Lunch with... David Piper
He is the farmer turned privateer racer who spent years touring Europe, and winning in a succession of great sports cars. Today 'Piper green' Ferraris still grace historic events
In motor sport these days, the term ‘privateer’ has fallen into disuse. Outside the professional teams, most serious racers either have access to much personal wealth – their own or somebody else’s – or a commercial sponsor who has somehow been persuaded that spending money on racing will benefit his business. But in the 1950s the term sponsor, in a motor racing context, was almost unknown. The magic words then were starting money, prize money and trade bonuses, and they made David Piper’s world go round. Starting with nothing but a capacity for hard work and the nerve to take financial risks, he has made his living out of motor racing.
Incredibly, he’s been in the game for 55 years now. He’s had his time in single-seaters, including Formula 1, but his name is inextricably entwined with sports cars, usually big ones raced over long distances. Sometimes it’s been a tenuous existence: in the early days it had to be supplemented by winter jobs as gas man and delivery driver. But it has allowed Piper to own some of the most charismatic cars of all time, and race them in the great classics with a lot of success. Behind the benign, courteous manner, the old-school English gentleman smoking his pipe, is a life-long motor racing gypsy living on his wits: a tough wheeler-dealer driving a hard bargain. Yet, in all his racing, David has lived by the old-fashioned concept of sportsmanship.
The Ferraris in the crowded outbuildings behind his Victorian house are not polished museum pieces but working racers, fettled by his faithful mechanic ‘Stubbs’ Webb. Liz, his wife of 40 years, was for many years PA to that great F1 entrant Rob Walker, and can tell almost as many good racing stories as David can. For our lunch he selects the Ristorante Piccolino at Virginia Water and, as befits a man who used to deal fluently with Enzo Ferrari, he gets the Italian waiter onside at once.
Before motor racing came into his life, David was a jobbing farm worker. “My father helped John Logie Baird with the early development of television. But at school I was a hopeless case. I failed the School Certificate, and I was only going to be any good as a farm boy. I bought and sold some old motorbikes and shotguns, and scraped together enough money to buy an ancient tractor and some horse-drawn farm equipment, which I converted to go behind the tractor. Then I looked around for people who wanted jobs done. In those days a Massey Harris 726 combine cost £1250. I pushed the boat out and bought one, and worked it day and night.
“I was doing some farm work for Johnny Cavendish, the future Lord Chesham, and in his garage I saw a supercharged 750cc MG. We got talking, and ended up doing a deal. The car turned out to be J4101, the ex-Hugh Hamilton car. After some sprints and hillclimbs I swapped it for a Lotus VI, also with a blown 750cc MG engine. I did a few club races, and then took it to Ireland for the Leinster Trophy. That was a handicap race, neary two hours, with C-types and D-types, the ex-Cliff Davis Tojeiro, Don Beauman’s Connaught. The track was 8.3 miles of narrow public roads, fast and bumpy, through villages and woodland, with an S-bend under a railway bridge. The pits were just trestle tables by the roadside. It was all pretty primitive.”
It was a very hot day, and Don Beauman died when his Connaught skidded on melting tar, overturned and caught fire. The little Lotus gradually climbed through the field, consistently exceeding its handicap target, and when the chequered flag fell Piper was astonished to find he’d won. “Before the prize-giving we went across the road to O’Reilly’s Select Bar, a spit and sawdust place, and I bought a round for everyone. A tall blond chap walked in and said, ‘Can I take your car for a lap?’ I was green as grass in those days, but he seemed rather important, so I said yes. Ten minutes later he was back, and he said, ‘That’s a great little car. You’ll get noticed winning the Leinster Trophy. I won it four years ago in my Riley.’ That’s when I realised he was Mike Hawthorn. He’d come to watch his friend Don Beauman race. Then he said, ‘How old are you?’ I told him I was 24, and he said, ‘You’re getting a bit thin on top. You need some hair restorer.’ And he poured a pint of Guinness over my head. We went to the prize-giving, me with my suit soaked with Guinness, and we pulled a couple of birds. We went on to another pub and started playing touch rugger. Mike missed the ball and it knocked all the bottles off the back of the bar. Then we took the girls down to the sea and went skinny-dipping. That was my introduction to the world of big-time motor sport.
“My father hated me racing, and when I got home the local paper had a picture of me with the big trophy, which didn’t help. The crunch came when Danny Margulies asked me to do the 1956 Targa Florio with him in his Jaguar C-type. My old man said, ‘If you go off to Sicily for this race, don’t bother to come back.’
