Norman Dewis, famed Jaguar test driver, to be made OBE
Norman Dewis, one of the motoring world’s most revered characters, was finally recognised in the New Year Honours with an OBE
There will be those who’ll say under their breath that it’s not before time, but the celebrations over Norman Dewis’s OBE, announced in the New Year Honours list, will drown out the perhaps understandable grumps.
This pint-sized, 94-year old former test driver for Jaguar helped develop one of the greatest-ever developments in automotive braking, the disc brake, which has probably saved tens of thousands of lives over the years.
In his 33 year career with the Coventry car maker, he was also a key part of the team which developed and raced the three-times Le Mans winningD-Type sports racing car; is a member of the last surviving all-British Mille Miglia crew; and helped develop some of the world’s most important sports cars and saloons in the world including the E-type and the XJ saloon.
“Oh I’m delighted,” said Dewis today. “It was a big surprise and I’m very honoured to receive it. It’s a very personal thing and I feel it’s a bonus.”
Many folk including Ralph Speth, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief executive and Telegraph Cars have called for Dewis to be honoured, and staff at JLR including Speth are overjoyed at the decision to make him an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Perhaps it’s the doubtless coincidental fact that this is Jaguar’s 80th celebration year that has spurred the honour, perhaps not, but it’s long overdue, particularly when you consider the risks he ran when developing the disc brake.
“They’d been fitted to a XK120, and were terrible things, burning out, boiling the fluid,” Dewis told Telegraph Cars in February 2014. “I was asked to help out and said we needed to fit them to the fastest car we made, the C-type.”
This was January 1952; prototype C-type 001 was duly converted, and the small team of Dunlop and Jaguar engineers was set up, testing in secret at a former RAF aerodrome at Perton near Wolverhampton.
“Oh yes, it was dangerous,” says Dewis quietly. “Sometimes I’d be driving at 130mph and there’d be no brakes. The pedal would sink to the floor and I have to take to the grass.”
Dewis reckons the honour has been awarded for his entire career, however, not just the disc brake.
“It’s probably for the overall experience,” he said, “for all the time I’ve been at Jaguar. You need to remember just how advanced some of the cars we were working on were. The D-Type was the first car with no chassis, so it was really new technology, and two years later the E-type was the first road-car application of that. It wasn’t until two years after that Formula One picked up the same technology.”
So congratulations Norman. We’re sure there isn’t a motoring enthusiast who won’t be raising a glass to you this New Year’s Eve.