"After three months, we were just about getting it right when Sir William appeared in my office and delivered an ultimatum: ‘Finish this in three weeks or we’ll end the programme’.” They worked night and day and met the deadline. And the rest is history.
Driving the XK120 at 172mph
Dewis’s graduation to big performance was rapid. Just months after his arrival, he was Stirling Moss’s co-driver in the 1952 Mille Miglia, typically producing a list of end-of-race faults rather than dwelling on the scarier aspects of retiring with broken steering.
In October the following year, as the climax to a series of Jaguar top speed runs on a Flanders motorway called Jabbeke, he drove a streamlined XK120 at an amazing 172.412mph, faster than any 120 before or since.
Developing the D-type
Mention the D-Type, especially the 1955 long-nose, and Dewis’s expression softens. It’s one of his favourite cars, its sophistication distilled from lessons learned from the various experimental models that followed the C-Type and from the less aerodynamic short-nose D-Type of the previous year.
“That ’55 was some car,” he recalls. “The D was our first car to use a monocoque centre section with bolt-on tubular subframes, like an aircraft, and you could feel how rigid it was. The ’55 had better weight distribution, a full wraparound screen for high-speed comfort, and its aerodynamics were better than the short-nose. And we did a lot of detail development to make it better to drive.”
Racing at Le Mans
Dewis’s love for the long-nose has much to do with the fact that he was chosen in Jaguar’s six-man Le Mans driver line-up that year, the fateful event during which Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd, killing more than 80 people.
The race continued, remarkably, but Dewis’s partner put their car off the road during the night while running fourth – although not before Dewis pulled off a famous pass on Karl Kling’s Mercedes 300SLR by slightly over-revving his engine on the Mulsanne Straight to notch up an official 192mph.
Knowing Sir William
Dewis first met Lyons a few weeks after arriving at Swallow Road, predecessor of Browns Lane.
“Sir William always walked around the works after hours. I was in my office one evening and he just walked in. ‘Are you Dewis?’ he said. ‘I’m Lyons.’ From then on, he’d occasionally drop in. He was always a very formal sort of man. Not impolite, or particularly autocratic, but you could never get close to him. I always had the feeling he was shy. He certainly hated making speeches.
“Over in the body shop, they always had a body he was working on. He did the saloons and Sayer did the sports cars. Sir William would mark things in chalk on his body and ask for them to be made the next day. That’s where the Jaguar power bulge came from. He wanted the bonnet lines so low they couldn’t get the engine in.”
Dewis worked at Jaguar until 1985, participating in the long, continuous development of the XJ saloon. He retired halfway through the John Egan revival era, two years short of the launch of the XJ40.