Purley King David Tremayne investigates the heroic life and death of a dashing daredevil who, despite his rich boy reputation, was 100 per cent pure racer.

Chimay hardly rests in the memory like great redundant circuits such as the old Niirburgring, the old Spa-Francorchamps, Rouen or Clermont-Ferrand. Yet it is a key element in David Purley's story. Nestling on the border of France and south-west Belgium, Chimay ran clockwise over a 6.75-mile lap through the north edge of town and into the country via a series of fast sweeps and curves that culminated in a dangerous high-speed plunge downhill on the Beaumont to Chimay main road. The annual GP des Frontieres for F3 cars was a flat-out slip streaming bund, and for three years Purley reigned supreme. In 70 and 71 he beat James Hunt, in 72 Tony Brise. He made Dick Tracy look like a wimp, but you didn't beat Brise - or Hunt, for that matter -without having a great deal of natural flair, too.
Chimay encapsulated everything Purley held dear about racing. There was none of the exotic veneer of Monaco, nor the sterility of nearby Nivelles. It was unadulterated motor racing, a throwback to the 1950s into which Purley might best have fitted. A place where you pushed the risk as hard as you dared, knowing that mistakes exacted the highest price, where the bravest won.
Purley was a maverick, a man's man and a husband's nightmare, who raced - and lived -on his own terms. He hated testing, but loved the adrenalin rush of wheel-to-wheel competition. He was expelled from his progressive co-educational school "after an alarm clock failed to go off when it should have".
At 17, the nation's youngest pilot, he buzzed the seafront at Bognor in the aeroplane operated by father Charlie Purley's Lec refrigeration business. When he and Charlie argued, he stormed off to London, worked on a demolition site, then on a whim enlisted for the Coldstream Guards. He enjoyed telling the story of how his parachute once failed to open, and he floated down atop his instructor's, or of the landmine in Aden which destroyed the armoured car he was in, killing six of his companions.
When he took up motor racing on leaving the Army in 1967, it was in a predictably wild car: a big blue AC Cobra which he eventually reduced to component parts in the mother and father of shunts at Brands Hatch's Paddock Bend. When he moved via a Chevron B8 to a Brabham BT28 and an Ensign, he was generally regarded as a rich kid with expensive toys. Yet in F3 he raced hard and well against the Williamsons, Brises, Pryces and Hunts; he won the odd race besides Chimay, and set fastest lap at Monaco in 1972.
But it was when he put his F2 March on pole position at Oulton Park early that year, ahead of the likes of the emergent Niki Lauda, and then lost the Formula Atlantic title only after mechanical failure in the final round of 1973, that the racing world began to see him in a different light.

