THE Holden Commodore VP SS in which Peter Brock won Class D of the 1993 James Hardie Bathurst 12 Hour is a prized possession today, but very nearly met a grisly demise.
Brock was an enthusiastic supporter of the early 12 Hour races and joined production car ace Tony Scott in the Castle Hill Racing Commodore for the Easter 1993 event.
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The entry was the brainchild of Pinnacle Properties directors Phil Richards and Dan Murphy, who chose to get involved in motorsport to promote their new Castle Hill estate on Brisbane’s northern outskirts.
The car was prepared for the 12 Hour in Brisbane by motorsport veteran George Shepheard with help from Stephen Bell, a Rockhampton-based railway worker who was roped into the project by friend Richards.
While Scott was recruited for the program by Shepheard, Brock had not been the team’s first choice of co-driver.
Eager to make the biggest splash possible, Richards and Murphy initially set their sights on singer John Farnham, who had competed in the previous November’s Grand Prix celebrity race.
They met with Farnham’s manager Glenn Wheatley in Melbourne and, while the star did not take the drive, it was not a fruitless mission.
Wheatley had a few years earlier merged his sports management agency (Wheatley Sport) into Advantage International, which managed Brock.
When Brock was told about the project, he’s said to have rung Richards directly and offered his driving services.
After Brock and Scott raced the car at Bathurst, it was borrowed by Holden and displayed at various dealers along the east coast throughout the remainder of 1993.
Once its promotional value had worn off and with Richards and Murphy having turned their motorsport attention to V8 racing with Pinnacle Motorsport, the production car was headed for the proverbial scrapheap.
“Phil and Dan didn’t want to sell it to someone they didn’t know, because they were worried about someone killing themselves on the street in this hotted-up car,” recalls Bell.
“Phil said to me we’re going to have the car crushed at Petrie Auto Wreckers. He was adamant it’d done its job; they’d attributed sales of 89 blocks of land to the exposure it’d brought, and they wanted to get rid of it.
“In the end they knew if they sold it to me, I can’t sell anything, I’m too sentimental! I love things with a story. It didn’t do the October race, but it’s got its own place in Australian motorsport history.”
Despite being convinced to list the Commodore as part of a major auction of Brock vehicles at Bathurst in 2018, Bell has remained true to his self-confessed sentimental nature and retains the car to this day.
A key part of the car’s charm to Brock at the time and to Bell now is the fact it was somewhat of a throwback to the legend’s early days at Bathurst.
This was a production car in its truest sense; it was Castle Hill director Richards’ personal transport prior to being prepared for the 12 Hour and was then driven back to Brisbane by Bell after the race!
According to Bell, Shepheard had been adamant that the VP SS was the car to have for Class D (for touring cars above 4000cc) over the more powerful VN SS Group A due largely to the fragility of the latter’s differential.
The Castle Hill group had bought two-dozen VP SS Commodores for its fleet of salesman, but Richards’ car was the only manual and hence chosen as the race car after efforts to get a free SS directly from Holden failed.
“When I drove it to George’s workshop to start preparation he said, ‘I thought this car was going to be new, it’s got 16,000km on it’!” recalls Bell, who travelled from Rockhampton each weekend to work on the car.
While Holden did not supply a car, it did support the project with an engine; the very one that had been used in Holden’s famous Akubra-backed VP SS Ute at the 12 Hour the previous year.
“Peter and Bev Brock brought the Akubra Ute engine up to Bathurst,” says Bell of the five-litre Holden V8. “It was installed in the car at the track and is still in the car today.”
The team had a challenging race week which included initial fuel surge issues and a near-miss for Scott in qualifying when Wayne Gardner crashed his Honda NSX at McPhillamy Park directly ahead.
Brock took the wheel for the start on Sunday and the car ran smoothly through the early hours before the driver reported it’d dropped two cylinders.
“There was a hotspot behind the power steering pump where the air couldn’t flow over the plug leads. Two leads had been resting on each other and were cross-firing,” Bell explains.
“We had a spare SS in the garage so one of the guys ran in, parted the crowd in the garage like Moses parting the red sea, ripped the leads off that car and changed them over.
“After Brock went back out the problem was still there and we thought it was our day over, but it turned out two of the leads had simply been crossed in the changeover!
“He came in again and once the leads were swapped, she was fixed, and it’s never had a problem since.”
Brock and Scott completed 242 laps for eighth outright and first in a class that only had two other entries; an EB Falcon XR8 that logged 240 laps, and a VN Group A that recorded 199 laps having lost time with diff trouble.
When Bell bought the Castle Hill Commodore its roll-cage, fuel cell and various other items were removed and stored so it could be used as a road car, while its race livery – faded from outdoor promotional duties – was also stripped.
“I drove it around for a little while, I actually proposed to my wife in that car, and I was starting to use it on my farm but then I thought ‘I can’t do that’, so I bought a Ute and I parked this car,” he says.
It wasn’t until after Brock’s death in 2006 that Bell returned the car to its Bathurst form, which he says included collecting its original wheels and other bits and pieces from Tony Scott’s mother’s house!
Bell has subsequently run the car at a handful of events, including the 2016 Muscle Car Masters to mark 10 years since Brock’s passing, but is wary of driving it too often.
“It’s got nothing to prove and I don’t want to damage it. It’s an original car,” he says.
“Sadly, a lot of good cars in those days were simply discarded and I’m glad this one survived.”