David Purley

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David Purley
Davidpurley.jpg
Born(1945-01-26)26 January 1945
Bognor Regis, Sussex, United Kingdom
Died2 July 1985(1985-07-02) (aged 40)
English Channel, close to Bognor Regis, United Kingdom
Formula One World Championship career
NationalityUnited Kingdom British
Active years19731974, 1977
TeamsLEC, Token
Non-works March
Entries11 (7 starts)
Championships0
Wins0
Podiums0
Career points0
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
First entry1973 Monaco Grand Prix
Last entry1977 British Grand Prix

David Charles Purley, GM (26 January 1945 – 2 July 1985) was a British racing driver born in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, who participated in 11 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting at Monaco in 1973.

Purley is best known for his actions at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix,[1] where he abandoned his own race and attempted to save the life of fellow driver Roger Williamson, whose car was upside down and on fire following a serious accident. Purley was awarded the George Medal for his courage in trying to save Williamson, who suffocated in the blaze.

During pre-qualifying for the 1977 British Grand Prix Purley sustained multiple bone fractures after his car's throttle stuck open and he crashed into a wall. His deceleration from 108 mph (173 km/h) to 0 in a distance of 26 in (66 cm) is one of the highest G-loads survived in a crash. He scored no championship points during his Formula One career. He died in a plane crash, having retired from motorsport and taken up aerobatics, in 1985.

Early life[edit]

Purley's father was Charles Purley, the founder of LEC Refrigeration. Birth and death records show that his father's name was originally Puxley but he preferred the name Purley.[2] His mother was Welsh, having been born in the small village of Cwmfelinfach. David went to school at Seaford College and then Dartington Hall School in Devon.

Career[edit]

After spending time as an officer in the British Army (he served with the Parachute Regiment in Aden, Yemen), and then racing in various series with an AC Cobra and a Chevron, Purley raced in Formula Three with some success including three wins at Chimay between 1970 and 1972.

In 1972 Purley was one of only two drivers to attempt to race the Connew Grand Prix car in its original Formula One configuration. He was entered at the end of season World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch but did not start. Purley had asked for an electrical "kill" switch to be fitted to the steering wheel, but this malfunctioned on the warm up lap, the engine stopped, and the car was retired.[3]

In 1973 Purley hired a March and with backing from his family's refrigeration company he made a largely unsuccessful attempt at Formula One.

External video
Footage of Purley attempting to save Roger Williamson trapped in his overturned and burning car on YouTube

At the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, upon witnessing a crash which left fellow British driver Roger Williamson trapped in his overturned and burning car, Purley abandoned his own race and attempted to save Williamson, who was participating in only his second Formula One race. Purley later recalled that upon arriving at the scene, he heard Williamson crying for help as the fire began to take hold. Purley's efforts to right the car and extinguish the flames were in vain as he received no help from nearby track marshals or emergency workers, in spite of attempts to encourage them, and other passing drivers, to come to his aid; Williamson died from asphyxiation. The marshals were not wearing fire resistant clothing and the passing drivers assumed that Purley was attempting to extinguish his own car, having escaped a fiery crash unharmed.

A sequence of pictures taken by photographer Cor Mooij of the accident won the Photo Sequences category of that year's World Press Photo.[4] Later, Purley was awarded the George Medal for his rescue attempt. The story, and film footage of the rescue attempt, feature in a 2010 BBC documentary entitled Grand Prix: The Killer Years.

Apart from a one-off participation with Token at his home Grand Prix in 1974, Purley stayed out of Formula One for a few years, preferring to compete in Formula Two driving Chevrons and Marches for Hong Kong-based millionaire Bob Harper, and Formula 5000 where he won the British Championship in 1976 in a Chevron powered by the Cosworth GA 3.4-litre V6 engine. In 1974 Purley won the Brighton Speed Trials driving a Trojan-Chevrolet T101, winning again the following year in a Chevron-GA B30.

He returned to Formula One in 1977 with his own LEC chassis designed by Mike Pilbeam and run by Mike Earle.[5] It was this car in which he suffered serious injuries in an accident during practice for that year's British Grand Prix. He survived an estimated 179.8 g when he decelerated from 108 mph (173 km/h) to 0[5] in a distance of 26 inches (66 cm)[6] after his throttle became stuck wide open and he hit a wall. This was the highest measured g-force ever survived by a human being (until in 2003, Kenny Bräck's crash violence recording system measured 214 g).[5][7] Purley suffered multiple fractures to his legs, pelvis and ribs.[5]

Purley recovered to race again although he confined his activities to the minor Aurora AFX series of Formula One races in Britain.

