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My Life & Cars – Richard Tuthill, Rally driver and Porsche guru

Giving up a career in front-line rallying to run the family business, Richard Tuthill now heads one of the world’s leading Porsche specialists

'I’ve lived here all my life, literally a hundred metres from where we’re sat. It was pretty much inevitable I’d get involved with the business.’ So says Richard Tuthill, accomplished rally driver, 911 fanatic and the driving force behind the eponymous Tuthill Porsche, the basis of which was founded by his father, Francis, back in 1977.

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The highly impressive edifice you see upon arrival at Tuthill’s premises might occupy the same location as Tuthill Snr’s original rally preparation business (a literal stone’s throw from the family home), but today’s slick, multi-million-pound operation has grown out of all recognition. Francis remains ever-present, but it is Richard who has propelled the company increasingly into the spotlight, thanks to high-profile projects spanning everything from its acclaimed ‘Below Zero’ ice driving events and spectacular successes in the historic East African Safari to running a modern GT3 in the WRC and forging increasingly close ties with Singer Vehicle Design.

> My Life & Cars – David Richards, Chairman, Prodrive

Both astute and ambitious, Tuthill’s energy and focus is a force of nature, but his love of cars and driving (fast!) brings an extra level of authenticity. His is a life very much fuelled by petrol and shaped by his father’s impressively liberal attitude towards giving his offspring early access to cars. RT takes up the tale: ‘My early memories of family cars is that we had Saabs. Specifically a V4 Estate where you’re sitting in the back facing backwards. We were taught by the old man to drive when sitting on his knees steering before we could reach the pedals. My first car was an old Saab coupe with a column gearshift. My brother and sister and I used to charge around a field next to the house, initially in the Saab, but then that was joined by a pale blue Beetle. That was the first car I rolled. I suppose I’d have been about eight years old. My sister was sitting next to me, my cousin was in the back, and my brother was stood at the finish line timing me around our makeshift course. Obviously we did a handbrake turn at the end, and of course, after a whole day of handbrake turning in the same spot it had got a bit rutted, so over we went! I think I hid. I was terrified of the old man’s reaction. Turned out he was semi-delighted…’

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Perhaps unsurprisingly given his unorthodox pre-teen driving experience, Tuthill took three attempts to pass his driving test. But, being a Tuthill, the ink was barely dry on his licence when he embarked upon his first proper road trip, having been dispatched to Sweden to deliver a 2-litre short-wheelbase 911 for Bjorn Waldegard.

‘It was two weeks after passing my test so I’d never been anywhere, yet I jumped in this 911. Back in the day [circa 1991], there were no service vans on historic stuff, so you’d drive the car to the rally. The car had more spares in it than our stores does today. I was literally crapping myself all the way to Sweden. It didn’t get better once I got there. No mobile phone, armed with a map and appalling directions and no idea where I was. Then, on arrival, there’s me, 17, green as grass, with a load of Swedes, who as soon as they boarded the boat to Finland started drinking like fish…’ 

While he took to driving like a duck to water, it’s safe to say Tuthill was not a natural academic – ‘I got kicked out of school after my GCSEs’ – and subsequently spent a while doing all kinds of random work, from fabricating agricultural sheds to doing odd jobs at Prodrive. It was an intervention by his brother that steered Tuthill back on-course: ‘My brother told me to go to university. I did a term of automotive engineering, but by now I was driving rally cars. The course was massively work-intensive, so I changed from engineering to engineering management and continued with the rallying.’

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As is often the case with race and rally drivers, when it comes to competitive exploits Tuthill can chart his four-wheeled life in minute detail, while road cars are viewed as more mundane workhorses. Nevertheless, he retains some fondness for certain road cars. Foremost amongst them is ‘Roy’, an early 8v Golf GTI.

‘I’ve got really good memories of Roy, so-called because the registration plate ended in R-O-Y. The GTI was a bit of a game-changer in terms of my road car experience. It was a cracking thing. In particular I remember trips from here [Wardington, near Banbury) to Aberdovey where we’ve always gone on holiday in Wales. Back then I basically approached the journey like a full-on three-hour special stage. There’s a 90 left, just after Craven Arms, which Roy and I massively overcooked. To this day it still makes me smile when I pass that spot.’

Like his father, Richard possesses exceptional skills as a rally driver. Indeed for a significant period of his life, pretty much from those university days until he took up the reins of the family business, Tuthill was a hot prospect.

‘My first rally car was Dad’s 1970 VW Beetle. My second was another Beetle, in which I became the youngest driver to enter a WRC event when I did Rally GB. Not to be disparaging about the Beetle, but my first “proper” rally car was a Group A Vauxhall Nova. I won the British Junior Championship in it. Then I drove a Civic Type R for a couple of rallies, but I couldn’t get funding. I think I won the first rally and retired on the second, but I’ll never forget that VTEC engine.’

Maintaining his connection with Prodrive, Tuthill continued to balance work with rallying, turning his hand to whatever Prodrive wanted him to do, be it working on the build of Group A Legacies to attaching the wheels and decals to all the Series McRae Impreza road cars.

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