Journalist who 'blew' Porsche engine to pay £124k

Wednesday 23 January 2013 16.43
A Porsche 917 is pictured here
A Porsche 917 is pictured here

The former owner of a replica classic Porsche has won nearly £48,000 damages and £76,000 costs from the motoring journalist who "blew" its engine during a test drive.

David Piper, an 82-year-old ex-Formula 1 racing driver, sued Mark Hales, also a distinguished former driver who now works as a journalist, sports car tester and racing driver teacher.

He claimed Mr Hales was to blame for the damage to the replica Porsche 917, which he sold in July last year and was valued at £1.25m.

Mr Piper also owns an original 917, valued at £5m, and is an authority on the legendary car which gave Porsche wins at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971 and became iconic after it featured in the 1971 film Le Mans starring Steve McQueen.

Mr Piper, who was himself injured when driving a Porsche in the movie, agreed to let Mr Hales drive the replica at Cadwell Park circuit, Lincolnshire, in April 2009, for a £2,000 fee.

Mr Hales had an idea for an article comparing the Porsche with the Ferrari 512S, which he had borrowed from his friend, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason.

After the engine blew on the third lap, Mr Piper claimed Mr Hales was liable because he failed to ensure the engagement of the gear as he was specifically asked to do, but Mr Hales said the cause of the over-revving was a defective gearbox.

Judge Simon Brown QC, at London's High Court, said the case was not just about money but was a "question of honour" involving very high stakes.

Awarding Mr Piper £47,961 damages and nearly £76,000 costs, to be taxed at the higher indemnity rate, he said today that the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the engine damage being caused by Mr Hales's failure to properly engage gear.

"His level of driving - on this particular occasion - fell below the standard of care, albeit high, required of him."

The judge said Mr Piper, of London Road, Windlesham, Surrey was "certain, accurate and truthful" in his evidence.

He described 62-year-old Mr Hales, of Fen Lane, Conisholme, Lincs, as "a most unreliable witness whose evidence was creative, inconsistent, self-motivated and incredible".