality.
These cars have character and they tell a story. I think that’s beginning to be recognized in car culture. A car that hasn’t been restored has a lot more character and so much more story to it than a car that has been more or less rebuilt to look like it’s just rolled off the factory line.
Like I said, at 17 I decided that I was never going to drive a normal car. I’d always have something interesting. I went to school shortly after and I bought a second Mini. Over the years I’ve had old Volkswagen Beetles from the ‘50s, a couple of over-window Beetles, split-screen Camper vans, I had a DKW F93, which is just the weirdest little thing: it’s a 2-stroke 3-cylinder engine, so it sounds like a can of angry wasps. I never really got it on the road, but I did have a BMW 2002 as well. That’s still in my barn actually, but anyway…
What else have I had? All kinds. Basically just sort of all sorts of weird cars. The Fiat’s my first proper Italian car; it’s new to me but very cool.
FW: You moved to Copenhagen six years ago. When did you get into the car community out here, and how did you do that?
CC: It was the first thing that I tried to get into I think. When I initially moved here I had a Porsche 356. It was a horrible car, but it was beautiful. The 356 is a great car overall, but my example was not necessarily the best of the best. I was of driving that around for a little bit, and I think I had a Camper van at the time as well as a Mini Cooper S. When I came here I was already pretty much into the car “thing,” but my first car purchased here was a Cooper S; a 1965 or something like that.
I’ve always felt that I’m not one of those people who like to go to a lot of club meets, so it’s not like I needed to find other people that were into that to inspire me to carry on; I do it for me. I love these cars for my own entertainment.
FW: It’s funny that you don’t go to a lot of meets as you’re really well-known in the car community.
CC: Am I?
FW: Sure. It’s low-key, but everybody knows you and everybody knows that you’re a good bloke. I can’t imagine that you would get into any scene, whether it’s cars or music or anything else, and not become well-known for being talented and easy to get along with.
CC: For the record I’m blushing. Perhaps that’s why it works is because it’s natural to me. The car community and the events I do, the people I meet, it’s so easy to talk with them about the things we’re passionate about that I’ve made tons of friends. I wouldn’t say whether I’m a big part of the community or a well-known part of the community, but I’ve just made so many great friends, and for that I’m very grateful.
FW: Do you notice any glaring differences between the English car community and the Danish car community?
CC: Yeah. The car culture here is obviously a bit skewed because of the high Danish car tax; you’ll pay three times the price for a car here as you would in the UK. It sort of molds the culture here in a weird way because if you can afford to own any kind of car, then that’s pretty much all you can afford. The classic car culture hasn’t really dropped down to younger people yet. It’s still a lot of older guys driving classic cars beautifully restored.
Also then, the types of car that are popular in Denmark are slightly different than those in the UK. Here, American car culture’s very big, so they like their Corvettes and those big muscle cars and things like that. There’s a smaller scene for classic British cars, so MGs and things like that aren’t too uncommon to see in Denmark. But I think because the community in Denmark is small—it’s a tiny, close-knit country—as soon as you know one person, they’re like, “Oh, you need to speak to so-and-so. Here’s his number.” It’s very personable. I think that’s perhaps what’s missing in the UK now. It’s so big over there, and there’s so many people involved in it. There are so many cars and so many different scenes that it’s actually hard to break in. But it’s great for that reason too, for the variety and the scope of it.
In Denmark though, Old Red sort of opened up a really weird avenue of car culture where I’m now hanging out with rockabillies and racing pre-war metal across beaches. It’s really cool, but it’s a bit niche. There’s not many of us doing that here as you can probably imagine.
FW: You say that, but didn’t you drive up to a Petrol station a couple of weeks ago and there was a-
CC: That’s true! I turned up at the petrol station in the middle of February, driving my 86-year-old car and then there was another person driving another Ford Model A from 1930. We’re all a bunch of weirdos, really, and we manage to find each other wherever we may be.