One of the greatest of all test-drivers worked extensively for Jaguar Cars.
The name Norman Dewis is well known in motoring circles as someone who has done it all from racing and rallying to high-speed record breaking and, above all, testing cars for development and production. He led a long and active life in the motor industry and in retirement was as busy as ever, as a valued ambassador for Jaguar Cars.
Norman Dewis was born at 38 Humber Road, Coventry, on 3 August 1920, where his mother, Ethel, was living with her parents. She and her husband, Cyril, had been living in rented accommodation but the landlord did not allow any children. Ethel already had one son, Cecil, who had been born in 1917, and he was living with Ethel’s parents at Humber Road. When Ethel moved back to her home with Cyril, Norman remained with his grandparents until he was seven. The massive Humber factory took up most of Humber Road and Norman’s home was almost opposite the main gates to the plant. Norman remembers seeing workers entering and leaving the Humber works each day.
In 1927 his parents secured a new-build council house in Randle Street, not far from the Daimler works at Radford, and Norman moved back to live with them. His brother decided to stay put in the Humber Road house. There was no escaping the motor industry and Norman recalled that from an early age he wanted to “be part of it.” He attended Barker’s Butt School and did well, gaining good marks in English, mathematics and science, but he excelled at art and looked set to win a scholarship to Coventry Art School. However, this was not to be as his father died in 1934 leaving the family without a bread-winner. Norman left school and went to work for the local Co-Op greengrocer at 7/6d a week (37 ½p ). Norman thought about applying for a job at the Humber factory and encouraged by his grandfather, he walked up to the gatehouse and asked about a job; he was granted an interview with the labour manager and started work in the motor industry the following Monday.
Apprentice and Wartime Service
However, his time at Humber was not a happy one, he asked about becoming an apprentice but they seemed “…not to care and I was doing little, often being laid off when the factory was not busy. By this time I knew some of the lads working for Armstrong Siddeley down the road and they had proper apprenticeships. I applied for a job and was interviewed by Mr Woodford, the labour manager, who took me on. That was in 1935 and before long I asked about becoming a formal apprentice. They had to check my background, school reports and so on and when they found out that I was the family wage-earner they decided to take me on. I could start when I was 15 on a five-year apprenticeship.”
Norman went through the entire works as an apprentice, learning all facets of manufacturing cars: “When you completed the course you had a first-class knowledge of what goes into making a motor car. Having done with your own hands you knew exactly how it was put together.” Dewis worked hard and at the age of 17 learned to drive and was allowed to undertake chassis testing for himself. However, with the unrest in Europe, Dewis followed some of his older friends into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR); he wanted to be a pilot but failed the test and became an air gunner instead.
On Sunday 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany; the next day a notice was posted on the factory gates advising all reservists to report to the gatehouse. Norman Dewis was instructed to report to Royal Air Force (RAF) Cardington in Bedfordshire where the Medical and Aircrew Selection Boards would decide his future. He passed the medical and attended some basic training before being sent to RAF Aston Down near Bristol for training as an air gunner with a Bristol Blenheim squadron. I asked Norman about those wartime days but he was reluctant to say much more than, after training he was posted, first to Church Fenton in Yorkshire and then to Grangemouth in Scotland. He flew in the Blenheim Mk IV on various sorties over enemy territory. Norman lost many good friends during World War Two and this has left a deep scar on him. In 1942 he contracted a kidney problem which grounded him and kept him in hospital for several months. When he had recovered he reported for duty and was told that he was off flying duties. The RAF learned of his time with Armstrong Siddeley and had him posted to their factory at Baginton Airport just outside Coventry. Here he worked in the experimental department on various projects to improve the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and later other types such as the Avro Lancaster. By this time Armstrong Siddeley, Avro and Armstrong Whitworth had become part of the Hawker-Siddeley Aircraft Group.
Norman’s work on aircraft had not gone unnoticed and the Air Ministry interviewed him for a post with the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate (AID). Their task was to check and pass (or reject) all work being done for the Air Ministry by various companies. Norman was selected and made an AID inspector and one of the companies he visited was Lea-Francis, then making throttle boxes for Short Stirling bombers.