I thought about it for a bit and decided, ‘To hell with it, I’m going to do it’. I never went home after that. First Danny put me in a race at Goodwood. I went off at Madgwick and through some ladies’ lavatories. Fortunately they were made of canvas, so I didn’t do much damage. We drove the C-type to Genoa, caught a cattle boat to Palermo and did the Targa.
I remember Peter Collins roaring past in the works Ferrari, giving me a blast on the Fiamms and a cheery wave. Peter was my image of the ultimate racer. When he wasn’t in the car he’d be sitting in the shade behind the pits, reading a Penguin, always with a beautiful girl.
“I decided I could make ends meet racing around Europe, so I bought a basic 1100cc Lotus 11 – drum brakes, solid rear axle, £1250 in kit form, same as the Massey 726! I drove it on the road from race to race, with my tools on the passenger seat. The start and prize money from one race got me to the next. If anything broke, I just had to fix it. I did Rouen, Pescara, the Nürburgring 1000Kms, Castelfusano, Montlhéry, Caserta, lots of other tracks all over Europe, and thousands of road miles in between. It was quite an adventure. I teamed up with Bob Hicks, who also had an 11. We even drove down to Sicily just for a hillclimb, because they were offering good money. Colin Chapman sent me to Reg Tanner at Esso, and Reg offered me bonus money for good results, plus free petrol and oil, and £300 if I put Esso on the side of my transporter. Well, I didn’t have a transporter, and you didn’t write things on the side of racing cars in those days. Bob and I were first and second at Sables d’Olonne, and at Cosenza too, 70 laps through the streets.
“Pescara was an incredible mountain circuit, with a straight longer than the Mulsanne. The race lasted nearly three hours, and I finished sixth in class after hitting the straw bales at one point. Afterwards Jo Bonnier said: ‘David, there’s a five-hour night race at Messina in Sicily next Saturday. Want to do it with me in my Alfa?’ This was the development of the Disco Volante, 3-litre straight six with six single-choke carbs and an all-synchro five-speed ’box, beautiful.
“The race started at 8pm and finished at 1am. The track was round the harbour, rather like Monaco, and then up through the town into the hills. The Alfa ran out of brakes, but Jo and I finished. Driving the winning Ferrari 750 Monza was a young American no one had ever heard of, called Phil Hill. We were in the Jolly Hotel after the race and an Italian came into the bar, said to Phil, ‘Bastardo!’ and hit him over the head with a piece of wood. He claimed Phil had carved him up in the race. It was getting a bit nasty, so my friend Benôit Musy went out to his bus which carried his Maserati and got his revolver. He came back into the bar and hustled the Italian out at gunpoint. Six weeks later we were at the Coupe du Salon meeting at Montlhéry and Benôit’s Maserati went over the top of the banking, and he was killed.
“Lots of us drove our cars to the races then. I remember Duncan Hamilton leaving hisD-type overnight in the street outside his hotel. Imagine doing that now. On the long haul down through Italy to the Giro di Sicilia – no autostradas then – I saw a Porsche RSK coming up in the Lotus’ mirror. South of Rome we both stopped, and it was Christian ‘Bino’ Heinz. He’d just collected the Porsche from the factory: Stuttgart to Sicily in an RSK. Bino was a nice chap, a Brazilian. He was killed at Le Mans in an Alpine in 1963.
“The Gran Premio Supercortemaggiore at Monza used the full banked circuit. That banking was a real car-breaker. Mike Hawthorn entered his own 1500 Lotus 11 – his mechanic Britt Pearce brought it down in a Bedford crew coach – but in the paddock he was offered a 2-litre Ferrari 500TR with Collins, so he went for that instead. During practice he walked past my pit and said, ‘Hello, David, how are you?’ ‘Fine’, I said ‘but I’m a bit stuck on this track, because I haven’t got the high axle ratio or the long-range tanks.’ ‘Take them out of my Lotus, and let me have them back at Reims next weekend, because I’ve got Ivor Bueb and MacKay Fraser driving it there.’ So I swapped all that over, but during the race I cracked a brake caliper. I pinched one off Mike’s car, but another caliper broke later and bent the steering.
“After the race I mended the brakes and the steering and set off for Reims, following Britt in the coach, with the long-range tanks in the Lotus full of free Supercortemaggiore fuel. We stopped for lunch at Susa in a restaurant which turned out to offer additional services, and Britt went upstairs with the waitress. When he came down he was grinning like a Cheshire cat. After lunch I got back into the Lotus, pressed the starter button and flames shot six feet into the air. The SUs had been leaking while we were having lunch. Britt grabbed a fire extinguisher from the coach, and we got it put out before it reached the tanks. We replaced a few melted fuel lines, and drove on up to Reims.”