He came to national prominence in the tragedy that befell Roger Williamson at Zandvoort in 1973.They were running their March 73lGs in tandem when Williamson's car burst a tyre and came to rest upturned and burning. Single-handedly, Purley attempted to rescue him, receiving George Medal for his bravery. Greg Field, now team coordinator at Benetton met Purley in '69 and worked for him from 1973 to the end of l976: "He quite liked all the attention after that," Field said, though Purley always maintained it was his paratrooper training that kicked in when he saw a fellow racer in trouble, and that he remembered little of his actions until the immediate, poignant aftermath: "He used to scoff at the GM, and we used to kid him it meant Gaberdine Mac, and that he was a dirty old man. Once it had all settled down, though, he'd sign his name, David Purley, GM." Four years later he was in the news again, after surviving the severest deceleration known. After quitting F1 at the end of 1973, to race hard in F2 and then win the Shellsport F5000 series in 1976 with a FordGA V6 powered Chevron B30, he had commissioned his own Fl Lec for 1977.
In the Belgian GP he led for part of a lap during others' pit stop, but while that owed something to fortune it tended to overshadow the fact that on merit he had risen from 13th on the grid to seventh place before faster combinations pitted. In that race he upset Lauda, who remonstrated a little too much about rabbit backmarkers, prompting Purley to say: "I was leading at the time, and if you wag that finger at me again, I'm going to stick it where it hurts!" After that the Lec bore a white rabbit, and later Niki sported a rat on his Ferrari.
Purley was trying to prequalify for the British GP at Silverstone on July 14 when the throttle stuck open at Becketts, the result of extinguisthant from an earlier engine fire jamming the mechanism. The Lec stopped instantly from 106mph and Purley sustained seven broken ribs, five pelvic fractures, eight breakages in the left leg, two breakages in the left foot, and seven in the right. It seemed his raring days were over.
Frustrated at the limp he was left with, he underwent months of painful surgery in which his left leg had continually been stretched just as it began to heal, so that the bone had to knit a little bit further until an extra inch was found and that leg matched the right.
In '79 he returned to motor racing, first with his Lec, later with a Shadow DN9, in the Aurora British F1 series. At Snetterton he took the Shadow to fourth in a triumph of courage and bloody-mindedness. When he rolled into the pic Line he stayed in the cockpit, and was pushed round the back of the garages. Entrant Mike Earle explained: "I said to him, 'Bloody well done, mate, I'm impressed! And if I'm impressed with you, that really is bloody well done!" Purley smiled at his old friend and said quietly: "Do me a favour, Mike, I don't want to look a wally, but I can't move. Take the car round the back and I'll get out there." And so they pushed him where nobody could see and lifted him out. But he had proved something to himself, and could now quit on his own terms.
On July 2 1985, after years of painful recovery, he was flying his bright red Pitts Special when he failed to pull out of a dive towards the sea just off Bognor Regis. This time, even Purley could not survive.
John Watson, Purley's neighbour and friend in Bognor Regis, tells a story that illustrates his character to perfection: "Purley was flying us back from the F2 race at Mantorp Park in 1972. We were at 2000 feet and it was pretty bloody awful, very turbulent. I was throwing up. We stopped to refuel and clean up, and when we'd taken off again we were all dozing. Suddenly the plane started plunging at a great rate of knots, leaving us all absolutely terrified. David had decided that we needed waking up. He was bored, because nobody was talking to him."
Field remembers: "In his twin-engined 'plane he used to say; 'Imagine a pilot in the last war, limping back home.' And he'd turn an engine off, then reduce die power in die odier one, so we were just skimming the treetops on die South Downs. "Look, there s the airfield. We're going to make it back!' He used to do these bloody simulations..."
There was talk of a land speed record attempt until the ambitious Project Blue Star died along with its founder, David Gossling. When Donald Campbell was killed, Leo Villa expressed the opinion that British record-breaking would never spawn a man of similar calibre, but Purley would have been the perfect fellow to take up Campbell's mande.
David Purley's legacy was so much greater than the sum of the results he left in the F1 record book. He was, Earle and Field confirm, a better driver than he was often given credit for. "He got a bit sidetracked by all that 'Brave Dave' Williamson stuff, and I think he quite enjoyed the fame of'it," Earle remembers, 'but he really was a very good driver. And he was also that rare thing: a man who really was larger than life."
Field added: "He was an absolutely brilliant bloke and on the right day and in the right frame of mind, he was blindingly quick. But he didn't really have a clue about racing- If you asked him what day Autosport came out, he wouldn't have a clue! When he raced F1 he would say:'There was a red car right up behind me, and it would have been Lauda, but he wouldn't have known.
"There was a classic one time in 1975 when we were having reliability problems with Chevron. Purls delivered a team talk and we just had to laugh when he finished with the words: 'It's okay tor you, this is only a job for you. You forget, this is my hobby. 'The fact that racing was his hobby seemed far more important to him than the fact that it was putting bread and butter on our tables and paying our mortgages!"
Field agrees that Purley wan probably fearless: "Yeah, mainly because he didn't understand what it was about. He felt he was invincible. He thought he'd go into a corner and sort it all out, and if he did spin he'd just stop in the gravel. When he did break his legs, God, he could barely walk. When he was on crutches he was grimacing. It was a real struggle to get anywhere."
Leaving the old Onyx workshop entailed driving 30 metres to a level crossing, getting out, phoning for clearance, opening the gates, getting back in the car, driving across, getting out again closing the gates, ringing up again to report you were through, then getting back in again. Yet Purley would never let anyone, help him with that. Field continues: "Then they were going up in a hot-air balloon to 18 miles, higher than anyone had ever gone, and they were going to jump out, freefall for half an hour and then parachute down to the ground.
"When he bought the Pitts we took the mickey because the container had two of them, three pairs of wings and a spare fuselage. He said: 'Well, if we crash, we can rebuild it." And we said: 'Hang on. Be normal. If you crash this, you're not going to be around to rebuild it,' "He was always going to go out the way he went, wasn't he? I said to somebody, a year after he'd died, 'you know, hardly a week goes past when I don't think of Purls'. And I still think of him. I don't think I've ever known anyone else like him. There was a place in Chichester, The Otters, for disabled kids going swimming.
He was there with them, all the time. He used to go and look after them because he loved doing that." When David Parley GM died in that fateful' plane crash his sport mourned a mischievous, gallant fighter with an outrageous zest for fife, a prince of a man whose immense, moving courage set an audacious and inspiring example. There is a saying that its better to have lived one day as a lion than a lifetime as a lamb. But for David Purley it wasn't just a single day, but all his 40 years.

Many thanks to Mr. James Elliott for his undestanding from Classic & Sports Car.
You can order the back issue/s/ of Classic & Sports Car: Back issueus
Too many thanks to my friend Carlos Ghys for his support to me.