Post-war and Jaguar Cars
When the War ended in May 1945 Norman was offered his old job back at Armstrong Siddeley but he had come to know George Leek of Lea-Francis and when he was offered a job in their engine building shop he accepted. Lea- Francis were quick off the mark post-war and announced new designs and engines for 1946; Norman had helped develop these new models and carried out a great deal of test driving himself. That same year, in January, he married Nancy (Nan), Elizabeth Miles at St James’s Church in Shirley. They remained a happy and devoted couple until Nan died, following a stroke, in March 1993.
Lea-Francis was not progressing and by 1951 Norman felt his career should be taking a new direction and he spoke to the Lea-Francis sales manager, Jack Ridley, in confidence about looking for a new job. Ridley knew William Heynes, Jaguar’s Chief Engineer (also ex-Humber) and later when they were speaking Heynes said he was looking for a test engineer. Ron Sutton who was Jaguar’s test driver was leaving and the post was vacant. Ridley suggested Dewis and a few days’ later Heynes telephoned and arranged a meeting with Norman at the factory in Swallow Road, Foleshill. Here he showed Dewis around the works and also the various Jaguars then being built. Norman recalled that he asked for more money than he was getting at Lea-Francis and it was agreed.
He started work for Jaguar on 1 January 1952 as chief test driver and development engineer and reported directly to Mr Heynes. Norman now entered the world of Jaguar and would work on developing every new car from the famous Coventry manufacturer. He worked closely with Heynes and in time gained the respect of all those who worked for Jaguar from William Lyons down to those who worked on the factory floor. Norman was honest in his work and would never pass anything that was not fit for purpose. He never did anything half-heartedly, he was thorough and this work ethic he instilled into his team as it grew. Heynes and Lyons both knew this and trusted his judgement. Norman knew his task, he knew how cars and engines worked and behaved. For example, his work with Dunlop on the disc braking system was long and involved, the outcome was a first rate braking system that gave Dunlop, and Jaguar, a lead over others manufacturers. (See below)
Norman started at Jaguar at a very exciting and interesting time; the XK 120 was in production and the C-type had been developed from it. The Mark VII saloon was also in production and these three models would take up his time. Norman also arrived at a moment in Jaguar’s rich history when there was a remarkable engineering team in place headed by William Heynes. Robert ‘Bob’ Knight was a gifted chassis and suspension designer; Claude Baily who was Jaguar’s chief engine designer; Tom Jones, who worked on the tubular chassis of the C-type and Malcolm Sayer, who had joined Jaguar from the Bristol Aircraft Company bringing with him aeronautical technology that was to prove highly significant for Jaguar. These and many others, like Phil Weaver, Jack Emmerson and ‘Lofty’ England, now became part of Norman’s daily world in the experimental and engineering department at Foleshill.
The man who headed Jaguar, William (later Sir William) Lyons did not meet his new test driver until later that week. Norman remembers that Lyons met him in the experimental department one evening and introduced himself saying: “I hope you can work as efficiently for us as I’ve heard you worked for Lea-Francis.” They chatted a bit and Lyons showed him the work he was doing in the body shop with various body styling exercises. This impressed Norman, he could see that the boss was someone who was interested in him and his work for Jaguar. “It was a small team”, remembers Norman. “The buildings may not have been as smart as Lea-Francis but I liked the way I had been welcomed into the Company by Heynes and the others and also by Lyons. What I did find out, almost from day one, was the fact that Jaguar did not have a proper test department and there were no written test procedures. It was all a bit hit-and-miss with people like Phil Weaver, Bob Knight and Bill Heynes driving the cars around the MIRA circuit for a few laps to decide if all was well. There was no set programme and when they asked professional racing drivers to test the cars, especially the C-type, they got varying reports, none of which made sense in terms of getting it right. It was Heynes who decided that it had to be one person doing the development driving and filing a report for problems to be fixed and sorted out. I think this sort of inconsistent testing applied to the road cars as well. There was no real testing going on.”
