Cut and pace

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Jaguar’s E-type is Britain’s greatest-ever sportscar. And CUT 7 is arguably the most famous of all E-types. Damien Smith drives the first car to carry this number

For no more than six seconds a lap it’s like switching from mono to stereo. Mallory Park doesn’t have enough straight bits to give the 3.8-litre XK its full head for any longer, especially when the track is clinging to its sheen of crisp January morning damp. It’s a tantalising glimpse of what this pristine and famous E-type has to offer: straighten up out of Devil’s Elbow and squeeze, then back off and change-down for the treacherous, never-ending Gerards (no heroics — I’m no Gerry Marshall). Now, as the elegant, iconic snout points down Stebbe Straight, I squeeze again and that stereo kicks in once more: bwaaaap! My eardrums buzz, my grin spreads.

Back in 1962 CUT 7 was twirled around Mallory with considerably more gusto by its first owner, Elmer Richard ‘Dick’ Protheroe. Jaguar’s valued privateer took his new toy to its first overall victory in the Easter Trophy here, then starred again on his return to the Leicestershire speed bowl on Whit Monday. During a packed season of action Protheroe would claim five overall wins around the country, an impressive sixth in the more exalted company of the Goodwood TT and then sign off with class honours at Snetterton’s Autosport Three Hours. It was his final fling in this, the original CUT 7. But his association with one of the best-known registration numbers in Jaguar folklore had only just begun.

Protheroe owned and raced three CUT 7s. Over three seasons he chased competitiveness with a GT car that could not realistically expect to live with the best of its rivals from Ferrari: the 250GT and GTO. A strange ambivalence to racing from within Jaguar in the wake of Le Mans glory with C and D types had throttled any hope of major international victories in the 1960s. The E-type had not been designed with motorsport in mind. That it enjoyed as much success as it did was a testament to the model’s inbred quality— and the perseverance of customers like John Coombs and Protheroe.

Despite his successes of 1962, Protheroe sold his Fixed Head Coupé in January of the following year. A new, lighter CUT 7, built from parts specifically ordered for the task, would carry him into the new season. But not far: he crashed heavily on its debut at Snetterton. A rebuilt version was sold to 18-year-old Roger Mac, who would gain experience with the car (now registered 256 CJU) during the rest of 1963 before graduating to the ex-Tommy Atkins ‘Lightweight’.

Meanwhile, Protheroe got his hands on the car that would become the third and final bearer of that familiar registration plate: the unique Low Drag Coupé. That he was able to prise it out of storage from a corner of Jaguar’s experimental department is proof of how much sway he had at the company.

By 1963 the Low Drag project, led by legendary C-, D-, and E-type aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, had long been abandoned in favour of the new ‘Lightweights’, Jaguar’s underwhelming attempt to take on Ferrari. Along with its refined shape, complete with a roofline lowered by 2in, the coupé featured a lighter-gauge steel body, aluminium doors and bonnet, lighter front and rear suspension parts, an alloy dry-sump fuel-injected 3.8-litre engine and a D-type gearbox. Six were planned, but as the ‘Lightweight’ project gathered pace, only one was built.

Protheroe made good use of the experimental car right off the bat. On its debut he took the car to second overall and first GT in a high-profile all-corners race at the 1963 French GP at Reims. He also delivered CUT 7 another sixth place in the TT later that year.

Protheroe shared the car in long-distance events with John Coundley throughout 1964, then sold it on. The following year Gerry Marshall’s path crossed CUT 7’s for the first time; it would not be the last. “The Low Drag Coupe was the first car other than a Mini Cooper I drove on a racetrack,” says Marshall. It had been crashed into an Oulton Park lake by David Wansborough during practice (it still made the race!) and was returned to Protheroe for some work. Dick handed it back to its owner Robbie Gordon and Gerry was on hand to give it a test run. “That led directly to my first TVR drive, with John Wingfield at Brands Hatch,” he recalls. “Wingfield had his doubts about me, but Robbie told him I’d done okay in CUT 7. It all leads back to that test for me.”

Meanwhile, the original CUT 7 had been pensioned off as a road car, complete with new registration: 636 CJU. Protheroe sold it to a Mr Clive Castle of London, stating in a letter to him, dated February 11, 1963, that the car “is going to a good home.” He also quoted performance figures: at 5500rpm it was good for 140mph, at 6000rpm 152mph. “I am sure that these speeds will be ideally suited to your purpose,” he continued, “and I know you will have lots of very long-pointed-car fun!”

The car spent 10 years clocking up the miles. In the late 1960s Mike Moore bought it with accident damage for £250 and used it to tow his Clubmans car! From there the ‘previous owners’ history winds on and, unsurprisingly, the car went through several changes. Photographer Ted Walker bought it in 1973: “It was more or less as it was when Protheroe raced it. Except a sunroof and a radio had been added.”

It was experienced all-rounder John Young who turned 636 CJU back into a racer in the 1980s. By this time the car was painted red. It was sold at an auction and sat unused until Marshall, a friend of the owner, came across it by chance. He and Moore confirmed its identity as the original CUT 7 for another friend Colin Pearcey, who bought it and returned it to its original colours.

For the past three years former BTCC racer Nick Whale and Ian Guest, a truck and Alfa dealer, have owned and raced it with the help of Techspeed Motorsport. It’s back to its 1962 best — and then some. Racing E-types developed 265-280bhp in the early ’60s; Techspeed quotes 340 for its Crosthwaite & Gardiner XK. Whale hit 165mph at 6500rpm on the Mulsanne during Classic Le Mans — at night. “He reckons it’s the only time he’s been frightened in a race car,” says Guest.

