Jaguar Land Rover Newsroom
- Legendary former Jaguar test driver and works racer, Norman Dewis OBE, has passed away aged 98
- Dewis was Britain’s greatest ever test driver, having developed 25 of the most significant Jaguars ever over his 33-year career
- Jaguar’s most famous models, including the Le Mans 24 Hours-winning D-type as well as the iconic E-type, were honed with Dewis’ expertise
- Dewis also set a land speed record for Jaguar and competed with a D-type at Le Mans and Goodwood during the 1950s
- Even at 98, Dewis remained a global ambassador of Jaguar and an asset to the brand legacy he helped to establish
[Mr. Dewis accepting recognition at Amelia Island Concours, alongside Al Unser Sr., and wearing an Indianapolis Motor Speedway cap]
(Whitley, Coventry – June 10, 2019). The man responsible for developing some of the most iconic Jaguars ever, Norman Dewis OBE, has passed away aged 98. Over a 33-year career with Jaguar, Dewis’ fearlessness, extraordinary talent and friendly, humble demeanor helped establish him not only as Britain’s greatest ever test driver, but a veritable legend and a dedicated friend to the Jaguar brand.
Dewis’ history with Jaguar is remarkable: he developed the multiple Le Mans-winning C- and D-type racing cars, the classic XK 140 and 150 sports cars, the pioneering 2.4/3.4 and Mk 2 saloons, plus the Mk VII and Mk VIIM 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. 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.
Unusually, Norman reported directly to Jaguar Chief Engineer, William Heynes; this arrangement was probably unique in the motor industry for a test engineer and it enabled the company’s chief engineer (later engineering director) instant, first-hand feedback on the proving process. Norman also sent copies of his reports to company founder Sir William Lyons. Both placed considerable store by what Norman said.
Born in Coventry, Dewis began working on cars at age 14, fitting wings and bonnets at the Humber factory. At just 15 he moved to another car manufacturer, 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.
Besides the many cars Dewis helped develop in his career, one of his first automotive projects is without doubt the one with the greatest effect on the automotive industry; the disc brake. Dewis became involved with Jaguar and Dunlop’s development of the revolutionary braking system, famously trialed 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. He also drove a 190mph works D-type in the dramatic 1955 Le Mans 24hr race with greats like Moss, Hawthorn and Fangio.
Famed racing driver, Mike Hawthorn, had such faith in Dewis that when he was asked to attend a test session and saw that Dewis was already there, asked the team manager: “Why am I here? If Norman’s satisfied with it, I’m satisfied.” And so it was, through a mutual respect and an instant likeability, that Dewis struck up life-long friendships with the likes of Hawthorn, Moss and Sir Jackie Stewart.
Outside of racing car development, Dewis is also famous for his legendary night-time dash from Coventry to the Geneva Motor Show in 1961 for the launch of the Jaguar E-type. Covering roughly 700 miles in another E-type sourced from the factory for the for press demonstration runs, Dewis arrived roughly 15 hours later having not stopped once (aside from fuel) – hugely impressive at a time when there were no motorways.
In an era without seatbelts or crash safety, Dewis was fearless. In total, it’s estimated he completed more than a million test miles at an average speed of 100mph-plus, with a number of heroic anecdotes as a result. Whether it was the D-type that flipped and landed on top of him while testing glass fibre panels or the XJ-13 that rolled end over end during a high-speed run, Dewis managed to walk away without a scratch, didn’t tell his wife and then was back to work the next day.
In the years before his retirement Norman built up a small but highly dedicated vehicle proving department 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.
Even outside of retirement – and in more recent times – Dewis spearheaded Jaguar’s 60thanniversary celebrations for the race-winning D-type. Wherever Jaguar was during the year, Norman was present too, chatting with fans and friends, wearing his distinctive bootlace tie and cowboy boots. At the 2014 Goodwood Revival, Dewis – aged 93 – demonstrated a D-type, his speed illustrating that he hadn’t lost his touch behind the wheel. Dewis then consulted with the Jaguar Classic Works on the launch of the continuation Lightweight E-type, a car that he originally helped develop in the 1960s. To his 98th year, Dewis continued to be a global ambassador to Jaguar cars and a great friend to the brand.
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.”
It is a shame that we will no longer witness Norman’s 100th birthday wish – he promised his many Jaguar fans and friends from around the world that he would drive the C-type to 100 mph to celebrate his 100 years and love of the brand. Norman with his trustee Jaguar ‘leaper’ walking stick would have done it in style, with a cheeky smile.
Norman Dewis’ Career Highlights
- Began work at Humber in 1935, then Armstrong Siddeley from 1935 – 1939
- Served during WW2 as an air gunner in the RAF, later in the Aeronautical Inspectorate Directorate
- Worked for Lea-Francis, Coventry 1945 – 1951, becoming head of road test
- Joined Jaguar Cars Ltd, Coventry 1st January 1952 as chief test development driver reporting directly to William Munger Heynes, Jaguar’s chief engineer
- Did the vast majority of high-speed durability testing of the D-type Jaguar from 1954, this car winning Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
- Drove a works long-nose D-type in the 1955 Le Mans race but failed to finish after his co-driver crashed
- During the late 1950s worked closely with Jaguar engineers developing road Jaguars including XK 140 and 150, 2.4 and 3.4 saloons, and the Mark 2 saloon. Also the E-type Jaguar launched in March 1961
- Carried out test development work on the new mid-engined Jaguar Le Mans car, XJ13, 1966-67
- Played a key role developing the XJ6 of 1968 which set new standards for luxury saloon cars – Sir Alec Issigonis called it ‘the best car in the world’
- Having established a vehicle proving department during the 1960s, Norman went on to oversee the proving of the new XJ6 (XJ40) in the early 1980s, the last model he was associated with at Jaguar
- Retired in 1985 but in the mid-1990s embarked on a series of lecture tours and guest attendances at many significant events in the UK (Goodwood Festival and Revival meetings), the United States (Pebble Beach), Europe and Australasia. This continued into 2018
- In 2014 received the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in recognition of his services to Jaguar and the British Motor Industry
James grew up in an Indiana community where the auto industry was at its heart. His first car was an Olds 442, and many of his classmates had their father’s hand-me-down muscle cars. Met his wife in college. They have three children. Survived esophageal cancer. Is passionate about enjoying his second chance and his automotive interests further that goal.