Following his decision to quit motorsport, Purley moved into competition aerobatics.

Death[edit]

Purley died on 2 July 1985 when his Pitts Special aerobatic biplane crashed into the English Channel off Bognor Regis.[8] He is buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas Church, West Itchenor, near Chichester.[9]

Legacy[edit]

The remains of Purley's crashed LEC CRP1 and its replacement were displayed at the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition until 2011. They have since been restored and now compete in historic Formula One racing.[10]

Memorial to racing driving David Purley GM 1945-1985

A David Purley memorial, in the form of a sculpture by the British artist Gordon Young, was erected in 2017 close to the site of the former LEC factory in Bognor Regis. It is inscribed with the words that appear on the headstone of his grave at Itchenor: "Gone now your eager smile, high held head and soldier's stride, etched were skies by your elegant style, and this earth etched by your pride".

Racing record[edit]

Complete European Formula Two Championship results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Pos. Pts
1972 LEC Refrigeration Racing March 722 Ford MAL
8
THR
Ret
HOC
DNS
PAU
3
PAL
Ret
HOC
Ret
ROU
NC
ÖST
12
IMO
Ret
MAN
DNQ
PER SAL ALB
DNQ
HOC 19th 4
1974 Team Harper March 742 BMW BAR HOC
15
PAU
7
5th 13
Chevron B27 Ford SAL
2
MUG
Ret
BMW HOC
14
KAR
Ret
PER
2
HOC
11
VAL
10
1975 Masami Kuwashima Racing March 752 BMW EST THR HOC NÜR PAU HOC
Ret
SAL ROU MUG PER SIL ZOL NOG VAL NC 0

Complete Formula One World Championship results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 WDC Pts.
1973 LEC Refrigeration Racing March 731 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON
Ret
SWE FRA GBR
DNS
NED
Ret
GER
15
AUT ITA
9
CAN USA NC 0
1974 Token Racing Token RJ02 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON SWE NED FRA GBR
DNQ
GER AUT ITA CAN USA NC 0
1977 LEC Refrigeration Racing LEC CRP1 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 ARG BRA RSA USW ESP
DNQ
MON BEL
13
SWE
14
FRA
Ret
GBR
DNPQ
GER AUT NED ITA USA CAN JPN NC 0

Complete Shellsport International Series results[edit]

(key) (note: results shown in bold indicate pole position; results in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Pos. Pts
1976 LEC Refrigeration Racing Chevron B30 Ford GAA 3.4 V6 MAL
1
SNE
4
OUL
4
BRH
2
THR
1
BRH
1
MAL
1
SNE
6
BRH
1
THR
Ret
OUL
5
BRH
8
BRH
1
1st 188

Complete British Formula One Championship results[edit]

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Pos. Pts
1979 Onyx Race Engineering LEC CRP1 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 ZOL OUL BRH MAL SNE THR ZAN DON OUL NOG MAL BRH
Ret
THR
10
17th 4
Shadow DN9 SNE
4
SIL
9

References[edit]

  1. ^ David Tremayne, Racers Apart: Memories of Motorsport Heroes, MRP, 1991, p.293
  2. ^ see 'Discussion' for BMD information.
  3. ^ Lawrence, Mike (August 1986). "The story of the Connew GP car". Motor Sport magazine archive. p. 26. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  4. ^ 1974 World Press Photo, Photo Sequences, 1st Prize
  5. ^ a b c d "Drivers: David Purley". grandprix.com. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  6. ^ Widdows, Rob (September 2007). "The fighter". Motor Sport magazine archive. p. 90. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 July 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Air Accidents Investigation Branch report". Gov.UK. UK Government Digital Service. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  9. ^ "David Purley Grave". findagrave.com. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  10. ^ Brown, Allen. "Lec CRP1 car-by-car histories". oldracingcars.com. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

Books[edit]

  • Tremayne, David (1991). Racers Apart: Memories of motorsport heroes. UK: Motor Racing Publications Ltd. p. 293. ISBN 0-947981-58-6.

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Teddy Pilette
British Formula 5000 Champion
1976
Succeeded by
None