Norman Dewis and a prelude to the first E-type test drive!


If you have ever wondered how Norman Dewis could recall so clearly and accurately the events of 50 and 60 years ago, it is simply because he faithfully kept a detailed log of all that went on in his department at the end of each day, recording facts, figures, meetings, test results, and even mishaps (ref: 25-2-61 Lumsden pranged 77RW). Referring back to these regularly over the years, has kept the related details clear in his mind, allowing him to pass on some remarkable information which would otherwise have been lost forever.

It was vital that all of these details were accurately transferred to print and made freely available, if the legend of Jaguar was to be kept alive, and the fact that Norman’s book, published by Paul Skilleter and written with his assistance is now on its fourth reprint, is testament to the fact that the legend endures and fascinates a great many people!

Recent events conspired favourably for me, making it feasible that I should spend some time talking with Norman on a regular basis and delving more deeply into some of the facts and events recorded in his book.

On my initial visit to Norman’s home, my first question was “What was happening at Jaguar on the date of my birth – 8th February 1961?” I knew this was an important time for Jaguar, leading up to the launch of their most famous product, and it fascinated me, knowing that my time of arrival coincided with that of one of the world’s greatest icons!

To answer my question, Norman took me to his “den” – an eclectic mix of Jaguars, oil paintings in progress, and assorted memorabilia, set within inspiring views of “The Long Mynd” in Shropshire. It didn’t take long for Norman to find the information – all filed and indexed in folders and diaries. The entry dated 8-2-61 referred to a meeting with Gregor Grant, editor of Autosport, which lead to a search through a folder for the relevant road test report, which probably took place shortly afterwards, as the car required further fettling, as referred to in Norman’s book. This meeting initiated the comprehensive road test report featuring Coupe No.2 (9600HP), which appeared in the 17th March 1961 issue of Autosport, pipping Autocar to the post by four days!

Interestingly, photographs of “Coupe No. 2” appear in a 1961 copy of the Autocar report, probably taken before it was registered in Coventry as 9600HP on 10-2-61, as no plates are affixed, while in the copy of that same report (No.1813) in “Brooklands Books – Road-Test Reports” these are replaced by a similar set of photos, after it was embellished with the now famous number 9600HP.

Thanks to Norman’s meticulous and consistent note keeping throughout his career at Jaguar, I now have a clear understanding of the events which took place on the day of my birth, shortly before the launch of the E-type! For further information on the development of the E-type, refer to Norman Dewis of Jaguar – Developing the Legend, by Norman Dewis with Paul Skilleter, Chapter 18 – Norman and the Amazing E-type! Available direct from Paul Skilleter Books

Another reference to 9600HP and the above mentioned report, is written by Philip Porter, now owner of this car, in his book about 9600HP, entitled “The Most Famous Car in the World”. Imagine then, my astonishment to find 9600HP, the centre of attention on the day I was born, registered 2 days later, and on my arrival at CMC, parked behind the Jaguar I was to test drive !!

 

9600HP, probably the most famous car in the world, the centre of attention on the day I was born, registered 2 days later, and here at CMC for my first drive in an E-type !!

 

 

Pace ….. in an era of Grace and Space

The brief I’d been given was to take out an E-type and comment on it from a woman’s perspective.

All my life I have waited for the opportunity to drive an E-type …..would it live up to expectations?

The E-type I was to drive is currently in the care of CMC (Bridgnorth) being offered for sale at £82,000 – a 1968 Series 1 ½  4.2 Roadster. The ultimate Jaguar statement, in Jaguar Racing Green, with matching hide trim, carpets and hood, and it was love at first sight! Brucie (my X330 Sovereign) clapped his front wheels together in a gesture of prayer and thanked The Lord that I didn’t have £82,000 at my disposal!

With the registration number “PLV 40F”, would this “Perfect Ladies Vehicle” live up to her name?

 

The ultimate Jaguar statement: an E-type in Jaguar Racing Green! PLV 40F with her illustrious heritage (9600HP) behind her!

