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Sleuthing: The Cola Wars Commodore

CORPORATE rivalries don’t come much bigger than Coca-Cola versus Pepsi.

The cola companies have long battled it out for soft drink supremacy – a battle that has included various sponsorships in Australian touring car racing.

As Coke prepares to up the ante with its two-car backing of Erebus Motorsport from 2023, we look back at a car that represented both sides of the ‘Cola Wars’.

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What started life as a Coca-Cola Commodore VT for Wayne Gardner in 1999 took on Pepsi colours just 12 months later.

Perkins Engineering built PE 033 for Gardner ahead of a planned four-event effort in 1999 consisting of Albert Park, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Bathurst.

Wayne Gardner debuted PE 033 as a Coca-Cola Commodore at Albert Park in 1999. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

The car was prepared by Perkins alongside his own two Castrol entries, as Gardner had shut down his own Coke-backed team at the end of 1997.

Gardner’s 1999 campaign though hit a snag due to an early incident in Adelaide, which required repairs to the front chassis rails.

However, a subsequent crash for Dugal McDougall at Phillip Island that destroyed his VS Commodore resulted in the McDougalls buying PE 033 and another new VT being built for Gardner.

PE 033’s best race finish of sixth came at the 2000 GMC 400 in Canberra. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

McDougall raced PE 033 for three and a half seasons, initially sporting another drinks brand (Aloe Qench) before taking on Pepsi backing from the start of 2000.

The deal came about through the McDougall family business, which was at the time Pepsi’s largest distributor in country Victoria.

Preparation of the car moved from Perkins to Imrie Motorsport for 2002 and, after a tough season that included failing to qualify at two rounds, the McDougalls sold out of the sport.

The 2002 Bathurst 1000 was PE 033’s last main game start. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

PE 033 was subsequently raced by new owner Ben Eggleston in various Konica Series and V8 Touring Car Series events before being retired from competition.

It was restored to its 1999 Adelaide 500 livery while under the ownership of collector John Anderson, before being sold to current custodian Steve Tate in 2018.

While the Coca-Cola colours are back on its panels, Tate says there’s still evidence of its Pepsi history inside.

PE 033 pictured in at Sandown in 2012 following its restoration. Pic: an1images.com

“I collected it after stepping through a few cars,” Tate said in V8 Sleuth’s 2021 publication Perkins Engineering: The Cars, 1986-2008.

“When I first saw it, I loved that it’s like a concourse restoration on the outside, but when you open the engine bay and boot and look inside, it still holds all the Dugal McDougall stuff.

“It shows the new and old, which is what I really like about the car.”

Limited stock of ‘Perkins Engineering: The Cars’ is now available in the V8 Sleuth Superstore.

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