Dunlop Disc Brake Testing
His first test was with a C-type (XKC 001) which he took to the MIRA track at Lindley; here he did several circuits at different speeds and found that the C-type could not take corners at speed “At 90 the back end came around and it was too quick to correct and I put that down in my report. I don’t think they liked that as the car had won Le Mans the previous year but that is what I found. In fact the car was later taken out by Phil Weaver and it was found that the C-type had over-steering tendencies. This was the sort of thing that they had not done before, extensive and hard testing of a type.” Norman also discovered that some tests were product-led; suppliers of parts would come along and with one of the engineers take a car out to test their particular product, whether it was braking or suspension system. This was not ideal and Norman decided that these important tests had to be Jaguar-led and not the other way around. Something Norman did early on at Jaguar was to make full and detailed reports of all testing which were sent to Bill Heynes, with copies to Bob Knight and others as required. They were read and discussed before testing continued. This was something that had not been usual at Jaguar during development of a model.
Within weeks of joining Jaguar Norman had been involved with all types of testing, mainly with the C-type and the Mark VII but now came another challenge. At the Holbrook Estate in Foleshill Jaguar was located near the Dunlop Company and they supplied wheels, tyres and smaller items to SS Cars and Jaguar. Consequently, when William Lyons encouraged Dunlop to develop their aircraft disc braking system for automobiles it was natural that the two firms would work together. Jaguar and Dunlop have been credited with ‘inventing’ the disc brake for cars, this is not quite correct as disc brakes of various types had been around for some time and had been fitted, in one form or another, to some motorcars before World War Two. These older versions of a disc brake were far from perfect and had not become a standard feature in the industry. What the two Foleshill concerns, working together, carried out was to make an effective system that could be utilised across the automobile sector. At the time there were others, such as Girling, Bendix and Lockheed, also working on perfecting a disc braking system.
Testing of the Dunlop patented (Harry Butler and Joe Wright) disc brakes had commenced in early January 1952 at Lindley. Fitted to C-type XKC 001 the system was tested by several drivers including racing drivers Peter Walker and Jack Fairman, as well as personnel from Jaguar and Dunlop. Dunlop had been loaned the first XK 120 built (HKV 455) and this was fitted with disc brakes to join the test programme. Norman drove this XK 120 for the first time on 1 April and an extensive series of tests with both cars commenced. Harold Hodkinson of Dunlop was added to the technical team and he worked closely with Norman over the many months of testing. Jaguar C-type XKC 003 was fitted with disc brakes and made its debut at the Goodwood Easter Meeting on 14 April; driven by Stirling Moss – it recorded the fastest lap and finished fourth. The disc brake had arrived and gave Jaguar an advantage but it still had to be perfected and this task fell to Norman and the Jaguar-Dunlop team. It cannot be overstated on how important this was, within a few years the disc brake would become available on many cars and today it is standard in the automotive industry. Norman remained very proud of his contribution to this all-important system that is far superior to the old drum brake and has certainly saved many a life.
That same year of 1952 saw Norman co-drive XKC 003 with Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia, the international debut of the disc brake. Sadly, during the race the car skidded on a pool of water, hit a boulder and broke the steering rack. Norman effected a temporary repair by the side of the road but it was clear that the C-type was out of the Mille Miglia.
Testing of Jaguar cars continued and included the prototype XP/11, which was a potential Le Mans contender for 1953, but was not developed further as Malcolm Sayer had another model in mind for the French race. Dewis drove the XP/11 on several occasions, first at Lindley and later at Jabbeke in Belgium where he recorded 179.817 mph. He was there to set a new record with a modified XK 120; this he drove to an astonishing 172.412 mph and he recalled the XP/11. “It had a fuel problem with a sticking diaphragm and if it was fully functioning we could have easily got to 190 mph. I am certain of that. The car wanted to go faster!” This car was used to test new tyres from Dunlop in 1954 and was later dismantled by the factory, which had, by now, moved from Foleshill to Browns Lane, Allesley.
Working on the Jaguar Saloons
Not neglected in the day-to-day testing by Norman Dewis were the Jaguar saloons; they were the money-earners that kept the Company profitable. As various modifications were made to chassis, power train, suspension, brakes and other items over the life of a model, Norman would test the cars at the MIRA track at Lindley or on long road journeys. “We changed and improved all the things which broke or failed and replaced items as they were improved and developed by the suppliers. I don’t think people realise just how much goes on behind the scenes. It is not just a question of putting a car into production, to keep it viable it has to be constantly improved. It makes sense! We would take a car from a batch in production for testing and any faults found were quickly reported and acted on. The Old Man [Lyons] and Heynes were always looking to make the brand better. We had such a brilliant team of engineers; they were so inventive and progressive. I think they were the best in the land and Lyons knew this. He always knew how to pick a good man for the job. He may not have paid the most but people liked to work for Jaguar, as we were always developing and he (Lyons) was not afraid to try something new, if it made Jaguar the best.