 

Bob, one of the dedicated CMC mechanics, who works on these cars, accompanied me as my guide around Shropshire. It was a mad day …. finding places to get suitable shots of the E-type, standing in the road and taking photos, while Bob watched and listened for traffic, being acknowledged by fellow Jaguar drivers, being assumed as the owners and complimented for our discerning taste, and waiting for bystanders to take their own photos. We’d almost stepped back into the 60’s ! Possibly not dressed in the fashions of the day – my skirt was not short enough and Bob’s “CMC” shirt not loud enough, but in our minds it was 1968, PLV 40F was fresh from Brown’s Lane, and there was a sense of adventure in the summer air! The E-type has such a strong and charismatic personality that it sucks you into its way of thinking, back in time to an era where all was optimism and anything was possible! Shall we go here, along this amazing road? ….YES! Shall we stop there for photos? …..YES!

The E-type and I both arrived early in 1961, ready to embrace the decade. Now we look back and picture the 60’s as racy and provocative, but to me as a child growing up in that sublime era, they were times of gentility (grace) and tranquillity (space) and the E-type shot through like a red hot bullet ………. PACE !!!  Of all the 60’s Classics the E-type is the most enduring, and even today it is still fashionable, but now retro – a timeless design statement, still a symbol of status, representing chic, elegant and discerning taste and still on a par with the price of a new Jaguar sportscar, but without the prospect of rapid depreciation!

Rod Stewart almost hit upon the perfect phrase to sum up the E-type “……. ageless, timeless, grace and fineness……. beauty and elegance!” If all this seems a little romantic, I make no apology, as this is my view of the E-type – this is its image. Never was it viewed as a convenient commuting vehicle, a workhorse, city car, or people carrier, even if it has been used for such, on occasion! After more than 50 years, the E-type is still in such demand, that replicas abound, but for the purist, happily, companies like CMC are looking after our original stock!

 

Comparing the graceful curves of the River Severn and the E-type

 

 

Putting it to the test!

On a day which started dreary and wet, and turned into one of the hottest of the year, we tested suspension, brakes, handling, straight-line performance, manoeuvrability, visibility, noise levels and ease of parking, along with the time taken to lower and raise the hood. Our route, part of which was once used by Norman Dewis in his original tests for this model, took us from Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury, via Ironbridge and Attringham Park, following the course of the River Severn. Then on down through Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Ludlow to Clee Hill and Bewdley, finally crossing the River and Severn Valley Railway, and returning to Bridgnorth.

Stepping out of a 1997 X330 saloon with automatic transmission, and into the E-type, was quite a contrast. Somehow, the E-type manages to feel very direct, close to the road and the action, with very precise steering and brakes, pick any gear and get an immediate response – a car which you can point and shoot! Quite an achievement for a car which was designed over 50 years ago! The 4.2 engine pulls exceedingly well, even in a high gear around bends. On the straight I felt that it could have done with an extra gear, and apparently, 5 speed conversions are quite popular, or alternatively uprating the diff has a similar effect.

 

Grand entrances …..when you arrive in an E-type, you’ve arrived!

 

Handing the E-type back, and driving Brucie home, felt like driving a sponge, by comparison with the E! My X300 felt remote and floaty, with lighter steering (a common criticism of the XJ which I have never noticed before!) The driving position is higher and the car wafts, loosing that direct feeling. Undoubtedly easier to drive, but not so rewarding by far! More a case of point, think and then shoot!

Driving the E-type you feel alive, and I couldn’t help thinking of Jaguars current slogan “How alive are you?” and how apt this is, even for one of their long obsolete models!

Compared with today’s cars, the E-type is small and delicate looking, although undoubtedly robustly engineered, judging by the way it has coped with 50 years of bumps and bends, and still handles beautifully and glides over our unkempt roads with minimum fuss – not at all what I was expecting!

 

Great feats of engineering – The Jaguar E-type, acknowledged as a World Heritage Car, against the backdrop of Ironbridge, listed as a World Heritage Site.

 

I didn’t feel at all disadvantaged driving amongst modern traffic, and would quite happily use this car as everyday transport. Suspension was firm and the car felt solid, but negotiating potholes did not shake you up or cause the car to rattle. The E-type handled very well around bends, a true sportscar which encourages you to explore its outer limits. Straight-line performance was impressive, and the E-type appeared every bit as capable as its modern contemporaries. Noise levels rose with acceleration, in this Roadster, and above 80 mph I began to wish I was back in my X300, so if I had to do a long motorway trip, I would pick Brucie, but for short bursts, it was fine. The E-type Roadster is not a means of getting from A to B, it is for serious driving and serious posing, hood down, on trips around the countryside, or journeys into town – meeting friends for lunch, local business trips, and places where you need to squeeze into a space the size of a smart car! My X330 Sovereign attracts attention, but the E-type positively demands it!

