Memories of a Giant

One of my fondest recollections of the early Dunlop days was the chance to meet and work with the splendid Ian Norris. Ian never made the mistake of taking life too seriously, and being around him was always an entertaining experience. Ian will be remembered by many for his magnificent invention, the legendary Edgar Jessop (pictured here in the 1951 ISDT). Whenever he found himself stumped for entertaining content for his press contacts, Ian would produce another priceless escapade from the fast-riding, hard living Edgar. The stories were so detailed and numerous that many believed Jessop to be a real person.

Which, of course, he is. Now 117 and living at Madgwick Mews in Sussex, The Rt. Hon Edgar A. Jessop VC, MBE, DSO and Bar has agreed to share his memories with us over the coming months in recognition of Ian’s contribution to his well-earned fame.

We hope the recollections of one giant of motorised competition will be accepted as a fond tribute to another, who I was proud to have counted as a friend.

Perils of the Pitlane

The pits at Le Mans or Spa are a cold, miserable place to be. They’re also somewhat less than safe, especially if you’re not actually part of anybody’s team. As the bloke from Dunlop you’d be dashing from one pit to the next to check tyre condition. A car sweeps in, the door opens and there are two adrenalin-fuelled drivers doing a complex dance. Meanwhile the pit crew is in with fuel nozzles, air guns, wet rags and other instruments of destruction. In the mayhem it’s easy to forget the bloke lying half under the tail poking holes in the tread with his temperature gauge.

And they forgot me with sufficient regularity for me to develop a survivor’s talent of hearing first gear being engaged and rolling clear, frequently bringing down a cursing crewman in the process. When you’ve been awake since dawn the previous day, the comedy value of this isn’t substantial.

On one such occasion I was lying on damp, freezing concrete, shining a torch to read the tread depth on the right front of a Porsche, while being liberally sprayed with petrol from the hurried refuelling going on above me. Suddenly I felt a pair of hands on my ankles and I was dragged at some speed from under, leaving behind patches of skin of which I’d become quite fond. Tired, stressed and angry, I jumped up to remonstrate with the prankster, who proved to be of an excited Gallic persuasion. As I began my tirade I became aware of heat on the back of my head and focused on what my opponent was shouting.

“It’s on bloody fire!”

The Cat’s Final Snarl

This was a day I’ll always remember with a certain sadness. The Broadspeed ETC Jaguar V12C was undeniably fast, but plagued by reliability problems. And providing it with rubberware was little short of a nightmare. Its enormous weight put massive strain on the tyres, even when we shod it with gigantic 19″ slicks specifically designed for the car.

Those tyres were loathed by our fitters. The ultra low profile, allied to near-rigid sidewalls, made them virtually impossible to fit. I well remember watching with incredulity when the legendary strength of the late Micky Dee actually bent the fitting bar – by my reckoning that must be a ton of pressure – and still the damned tyre refused to plop over the rim.

But despite the problems, when the big cat ran, it was phenomenally fast. Ralph Broad and his team were tireless, and slowly the troublesome beast began to yield. By the time of its final appearance at Zolder it was at last showing its capabilities. John Fitzpatrick was leading when a dropped valve put the the big 12 out of the running. I’ll always remember the look of grief on Ralph Broad’s face when he received the phone call from British Leyland; the team was being withdrawn permanently, and the mightly Jag was to join the too-large catalogue of British might-have-beens.

It’s been mooted many times that one more season would have seen the Jag in fully-sorted, race-winning form. That’s very probably true but there’s a certain tragic “rightness” about its demise. No one who saw it will ever forget the spectacle of two tons of Birmingham metal hurling itself at the corners to the accompaniment of twelve cylinders of screaming vengeance.

I hated the thing with a passion that now feels very like love.