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David Piper

Full Name:
David Ruff Piper
2nd December 1930 (Age 89)
Edgware, London
Most recent race (in database):

David Piper was a leading sports car privateer during the 1960s but his international career was curtailed in 1970 when severely injured while filming Steve McQueen’s cult movie Le Mans. Undeterred, Piper remained a regular in historic racing for another three decades.

Family background and Grand Prix debut

He raced an MG J4 in 1953 and enjoyed overseas success by winning the 1955 Leinster Trophy in Ireland with a Lotus Mk6-MG. His family ran an agricultural business north of London and benefited when the route of the proposed M1 motorway ran through their farmland.

With generous compulsory purchase terms for the land, Piper turned professional in 1958 and combined with Bob Bodle of the Dorchester Service Station to buy a Formula 1 Lotus 16-Climax. He made his Grand Prix debut in 1959 British GP at Aintree and finished 12th in the following year’s race at Silverstone.

Sports car success

He raced in the 1960 Tasman series (when second in the Lady Wigram Trophy) and Formula Junior a year later. Further minor F1 outings followed during 1962 but it was in sports cars that Piper found his niche. A leading Ferrari privateer during the 1960s, he was sixth with a NART Ferrari 250GTO on his Le Mans debut in 1963. A succession of placings in 1964 included second place finishes at Daytona and in the Tourist Trophy.

Victory in the World Sportscar Championship remained elusive with Piper second again at Spa-Francorchamps in 1965 and 1969. His greatest success came in non-championship events and especially in South Africa. A six-time winner of the Rand Nine Hours at Kyalami, he beat Dieter Quester and Jo Siffert to win the 1968 Norisring 200 miles in a Ferrari 330P4.

Le Mans finale

He was one of the first privateers to buy a Porsche 917K which he drove in his eighth Le Mans in 1970. Running third after four hours, co-driver Gijs van Lennep crashed in the night after suffering a puncture while at 180mph on the Mulsanne Straight.

Piper remained at the circuit to work on the set of Le Mans but he crashed his Gulf-livered 917K at Maison Blanche while filming alongside Michael Parkes’ Ferrari that September. His right leg was badly broken and doctors were forced to amputate the lower limb.

Despite that disability, Piper raced on and he won the 1990 FIA European Historic Championship.