Jaguar’s Norman Dewis – Flat out at 95

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 - autos, cars, motoring, news

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

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


Let us pray for not bad weather on 3 August 2020. On that will day, Jaguar’s evergreen former chief test driver, Norman Dewis, will reach his 100th birthday – as well as the only present he wants is usually 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 through Lea Francis in 1951, just after the C-Type delivered its first Le Mans win, as well as worked on all the classic Jaguars: the XK140 as well as XK150 sports cars, the D-Type as well as XKSS sports/racers, the peerless E-Type, the Mk1 as well as Mk2 compact saloons, the full-sized MkIX as well as MkX as well as 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 as well as record breaking to improve its road cars, perfected disc brakes, adopted monocoque chassis for rigidity as well as lightness, took aerodynamics to a brand new level as well as developed an advanced independent rear suspension inside the XJ to outrefine the opposition.

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

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

Getting started out

Born of a hard-up Coventry family, Dewis left school early as well as begged himself a job at Humber, just across the street. He soon moved to Armstrong Siddeley as well as 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 as well as trained as an air gunner, however 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 as well as Lea Francis as well as netted him a job with Lea Francis when hostilities ended.

Soon he was testing as well as assessing newly built cars – as well as 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 through Bill Heynes, Jaguar’s engineering director: would likely he take charge of their test programmes? Dewis quibbled a bit over money as well as the reporting structure (“I’d be criticising people’s work, so I only wanted one boss”) however eventually agreed.

No one understood the historic significance back then, however Heynes was building a legendary technical team that will would likely drive Jaguar to its post-war heights: Malcolm Sayer (aerodynamics), Claude Baily as well as Wally Hassan (engines), Lofty England (racing) as well as 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. however he loved the extra power as well as speed.

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

“After three months, we were just about getting the item right when Sir William appeared in my office as well as delivered an ultimatum: ‘Finish This specific in three weeks or we’ll end the programme’.” They worked night as well as day as well as met the deadline. as well as the rest is usually 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 inside 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, as well as Dewis’s expression softens. the item’s one of his favourite cars, its sophistication distilled through lessons learned through the various experimental versions that will followed the C-Type as well as through the less aerodynamic short-nose D-Type of the previous year.

“that will ’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, as well as you could feel how rigid the item was. The ’55 had better weight distribution, a full wraparound screen for high-speed comfort, as well as its aerodynamics were better than the short-nose. as well as 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 that will he was chosen in Jaguar’s six-man Le Mans driver line-up that will year, the fateful event during which Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd, killing more than 80 people.

The race continued, remarkably, however 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 as well as he just walked in. ‘Are you Dewis?’ he said. ‘I’m Lyons.’ through then on, he’d occasionally drop in. He was always a very formal sort of man. Not impolite, or particularly autocratic, however you could never get close to him. I always had the feeling he was shy. He certainly hated doing speeches.

“Over inside the Centeng shop, they always had a Centeng he was working on. He did the saloons as well as Sayer did the sports cars. Sir William would likely mark things in chalk on his Centeng as well as ask for them to be made the next day. that will’s where the Jaguar power bulge came through. He wanted the bonnet lines so low they couldn’t get the engine in.”

Jaguars today

Dewis worked at Jaguar until 1985, participating inside 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 brand new, iconic role. Today, he drives the current cars – still doing comments as well as “hearing things” – however is usually profoundly impressed with the quality as well as detail of the latest products, apart through one thing: their tyre noise.

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

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