“For example, in America the Mark VII was very popular but they wanted automatic transmission, it was more usual there than here. The Old Man listened to what Joe (Eerdmans, Jaguar’s distributor in North America) had to say and made the automatic box a priority. We were also having problems with supplies of the Moss manual box at the time. We chose Borg-Warner and their three-speed DG box was fitted to a Mark VII for testing. They had started tests before I joined but it fell to me and Tom Jones to prove the system. I believe they had also tried the General Motors box but the Borg-Warner was better.”
Norman’s many hours of testing the automatic transmission went on through 1952 and in March 1953 the Jaguar Mark VII Automatic was announced, initially for export only. Alongside the automatic transmission testing Norman also tested the Laycock de Normanville overdrive fitted to a Mark VII saloon; this went into production cars as an option in January 1954.
The D-type and a New Saloon
Malcolm Sayer’s new design was the purposeful D-type; designed as a race car and designed to win Le Mans. Building of the prototype (XKC 401) commenced in March 1954; Abbey Panels in Coventry made the aluminium panels for the car which was assembled in the experimental shop at Browns Lane. The D-type was first tested at MIRA on 13 April 1954; it had been driven around the Browns Lane site by Heynes and Dewis before this, but now came the real test. As usual Norman put the car through a tough test programme and produced a comprehensive report that was studied by Heynes and the other engineers. Norman found a few problems with the engine, gearbox and steering, all of which were attended to. There were further tests at MIRA and at RAF Gaydon, and also tests by Moss and Tony Rolt.
The Jaguar D-type, along with the C-type, has gone down in the competition history books as one of the best. Winning Le Mans and several other important race events; both types are still to be seen competing on the historic race circuit.
Much more can be written about the remarkable D-type but that is outside the scope of this tribute to Norman Dewis. Suffice to say that Norman has to be given a great deal of credit for the success of these two Jaguar racing models.
Work on developing a new small saloon was underway at Browns Lane in late 1953 and early 1954; this was to be Jaguar’s first unitary model and was ready for testing at the end of September 1954. Norman began trials with the prototype 2.4-litre saloon at Lindley in October and faults soon developed; cracks were found on the front cross-member and at the rear of the bodyshell. These were attended to, trials continued and five pre-production cars were added to the test programme. Norman remembered that the first cars were “a bit rough and very noisy” but as the tests continued the cars were refined and by the time they were ready to be shown were all that one expected a Jaguar to be – quiet and refined. Shown at the 1955 Motor Show in London the 2.4-litre saloon was well-received. Though the American dealers thought the engine too small they ordered the car and requested a larger capacity engine variant. Heynes and the engineering team set about re-working the 2.4-litre shell to take the larger 3.4-litre XK engine. The prototype was tested at Lindley and also abroad in Belgium, a first for Jaguar but one that would become more standard as the years unfolded.
The Jaguar XK 120 had been a great success following its introduction in 1948; the only change had been made in 1950 when production switched from aluminium to steel for the body. Mechanically there were few changes. A revised design was known within the works as ‘XK 120 Mk IV’ and, while the shape of the body remained largely the same, the engine was repositioned, rack-and-pinion steering from Alford & Alder was adopted and some changes were made to the suspension. With the engine moved forward there was now more room in the front and a small bench seat could be fitted to the rear of the Drophead and Fixed-head Coupés, the open two-seat Roadster did not have the option. Norman began testing the prototype, a much-modified XK 120, in November 1952, on the roads around the factory. He noted that the steering needed attention and there was excessive noise from the engine bay. Others also drove this car and together with Norman’s report the required changes were attended to. In August 1953 a more defined prototype was taken to MIRA at Lindley and Norman drove the car for 130 miles on the banked track averaging a speed of 113 mph. This high-speed test was to check the revised cooling system which was deemed a success. Other tests of the car followed with Norman submitting his written reports for various modifications to be carried out. All these were subject to Heynes, Bob Knight and others agreeing with Norman and finding the solutions. Most of the changes were minor and were incorporated into further prototypes. The name ‘XK 120 Mk IV’ was dropped and in April 1954 the model was called the ‘XK 140‘. External alterations included a new front grille and larger, stronger bumpers that were more in keeping with the Jaguar saloons. Introduced in 1954, the XK 140 sold well and further enhanced the Jaguar name in Europe and the all-important United States. Norman’s work with the model was not over and, in the normal manner, examples were taken off the production line for testing. Examples of the XK 140 were fitted with Dunlop production disc brakes for major tests, mostly carried out by Norman but also by drivers from Jaguar and Dunlop. For the next model, William Lyons wanted to fit disc brakes as standard.
