Dick Protheroe 1922 - 1966
GPN 635 "The Ancient Egyptian"
The car was bought by one of Dick's mechanics and exported to Australia. Although it has returned recently for refurbishment its current whereabouts are not known.
1949 Jaguar XK 120 ‘Ancient Egyptian’
Chassis Number: 670068
Engine Number: W1154/7,
6 cylinders. 3781 c.c.
It seems hardly credible but the Jaguar XK 120, the greatest sports car of its day, was really intended only as a stop-gap. Jaguar’s main effort in the immediate post-War years was centered on the Mk VII saloon but they decided to drum up public interest by cutting and shutting a Mk VII chassis and clothing it with an aluminium two seat body which was styled by William Lyons. It was intended to make a run of about 250 but when the most beautiful sports car in the world was announced, with a basic price of just £998 in 1948, so many people wanted one that it had to go into full-scale production.
The trouble was that it took more than money to buy one. Most XK 120s went Stateside to earn dollars and those which stayed on this side of the Big Pond were mainly sold to drivers of proven ability or those whose names might add lustre to Jaguar’s reputation. It did not fall to many Britons to buy an XK 120 but when the opportunity arose, it was grabbed.
‘Dick’ Protheroe was a pilot in the RAF who was flying de Havilland Mosquitoes in the early 1950s (he was actually Cameron Millar’s adjutant). In Cairo he came across one of the rare aluminium bodied cars (chassis number 67-0068) and lost no time in buying it. He jokingly referred to it as an Ancient Egyptian he’d found by the Pyramids and the nickname passed into motor racing mythology.
Upon the car’s return to England it was registered with the number GPN 635. As the chassis plate implies it was originally a left hand drive car, and was raced as such in Britain, but it was eventually converted to right hand drive. Contemporary photographs show it running with off-set wire wheels and also steel wheels, but then the car was constantly up-dated. Brake drums tended to be replaced almost after every race (the competition department used to supply balanced sets) but eventually a dual-circuit braking system 70 with disc brakes all round was fitted. Other modifications included telescopic shock absorbers, changes to the rear leaf springs and an XK 140 radiator.
For much of its active life, Dick ran the engine of GPN 635 with a 9 : 1 compression ratio, two two-inch SU carburettors (still with the car), a C-Type cylinder head and P-Type camshafts. It was as powerful as regulations permitted and the engine was always maintained by Jaguar’s competition department.
Protheroe was a gutsy driver and he and the Ancient Egyptian very quickly became one of the most popular car/driver combinations in British national racing. Crowds loved Dick’s attitude; if he didn’t win it was never for the want of trying and, along with its many trophies, the Ancient Egyptian had its share of spins and scrapes. He brought it out for the 1959 season with the intention of making it the fastest XK 120 permitted by the regulations. Thus it had a 3.8 litre engine and Dick promptly proved that it was indeed the fastest XK 120 around. He continued to delight and entertain the crowds with the car until 1961 when it was clear that he had to have an E-Type.
After Protheroe sold on the Ancient Egyptian it slid slowly into obscurity; it was beginning to be an elderly car and was competing against new designs, and none of its subsequent owners could match Dick Protheroe. Like so many old war horses it was neglected but it has recently undergone a complete restoration for which bills totaling over £70,000 are available. A letter from the RACMSA supports an application for its famous number plate GPN 635. It is running on wire wheels, and will be presented in the correct opalescent silver blue which for so many enthusiasts is synonymous with Dick Protheroe and the Ancient Egyptian.