THIS week’s edition of Saturday Sleuthing looks at a car that was the last car Peter Brock drove to victory in a Bathurst 1000 – one that wasn’t even expected to make it to the chequered flag.
The ‘King of the Mountain’ used up a lot of his legendary luck to secure his ninth and final crown.
It’s well-trodden ground that Holden’s decision to sever ties in February 1987 left Peter Brock’s racing team with a massive hole in its budget and without a supply of components, leaving the squad – rebranded from Holden Dealer Team to HDT Racing – to scrimp and scrape its way through the season that followed.
Long-time British Touring Car Championship boss Alan Gow was with the team throughout the tumultuous season and shared stories about the year and their Bathurst victory when he visited the V8 Sleuth Podcast earlier this year.
HDT’s struggles resulted in a very lop-sided two car entry for Bathurst: the team put its best foot forward with the #05 entry that Brock shared with David Parsons, while the second car, #10, was very much a second-string entry for veteran privateer Peter McLeod and Australian Formula 2 champion Jon Crooke.
Brock’s first piece of luck came during practice.
The steering broke on the #10 car just as McLeod arrived at the top of Mountain Straight, the Wollongong racer managing to aim it into the escape road at Griffin’s Bend and pull it up with its nose just touching the tyre wall.
A crash would’ve sapped parts and time that the cash-strapped team didn’t have.
The next piece of luck was the timing of the #05 car’s blown engine.
Crooke had yet to replace McLeod in the driver’s seat of #10, allowing Brock to bring the more experienced Parsons along to complete the remainder of the race in the second car, crossing the line in third place, a couple of laps adrift of the Eggenberger Ford Sierras that finished the race in first and second place.
Brock’s last piece of good fortune was that Frank Gardner persisted with the protest over the bodywork of the black and red Sierras after the three other local teams – Brock’s included – withdrew.
The stirring victory is covered in our new book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page hardcover book paying tribute to the marque’s rich competition history spanning over seven decades.
It’s now in stock in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop – click HERE to order!
By the time all of Eggenberger’s appeals had been exhausted and Holden’s upset victory was ratified by the FIA in March 1988, the car which did the deed had long been up for sale.
HDT 16 was the second VL Commodore built by the team but the first it actually raced – the team’s first VL was sold prior to the start of the season to raise money following Brock’s split with Holden.
He debuted it halfway through the 1987 Australian Touring Car Championship, before it was shipped off to Belgium for the Spa 24 Hours, where Brock, Parsons and Neville Crichton retired during the night.
The car returned to Australia in time for Bathurst, then continued as the team’s second car for the subsequent Calder Park and Wellington rounds of the World Touring Car Championship.
The New Zealand street race was the car’s last appearance with the HDT, and its last in its original carburetted ‘SS Group A’ form.
HDT 16 was purchased as a rolling shell by former kart racer, motorsport journalist and publisher Chris Lambden, then recently the editor of Auto Action and later to start the long-running masthead Motorsport News.
Upgraded to the new Tom Walkinshaw Racing-developed ‘Group A SV’ package with its wild body kit and fuel-injected V8 engine, Lambden campaigned the car at the 1988 Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000, coming home in 13th place with Sports Sedan racer Kerry Baily as the second of the new-generation Commodores.
Lambden continued to race the car into the 1989 ATCC; in a year dominated by turbocharged cars, the Beaurepaires pilot won the highly-unofficial ‘Jim Clark Trophy’ for normally-aspirated cars, an award devised by industry journalists and Dunlop distributors Stuckey Tyre Service!
Sadly, the car wasn’t in a very fit shape to accept the title: a crash in the final round at Oran Park left the back of the car badly damaged.
Repaired and returned to 1987 specifications, the car passed through several owners before being acquired by car collector David Bowden in 2003.
After remaining with the Bowdens for many years, ex-pat Australian racer and businessman Kenny Habul did a deal to purchase the car in 2017 and HDT 16 has since taken pride of place in the foyer of his business headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina – 15 minutes up the road from Team Penske’s race shop.
The car hasn’t been idle under Habul’s ownership; it made an appearance at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed where he campaigned it in the ‘Tin Top Titans’ category of the hillclimb event.