Legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis OBE enthralled crowds at Classic & Sports Car – The London Show today with high-speed tales of his 33-year career at the Coventry firm, including an 11-hour dash to Geneva in one of the first-ever E-types.
Dewis was reunited with the very car he drove to the Swiss show back in 1961, ’77 RW’, which is now the oldest surviving E-type roadster and is currently on display at Alexandra Palace following the E-type being voted the Best British Car Ever.
Dewis was the star guest on the Interview Stage, held in partnership with Smooth Radio, and kept the audience on the edge of their seats for more than an hour, talking to broadcaster Henry Hope-Frost and taking questions from the crowd.
Widely regarded as Britain’s greatest test driver, Dewis set the production car speed record behind the wheel of a Jaguar XK120 in October 1953 and has been responsible for developing many of Jaguar’s most famous models, including the Le Mans-winning D-type, E-type and the XJ13.
Dewis’ driving skills were famously put to the test on a short notice high-speed cross-Europe dash from Coventry to the Geneva Motor Show in 1961. “I left Coventry at 7:45pm and the car had to be on the stand for 10am the next morning,” he told crowds at Alexandra Palace. “I hit every green light on the Edgware Road through London and kept up a high pace – but when I got to Dover, they’d already closed the gates for the boat to Ostend.
“The security guard shone his torch on the car, though, noticed it was the new E-type and stopped the boat from leaving port. I then drove non-stop to Geneva, arriving at 9:48am, having averaged 68mph.”
Greeting him at the motor show was Jaguar founder, Sir William Lyons, who patted him on the back with the words: “I knew you could do it, Dewis.” Celebrations were short-lived though, as despite having not slept, Dewis then went on to give demonstrations to the press that same day.
Dewis also entertained the audience with stories of the XJ13, Jaguar’s prototype V12 Le Mans racer. Dewis was at the wheel in 1971 when, while driving the car for filming at the MIRA test track, he suffered an enormous crash. “At 145mph on the banking something didn’t feel right and the car immediately lurched into the guard rail,” he explained.
“It was then listing at 45 degrees down the straight, still at very high speed. Heading for the infield and with no way to control it, I decided to turn the engine off and, at the last moment, got into the scuttle in the passenger side for protection. It performed three barrel rolls when it dug into the earth.”
Unsurprisingly, Dewis admits he’s still a great lover of speed and even today, at 95 years old, shows no signs of slowing down. “I’ve only got three points on my licence these days,” he told the crowd with a grin.
The audience was also treated to interviews with Coys’ Chris Routledge, journalist and commentator Simon Taylor, Tom & Henry Mann from Alan Mann Racing and The Classic Car Show’s Alex Riley. Highlights outside of the exhibition halls included a vintage mobile cinema, historic scooters and over 100 Pistonheads members who held one of the website’s famous Sunday Service meetings at Alexandra Palace.
James Elliott, Classic & Sports Car magazine group editor, said: “What a great final day we’ve had here. Norman Dewis OBE was only meant to do 15 minutes but he talked for over an hour – and we hung on his every word. The term ‘legend’ is often overused, but in Norman’s case he completely lives up to it. It was fantastic to see him with ’77 RW’ on our Best British Car Ever display.
“What’s more, we’ve had another packed day of entertainment in the car parks, with a Pistonheads Sunday Service and some incredible vintage vehicles really bringing even more flavour to the event. I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved, from the exhibitors who have brought some incredible cars to Alexandra Palace to all the staff on site, but most importantly of all, the many thousands of classic car fans who have visited.”
Classic & Sports Car – The London Show has featured more than 300 of the world’s most prestigious classic cars from world-famous collectors and world-renowned classic car retailers. Organised by Classic & Sports Car, the world’s best-selling classic car magazine, The London Show included a celebration of Aston Martin in partnership with EFG International, an exhibition of Sir Stirling Moss’ most iconic single-seater competition cars and a star-studded Interview Stage featuring Ross Brawn OBE, Ant Anstead and David Brabham among a host of other celebrity guests from the world of motoring and motorsport.
Source, Classic & Sports Car/Jaguar photo. The Editor