The Cars that won Bathurst
Thirsty years ago this year, Peter Brock and Larry Perkins led home a 1-2 form finish for the Holden Dealer Team in the 1984 James Hardie 1000 at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.
The result brought down the curtain on the Group C era of regulations being used as the underpinnings of Australia’s Great Race and the cars known as the ‘Last of the Big Bangers’ – a tag stemming from HDT’s pre-Bathurst poster, see p43 – were replaced by meeker and milder Commodores under international Group A regulations.
One of the VK model ‘day-glo’ Marlboro cars went to the National Motor Racing Museum in Bathurst. The other went to England via Perth and continued its racing life before being returned home and restored to take a place in Peter Champion’s collection of Brock cars.
Sadly, the achievements of those cars, their success and the meticulous engineering and development process that goes into creating a Bathurst winner has been stained somewhat by an ongoing disagreement in recent years.
At the core of it sits the question: which of those cars is really the #05 Bathurst winner?
It’s a question that hadn’t raised its head really until the car that returned from England was restored and presented as the race-winning car.
There are two sides to every story and to write something definitive that puts AMC on one side of the ledger or the other will no doubt create some backlash.
From the start, let us state that it is not our intent to take sides or upset people. This story is simply AMC outlining the available evidence from as many sources as we could find.
We are not accusing anyone of lying, being deceitful or improper dealings.
Thirty years is a long period. It’s easy to forget details or not have paid enough attention at the time while in the middle of other projects. It happens. That’s life. Some things can be
incorrectly noted and incorrect information becomes fact from the simple passae of time.
Any current topline racecar of any era is fettled to the extreme. Yet, any modification and change is rarely documented to the levels required by historians of the future.
What we are doing is analysing the facts, analysing sources of the period (and now) and giving our opinion on what we at AMC see as the real #05 VK Commodore of 1984. This is our considered view on the matter. If there is irrefutable evidence that changes our opinion, we’d be more than happy to do so.
But we have a very firm stance on such matters at this publication – we are an unashamed recorder of muscle car history and the case of the Big Bangers is an important one in the overall rich tapestry of Bathurst race history.
We’ve thought long and hard about doing a story on this matter and being the 30th anniversary is just one of the reasons to address the subject.
For the record, we believe what’s left of the race-winning car, #05, sits in the National Motor Racing Museum at Mount Panorama and the second-placed #25 car is the beautifully restored car owned by Peter Champion.
What is absolutely clear is that the Holden Dealer Team built two new VK model Holden Commodore racecars for 1984’s end of year endurance races.
The team ran the previous model VH Commodore during the Australian Touring Car Championship for Peter Brock and, on occasion, John Harvey. The latter stood in for Brock when the team owner and Larry Perkins tackled the Silverstone 1000 and Le Mans 24 Hour sportscar races in a Porsche.
The older model car then competed in the opening rounds of the 1984 Australian Endurance Championship. It was crashed by Brock at Amaroo in the wet and driven by Harvey and David Parsons at Oran Park before it was retired and the new cars debuted at Sandown.
They both raced just four times – in the Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Surfers Paradise 300 enduros, then in the touring car support events at Calder’s Australian Grand Prix.
Peter Brock and Larry Perkins drove the #05 car to victory at Sandown and Bathurst. Brock then drove solo to win at Surfers Paradise and finished second at Calder.
John Harvey and David Parsons drove the #25 car to third place at Sandown and second at Bathurst, before Harvey finished sixth at Surfers and fourth at Calder.
The #05 car was donated by Holden to the Bathurst museum in 1985 and stored in the council depot and the circuit’s ‘race centre’ until the museum was built, while the #25 car was sold to John Farrell in Perth. Car #25 was later sold to Bill Cleland (father of British Touring Car Champion John) and raced in England by John.
After passing through the hands of a few owners – and having a long, tough, racing life – it was sold to Willie Van Wersch in the early 1990s and returned to Australia before being sold to Peter Champion and restored by John Van Roosmalen for its new owner.
However, it was restored and then presented as #05 and that’s where this issue first started to come to a head. Over the following pages, we present the views and recollections of Champion, Bev Brock, Farrell, Harvey, former HDT mechanics and others.
Then it’s up to you to decide.
1984 James Hardie 1000
we dive into examining the evidence, it’s important that we put the VK Big Bangers of 1984 into perspective. Just why are these cars so revered today?
Much of it has to do with the look of the Holden Dealer Team machines. The VK model Commodore’s styling ‘worked’ in road car form and, with flares and spoilers added, the shape of the racing version was something else again. Its muscular stance was enhanced by the day-glo colours borrowed from Marlboro’s international racing endeavours, most notably the McLaren Formula 1 outfit. By adopting the look of the all-conquering McLarens, Brock’s squad went to another level of glamour in late 1984.
To many motor racing fans, ’84 represents a high-water mark in local touring car history in a technical sense. That year’s batch of Group C machines – the last before the tamer Group A rules were adopted – still retained strong links to the production versions, but were just so damn spectacular to watch. Variety was another strong point of the class of 1984.
Traditional participants Holden and Ford battled what the more parochial of fans dubbed the ‘foreign invaders’ for outright honours. These were works-supported efforts from Mazda (with its RX7 sportscar), Nissan (Bluebird Turbo) and BMW (635CSi).
This was also the period when the iconic status of our sport’s biggest stars – Brock, Allan Moffat and Dick Johnson – was cemented. Each of them had claimed Bathurst or the Australian Touring Car Championship in ’83 or ’84. That top trio was backed up by a big support cast of larger than life characters – Allan Grice, John Goss and Alan Jones, et al.
Memorable moments, that live on in many a racing fan’s memory, came virtually every race meeting in seasons ’83 and ’84. Sunday September 30, 1984 was no exception. A multicar startline crash involving the stranded Goss/ Tom Walkinshaw Jaguar saw the race restarted, with the first lap almost as messy the second time around. Incidents, accidents and drama were the order of the day.
It was relatively smooth sailing for Brock and Perkins, though. Car #05 surrendered the lead, to Dick Johnson’s green XE Falcon, for just 19 of the 163 laps.
In contrast, #25 did it the hard way. John Harvey was forced off the track when hit by George Fury’s pole-sitting Bluebird and then delayed during a pitstop. The issues meant #25 was sixth at half distance and third with six laps remaining, with David Parsons behind the wheel. A late-race charge secured the runners-up slot and an orchestrated finished, albeit with #25 two laps down.
The victory was Brock’s sixth win in seven years – and his last in a car wearing his famed #05. In short, it was one of his finest moments.
Holden fans had waited seven years for the demons of Ford’s 1977 1-2 win to be exorcised. The HDT’s own routing of the field was the famed squad’s best ever showing at Mount Panorama. The fact it was spearheaded by the General’s biggest ever star in arguably the best looking Holden of all time added further gloss.
The controversy surrounding the whereabouts of the winning car from that event possibly only serves to add to the victory’s mystique today.
The National Motor Racing Museum at Bathurst is home to one of the VK Big Bangers.
Calder Park, 1984
1984 Sandown 500
1984 Surfers Paradise 300
Peter Brock drove Peter Champion’s newly restored car at Sandown in 2003.