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Five questions with Jaguar's 1960s test driver Norman Dewis

Tue, 17 May 2011

Norman Dewis, Jaguar's test driver in the 1960s, played a pivotal role in the E-type launch at Geneva in 1961. Now a sprightly 93-year-old, he recalls that day for AutoWeek.

AutoWeek: What was your role in the E-type launch?

Norman Dewis: I had to race down to Geneva in the prototype convertible, 77RW. They were giving test drives to potential customers in Switzerland and had a coupe down there. But so many people turned up that Bill Lyons [Jaguar's owner] ordered a soft-top down immediately.

And you had to drive it nonstop?

Yes. Overnight down through England, then across Belgium and France. But before I could leave, we had to take off a load of test gear, because when the call came through to England, I was doing brake tests in the convertible.

How long did it take?

I was hauled off the test track around 1:30 p.m., and I set off for Geneva at 7:45 p.m. I got down there 10 minutes before the 10 a.m. deadline set by Bill Lyons.

And what was the drive like?

I had to crack on. I drove with the roof down all the way. There were no motorways then, and 77RW had to be craned on and off a ferry boat across the channel. Then across Belgium and down through France. And all overnight. The car was great.

And what did Bill Lyons say when you arrived?

He was quite a formal man, so he just said, “Thank you, Dewis, I knew you could do it,” and carried on with what he was doing.

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