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Developing the Legend - An audience with Norman Dewis, OBE

05th October 2017
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A group of Fellows and their guests were privileged to spend a fascinating morning with the legendary Jaguar Chief Test Development Engineer and race team driver Norman Dewis.

Norman a sprightly 97-year-old had driven over that morning from his home in Shropshire to the Jaguar Sports & Social Club at Browns Lane where he was interviewed by FMI committee member and former Jaguar Training Manager Peter Leake.

Norman started his career in the motor industry in 1934 at the age of 14 when he walked into the Humber plant and asked for a job. After a year, he explained how he moved to Armstrong Siddley where he started an apprenticeship at the age of 15.

After a period serving in the RAF during the war Norman joined Lea Francis and was bitten by the racing bug with a 500 cc DNC Special. However, by 1951 he began to feel that his future lay elsewhere and a phone call from Bill Heynes the Jaguar Chief Engineer set Norman on course for a lifelong career at Jaguar.

Norman enthralled Fellows by describing some of the highlights of his extraordinary career at Jaguar. On joining the company, he was immediately drawn into an intensive development programme that was to have an enormous impact on the motor industry, the development of the Dunlop disc brake.

As part of the development programme disc brakes were fitted to a C-Type for the 1952 Mille Miglia which Norman shared with Stirling Moss. Norman explained how this caused considerable bewilderment with the scrutineers who had never seen a disc brake before. During the race, Moss demonstrated that the C-Type could significantly outbrake the German competitors.

Norman then explained how Jaguar went on to race a C-Type in the 1953 Le Mans, however they were nearly disqualified for having two No. 18 cars on the circuit at the same time!

In the same year, Norman was asked to take an XK 120 to Jabbeke highway in Belgium for high speed testing. Sitting on a sorbo rubber cushion on the floor and under a Perspex canopy, which only opened from the outside Norman achieved a mean average speed of 172.412 over a measured mile making it the highest speed ever achieved by a production car at Jabbeke,  a record which Norman proudly explained still stands today

In 1955 Norman was part of the winning Jaguar team which included Mike Hawthorn who won the race in a D-Type. Norman explained how the race was marred by a dreadful crash when the Mercedes driven my Paul Levegh, trying to avoid the Healey of Lance Macklin went into the crowd killing 80 people.

Fellows were entranced by Norman’s account of his time testing, developing and racing Jaguar cars over the years and sadly time ran out all too soon. Possibly Norman might be willing to return and complete the story at a later date.

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