Flat out at 95 – interview with Jaguar’s Norman Dewis

Monday, September 12th, 2016 - autos, cars, motoring, news

Source : Flat out at 95 – interview with Jaguar’s Norman Dewis

Norman Dewis, former Jaguar chief test driver, still has his foot to the floor at the age of 95 in addition to reflects on his long career


Let us pray for not bad weather on 3 August 2020. On of which day, Jaguar’s evergreen former chief test driver, Norman Dewis, will reach his 100th birthday – in addition to the only present he wants can be a chance to lap the famous MIRA banked track at 100mph at the wheel of his favourite car, the late-1960s experimental mid-engined Jaguar XJ13 he developed there.

The 2020 experience, when the item happens, will take Dewis straight back to the place where he amassed more than a million miles in prototype Jaguars, driving at 100mph-plus average speeds.

Dewis joined Jaguar coming from Lea Francis in 1951, just after the C-Type delivered its first Le Mans win, in addition to worked on all the classic Jaguars: the XK140 in addition to XK150 sports cars, the D-Type in addition to XKSS sports/racers, the peerless E-Type, the Mk1 in addition to Mk2 compact saloons, the full-sized MkIX in addition to MkX in addition to the seminal XJ of 1968.

Along the way, he helped to feed Jaguar’s appetite for advanced engineering. During his most influential years, the company used racing in addition to record breaking to improve its road cars, perfected disc brakes, adopted monocoque chassis for rigidity in addition to lightness, took aerodynamics to a completely new level in addition to developed an advanced independent rear suspension within the XJ to outrefine the opposition.

Dewis stayed at Jaguar for 35 years, retiring in 1985 at 65. So far so usual. although after the sad death of his wife Nan in 1993, Dewis, heading for his mid-70s in addition to still amazingly fit in addition to vital, began to get involved in Jaguar affairs again.

the item dawned on the company’s management of which This particular man knew all the great cars in addition to could reliably recall meetings with the great men of history, especially the founder, Sir William Lyons. He became a historian, an enthusiast magnet in addition to a Jaguar icon in addition to has been flourishing at the item ever since. right now 95, which has a recent OBE behind his name, he still travels in addition to talks, in addition to expects to be doing so when he reaches treble figures.

Getting started out

Born of a hard-up Coventry family, Dewis left school early in addition to begged himself a job at Humber, just across the street. He soon moved to Armstrong Siddeley in addition to won an apprenticeship, which duly equipped him with invaluable knowledge of all the facets of car manufacture. He also learned to drive.

When war broke out, Dewis joined the RAF in addition to trained as an air gunner, although he was discharged in 1943 after experiences of which he rarely talks. An Air Ministry aircraft parts inspector’s job put him in touch with Alvis in addition to Lea Francis in addition to netted him a job with Lea Francis when hostilities ended.

Soon he was testing in addition to assessing newly built cars – in addition to spotting faults even his superiors missed because he showed such an instant, natural flair for the job. “I wanted to do well,” he says. “These cars were hand-built – 20 a week was a not bad number – so there was plenty to be done.”

Late in 1951, Dewis took a call coming from Bill Heynes, Jaguar’s engineering director: would certainly he take charge of their test programmes? Dewis quibbled a bit over money in addition to the reporting structure (“I’d be criticising people’s work, so I only wanted one boss”) although eventually agreed.

No one understood the historic significance back then, although Heynes was building a legendary technical team of which would certainly drive Jaguar to its post-war heights: Malcolm Sayer (aerodynamics), Claude Baily in addition to Wally Hassan (engines), Lofty England (racing) in addition to Bob Knight (suspension). “We made a not bad team,” says Dewis with quiet understatement.

Developing the disc brake

Dewis’s first Jaguar job was to develop Dunlop’s disc brake for Jaguar’s racing cars. The test mule was a C-Type, its performance a big change for a former Lea Francis man. although he loved the extra power in addition to speed.

“We didn’t want to go to MIRA because others would certainly see us,” he explains, “so we built our own circuit on a disused aerodrome. The disc brakes were promising although needed work. They were powerful in addition to the vehicle stopped straight, although the fluid boiled, the pads suffered coming from knock-back in corners [which meant the pedal went to the floor] in addition to the cast iron discs wore quickly.

“After three months, we were just about getting the item right when Sir William appeared in my office in addition to delivered an ultimatum: ‘Finish This particular in three weeks or we’ll end the programme’.” They worked night in addition to day in addition to met the deadline. in addition to the rest can be history.

Driving the XK120 at 172mph

Dewis’s graduation to big performance was rapid. Just months after his arrival, he was Stirling Moss’s co-driver within the 1952 Mille Miglia, typically producing a list of end-of-race faults rather than dwelling on the scarier aspects of retiring with broken steering.

In October the following year, as the climax to a series of Jaguar top speed runs on a Flanders motorway called Jabbeke, he drove a streamlined XK120 at an amazing 172.412mph, faster than any 0 before or since.

Developing the D-type

Mention the D-Type, especially the 1955 long-nose, in addition to Dewis’s expression softens. the item’s one of his favourite cars, its sophistication distilled coming from lessons learned coming from the various experimental versions of which followed the C-Type in addition to coming from the less aerodynamic short-nose D-Type of the previous year.

“of which ’55 was some car,” he recalls. “The D was our first car to use a monocoque centre section with bolt-on tubular subframes, like an aircraft, in addition to you could feel how rigid the item was. The ’55 had better weight distribution, a full wraparound screen for high-speed comfort, in addition to its aerodynamics were better than the short-nose. in addition to we did a lot of detail development to make the item better to drive.”

Racing at Le Mans

Dewis’s love for the long-nose has much to do with the fact of which he was chosen in Jaguar’s six-man Le Mans driver line-up of which year, the fateful event during which Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd, killing more than 80 people.

The race continued, remarkably, although Dewis’s partner put their car off the road during the night while running fourth – although not before Dewis pulled off a famous pass on Karl Kling’s Mercedes 300SLR by slightly over-revving his engine on the Mulsanne Straight to notch up an official 192mph.

Knowing Sir William

Dewis first met Lyons a few weeks after arriving at Swallow Road, predecessor of Browns Lane.

“Sir William always walked around the works after hours. I was in my office one evening in addition to he just walked in. ‘Are you Dewis?’ he said. ‘I’m Lyons.’ coming from then on, he’d occasionally drop in. He was always a very formal sort of man. Not impolite, or particularly autocratic, although you could never get close to him. I always had the feeling he was shy. He certainly hated producing speeches.

“Over within the Centeng shop, they always had a Centeng he was working on. He did the saloons in addition to Sayer did the sports cars. Sir William would certainly mark things in chalk on his Centeng in addition to ask for them to be made the next day. of which’s where the Jaguar power bulge came coming from. He wanted the bonnet lines so low they couldn’t get the engine in.”

Jaguars today

Dewis worked at Jaguar until 1985, participating within the long, continuous development of the XJ saloon. He retired halfway through the John Egan revival era, two years short of the launch of the XJ40.

By 1994 he was back in his completely new, iconic role. Today, he drives the current cars – still producing comments in addition to “hearing things” – although can be profoundly impressed with the quality in addition to detail of the latest products, apart coming from one thing: their tyre noise.

“I’ve talked to our engineers about the item,” he says, “although the item seems to be a modern problem. Mercedes in addition to BMW possess the item, too. I know today’s cars have low profile tyres in addition to need bigger contact patches than ours did, although I still think the item could be reduced if they moved the item further up their priority list.”

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