This pair have added to CUT 7 lore, even if they are forced to cede the famous reg number — Viscount Michael Cowdray owns the rights to it, and the Low Drag Coupé — whenever the two cars share a track. Whale has beaten Protheroe’s TT record at Goodwood: sixth with Brian Redman at the 2002 Revival, and fifth with John Fitzpatrick last year — ahead of Cowdray.

Now the car will go up for auction once again, at the Stoneleigh Park Historic Motorsport show on February 26. Guest admits to pangs of regret: “When you own a car with history like this, you are buying into an exclusive club. That’s why we get invited to race at Le Mans and Goodwood. Wherever we go the car draws a crowd because they know just how important it is.”

While CUT 7 has enjoyed a new lease of life in historic racing, its originator never made it past the 1960s: Protheroe was killed in a Ferrari 330P during an untimed practice session for the Oulton Park TT of 1966.

He’d feel straight back at home if he was sitting where I am now. CUT 7’s simple aluminium dash with its white-on-black gauges and row of flick switches remain as in period, as does the suitably plain and practical centre console, complete with cylindrical handbrake. There’s no wood-rim three-spoke steering wheel here, though. No radio harking back to its road car days, either! This is a true racer.

I settle into the bucket seat, turn the insignificantly small ignition key and press the start button. That wondrous six fires and gurgles with satisfaction. The clutch is lighter than expected, as is the Moss ‘box. Guest has urged caution and I soon see why. The Dunlop Racers offer little feedback as I avoid the puddles on the inside of Gerards, so I do as I’m told and wait before feeding in the power. I hit the brakes for the Esses, then hit them harder. The pedal is pretty solid, but the discs do their job — eventually— and I accelerate up to Shaw’s hairpin. Here at least I know I’m safe to have a bit of fun. A little stab of gas on the way out is enough to feel the back end slide. I begin to enjoy myself, as you tend to in an E-type, especially such a well-sorted one as this, and forget to keep count of my laps.

As I pull back into Mallory’s paddock, a plaque on the passenger side of the dash catches my eye. I hadn’t noticed it before. It reads: “1962 RAC Tourist Trophy, sixth — Dick Protheroe, 87.09mph.” A shiver runs through me. It’s been 43 years since he last drove this car —43 years of twists, turns, scrapes and adventures for the original CUT 7. Yet his spirit still lingers within its cockpit.

This is still Dick Protheroe’s car. — DS

***

TechSpec — 1962 Jaguar E-type – CUT 7

Engine:

Type: Crosthwaite & Gardner- prepped XK straight-six, iron block, aluminium 2-valve head, DOHC. Capacity: 3881cc. Bore x stroke: 87 x 106mm. Maximum power: 340bhp @ 6500rpm. Carburation: 3 Weber 45 DCOE

Transmission:

Gearbox: Moss, straight-cut standard ratio four-speed with synchromesh on second, third and fourth. Differential: Salisbury, hypoid, limited-slip

Chassis: Type: 20-gauge steel monocoque. Front suspension: wishbones, torsion bars, anti-roll bar, Bilstein dampers. Rear suspension: independent, driveshaft as upper link, single lower link, Koni dampers.

Running gear: Brakes (f&r) solid discs, inboard at rear. Steering: rack-and-pinion. Tyres: Dunlop L-section

***

Dick Protheroe — scary but fair

One-eyed RAF war hero Dick Protheroe was known as a difficult character by most who knew him in racing circles, a dedicated racer who always seemed to have a point to prove.

The story goes that he did not lose his eye during hostilities as one might have expected, but as a consequence of an incident during a post-war stock car race when a bottle was thrown from the crowd.

As an RAF officer during the 1950s he spent some time running the airbase at Gaydon, home of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group today, and offered the facility as a testing venue for Jaguar. The ‘light alloy car’, the link between C- and D-type and the seed of the E-type ran there as early as 1953.

It was also in this year that Protheroe began competing in Jags. By the end of the decade he was racing a quick XK120 known as the ‘Old Egyptian’. Its registration: CUT 6.

As a personal friend of Sir William Lyons and a respected Jaguar dealer (County Motors in Leicestershire) it is not surprising that Protheroe was one of the first to get his hands on an E-type in 1961. The first right-hand drive examples were all Roadsters, delivered to the likes of John Coombs, Tommy Sopwith, Peter Sargent, Robin Sturgess and Jack Lambert. The first rhd Fixed Heads followed later in the summer: Protheroe got the fourth one.

Jaguar records show that the car, chassis 860004, was registered to his wife Rosemary Massey of the famous tractor manufacturer. But Protheroe wasted no time preparing the car he had registered as CUT 7 for racing. He gave the number its competition debut at Snetterton in March 1962, and finished third.

One of his notable victories with the car was at Silverstone in July when he defeated Mike Salmon’s Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato. “Dick was fanatical about racing.” Salmon recalls. “He took it very seriously. Whether he felt he had to prove a point because he was missing an eye. I don’t know.

“He was a good, fast driver who you could trust to race cleanly, but I found his attitude slightly scary.”

Salmon was due to share a Ferrari 250LM with Protheroe at the Reims 12 Hours in 1965, but the car never made the race. It’s a strange tale. “We had to drive the car back from a garage in Reims to where the Ferraris were kept overnight,” Salmon says. “Dick insisted on driving and told me to take the truck back. He got in and promptly drove straight into a Peugeot going the other way. Presumably, he just didn’t see it. The damage could have been fixed but Ronnie Hoare of Maranello Concessionares didn’t want a botch job.”

A year later Protheroe met his fate when he crashed his ex-Maranello Concessionares Ferrari 330P at Oulton Park’s Druids right-hander. No matter that it was an untimed session and that the chequered flag was already out. Protheroe had a point to prove to the end.

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