Over the winter David lived in digs in Harpenden with the Lotus under a tarpaulin in the garden, doing odd jobs and delivering export Vauxhalls to the docks. The 1957 season was just as busy: in one weekend he did the British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park on Saturday, finishing fourth, and then drove overnight from Cheshire to Paris and did the Coupe de Vitesse at Montlhéry on Sunday, winning his class. From there he drove the long-suffering Lotus 1300 miles straight down to Sicily for the Giro di Sicilia, a single 670-mile racing lap of the island which made the Targa Florio look almost tame. But six weeks later that first Lotus, registered RNM 222, met its end in a French road race at St Etienne.
“The circuit went down one side of a dual carriageway and back up the other side. I was wheel to wheel with an Osca in the rain, and he pushed me over the central reservation. My car went upside down in the face of oncoming race traffic and caught fire. When I opened my eyes I was surrounded by hooded, black-robed figures and I thought I’d turned up on the other side, but I was in the local hospital being looked after by nuns. Adrian Conan Doyle, son of the Sherlock Holmes author, crashed his Ferrari in the race and was briefly in the same hospital, so he was able to return a pair of RAF Mk 8 goggles I’d lent him. Later that day Piero Carini’s Ferrari went over the centre strip and head-on into Antonio Barreto’s Ferrari, and both were killed.
“I got a new Lotus 11 with discs and Webers, and graduated to a tow-car and trailer. Mackay Fraser, the American, used to race his Ferrari and his Lotus 11 in the summer, and teach people to ski in the winter. He lived with his wife Marga down on the Italian Riviera at La Spezia. Mac had bought a big old Cadillac Fleetwood from Johnny Claes, the Belgian dance band leader and racer, but it had been sitting for months in a garage in northern France. Not long before Mac was killed at Reims, he said I could have the car if I paid the garage bill. Bob Hicks and I got a couple of trailers and drove the Cadillac around Europe towing the Lotuses in tandem. We were going through Switzerland one day when Bob suddenly shouted, ‘Accelerate! Accelerate!’ Both trailers came past us, one behind the other, and disappeared into a corn field. Being a farmer myself, I knew whoever owned the field wouldn’t be best pleased, so we retrieved them hastily.
“The Cadillac died at Spa one dark wet night. We were in the Hotel Orange at Stavelot, and Innes Ireland said, ‘Let’s go to that nightclub, the Laughing Cat.’ I had the Cadillac outside, so we went to Le Chat qui Rit with Jenny Tudor-Owen. We had a few drinks, and when we left Innes said, ‘I’ll drive.’ We came down into Francorchamps and, just where you turn right in front of that hotel, Innes locked up on the pavement and we crashed into the front of the hotel. Jenny hit her head on the interior mirror and carries the scar to this day, and the Cadillac was a write-off. I flogged the remains to a Belgian scrap dealer next morning, and hitched my trailer on the back of the Team Lotus transporter to get home.
“The week of Le Mans I called in there with Shambles [fellow Lotus 11 racer John Campbell-Jones] and we hung around the paddock like a couple of prostitutes outside a railway station, hoping to get a drive. I talked my way into Maurice Charles’ D-type, did a couple of laps in practice, but early in the race Maurice stuffed it at Maison Blanche.”
In the aftermath of the Suez crisis David’s deal with Esso had ended, and he began a long relationship with BP. The first Lotus 11 had been dark green with red and white stripes, but since then David’s cars have always worn the distinctive colour which he calls BP green. To everybody else it’s “Piper green”.
“In 1959 I joined up with Bob Bodle, who had a garage business at Dorchester-on-Thames. We bought two Lotus 16 single-seaters and a Lotus 15, with 1.5 and 2.5 Climax engines, so we could swap the engines around and run in sports cars, F2 and F1. That 15 was probably, for its day, the best sports car I ever drove. In one of the heats at Roskilde, up in Denmark, I beat Moss and Brabham in Cooper Monacos. And I led Roy Salvadori at Aintree until my throttle was jammed open by a pair of tin-snips I’d left on top of the engine.” He qualified ninth for the TT at Goodwood, but had a big accident at Madgwick when a tyre blew and he was briefly hospitalised with head injuries. He ran one of the 16s in F2 form in the British Grand Prix, and in full 2.5-litre form for the October Brands Hatch, when he won and broke the circuit’s F1 lap record.
