There might have been a British car company named Jaguar that merited respect had Norman Dewis never joined the Coventry firm’s ranks. But we can’t help but doubt that it would have become the global icon of sports motoring that it is without the timely help of Dewis, who was Jaguar’s lead works test driver from 1952 to 1985. Dewis, who died last week at 98, put his personal stamp of approval on most every critical road and racing Jaguar of the postwar era. A partial list includes the C-type, the D-type, the much-beloved E-type, the Mk. II, the XJ series of sedans and coupes, and even the stillborn XJ-13 megacar. If it came from The Real Sign of the Cat and it appeared in our lifetimes, Dewis likely was the biggest hand to wring it out and get it approved.
Though trained in the fine arts, Dewis drifted into cars after his father died young, working for Humber and Armstrong-Siddley before serving in the RAF during World War II. Good test drivers are prized for their ability to deliver countless consistent laps on the track, and Dewis was exceptionally gifted in that regard. In working on the C- and D-types, he was critical in Jaguar’s testing and eventual adoption by Jaguar for use in race and road cars, an industry first. To help prove their capability, Dewis competed in the Mille Miglia as a co-driver to Stirling Moss. Like Moss, Dewis was knighted by the crown and spent his sunset years as a legend of Jaguar. I had the singular pleasure of meeting him at the Monterey Historics, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. Thanks to Stuart Schorr at Jaguar Land Rover for the archival photo.