XK120 Jaguar - cat's tale


It's October 21, 1953. Between the Belgian towns of Bruges and Ostend, a Jaguar XK120 flashes along the Jabbeke straight, an empty stretch of Belgian autoroute. Sealed inside is Norman Dewis, Jaguar's chief test engineer, watching the speedometer's needle climb as he attempts to achieve a new world record for a production car.
"Malcolm Sayer, our designer, warned me the car could take off at 160mph," says Dewis.
But that does not hold him back – the XK120 speeds through the timed flying mile, turns around and comes back, clocking a new world record of 172.412mph before it slows.
"The engineers took the seat out of the XK120 and I sat on the floor of the car so we could fit a bubble-shaped perspex hood over my head. The hood was worth an extra four or five miles per hour, but they screwed down that perspex bubble from the outside. If there had been a problem, I'd never have got out of the car!"
Dewis joined Jaguar in 1952 to take on the development of the company's production and race cars. In a career spanning 33 years, a raft of Jaguars passed the Dewis test, including such British motoring icons as the C, D and E-types. Despite the inherent dangers of the job, Norman retired in 1984 without having broken a bone.

[Issue 2, 2008]

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