The Cars that won Bathurst

Australian Muscle Car - - Immortal Muscle -

Back­grounder

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

Be­fore

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.

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