Living legend is an over-used expression, one that few people really deserve the application of. But Norman Dewis is definitely an exception. Jaguar’s former chief development engineer worked throughout the company’s golden era and was a vital part of the team that developed the brand’s most successful cars. He retired as long ago as 1985 – he will be 99 in August – and has spent more than 30 years working as an unofficial ambassador for the Jaguar brand, regularly attending events and giving talks.
Although Norman still lives by himself in Shropshire, he’s not in the best of health at the moment, and some of his friends in the wider Jaguar world have launched a trust fund to help him continue to live independently. One we’d warmly encourage you to bung a few quid towards.
It’s hard to condense Norman’s career highlights into a couple of paragraphs. He started in the car industry at the ripe old age of 14, working for Humber cars as the company’s factory was directly opposite his grandparent’s house in Coventry. He served in the RAF during the Second World War, as an air gunner in Blenheim bombers, but was discharged in 1943 with a kidney problem. He the worked for Armstrong-Siddeley and Lea Francis before being poached by Jaguar’s Director of Engineering, Bill Hayes, to become the chief development driver. He knew Sir William Lyons well, and worked closely with him.
Test driving was an adventurous occupation in those days. Norman worked on the development of the first ever disc brake, which was tested in a C-Type entered into the 1952 Mille Miglia. Sterling Moss agreed to drive the car, but only if Norman would be his co-driver. Norman was also the driver who set several speed records on a closed stretch of Belgian Autoroute near Jabbeke, including 172.4mph in a modified XK120. He also witnessed the 1955 Le Mans crash from the pitlane, having been drafted in as a works driver in Jaguar’s third D-Type. He famously survived an enormous crash that destroyed the prototype XJ13 and reckons that he did more than a quarter of a million miles at over 100mph on the banked circuit at MIRA. He recently admitted that he turned down Enzo Ferrari when the Italian offered him a job in 1954.
The Norman Dewis OBE Trust is being managed by JLR Classic’s Tony O’ Keeffe and John Butterworth of the Jaguar Drivers Club Lancashire. Norman has asked that any surplus left in the fund once he no longer needs it be donated to the Hope House Hospice, a charity that looks after terminally ill children.
You can find the gofundme here, or contact Tony directly for details of how to donate.