On 12 February 1957 there was a major fire at Browns Lane; it started after the plant had closed for the day, although a few people were still on site. Norman was one of them and he, along with Lyons, Heynes and others helped clear cars out of harm’s way. Their actions and the speedy response by the Fire service kept the blaze from spreading through the entire factory. Though part of the factory was destroyed, along with 270 cars, production was halted for just two days while the building was being cleared of debris. To show that the fire had not harmed Jaguar, the new 3.4-litre saloon was announced on 26 February. Norman had carried out all the testing on this model as well as on the XK-SS which was a road-going version of the D-type; just sixteen were manufactured.
Having completed extensive trials of the Dunlop disc brakes fitted to the XK 140, the system was put into production and announced as standard on the forthcoming XK 150. The fire had done little to stop Jaguar and that year they revealed three new models, two we have dealt with above the third being the Mark VIII saloon. The body was slightly different from the Mark VII and the 3.4-litre XK engine had modified inlet valves and revised inlet manifold water galleries. As usual, these and some other changes were all subjected to testing by Norman and his trusted team. Norman enjoyed the big saloons, as he recalls: “They were harder than the sports models on test. We did things with them that no ordinary owner driver would ever do. That is why they were good! We took them through the same fast banking at MIRA and drove them for hours on end racking up the miles to see what failed. For the Mark VIII we used a modified Seven and later for the Mark IX, we used an VIII that had been fitted with the 3.8-litre engine and disc brakes, all the changes were there. Remember we had to test the manual and automatic versions, especially when the gearboxes were modified or altered. We took nothing for granted and any fault we found was acted on by Heynes, Baily and Knight, depending on what it was. The Old Man, though he was not an engineer, was always interested in the trials of a new model and could not wait to try it for himself. As you know he used to take a prototype or pre-production car home with him to see how it behaved on an ordinary drive to and from work. As he said, that’s where our cars have to prove themselves, daily driving.”
Malcolm Sayer had been busy working on various projects, some of which were built and tried, for example the small E1A, which was his thinking about how a replacement for the D-type and the XK 150 could look. Work started on building the 2.4-litre XK-engined prototype in early 1957; Bob Blake had this responsibility with Bob Knight and Tom Jones taking care of the engineering aspects. Heynes was in overall charge of the project but gave the general management to Phil Weaver. Norman worked closely with the team as they constructed the car. What made the E1A different, apart from its style, was the use of a newly-designed independent rear suspension by Bob Knight.
On 17 May 1957 the car was driven by William Heynes and later that day by Sir William Lyons; he had been knighted in the 1956 New Year Honours list. Ted Brookes, who was tasked with looking after the E1A, recalled that the E1A was unfinished at this stage and not completed until 23 May. The next day the car was taken in an unpainted state to MIRA and driven by Dewis and Brookes for some 54 miles. In June the now-painted E1A was back at MIRA for serious testing by Norman where he found the car “…very twitchy, as though it is being steered from the rear.” Changes were made and on further tests the car – noted in his memos to Heynes as “E” TYPE No 1 – he found the car much better, though the handling still needed further work. This was Knight’s task and he continued to revise and modify the rear suspension. Meanwhile, Sayer had completed designs for a larger version and “No 2 E-type” was being built in the experimental department.
