This is driver David Purley in the pits at Brands Hatch before the non-championship Race of Champions which took place on March 20, 1977. Purely was driving his own newly-designed F1 car which he entered as a LEC and which had Cosworth DFV power. The LEC had been designed by Mike Pilbeam, best known for his very successful hill-climb cars, and was entered by Purley’s family company Longford Engineering Company which had been very successful in making and selling refrigerators. Purely would finish sixth at the Race of Champions, but that is but a small part of his story.
Following a British army career in the Parachute Regiment, where he had at least one hair-raising escape from injury, David Purley began racing a Cobra in the late 1960s and then switched to F2 cars in the early 1970s with an occasional forage into F1. He gained fame and Britain’s George Medal for bravery when he stopped his own car and attempted all by himself to rescue fellow F1 driver Roger Williamson from his overturned car which had exploded in fire during the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Williamson was participating in his second F1 race in a works March. Purely’s brave actions, combined with the inability of the race marshals to do anything at all as Williamson burned to death, led to far more stringent safety regulations, including fire-resistant clothing and proper fire fighting equipment for marshals at all F1 circuits.
Purely’s F1 career came to a horrifying halt during private practice for the 1977 British Grand Prix at Silverstone when he had the throttle stick open on his LEC and crashed into the timber-faced banking at the old Beckets corner sustaining terrible injuries and setting the record for the highest G-loads every survived, at over 179 Gs. Amazingly, Purley recovered after a series of operations and even went racing again a few times.
After retiring from racing, Purley took up acrobatic flying in an aircraft which had been built for him, the Pitts Special. Purley continued to live a brave life, until it all came to an end in 1985 when he crashed into the sea and was killed.
Photo by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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