That winter David took both Lotus 16s to New Zealand, travelling alone as usual and acting as his own mechanic, and finished a fine second to Jack Brabham in the Lady Wigram Trophy. “The idea was to sell one or both cars at the end of the series, but front-engined cars were no longer fashionable. Frank Shuter offered to swap the Alfa Romeo Bimotore for one – that’s a deal I should have done.” Back in Europe the Lotuses were raced throughout 1960, and in the British GP he finished 12th, but the days of the privateer in F1 were clearly numbered.
Keen to return to the nomadic life, David downgraded to Formula Junior for 1961. He bought the first customer Lotus 20, and put it together in the garden of a house in Hampstead where he was staying with friends. “I got an 850 Mini, put a towbar on the back, took the seats out so I could get the tools and a spare engine inside, and made a small trailer. I was off on the Continent again, living on the start money and prize money, racing almost every weekend, sleeping in the open.
“Jo Siffert also had an FJ Lotus, so we went around together, and did some wheeling and dealing in old racing cars too. We finished first and second at Cesenatico, on the Adriatic, then I was third at Vallelunga a week later, and among other places we did Montlhéry, Lake Garda, Chimay, Roskilde, Caserta, Messina and Zandvoort. At the first sniff of any start money we’d be off like a robber’s dog. We were racing at Avus in East Berlin when we heard there was an autobahn race coming up in Dresden. That was deep in East Germany, and we only had permission to travel along the motorway, which was very rough and full of potholes. You couldn’t turn off anywhere. Dresden was still pretty much flattened since the war, and there was very little going on. But I won there, got some beautiful trophies, and lots of money: unfortunately it was all in East German marks, and they wouldn’t let us take it out of the country. So I bought some Zeiss binoculars, a typewriter, anything I could find that might be saleable when I got home.
Come 1962 David was a bit in the wilderness. “I did a few F1 races in an old Lotus 18 – Aintree, Silverstone, Naples GP, Crystal Palace – but I didn’t know what to do next. I’d spent the winter importing Lancias: Aprilias, Ardeas, Augustas, Aurelias, anything I could find. I had quite a thing going. Then people started to ask me for Lancia spares, so I’d scour the Italian scrapyards and drive Lancias home stuffed with parts. I brought in a few Ferraris, too. When I first started hanging around Modena I didn’t speak a word of Italian, but I just copied parrot fashion what everybody else was saying. You’ve got to make yourself understood, otherwise you don’t eat. Now I can wheel and deal in Italian. I’m told I have a Modenese accent.
“Then at Goodwood on Easter Monday I saw a Ferrari GTO for the first time. I thought it was the business. I had a word with the Colonel [UK Ferrari concessionaire Ronnie Hoare] and he told me a new GTO was £6000. So I ordered one. He was pretty easy-going, didn’t want all the money straight away, and it all worked out somehow. We had it in my usual green, and I collected it from Maranello, chassis 3767, and drove it back to England. I did the August Brands, the Goodwood TT and Crystal Palace, and then I took it on the Tour de France. The GTO was absolutely standard at this stage, but we finished fourth in our category. Until then the factory thought I was just another wealthy punter who’d bought a GTO, but Gaetano Florini, who was in charge of customer service at Maranello, must have told the Old Man that I was reasonably useful. The car had to earn its keep, so in November I took it to South Africa for the Kyalami Nine Hours. I got local man Bruce Johnstone to share with me – I’d met him a few weeks before at Snetterton – and we won.
“Then we put the GTO on the QE2, went to New York, and drove it down to Florida for Daytona, and I was fifth there. Ulf Norinder wanted to buy it, but he couldn’t afford to pay me until he got his next payout from his family trust. But I needed the money to buy my next GTO, so I did a deal with an American, Ed Cantrell. He bought and sold old aircraft, wore crocodile shoes, had nightclubs full of dolly birds. He said, ‘I’ll buy your car, I’ll pay you the asking price, I’ll teach you to fly at my airfield, and you can do the Sebring 12 Hours with me.’ We did that, finished fifth in class, and he enjoyed it, so he said he’d like to race in Europe. We did the Nürburgring 1000Kms, finished sixth, and then he took the car back to the USA and did some races with A J Foyt. Bamford’s got it now, all restored, but he hasn’t got the green quite right.