Much has been written on the genesis of the E-Type and need not be covered here, though it must be stated again that it was Norman who led the test team throughout 1958, 1959 and 1960 perfecting and refining a sports car that would be unlike any other car when it was revealed in Geneva in 1961. Jaguar took a single E-type FHC to Geneva for the launch and demand for press drives was so high that Sir William phoned the factory and told Norman to get in the first E-type Roadster 77 RW and drive it to Geneva. This he did, on his own, at a time before modern motorways or sat-nav systems, driving through the night, arriving just in time to wipe the car down ready for the press, the following morning. Norman has the fondest memories of the E-Type even though it was a tough and long period of testing in all types of conditions. Added to his work with the E-Type, he also saw the Mark II and Mark X saloons through to production.
For the Mark X he used the MIRA circuit and also took two cars and a team of engineers and drivers, for extensive testing on a route he mapped out, through the Pyrenees, from Bayonne through Oloron, Sabres and back to Bayonne. Shown at the London Motor Show in October 1961, the Mark X shared the Jaguar stand with the E-Type and the Mark II; all tested by Norman and his team. Norman regularly re-counted these events including being stopped by the Spanish police for driving a large, camouflaged car, over the mountains, at night, – they suspected him of gun-running!
The last car to be completely designed by Sir William Lyons was the XJ6, which replaced the entire saloon line-up in the Jaguar catalogue in 1968. This model was an engineering triumph from Heynes and his gifted team. They concentrated on making this Jaguar better than any model they had worked on in the past. Bob Knight refined the proven rear suspension and designed a new front suspension unit, and worked on the ride and handling characteristics. Norman, Peter Taylor, Richard Creswell and Ed Abbott drove the prototypes and pre-production XJ6s at MIRA and on extended tests to prove reliability and comfort. Dunlop had worked closely with Jaguar and designed a completely new tyre for the model, the Dunlop SP, which were also subjected to rigorous testing. Shown at the London Motor Show in 1968 the Jaguar XJ6 was quickly dubbed ‘The Best Car in the World’ by the motoring press. It became one of Jaguar’s best-selling large saloons and remains a favourite model among Jaguar owners and enthusiasts.
William Heynes and Claude Baily had been investigating the production of a Jaguar V12 engine for some time. Various designs were tried but it was not until Walter (Wally) Hassan and Harry Mundy joined the team that a V12 became a reality. Trial engines were installed in Mark X saloons and tested at MIRA and elsewhere. Sir William had pulled the Jaguar works-team out of racing in 1956 and had concentrated on making and selling cars, but he never lost that competitive streak, so when William Heynes approached him about building a potential Le Mans car, he agreed to the scheme. Malcolm Sayer had designed a mid-engined car that would take the V12 unit and during 1965 the XJ13 was in-build in the experimental department. This car is now more associated, than any other Jaguar, with Norman Dewis. He drove the XJ13 at MIRA in March 1966 and completed several laps, one of them at 155 mph. However, with the looming merger with the British Motor Corporation, the XJ13 was never to race at Le Mans and was consigned to store in the experimental department. However, when the new Jaguar V12 production engine was announced to power the Series III E-Type, it was decided to make a promotional film with the XJ13. On 20 January 1971 a film crew arrived at MIRA to capture footage of Norman and the XJ13. He did several laps at reasonable speed for filming and then, as he recalls: “They asked if I could do four fast laps. I was driving fast, not as fast as we would on test, but on the third lap I came onto the banking and was doing about 135 mph. About two-thirds of the way round the banking the car lurched went into the safety fence. There was no warning and the car could only go one way and that was down into the infield. Even though it was on the grass it showed no signs of slowing down, it rolled, went sideways and turned over several times but landed on its wheels. I was not strapped in and had dived under the scuttle and hung on to anything that was there. This saved my life, if I had been strapped in I would have been crushed and killed.” Norman came out of the crumpled and mud-spattered XJ13 and waited to be rescued, which he thought would be immediate but it was some time before anyone reached him. The film crew heard the engine stop, Norman had quickly cut the ignition when he crashed, and they had wondered where he was! The XJ13 was rebuilt and put back into store but has been run on a regular basis in more recent years and is on display at the Jaguar Collections Centre Gaydon.
With the V12 engine in production it found its way into the XJ saloon, as the XJ12, and also into the Sayer-Lyons XJ-S. Naturally, these models were tested by Norman and his team of drivers and, as the XJS was seen as a successor to the E-Type it was subjected to many months of hard driving in the UK and on the Continent. In 1970 Dewis tested one of the prototype XJ-S models at MIRA; it had been fitted with a revised version of Jaguar’s independent rear suspension and Bob Knight was keen to see how it behaved.