With its low waistline, I found it much more suited than a modern sportscar, to someone of my stature (5ft 1 inch, if I stand on a spanner!) That endlessly long bonnet, the most memorable feature of the E-type, which makes the car look like it would be difficult to manoeuvre, shrinks into perspective once you are behind the wheel of this low slung beast. It is actually easier to manoeuvre than a modern car with a high waistline, small windows, wide roof pillars and a bonnet which dips away to hide overly large bumpers! All-round visibility is very good, and E-types appear not to have been fitted originally with door/wing mirrors, which are in danger of spoiling their lines. The retro fitted door mirrors on this car were not ideal, but that is an easy fix, and meanwhile it was easier to glance over my shoulder in conjunction with using the interior rear view mirror. Unlike my X330, most of the car is in front of the driver, so there isn’t much to see or worry about behind you and I suspect that in its day the E-type was so far in front that your rear view was superfluous!

 

Lost amongst the modern mediocrity …..the E-type has such road presence that out on its own, it looks bigger than it really is!

 

Tiny, compared to even a small modern saloon, it will pose elegantly on the compact drive of your bijou retreat and slop about in a public parking space – quite a novelty, after driving an X330 which overhangs a modern parking space on all sides!

Seats were very comfy for me, and actually offered more support than those of my X300. The old fashioned seatbelts and manual seat controls took a bit of getting used to, along with winding down the windows! The hood, however, was extremely straight-forward – three easy clips and a couple of simple folds, and it’s all stowed away.  Reversing the operation was equally as quick! I don’t think an electric hood could have beaten my time, and being entirely manual, at least the electrics won’t fail and leave you in a soggy situation!

 

…….. finally, we persuaded her to take her top off !!

 

The clutch on this car was a little heavy, but apparently not typical. The all-synchro gearbox was smooth and direct. The brakes were perfectly matched to the cars performance and the accelerator responsive. The footrest on the left hand side was far better placed for me than that on my automatic X300.

Despite practice, I couldn’t seem to master the elegant entry and exit procedure one would expect of a lady driving an E-type, but to be honest, it is no worse than the XJS or F-type ….I fall inelegantly into and clamber clumsily out of all low slung sports cars!

With 50 years experience to draw on, good E-type specialists have emerged who can modify an E-type to suit your needs or wishes if you absolutely cannot do without all the mod cons we now take for granted. I am told that anything is possible, and examples of modifications include: uprated brakes, steering, engine and differential, 5 speed gearboxes, and air conditioning, along with modifications to body and interior, which range from subtle to outrageous! In essence, your “E” could be a completely modern vehicle in all but looks, but remember that for every modification you make, you lose a little of the flavour of the 60’s!

 

Playing lady of the manor at Attringham Hall

 

It’s terrific fun, and a real head turner! It gets noticed much more than an equivalent modern sports car, and despite those low slung delicate curves, it has immense road presence – you don’t mess with an E, in fact, people stop to let you out just to get a better look! All these assets coupled with low cost classic insurance, no road tax, and potentially zero depreciation, means it makes sense economically too! Such is its popularity, that despite its great antiquity, parts availability is no problem at all.

It has decided me on one thing …..if I ever have another Jaguar, it will be an E-type! I have considered various Jaguars as a second car, but now realise that the essence is to find something which is in direct contrast to a modern automatic saloon, the excitement of the experience being heightened by the two completely opposing driving styles! So the answer to my initial question is: “Yes – PLV 40F (Perfect Ladies Vehicle) did indeed live up to her name!”

 

Heaven for a day !!

 

Report and pictures by Letitia Mace, with many thanks to Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth, PLV 40F, Bob, Shropshire Tourism and Attringham Park, for making this all possible.

For more information on PLV 40F please contact Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth on 01746 765804

 

Classic Motor Cars of Bridgnorth

To receive all future updates on Jaguar related news and events as they arrive, please subscribe to Xclusively Jaguar News using the Newsletter Sign Up facility in the top right hand corner of the page. Subscription is free of charge with an opt out facility.

All information correct at time of publishing.