Legendary Jaguar test driver, Norman Dewis dies aged 98
Across 33 years, Jaguar test driver, Norman Dewis OBE honed some of Jaguar’s most iconic cars including the multiple Le Mans-winning C- and D-type racing cars, he has passed away aged 98.
Norman Dewis has died aged 98. Tributes have poured in for the legendary test driver whose name will forever be synonomus with Jaguar. Across a 33-year career, Dewis was responsible for developing some of the best-known Jaguars of all time, including the multiple Le Mans-winning C- and D-type racing cars, the XK 140 and 150 sports cars, the 2.4/3.4 and Mk 2 saloons, as well as the Mk VII and Mk VIIM models. He handled development of the E-type (including the Lightweight E-type), the XJ13 mid-engined prototype, the XJ saloons, the XJ-S and the ‘XJ40’. “Each and every model developed with Dewis’ help remains an icon of the automotive world to this day for its impeccable blend of comfort and handling,” Jaguar said.
Born in Coventry, Dewis began working on cars at age 14 in the Humber factory. At 15 he moved to Armstrong Siddeley, where he spent time in the chassis department and first learned to drive while taking cars on their shakedown runs. During wartime, Dewis was drafted into the RAF, working the gun turret of a Blenheim bomber, and finally joined Jaguar after a post-war stint at Lea-Francis.
But Dewis isn’t just famous for his ride and handling work. He also had a hand in the development of the disc brake which was jointly developed by Jaguar and Dunlop. The disc brake got its battle test in a C-type at the 1952 Mille Miglia with Sir Stirling Moss in the driving seat and Dewis navigating.
Dewis also, in 1953, set a 172.412 mph production car speed record in a modified Jaguar XK120 on a closed section of the Jabbeke highway, Belgium. Indeed, so well regarded was Dewis, that famed racing driver, Mike Hawthorn, when he was asked to attend a test session and saw Dewis was already there, asked the team manager: “Why am I here? If Norman’s satisfied with it, I’m satisfied.”
In an era without seatbelts or crash safety, Dewis was fearless. In total, it’s estimated he completed more than one million test miles at an average speed of 100mph-plus. In the years before his retirement Norman built up a small vehicle proving department at Jaguar which he headed until his retirement in 1985. He also oversaw the establishment of a dedicated Jaguar test facility at Nardo in Italy and, in 1984, a major base at Phoenix, Arizona for durability and environmental testing in the all-important United States market.
In recognition of his services to Jaguar and the British motor industry, in 2014 Norman received the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Prof. Dr. Ralf Speth, Jaguar Land Rover Chief Executive Officer said: “Today is an enormously sad day for the Jaguar brand, Jaguar fans worldwide, and for me personally. Putting Norman’s hugely decorated career aside, his friendly nature, captivating storytelling and unbridled enthusiasm made him exactly the kind of man you couldn’t help but want to spend time with – he will be sorely missed.
“The Jaguar brand is synonymous with a number of big personalities; the founder, Sir William Lyons, the great designer, Malcolm Sayer, innovative engineer, Bill Heynes, and – of course – the great test driver, Norman Dewis. Norman’s name will quite rightly go down in Jaguar history; without his contribution to the brand during his 33-year career, or as a global ambassador in his later years, Jaguar just wouldn’t be the same. So, I hope the world will join me and everyone associated with Jaguar Land Rover in saying: thank you, Norman.”