Unfortunately, there were problems with the anti-roll bar and it took a few days’ and tests at MIRA for Jim Randle and Bob Knight to come up with a change, though Norman suggested it was left off altogether. In the end the bar was reduced in diameter and this modification was signed -off for production. For long-distance motorway testing two prototype XJ-S models were taken to Germany by Peter Taylor and Richard Creswell and their written reports were sent to Norman, who read them and forwarded copies to Bob Knight and Jim Randle. The XJ-S was announced to the press in July 1975, but testing continued at MIRA with early production cars and on some public roads.
Norman also organised use of the test facilities at Nardo in Italy, and took along examples of the XJ-S and XJ12 Series III for fuel consumption tests. This was to prove the Michael May design for the V12 cylinder head. Fuel consumption was better and after work on the engine by Harry Mundy, it was released on the XJ-S as the HE (high efficiency) model. More often than not in the 1970s Norman was delegating more work to his assistants and others, as he was increasingly dealing with paper work; something that the British Leyland Group made a speciality of. Norman did argue about the ‘red-tape’ that kept coming his way from BL headquarters in London, but like Bob Knight, Jim Randle and others, he put Jaguar first and ignored many a directive that was ‘corporate-speak’ from BL.
By the mid-1970s many key figures at Jaguar had retired: William Heynes in 1968; Sir William and Wally Hassan in 1972 and Lofty England in 1974. BL were in the grip of unrest and then the group was broken up. Jaguar was given its independence once more, this time under John (now Sir John) Egan who set about improving quality and restoring Jaguar’s tarnished image from years of neglect. Bob Knight and Harry Mundy left in 1980, leaving Jim Randle as product engineer. With Egan he oversaw the development of XJ40, the replacement for the XJ range.
To test this new saloon several prototypes were built at Browns Lane with the first being driven by Norman in July 1981. This was an important model for Jaguar’s future and testing was carried out around the world, in Australia, Canada, the Middle East and in America, the last at the Jaguar test facility purpose-built in Arizona, Norman had much to do with setting this up and delegated Richard Creswell to fine-tune and manage the facility. Local engineers and test drivers joined the scheme and were trained by Jaguar personnel to work to the programme Norman had established, and revised constantly, when he first joined Jaguar in 1952.
Changes in the way Jaguar was being run continued, more chiefs appeared and this was not how Norman worked. He was used to reporting directly to Mr Heynes and on his retirement to Jim Randle. Now he had to report to Randle and to others. He was asked to attend engineering meetings that had nothing to do with actually testing cars and equipment. They took up the time when he could either testing a model or overseeing a test programme. There were problems too when XJ40 was due for launching, it was announced but had not been fully signed-off. Norman told Egan the snags that still plagued the XJ40 and as he recalled: “Before I retired the XJ40’s launch had been postponed three times. They would not listen to us, they spoke to someone in engineering and assumed that all was well and the car could go-ahead. We knew different and had to keep testing every item to make the XJ40 a reality. The sales and marketing people could not grasp that you simply do not build a car, drive it a bit and put it into production. It has to be tested and tested again and again; all the systems, all the bits and pieces that go to make up a complete car, they all have to be proved. I am not proud of the way that XJ40 was done, bringing in more people to work on sections, there was no tie-up between them all to get the car put together. Norman finished his work on the XJ40 and left the completion to others, notably his replacement, Richard Creswell, who was called back from Arizona to take-over.
Norman retired from Jaguar in 1985 and devoted his time in renovating a house he bought in Shropshire. He was also able to spend more time indulging in one of his many interests, the Wild West and Cowboy-lore. “I have always been fascinated by the Old West and over the years have visited many historic sights, you know like Tombstone and the O.K. Corral, that sort of thing. I’ve met some of the present day cowboys too, but they use modern methods to round up cattle!” The Americans took Norman to their hearts and whenever he was there he was fêted wherever he went. When the XK-SS reached its fiftieth anniversary in 2007, Norman was guest of honour at the largest gathering – almost all sixteen cars that were built – of XK-SS Jaguars. Clint Eastwood was another guest and he insisted on meeting Norman, who was delighted to chat with the Director-actor about cars, and probably westerns too.
