Saying Goodbye To Legendary Jaguar Test Driver Norman Dewis

Norman Dewis was one of the fastest man of the 1950s, and remained Jaguar's chief test pilot until 1985. Right up until his death at 98, he was sharp as ever.

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Jaguar

Some car companies just wouldn't be the same without their most prominent test drivers. Norman Dewis was to Jaguar what Bob Wallace and Valentino Balboni were to Lamborghini. Except that he started out much earlier, at a time when doing top-speed runs with no seat in the car and no crash helmet on the pilot was considered an acceptable risk for the good of the company, and the glory of Britain.

Having his talent discovered by car-company Armstrong Siddeley at the age of sixteen, Dewis landed at Jaguar in 1952, and found himself at Monza almost straight away. The job there (and beyond) was to beat Ferrari and Mercedes with the best racing cars Coventry could make. When the D-Type came out, as Dewis pointed out in the interview below, Jaguar's aluminum tab chassis put them three years ahead of Formula One.

Jaguar's chief test driver also played a huge role in developing Dunlop's disc brakes, which allowed Jaguar to dominate both the Milla Miglia, and the only race company boss William Lyons cared about, tthe 24 Hours of Le Mans. What's more, Jaguar found the technology to be production-ready, offering it as an option on the XK150 in 1958, long before the competition:

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Alden JewellFlickr

When Jaguar started using the runways the RAF built for its Vulcan bombers, Dewis spent quite some time at 165 mph. And when more speed was needed for a record and cheap publicity, he went even faster on a public road in Belgium. Due to his daily duties as a tester, his track record was never supposed to compete with factory racers, but again, they did clock him doing 192 mph in the Mulsanne straight in 1955, driving a stock long-nose D-Type. Then, there was his legendary run to Geneva with an E-Type Roadster prototype, when he covered 600 miles in 11 hours, averaging 68mph through the night...

Unfortunately, I never got to chat with the hero of all these stories, but luckily, the folks over at Carfection did two years ago. And at the age of 96, Mr. Dewis still remembered it all, smiling like the modest legend that he was. May he rest in peace.

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