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Norman Dewis OBE has passed away. More info via our Newsletter heading/tab
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Paul Skilleter Paul Skilleter's Newsletter and Catalogue



Paul Skilleter is pleased to announce that an occasional Newsletter and Catalogue is now available for despatch by e-mail via our subscriber list and also by download from this page together with back numbers.

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NORMAN DEWIS OBE

3rd August 1920 – 8 June 2019



Norman Dewis as most of us remember him, his sparkling character showing through in this portrait by Tony Bailey

As a test development driver, Norman Dewis played a significant role in Jaguar’s five Le Mans wins of the 1950s, and in the success of legendary Jaguars such as the E-type and XJ6. Here we review the main milestones in his extraordinary life.

Born in Coventry on 3rd August 1920, Norman Dewis began his 51-year career in the British motor industry at Humber in 1934, aged just 15. He then became an apprentice at Armstrong Siddeley, but within four years, at the outbreak of World War 2, he was called up and served in the RAF – including as an air gunner in Blenheims.

His war service also included a period in the Aeronautical Inspectorate Directorate; this brought him into contact with the specialist car maker Lea-Francis, which was making aircraft parts, and after the war he became a Lea-Francis employee. He married Nancy – always called Nan – in 1946.

Norman eventually became chief tester for Lea-Francis, but he is, of course, best known for his 33 years with Jaguar. Effectively head-hunted by Jaguar’s chief engineer William Munger Heynes, Norman came to the Foleshill, Coventry factory in January 1952. Unusually for the industry, he reported directly to Bill Heynes, who charged him with the test-development driving of all new competition and road Jaguars. He was also given the task of developing, with Dunlop, the new disc brake – one of the most important innovations ever adopted by the motor industry.

Norman’s long and often hazardous hours of test driving contributed greatly to the success of not only the Le Mans winning C- and D-types, but also a stream of truly remarkable production Jaguars. These included the XK140 and XK150, the 2.4, 3.4 and Mark 2 saloons, the brilliant E-type of 1961, and the original XJ saloon of 1968 – hailed by no less than Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini, as “the best car in the world.”. Not only that, Norman also raced alongside the likes of Moss, Hawthorn and Fangio behind the wheel of a 190 mph works D-type, and took part in the Goodwood 9-Hours race, also in 1955.


One of Norman’s favourite Jaguars was the ‘long-nose’ D-type Le Mans car. Here he is in Nigel Webb’s magnificent example when in 2005 he drove over 80 demonstration laps at Goodwood. Photo: Tony Bailey

In the 1960s he was involved with the development of the Lightweight E-type, and rather more famously, with Jaguar’s one-off mid-engined Le Mans car, the XJ13. He test drove this in 1966/67, then when it was brought out of retirement for filming in connection with the new V12 E-type in 1971, crashed it at over 130mph. It rolled end over end but Norman walked away stiff but uninjured. He was back at work the next day...

Yet all Norman’s achievements were despite an under-privileged childhood in Britain during the Depression and an education cut short at age 14 by the death of his father. That he became one of the world’s most respected test development engineers was thanks to a very special talent for assessing the handling, steering and braking qualities of a car, an enormous capacity for hard work, outstanding organisational ability, and a terrier-like tenacity in achieving objectives with Jaguar’s limited resources of the time.

Norman did not, of course, work in isolation and he was part of the unique team which made Jaguar one of the most respected car manufacturers of the 1950s and 60s. This team was led by company founder Sir William Lyons and included engineering director Bill Heynes CBE, aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer (who penned the E-type shape), and service department and race team manager F.R.W. ‘Lofty’ England.


Norman Dewis enjoying himself with his 'girls' at a day held for him at the Mike Hawthorn Museum in 2013 Copyright Tony Bailey

Norman’s connection with Jaguar was renewed in more recent times as many members will know, because from the mid-1990s he enjoyed a new career sharing his experiences of Jaguar with enthusiasts all over the world, his talks bringing Jaguar’s history vividly to life. This did not pass unnoticed by Jaguar Cars, and Norman was invited to many official functions; he and JLR boss Dr Ralph Speth also became firm friends. Norman’s dedication to one of Britain’s most outstanding marques was recognised nationally too when in 2014, at the age of 94, he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Having survived bowel cancer some years ago, the disease returned more recently and finally carried off this courageous and indomitable man. He died at 7.30pm on Saturday, 8th June at his Church Stretton, Shropshire home as he had wished, in the company of family and friends.

Norman and Nan (who pre-deceased him in 1993) had two children, Graeme and Linda, and five grandchildren. Our sincere condolences go to them all. But Norman also had a wider family, in the form of his myriad friends and admirers both here in the UK and in countries all over the world. They will never forget him, and will keep his memory alive.

It is sad that Norman has left us, but we should celebrate a life lived to the full, and be grateful that he shared so much of it with us. One thing is certain: there will never be another Norman Dewis.

Norman's Biography is available ex-stock HERE...


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