‘We Never Thought You’d Make It’ – The Adventure Filled Story of How the Second Jaguar E-Type Got to Geneva.

By Nick Skinner
By Nick Skinner

Marketing Executive/Photographer

The miles disappeared past the long-elegant bonnet of 77RW as the sun began to breach the horizon along a stretch of Autoroute on the 15th of March 1961. It had been a handful of hours since the car and its pilot had left the shores of England with a singular purpose – orders to complete a herculean drive from the Midlands to Geneva as quickly as possible.

The story however, begins the day before.

On the 14th of March, the Jaguar team had been testing their latest creation at the legendary MIRA test track. This creation had caused quite the stir in the press, with the car mentioned in whispers and rumour – the E-Type. At the hands of god-like test and racing driver Norman Dewis, the E-Type was being through its paces ahead of its full release. That car, was 77RW. An E-Type Roadster and the 3rd one to be built so far. It’s sister, 9600HP (the first car built) was nearly 800 miles away in the Swiss town of Geneva being shown to the press.

As Dewis ran 77RW through its paces and worked methodically with the team to record results and make adjustments to the brakes, the next part of the car scheduled to be developed. The day grew on. The repetition and routine only broken by a telephone call, with a message which would become one of the most famous in automotive folklore.

The track manager at MIRA walked across the track during the cars downtime at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He announced to the team that the factory had rang and that 77RW would need to be returned to Coventry without delay. This sense of urgency instilled in the track managers voice made Dewis jump in the car and head for home.

As 77RW and Dewis pulled up to the workshop, two important names in Jaguar history would hove into view. William Heynes and Bob Knight, a pair of engineers instrumental in the mechanical side of Jaguar’s dominance both of the road and on the track. As Dewis got out of the car and approached the factory team, his first question was ‘what’s going on?’. Unbeknownst to Dewis, the factory had received a fairly frantic phone call from Geneva.

At the same time as Dewis had been putting 77RW through its paces, Jaguar PR Manager Bob Berry had been given pre-show demonstrations to the press at the Geneva Motor Show. So much was the hype around the car, and so impressed were the media that Berry was struggling to cope with the amount of ride alongs that 9600HP was being asked to perform. With this, and with the thought of potential orders for the new car slipping away, Jaguar’s figurehead, Sir William Lyons, rang the factory and ordered that the other car be brought to Geneva.

That message was the urgent message that had been given to the MIRA track manager.

As 77RW was wheeled into the workshop to be checked over, the plan was laid out to Dewis. He would drive from Coventry to Dover, from there he would get the 10pm ferry to Ostend in Belgium and then onwards to Geneva with the car needing to arrive by 10am. Dewis agreed and said that he would come back later on and pick up the car, to which he was told ‘no, you’ll go as soon as its ready.’ With Dewis protesting gently that he hadn’t got any change of clothes or to let his wife know, but the team had a response to that. A member of the team had already informed Mrs Dewis of her husbands adventure and gone round to his house to pick up a bag which waited for him in his office inside of the development workshop.

As 77RW reversed out of the garage, the sun had already set. It was 7:45pm on the 14th of March 1961.

The team handed him a ticket for the 10pm ferry and a brown envelope with fuel money. Wait, Dewis thought. 10PM!? That drive was easily over 4 hours from Coventry to Dover, and it would have been for mere mortals but this was Norman Dewis and he was on a mission.

The green roadster roared through the villages and towns as it made its way southbound towards its overnight crossing. On that night in March of 1961, 77RW was probably the fastest machine in the UK as it soared towards the southern town of Dover as the car ate up the 200 mile leg. As the car pulled up to the port, Dewis checked his watch. It was 9:45pm… He had covered that ground in just 2 hours.

However, as he drove through the empty lines towards the boat he found that the gates to the ferry had been shut 10 minutes before, far before the ferry’s departure time of 10pm. As Dewis’s heart sank, a man with a torch walked past the car set against the cold spring air. ‘Is that the Ostend boat?’ Dewis asked this shadow, it responded with ‘you’re too late”. Dewis quickly fired back with ‘I need to be on it’, whilst he called out to the shadowy figure, the torch light worked its way across the Malcolm Sayer designed sports car’s bodywork, ‘What’s this then?’ said the figure to which Dewis retorted with some gravel in his voice that it was the new Jaguar E-Type. Before he could even finish his sentence, the voice cracked back with ‘THE ONE THAT LAUNCHED YESTERDAY?! IT’S ALL OVER THE NEWSPAPERS. HANG ON…’ The sound of a walkie-talkies static broke the situation, and with a simple and direct sentence that shadowy figure would set a legend in motion. ‘You’ve got to get this guy on. He’s got the new Jag’.

With that, the Ferry crew lowered the ramp and held the boat so that one man and a sports car could enter the history books.

As soon as the ramp lowered on the other side of the channel, the E-Type was heading south at speed.

Dewis and 77RW had 500 miles to cover through the night and there was no time to waste. Around Brussels, as the sun begun to burn off the early morning mist, the pace of the car and its pilot would increase, averaging around 80mph through the Black Forest. Every half an hour or so, Dewis would glance down at the roadmap which served as his companion on this mad dash to Switzerland. Throughout this entire endeavour, he only had to refuel the E-Type once. As the minutes ticked by, and the countdown grew shorter and shorter to the 10am deadline, the odometer on this historic E-Type grew larger.

The lane markers flashed by with the passing of the hands on the clock, as another day was breaking over the continent. And then, like a beacon in the distance, the end was in sight. Geneva.

The driver and car made their way through the streets of the town towards the final point. As 77RW rounded the final corner, there, looking at his watch was Sir William.

Dewis got out of the car as Sir William walked over to his test driver, the first words spoken to him were ‘Thought you’d do it, Dewis.’ A brief but poignant sentiment from a famously stoic man. Next to approach the tired and sore driver was the wonderful Lofty England, Jaguar’s Service and Race Manager, who had been timing the run from Coventry and working out the average speeds Dewis would need to achieve to even be in with a chance of making it in time.

With arms outstretched and a face filled with joy and adoration for his friend, Lofty England would say the words which would cement this story into the annuls of automotive history and solidify the legend of the Jaguar E-Type. ‘Well done Norman. Fantastic driving. We worked your speed out’ and as a final statement which showed that neither Dewis, Jaguar or the E-Type would ever be underestimated and its prowess as a GT car would pass into folklore ‘we never thought you’d make it!’

But, the job wasn’t over. Just as soon as Dewis had arrived with 77RW he was ordered to begin demonstrations right away, the hotel bed and the sweet release of slumber would have to wait for this heroic man. Those who got in the car with Dewis that day had no idea that the car and its driver had just gone on an adventure which sadly outlived them both but went on to root their names in the history books forever.

Jaguar had originally planned to make just 250 examples of the E-Type, but thanks to the work of Dewis, Sayer, England, Berry, Knight, Heynes and the Jaguar team, the car would go on to be in production for the next 14 years and sell over 72,000 examples of this beautiful sports car.

One response to “‘We Never Thought You’d Make It’ – The Adventure Filled Story of How the Second Jaguar E-Type Got to Geneva.”

  1. BOB SANDY avatar
    BOB SANDY

    Brilliant

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