With a life of testing that began in 1952 and ended in 1985 Norman was involved with all Jaguar and, after 1960, Daimler models that were designed and built at Browns Lane or Radford. He famously tested the Daimler SP 250 soon after Jaguar bought Daimler and wrote it off as an “…awful thing which needs everything doing to it to make it work.” Norman, and Lofty England, both drove the SP 250 and their findings were acted on by Jaguar and the SP 250 was much improved. Though Norman never thought much of it: “It was not a patch on the E-Type, though the engine was good. We (Jaguar) did not need two sports cars, not when we were selling the E-Type faster than we could build them.” His remit included the limousines from Daimler and these he took in his stride. They were cars, and that was what he knew best and he tested them the same way he would test any car and that was honestly and thoroughly.
In retirement Norman was one of Jaguar’s finest ambassadors; he visited venues and spoke about the marque and his close association with, not just the cars but also with the people behind the scenes. He knew the key people from Sir William all the way down to managers on the factory floor. He worked with some of the most gifted engineers this country has produced and outside the world of Jaguar Cars he met and worked with those who were promoting the brand. Norman was a valued guest at Goodwood, where he often drove Nigel Webb’s D-type. On one occasion I remember Norman coming into the pits looking cross and I asked him what the matter was. “It’s these amateurs who don’t know how to drive a car. They buy a C- or D-type and then fiddle about the track as if they were on a Sunday drive to the supermarket, they don’t get out of the way and they are a menace!” Norman was then about eighty-five and still driving a racing car as it should be driven. He was a safe driver who understood the car and how it behaved, even modern Jaguars which were quite different from the cars he had tested; they were automobiles and after a few miles he knew exactly what they could and could not do; their faults and their merits. All this came as naturally as breathing to Norman. He could be difficult but I never saw that side of him, he was always smiling and ready to have a joke, usually at your own expense. I never minded and we would have a laugh about most things.
On 1 January 2015 Norman received an OBE in the New Years Honours List for services to the Motor Industry.
He would often drop into the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (JDHT) offices at Browns Lane and later at Gaydon to see how we were and he was always welcome. There is much that can, and no doubt will, be written about Norman Dewis. Personally, I value the years that we knew each other, he was a one-off and remained passionate about Jaguar.
Norman died on Saturday 8 June 2019 – 2 months short of his 99th birthday.
He will be greatly missed by all who knew him or knew of him. Norman Dewis is one of the very few people of whom I would say was unique, and I am honoured to have called him a friend.
Author: François Prins – June 2019
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust
The following statement was issued by Dr Ralf Speth on Monday 10 June 2019
I wanted personally to make you aware of some extremely sad news. The great Jaguar test driver and incredible friend of ours, Norman Dewis, has passed away aged 98.
Norman worked at Jaguar Cars from 1952 to 1985, but continued to be a fervent Jaguar global ambassador right up to his 98th year. With his infectious storytelling and unbridled enthusiasm for our cars – both modern and classic – Norman was a shining light of the Jaguar brand.
During his 33-year career with Jaguar, Norman’s development work on a huge range of Jaguars was remarkable, including:
- the multiple Le Mans-winning C- and D-type race cars: Norman himself drove a works D-type in the dramatic 1955 Le Mans 24 hr;
- the pioneering XK sports cars, notably the XK120 in which he set a 172.412 mph production car speed record on a closed section of the Jabbeke highway in Belgium in 1953;
- the classic Jaguar Mk saloons;
- the legendary E-type (including the Lightweight E-type) and
- the XJ13 mid-engined prototype, from which the fearless Norman walked away unscathed after the car rolled end-over-end during a high-speed testing run.
Each and every model developed with Norman’s help remains an icon of the automotive world to this day for its impeccable blend of comfort and handling.
One of Norman’s first automotive projects is without doubt the one that has left the greatest legacy on the automotive industry: the disc brake. This innovation contributed significantly to the C-type’s success on track and to great safety improvements in road cars ever since.
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 simply wouldn’t be the same. So, I hope you’ll all join me today in saying: thank you, Norman.
We will be announcing further details on our plans to celebrate Norman’s astonishing life and achievements in due course, but it’s important that you are among the first to hear of this sad news.