Dick Protheroe: scary but fair

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.