Noted Corvette tuner Reeves Callaway dies at age 75
Callaway Cars has announced the passing of its founder and CEO, Ely Reeves Callaway III. He died on July 11, at his home in Newport Beach, California, from injuries sustained following a fall at home. Callaway was a car tuner and builder, founding businesses based on his love for speed.
Rather than follow in the footsteps of his father, who founded Callaway Golf and invented the Big Bertha club, and also founded Callaway Vineyards, Reeves Callaway became a legendary figure in the world of high-performance automobiles. Entirely self-taught, Reeves founded his company in 1977 from his garage in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
His first product success was an aftermarket turbo kit for a BMW, which automotive journalist and Hagerty contributor Don Sherman reviewed favorably in Car and Driver. “He hung a turbo kit on a borrowed 320i,” Sherman recalls. “I ended up testing it and was impressed. At the time he had no intention of building his company. Why should he? He was rich, and having the time of his life.”
The rest was history as Callaway, a Formula Vee champion driver and instructor for Bob Bondurant’s driving school prior to becoming a constructor, moved with his customary speed to open Callaway Cars’ first headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
Over the four decades since, Reeves and Callaway Cars have continued to earn accolades from media, the automotive industry, and the global motorsports world as a pioneer of “Powerfully Engineered Automobiles.” His performance and design innovations have delivered track and road-going successes for global marques, including BMW, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Mazda, Volkswagen, and General Motors, “who looked to Callaway’s innovation, creativity, agility, and performance to help accomplish their goals,” said his obituary.
He is best known for his work with Corvette, a deep and high-level relationship with the American sports car manufacturer that began in 1987 and culminated with two industry firsts:
• The Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette “B2K” designation, a factory code to signify the GM stamp of approval to permit sale and distribution of the Callaway Corvette via the Chevrolet dealer network.
• The second was a world record: in 1989, Callaway Cars built a Twin Turbo Corvette, dubbed “The Sledgehammer” that blew away all the competition by setting a production-car top speed record of 254.76 mph. Not until 2010, 21 years later, did Bugatti break Callaway’s record by achieving a 267.85 mph in a Veyron Super Sport.
In 1994, Reeves launched a Germany-based racing unit, Callaway Competition, with partners Ernst Wöhr and Giovanni Ciccone. International recognition was achieved by their successes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and later a European GT racing team which ultimately led to authorization by GM to construct and homologate C6- and C7-generation GT3 race cars for international competition. That same year, Motor Trend called the Callaway C8 “the world’s baddest Camaro” on its March cover.
A longtime helicopter pilot and Board Director for Kaman Corporation, Reeves was in recent years a founding adviser to a hydrogen-powered and composite-intensive, blended-wing aircraft start-up with funding from NASA and the Air Force.
“Thanks to Reeves’ visionary entrepreneurial spirit, Callaway Cars will continue to innovate and grow in the 21st century, inspired by his unique, extraordinary vision, and by his personal example of integrity, resourcefulness, and leadership as our founder,” says his son Peter Reeves Callaway, the company’s president. “Dad’s passion for making beautifully designed and crafted machines can be seen in each and every project, and we remain devoted to executing to the highest standards, in true Callaway fashion. He was rarely found doing anything other than working towards the next milestone for the company. He was a charismatic leader with a sense of humor that we will all remember through various ‘Reeves-isms.’ I feel fortunate to have grown up working with him and the company.”
“A true gentleman,” the obituary concluded, “he was the devoted father of four and grandfather of two.”
Reeves Callaway was 75. “He was a great guy,” Sherman says.