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With great regret we have to inform Members of the death of BRDC Life Member David Skailes last Thursday 17th August after a short illness. He was 81 years of age and had been a Member of the BRDC since 1968.

David’s uncle was Ken Downing, a prolific and successful competitor in Connaughts at international level in the 1950s so it was no surprise that David started racing as soon as he attained his 21st birthday. His racing career began in 1963 with an Aston Martin DB4GT which he had acquired from George Abecassis at HW Motors. Registered 40 MT, it had some pedigree, having been the factory demonstrator and road-tested by John Bolster, the renowned Technical Editor of Autosport magazine. David’s first competitive event was an Aston Martin Owners’ Club hillclimb at Wiscombe Park when he finished second in class behind City Solicitor and fellow Aston enthusiast Brian Hetreed’s DB4GT Zagato. David’s first race came the following week at Brands Hatch when he finished fourth in the over 2500 cc GT race.

Looking for something more competitive, David was encouraged by George Abecassis to acquire the ex-John Coombs lightweight DB4GT Zagato, a formidable machine which had not been to the liking of Coombs’s regular drivers Roy Salvadori and Graham Hill. Roy raced it once, to second place at Brands Hatch some way behind Innes Ireland in the UDT Laystall Ferrari 250GTO, and Graham tested it, before it was returned to the factory to languish under a dust sheet until David took it on for the 1963 racing season. At this time David was an undergraduate at Keble College, Oxford, and a member of the Oxford University crew in the annual Boat Race against Cambridge University. In fact, David rowed for Oxford in 1962, ’63 and ’64, being in the winning boat in 1963. In his final year at Oxford David was President of the University Boat Club. Previously, whilst at Eton College, he had rowed in the Eton Eight which won the Ladies Plate at the Henley Regatta in 1960. He used to echo Graham Hill, another accomplished oarsman, in joking that he preferred sports in which he could participate while sitting down!

At Snetterton in his first race with the Zagato, only a few weeks after winning the Boat Race, David led the rapid Jaguar E-type of Ken Baker before having to settle for second. It was an encouraging start to a successful season with the Zagato which included two wins and a second, to the late Geoff Breakell’s Lotus 23B, all on the same day at Oulton Park. The DB4GT Zagato, in its original John Coombs white, made a splendid sight and sound at British race meetings throughout 1963 and was retained, resprayed Sage Green, for the following year but used rather less as it became increasingly uncompetitive against the lightweight, mid-engined Lotus 23Bs, Brabham BT8s, Ferrari LMs and Ford GT40s. David was invited to share Brian Hetreed’s Aston Martin DP214 in the Nurburging 1000 Ks but Brian was killed in a highspeed accident at Bergwerk during practice and the car was wrecked. A few weeks later David drove his usual ex-Coombs car to seventh place in the Martini Trophy at Silverstone, finishing a minute behind the much more experienced Mike Salmon in the surviving DP214.

After selling the DB4GT Zagato, plans to race a Lola T70 in partnership with David Cunningham in 1965 never came to fruition and David took time off from racing to concentrate on developing his business interests. He was back for the 1967 season, now armed with an ex-Ron Fry Ferrari 250LM #6105 against the numerous Ford GT40s. With guidance from David Piper, David achieved some good results with the Ferrari during the season, a particular highlight being fourth place in the Zeltweg 500 Ks with ‘Pypes’ who started and finished the race while David did the middle stint. Ahead of them were such luminaries as Paul Hawkins in a GT40, Richard Attwood/Bill Bradley in the latter’s Porsche Carrera 6 and Nino Vaccarella/Umberto Maglioli in another GT40. Seventh places in the sports car race supporting the Oulton Park Gold Cup and at Croft were other good results and at the end of the year David took the Ferrari to South Africa for the Kyalami 9 Hours in which he finished sixth with Eric Liddell as co-driver.

A limited programme of races in 1968 served to show that the Ferrari had become uncompetitive against many of the GT40s and the 2-litre Porsches and Chevrons. With business interests to pursue, David quietly hung up his helmet and handed the family motor racing baton over to his younger brother Ian who enjoyed several seasons of significant success. 

A native of Shropshire, David’s family had various business interests and he became principally involved, together with Ian, in the cheese and dairy products industry, Cropwell Bishop Creamery being an award-winning company which was acclaimed as Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards with Stilton a particular speciality. Sailing both around Cornwall and the Mediterranean became David’s principal pastime whilst he also served in the Territorial Army with the Shropshire Yeomanry.

David’s wife Diana predeceased him, and he is survived by two sons and a daughter, Ben, Toby and Joanna to whom, to their families and to his brother Ian, also a BRDC Life Member, the Club sends its deepest condolences. Funeral details will be notified to Members when known. 

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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