“On my second GTO, 4491, we did a lot to keep it competitive. I cut six inches off the top of the windscreen and lowered the whole roof back to the tail, put the back wheels on the front and had wider back wheels made. We took some weight off and experimented with different manifolds, altered the carburetion to get more power at the expense of a bit of torque. At Brands Hatch Lorenzo Bandini brought Mauro Forghieri over and told him, ‘This is the fastest GTO of all.’
“I kept the GTO in a lock-up in Shaftesbury Mews. One afternoon I was working on it, just about to go off to a race, when this chap wandered up to have a look. He seemed interested, so I asked if he’d like to come with me. That was Fairfax Dunn. He stayed with me for five years. Fax was an absolute natural, a brilliant mechanic, highly intelligent. His father was a high-ranking policeman and he’d been educated at Gordonstoun, but he was a bit of a drop-out. Rather wild, with a fiery temper and not always easy to work with. Lucien Bianchi, when he was driving for me, used to call him Screaming Dramatic Fax. But he was a godsend. Got me to the end of more races than I ever could have done on my own.”
David graduated to a 250LM in 1964, winning at Montlhéry, Brands, Clermont and Crystal Palace, and continued to race that alongside the P2/3 and P3/4 that followed. He won the Kyalami Nine Hours five years consecutively, and would almost certainly have made it six in a row had not somebody stepped in front of the P3/4 in the Kyalami pitlane as Richard Attwood blasted out after a stop. The front body and screen were smashed, but Fax angrily taped everything up and they finished fifth. David took the P2/3 to Eastern Africa for the Angola GP, a frighteningly primitive race round the streets of Luanda, and beat Denny Hulme’s Brabham and Jo Schlesser’s 7-litre Cobra to win. In the Reims 12 Hours, sharing the P2/3 with Jo Siffert, a rod came through the side with 12 minutes left to run. Seppi got to the end of the lap and waited for the flag before clanking over the line to finish second. In 1968, in a six-week period, Piper won at the Norisring, Hockenheim and Karlskoga, and the LM finished a wonderful seventh at Le Mans.
“As a privateer I was always driving with a little bit in reserve, because I had to pay for it when it broke. And you needed a sympathetic co-driver, like Richard Attwood – we’ve had a lot of fun, Richard and I – or Tony Maggs, or Lucien Bianchi, who was the nicest of men. Lucien was killed at Le Mans in one of those awful T33 Alfas. They weren’t very well prepared.”
David took his cars wherever they could earn. “Nick Syrett, the Guv’nor of the BRSCC, rang me and said, ‘Pipes, there’s a chap down at Castle Combe who’s winning everything with a 250LM. We want you to come and take care of him.” That was Ron Fry, King of the Combe, who really knew the circuit well. Nick offered me £150 to bring my LM. ‘Better make it £175’, I said, but Nick wouldn’t budge. So I said, ‘Make it £200, but only if I win.’ In the end he agreed to that, so I had a carrot. Fry got pole, and went like a rocket ship in the race, and I had to work quite hard to beat him. But I had to, or I wouldn’t have got any money.”
David always preferred to be his own boss, but soon there were offers of drives from other teams. In 1966 he won the Brands Hatch 500-miles Group 4 race in a Chequered Flag 7-litre Cobra with Bob Bondurant. His first Le Mans had come in 1963 when Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team put him in their GTO with Masten Gregory. “Masten put it in the sand at Mulsanne and took ages to dig it out. The steering was a bit bent, and there was so much sand in the car it was like driving through a desert storm.” They finished sixth. His CV also includes works drives for Porsche – the famous run to the finish in the 1969 Nürburgring 1000Kms with Frank Gardner, at the thankless wheel of the first 917 – and for John Wyer in the GT40-based Mirage.
There have been works Ferrari drives, too, notably with Pedro Rodriguez in the 312P at Spa and Le Mans. “Pedro drove flat-out all the time. The 312P really was an F1 car with bodywork. On the old Spa you’d be pulling 11,000rpm in top on the Masta Straight. Swerving through the kink, left then right, would drop the revs to about 10,200, and then you’d watch them build again down to Stavelot.” Rodriguez and Piper were second in the 1000Kms that year, splitting the works Porsches.
“For 1970 Enzo Ferrari lined up a 512S for me, for £6000. Then Rico Steinemann offered me a 917 for £12,000, with full factory support, and Jo Siffert or Brian Redman as co-driver in non-championship races. In the championship rounds I could do what I liked with it. That
was pretty attractive, but I said I already had something going with Ferrari. Then the strikes in Italy delayed the 512S, so I went back to Rico and said, ‘You’re on.’”
