Legendary Jaguar Test Driver Norman Dewis Passes Away Aged 98
All at Petrolicious are very sad to learn that Jaguar legend Norman Dewis has passed away at the age of 98, following a spell of ill health. Dewis was by consensus thought Britain’s greatest test driver, and in a varied career spanning 33 years he developed a host of famous Jaguar cars in an era considered a golden age of Jaguar motorsport success in the 1950s. He also developed disc brakes and set a 172mph production car speed record.
Dewis completed around a quarter of a million test miles at 100mph-plus average speeds, and had a vital hand in developing some 25 Jaguars, having joined the company in late 1951 just after its legendary success in Le Mans commenced. Dewis’s work most notably included developing the multiple Le Mans-winning C-type and D-types of the 1950s, when they won the 24 Hours five times between 1951 and ’57, including D-types finishing 1-2-3-4-6 in the final of those events.
Dewis also developed the pioneering XK140 and 150 sports cars, the classic 2.4/3.4 and Mk2 saloons, plus the MkVII and MkVIIM models, the legendary E-type—including the Lightweight E-type—the XJ13 mid-engined prototype, the world-class XJ saloons, the XJ-S and the ‘XJ40’ models. One of Dewis’s most notable achievements was in October 1953 when he set a 172.412mph production car speed record driving a modified streamlined Jaguar XK120 on the Jabbeke highway in Belgium. He also played a vital role in developing the revolutionary Dunlop disc brake; indeed this was his first job at Jaguar, to evaluate whether disc brakes, already established in aviation, could be adapted to cars.
His value as a test driver was such that Dewis’s opportunities to race Jaguars were limited, yet Dewis still drove a D-type with Stirling Moss in the 1952 Mille Miglia—again to test the Dunlop disc brake—as well as drove a D-type in the tragic 1955 Le Mans as well as competed in the famous Goodwood Nine Hours in the 1950s.
Dewis survived many high-speed crashes, some deliberately provoked for the sake of learning, and did so somehow without ever breaking a bone, despite often a lack of belts and roll protection. His technique often was to tuck himself under the scuttle and ride the accident out until the car stopped.
Before Jaguar, Dewis had been thrust into the role of family breadwinner early due to his father’s sudden death when Dewis was aged just 14. Dewis worked initially as a grocer’s delivery boy, then at the Humber car factory which was next to where he lived. His first job as a test driver came with Armstrong-Siddeley, prior to the Second World War. He served on Bristol Blenheims during the conflict, then afterwards started at Lea-Frances, before being recruited to Jaguar by its engineering boss Bill Heynes, where he spent the rest of his working life.
After his driving career came to an end in 1985, Dewis retained his close links with Jaguar and with motorsport, acting as a global ambassador as well as remaining a familiar and unstintingly genial face at key motoring events internationally and a raconteur never to be missed. He was awarded an OBE in the early 2015 New Year Honours. All at Petrolicious pass their condolences to Norman Dewis’s friends and family.
Images courtesy of Jaguar