Jaguar Heritage News – March 2013

Return to Jabbeke – 2nd March 2013

May 1949

Norman Dewis reclaims the record!

F-type defends the record!

The Mayor and local dignatories celebrate the record with Jaguar exectives

Norman Dewis cuts the celebration cake!

On the cold and blustery first day of March, the Jaguar Heritage team comprising technicians Richard Mason and Dave Withers, accompanied by Marketing and PR Manager Jonathan Partridge, set off on the first leg of a four day event that would take in Belgium, France and Switzerland.  After a trouble free trip through the channel tunnel, first stop was the small town of Jabbeke in Belgium, about 10km from the ancient city of Bruges, known as the Venice of the North.  A collection of interesting cars and famous people were assembling for an exciting event that was due to take place on the following day.

Jaguar has a long standing historical relationship with Jabbeke that began nearly sixty four years ago.  In May 1949, Jaguar decided to demonstrate the newly launched XK120 roadster to the press on a stretch of straight high-speed autoroute between Jabbeke and Aeltre in Belgium. The road was closed for the occasion. The white left-hand drive car, chassis number 670002, was the second XK120 built.

Jaguar’s development engineer Walter Hassan was to have driven the car but he fell ill, so Jaguar test-driver Ron “Soapy” Sutton substituted. With hood, sidescreens and windscreen removed and the addition of a full-length aluminium undertray, a metal airflow deflector fitted in front of the driver and a tonneau cover fastened over the passenger side of the cockpit, the Jaguar was timed through the flying mile by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium at 136.596 mph (219.830 km/h). The XK120 was subsequently declared the fastest production car in the world.

This record held until September 1953 when Celso Fernández driving the new Z-102 Touring model from Spanish manufacturer Pegaso (better known for commercial vehicles), broke four official Royal Automobile Club of Belgium records.  These included the flying-start kilometer which he covered at a speed of 151.042 mph (243.079 km/h).

On hearing this news, Jaguar Chairman William Lyons immediately called up Norman Dewis, by then Jaguar’s chief test engineer, and asked what he was going to do about it.  Norman was doubtful there was much more to be had from the XK120, but the Jaguar team headed back to Jabbeke in October.  The car they took was a rally prepared vehicle, registration MDU 254 which had undergone a number of subtle modifications to its powertrain and aerodynamics.
These included a higher compression ratio, close-ratio gearbox and heavy duty prop shaft, a full undershield, removal of the side and rear lights, a metal tonneau cover and streamlined headlamps.  Perhaps the most remarkable feature was a Perspex ‘bubble’ cockpit canopy which was bolted down once Norman was in the car – something that also necessitated removal of the driver’s seat leaving just a thin piece of foam as Norman’s only support! The car had nearly slick tyres with just 2mm of rubber left on them, inflated to 50psi to further reduce drag – judged to be safe because the road was completely straight!

Much to everyone’s amazement, Norman smashed the Pegaso record with a top speed of 172.412 mph (277.47 km/h) verified by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium, bringing the laurels back to Jaguar.  The XK120 was once again the fastest car in the world!  This feat was commemorated on its 50th anniversary in 2003 by the erection of a plaque near to the Jabbeke highway.

In celebration of the events 60 years earlier, Jaguar returned to Jabbeke on Saturday 2nd March for another sprint test, this time with the new Jaguar F-TYPE V8S and 1988 Le Mans 24 hour race-winning driver Andy Wallace.  The original road used in the fifties is now a full blown autoroute, but the Jabbeke District Council and Police kindly agreed to close a dual carriageway section of the nearby N377 main road for the sprint test to take place.  With just two miles available to Wallace to explore the F-TYPE’s straight-line speed from a standing start, and bring it to a stop again, the car hit almost 180 mph and achieved 0-62 mph in an impressive 4.2 seconds.

Speaking after the sprint test, Wallace said: “I was delighted to be invited by Jaguar to be the first to undertake a public sprint test in the new F-TYPE.  Our result today is amazing considering the original sprint test road was five miles in length and today we had less than half that to achieve 179 mph. The car was still accelerating toward its top speed when I had to brake.”   VIEW F-TYPE TOP SPEED TEST
Prior to the sprint test, a civic celebration was held in the new Jabbeke sports and cultural centre where Norman Dewis and Jaguar PR executives were welcomed by the mayor and senior members of the local council.   Following an entertaining speech recalling the events of 1953 with amazing clarity, Norman presented the mayor with a framed print depicting the famous ‘bubble’ XK120.  This was followed by a lunch kindly provided by the Jabbeke Council whose warmth and hospitality towards all the Jaguar visitors was remarkable.  They had even produced a special celebratory cake depicting the events of 60 years earlier and Norman was invited to make the first slice (carefully avoiding himself or the car)!

To provide an appropriate backdrop and historical context for the new F-TYPE, four classic Jaguars had also been assembled for this event including the Jaguar Heritage 1956 long nose D-type 393RW, which won its maiden race outing in the 12 hour race at Reims and also finished 6th at Le Mans.  The other cars included an original 1949 XK120 belonging to John Burton, the fabulous 1952 C-type chassis XKC-004 (still regularly raced by owner Nigel Webb) and an immaculate 1961 E-type owned by CMC boss Peter Neumark, believed to be the first right hand drive Series 1 car sold.


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