DRIVERS: DAVID PURLEY
Name: David Purley
Nationality: Great Britain
Date of birth: January 26, 1945 - Bognor Regis, Sussex
Date of death: July 2, 1985 - Bognor Regis, Sussex
David Purley had a taste for adventure. He started out as a soldier in the elite Parachute Regiment, seeing action in the Aden insurgency in the mid-1960s where the British army took on well-prepared and well-armed local tribesmen in a fierce mountainous region. During his military career he also survived the partial failure of his parachute during one of his training jumps.
Purley was the son of fishmonger Charles Purley, who made a fortune out of refrigerators built by his Longford Engineering Company (LEC). When he left the army he was inspired by his friend Derek Bell to try his hand at motor racing, starting out with an AC Cobra and later a Chevron. In 1970 he switched to single-seaters and raced a Brabham in Formula 3, running his own team under the Lec Refrigeration banner. He won his first race a few weeks later, beating James Hunt in the Grand Prix des Frontieres at Chimay in Belgium.
After two years in Formula 3 Purley moved up to F2 with a March and after a period in Formula Atlantic made his F1 debut at Monaco in 1973. Later that year he hit the headlines while trying to save his friend Roger Williamson from a blazing upturned car at the Dutch GP. Without any help from marshals Purley failed in his efforts but he was later awarded a George Medal for his bravery. He left F1 in 1974 and raced in Formula 5000. In 1975 he won the Shellsport British Formula 5000 title.
In the winter of 1976 Purley commissioned designer Mike Pilbeam to build a Lec F1 car and with the help of Mike Earle raced the car in 1977. In practice at Silverstone the throttle stuck open and he crashed with incredible violence. Purley was subjected to the highest G-force ever survived by a human being - 179.8G - when the car went from 108mph to zero in just over half a metre. Purley's life was saved by rescue crews at the scene but it took many months for him to recover from multiple fractures to his legs, pelvis and ribs. He did eventually return with a second Lec F1 car and later raced a Shadow in the British F1 series before deciding to quit racing to run the family business.
His other love was aerobatics and in the summer of 1985 he crashed into the sea while piloting his Pitts Special stunt plane. He was 40.