I am synonymous with the Jaguar marque. It would, therefore, be strange for me to consider a car other than a Jaguar as my greatest racecar. What many people do not understand is that in order to test and prove a particular Jaguar, cars from other marques had to be driven. In relation to the Jaguar XJ13—the car that I put forward as my greatest racecar—I had to drive and evaluate a Ferrari 250 GTO, and a Ford GT40. These were “official” Jaguar comparison tests. The Ferrari was a very nice car to drive, as was the GT40—we are talking 1960-61—but for top speed and handling performance, the Jaguar was superior and would have “seen off” both. That was confirmed when I got the top speed at a British racetrack, that was at the MIRA proving ground, where I did 160.4 mph. The car’s front-end was lower than the Formula One cars of today. It did not need fancy spoilers or wings to create downforce; it was the perfect shape—the lowest coefficient of drag produced for its day and, still today, it would fair well. If one looks at the Group C Jaguars, you’ll see that some of the concepts and designs from the XJ13 were carried forward. Technologically speaking, it was a car ahead of its time.
I also put an awful amount of work into the testing and development of the 1955 D-type Jaguar, another great car. With the full wraparound screen and the tail fin, it had probably the lowest coefficient of drag for a car of its era. This was the “long-nose” car. By saying long nose, it was about 7 inches longer that the “short nose.” The extra 7 inches allowed for the front of the car to be lower and gave more stability, as it moved the weight farther forward. When I drove at Le Mans, I saw 192 mph down the Mulsanne Straight, which was phenonemal for that time. It allowed the driver to sit back and relax for a time, that sounds crazy, but it’s true.
Back to the XJ13. I appreciate it, because of politics and spending cuts—we are talking when Jaguar was taken over by British Leyland—that the car did not race, but it was a racecar. We were due to race the car at Le Mans in 1963 and 1964, but Lord Stokes put a ban on Jaguar racing and that was that. It was a carte-blanche ban across the board for British Leyland as a whole. This included MINIS, MGs; I know Rover had another turbine car that was axed too; all was stopped; a terrible time for British motorsport. It’s a real shame we were too late “out of the box.” If we had been a couple of years earlier with development, we may have rewritten some of the sports car history, especially Le Mans. An opportunity truly missed.
My biggest “moment” with the XJ13 was at MIRA when a magnesium alloy wheel rim, on the offside rear, collapsed. I was doing about 145 mph on the banking and it took me off the track and into the infield The car was like a ball rolling along. If you look at pictures of the wreck, you will see the extent of the damage. However, the suspension was still good, the engine was still good and we rebuilt the car from the wreckage. It’s the car we have today.
As told to Mike Jiggle
Norman Dewis was the test development engineer and chief test driver for Jaguar for 32 years.