- January 26, 1945
- July 02, 1985
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
- LEC Refrigeration Racing
David Purley (1945-1985) was a British racing driver who recorded eleven participations, including seven starts, in the Formula One World Championship between 1973 and 1977.
His greatest success in a career was the championship title in the 1976 British Shellsport International Series. Purley ended a carer in 1979 and lost a life in a plane crash in 1985.
Starting a racing career after a service in British Army
Born in January 1945 in Bognor Regis in West Sussex, David Charles Purley started his racing career in the late 1960s, after finishing his service in the British Army as a member of Parachute Regiment in Yemen.
He participated in various competitions with AC Cobra or Chevron B8 and then switched to Formula 3 in 1970. He was driving under the banner of LEC Refrigeration Racing, as his father was an owner of the Longford Engineering Company (LEC) Refrigeration.
Podium at 1972 Pau Grand Prix
In 1972, Purley's main competition was the European Formula 2 Championship. He was driving March 722-Cosworth for a family team, scoring best result at Pau Grand Prix where he was third behind Peter Gethin and Patrick Depailler. Purley finished 19th in the final championship standings.
Four starts in the 1973 Formula One World Championship
In 1973, Purley decided to try his skills in the Formula One World Championship, hiring March 731-Cosworth and making the F1 debut at Monaco Grand Prix, sponsored by his family company. His race at the streets of Monte-Carlo lasted for 31 laps.
Later in the season, Purley participated in four more Grand Prix events. He retired at British Grand Prix and Dutch Grand Prix, finished 15th at German Grand Prix and 9th at Italian Grand Prix.
Heroic attempt to save Roger Williamson
At the Dutch Grand Prix, which took place at Zandvoort, Purley witnessed a crash which left fellow British driver Roger Williamson trapped in his overturned and burning March car. Purley stopped on the track and tried to pull out Williamson from his car. Unfortunately, he didn't succeed and Williamson died from asphyxiation.
Purley was later 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.
Third place in the BP British Formula Atlantic Championship
In 1973, besides his attempts in the Formula One, Purley spent a season in the BP British Formula Atlantic Series, driving a March 722-Cosworth. He was a pretty successful, scoring three wins and ten podiums to finish third in the final standings, behind John Nicholson and Colin Vandervell.
Purley also scored two wins in another similar series, the Yellow Pages British Formula Atlantic Championship.
1974 – fifth place in Formula 2, one DNQ attempt in Formula 1
In 1974, Purley returned to European Formula 2 Championship, spending a full season with Team Harper. He was driving three different cars (March 742-BMW, Chevron B27-Cosworth, Chevron B27-BMW), finishing fifth in the finals standings. He was on a podium two times, at Salzburgring and Pergusa. He finished second at non-championship Macau Grand Prix, losing to Vern Schuppan.
In 1974, Purley also made one attempt in Formula One, trying to qualify for the British Grand Prix with Token Racing. Driving the #42 Token RJ02-Cosworth, he was too slow in qualifying.
Shellsport International Series champion in 1976
In 1975, Purley spent a season in the European Formula 5000 championship, driving a Chevron B30-Cosworth for the family team. He was a race winner two times, finishing fifth in the points.
In 1976, Purley was using a Chevron B30-Cosworth in the Shellsport International Series, opened for F1, F2, F5000 and Formula Atlantic cars. He won six races and dominantly won the championship title.
1977 - brief return to Formula One with self-built car
In 1977, Purley returned to Formula One with LEC CRP1 car, built by the family-owned team. The Cosworth-powered car was designed by Mike Pilbeam. Purley made a debut with a car at Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, finishing in the sixth place.
In the F1 Championship, his first attempt was at Spanish Grand Prix when he failed to qualify for the race. He later managed to qualify for three races, finishing 13th at Belgian Grand Prix (Zolder), 14th at Swedish Grand Pix (Anderstorp) and retiring at French Grand Prix (Dijon).
Surviving horrific crash at Silverstone
In July, Purley had a horrific prequalifying crash at British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He suffered multiple fractures and spent many months recovering.
He survived an estimated 179.8 g when he decelerated from 173 km/h to zero at a distance of 66 cm after his throttle got stuck wide open and he hit a wall. For many years, this was thought to be the highest g-force ever survived by a human being.
One more last season in the British F1 Championship
Purley returned to racing in 1979, participating in the last four rounds of the British Formula 1 Championship (Aurora F1 Series) with Onyx Race Engineering. He was driving LEC CRP1 in two races and Shadow DN9 in two races, finishing best in the fourth place at Snetterton.
At the end of 1979, Purley retired from active racing. He returned just one more time into a race car, driving a Chevron B61 in one race of the 1984 Thundersports series. After leaving car racing, Purley entered aerobatics and he died in a plane crash at the English Channel in July 1985.