David’s 917 was delivered in August 1969, and in the next three months it was raced in Austria, Germany, Japan and South Africa, where the Piper/Attwood pairing won David’s sixth Kyalami Nine Hours. Then it went to Argentina for the Buenos Aires 1000Kms: Piper and Redman were leading when a back-marker put Brian off. At Le Mans David shared another 917 with Gijs van Lennep, and they were lying third during the night before van Lennep had an 180mph blowout.
Steve McQueen was now installed at Le Mans making his movie, and David was very much involved, both driving for the cameras and supplying cars. “It was very good business for me. I painted my old ex-Reventlow transporter in Ferrari colours and hired it to them, and
I kept them supplied with Lola T70 Spyders. They put Ferrari bodies on them and then destroyed them in radio-controlled accidents. There was a lot of hanging around, of course, but Steve agreed to lend me his plane on Fridays so I could fly off to wherever I was racing that weekend, as long as I was back by Monday lunchtime.”
But during one of the repetitive sessions, filming was halted by a dreadful accident. “Steve was determined that all the shots should be done at full chat. No speeding up the film later, because it wouldn’t look authentic. Mike Parkes, Richard Attwood and I were doing a pass from Arnage up to Maison Blanche, a 512S and two 917s, when one of my tyres went soft and rolled off the rim.” At 170mph Piper’s 917 was launched by the guardrails and broke in two. He was left hanging off the back half, and his injuries included a shattered right leg. “In the hospital at Le Mans they didn’t clean the wound properly and it got infected. Back in England they had to take it off below the knee. I thought it was the end of my world.
But Douglas Bader came to see me: walked in, dropped his trousers – he had one off above the knee, the other off below – and said, ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about, old boy.’“I taught myself to drive again with left-foot braking. Changing down’s a bit more complicated, because you have to come off the brake to work the clutch. But if you get the revs right, whether it’s a dog box or a synchro box, you don’t lose much. It’s second nature to me now – although the original equipment was better…”
During his long career David Piper has raced many marques. In 1969 he added a Piper-green Lola T70 MkIIIB to the stable, and in historic racing he has campaigned one of the Ford F3Ls and a Matra V12. But no one has owned and raced more competition Ferraris.
“I’ve had half a dozen GTOs at one time or another. A very versatile car. It was perfect for the Tour de France, where you went from fast circuits like Reims or Le Mans to a street circuit like Pau, and then the Mont Ventoux hillclimb. The 250LM wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, because you sat up at the front with a lot of engine behind you, but for racing it was twice the car of the GTO. I’ve had more LMs than anyone else, six or seven I think.
“They built four P2s. Mine, 0836, has done much more racing than the rest. They were updated with P3 bodywork when the regulations changed, to carry the mandatory luggage boxes, and the windscreen was lowered. There were only three P4s, plus the bits to make a fourth.
I ended up with the engine, gearbox, four corners, all I was lacking was the chassis. So I went to see the Old Man and he said, ‘Per nostro Piper, we can make a new chassis.’ Mike Parkes kept an eye on it, Drogo made up the proper centre section to match the bodywork I had from 0860, and the Old Man gave me chassis number 0900. When it was finished he lent me Didier Pironi to run it in a historic race at Montlhéry – rather like borrowing Felipe Massa today.”
David’s activities in historic racing have not just involved driving. With Mike Knight he organised the SuperSports series, and he still puts together a group of friends and cars to run in South Africa each winter. Three of his Ferraris were out at the Goodwood Revival, and when we lunched he was just back from racing his Porsche 917 at the Nürburgring. And he shows no signs of stopping.
“Motor racing is a tricky business. I’ve seen so many people lose everything. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders: one minute you’re in the black and everything’s OK, the next you can be in very serious trouble. I’ve taken some ridiculous risks. And it’s depressing when there’s another crashed car to repair, another blown engine to rebuild.
“It’s changed a lot now. The money’s all out-going, because you can’t expect to get sponsorship for historic racing. I kept all my cars because in those days obsolete racing cars weren’t worth anything. They’re all over 40 years old now, and they’re a bigger asset these days, but money’s just money. It doesn’t make you happy, it just means you do less work, get fatter, die sooner. When I started going around Europe,
I didn’t know what to expect, because friends were being killed all around me. I had no responsibilities then, and I was in it for whatever was going to happen. If I knew where my next meal was coming from I was happy…”
He doesn’t seem very different now. Still the archetypal privateer, still the archetypal racer. Long may the Piper-green Ferraris continue to grace the historic racing scene.