Brock’s 1975 To­rana

What­ever hap­pened to Peter Brock’s 1975 Bathurst-win­ning To­rana L34? AMC has tracked down the very man be­hind the wheel when this fa­mous car was de­stroyed. He tells his story for the first time.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

What­ever hap­pened to Peter Brock’s 1975 Bathurst-win­ning To­rana L34? AMC has tracked down the very man be­hind the wheel when this fa­mous car was de­stroyed. He tells his story for the first time.

These days Michael Row­ell is direc­tor of a transport com­pany on the Gold Coast in Queens­land, his home of the last 30plus years. In his younger days, be­fore the move north, he was a car-mad Tas­ma­nian with a pas­sion for To­ranas and go­ing fast on the Ap­ple Isle. He was con­vinced to take his love of speed onto the speed­ways of the is­land state and did so after own­ing a Bathurst-win­ning To­rana road car that very nearly killed him. Yep, that’s right – a Bathurst-win­ning To­rana. It was the very same L34 model that Peter Brock and Brian Samp­son had used to win the

1975 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Mount Panorama for the pri­va­teer Gown-Hind­haugh team.

The same car that, leg­end had it, was con­verted for road use and later writ­ten off in a road ac­ci­dent in Tas­ma­nia.

AMC can now pro­vide the defini­tive re­port on the fate of that fa­mous #5 yel­low and deep blue To­rana as we’ve tracked down the very man who was at the helm when it met its demise. He’s never spo­ken pub­licly be­fore about the car or the crash, but opens up to AMC about the fate of the To­rana and how it all came to be.

Born and bred in Tas­ma­nia, Row­ell ended up pur­chas­ing the Bathurst-win­ning To­rana from the man who in turn had sourced it di­rect from Norm Gown and Bruce Hind­haugh at the end of 1976, lo­cal Tassie racer Roger Stan­ley.

“He bought it from Gown-Hind­haugh and raced it be­fore he bought a new hatch­back,” re­calls Row­ell to­day. “He then de­cided he wanted to sell the L34. He sold it to me with no mo­tor in it. His me­chanic built me a mo­tor for it – he had that much mo­tor stuff it wasn’t funny!

“It was sit­ting in their shed as a roller and I got ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing with it. I straight-swapped it for an SL/R 5000 To­rana, a re­ally nice one. I had built it up from the ground. I straight-swapped it be­cause I was get­ting a gen­uine L34 (in the deal)

and as a hobby I’d make it into a beau­ti­ful car.

“A gen­uine L34 mo­tor went back into it. I took the cage out of the car and stripped it down to ab­so­lutely nothing and re­built it from the ground up to race it in street car rac­ing, which was a very big cat­e­gory back then in Tas­ma­nia.

“At that time, at my age in my early 20s, I wasn’t think­ing about Brock or how much of a leg­end he was and whether the car was go­ing to be a col­lec­tors’ item. So I stripped it down. It was painted yel­low and green when I got it. The body was yel­low with an iri­des­cent green bon­net and green flares. That’s how Stan­ley then had his hatch­back painted, too.”

Row­ell’s strip-down pro­ject of his new machine re­vealed some tell-tale signs that pointed to

the fact that this car was very much built for the race­track and not the road.

“It was in­ter­est­ing re­build­ing it and see­ing all the things Gown-Hind­haugh did to make it more rigid,” he says. “Ev­ery part of the body was seamwelded. They’d pumped foam inside ev­ery air cav­ity where it was seam-welded too. The door pil­lars were all foam-filled.

“It had had a few clouts. I sand­blasted the body back to nothing. When it was orig­i­nally built it had no brack­ets un­der­neath for ex­hausts, all that ex­cess stuff was re­moved from the car and didn’t have any sound dead­ener un­der it.

“I made it a re­ally good show car. We put the L34 mo­tor back into it; it had the stan­dard L34 gear­box, a Detroit locker, L34 rear end with drum brakes and HQ-style front brakes. The bolt-in roll-cage went back into it, the same one as it had raced at Bathurst. The cross­over bars at the back went down through the back seat and they were still in the car.

“Ev­ery­thing was there as it was raced. It had two sets of the Hotwire wheels but by the time I got it from Roger Stan­ley it was pretty rough. The rear quar­ter-pan­els were orig­i­nal

but they’d had a fair bit of bog in them!”

Row­ell bought the L34 in late 1977 and a lo­cal rac­ing star’s choice of car colour con­vinced him what to do with his machine.

“Gene Cook had a green one at the same time,” Row­ell re­calls.

“He stripped his back and painted it black. I liked how his looked so I painted mine black too.

“I put the cage back into it and raced it in street cars at Sym­mons Plains and Baskerville for prob­a­bly six months – it was still road regis­tered.

“Chas Kelly (father of for­mer V8 Su­per­car driver Owen) and Cees Hen­driks both set about to get me off the road be­fore I killed my­self. My brother David had a hatch­back, I had a flat­planed crank mo­tor in my L34 for a lit­tle while, it was get­ting a bit ridicu­lous and they were get­ting pretty dan­ger­ous as road cars. I blew up the Holden gear­box in the L34 about four times; it kept strip­ping front teeth off the clus­ter, which they all used to do. So I ripped it out and put a Top Loader in it and fixed that prob­lem!

“Cees and Chas set about get­ting me into speedway. Chas had sold an SL/R 5000 speedway car to Cees, who had bought him­self a hatch­back off Tony Noske. So Cees was rac­ing the hatch­back and de­cided to sell the four-door, which they put me into for vir­tu­ally nothing to get me off the road – and that’s how my speedway ca­reer started.”

After win­ning his first fea­ture race, Row­ell was hooked on dirt track rac­ing. As a re­sult, he de­cided it was time to part with his black, exBathurst-win­ning L34 To­rana.

“Ted Eus­tace had a car yard in Devon­port and he of­fered to sell it for me,” says Row­ell. It was a bloody nice car by that stage. We put it into his car yard for $8000 in 1978 or there­abouts.

“I had it for sale for a long time at $8000. I ad­ver­tised it as a Bathurst-win­ning car that Peter Brock had driven. But I couldn’t sell it so I took it back out of the car yard on New Year’s Eve.”

And that’s where things went hor­ri­bly wrong… Just a few short years on from its vic­tory at Bathurst, the ac­tive life of the Gown-Hind­haugh To­rana L34 that had con­quered the Moun­tain was ended – and very nearly the ac­tual lives of the oc­cu­pants as well!

“I went to pick up a mate and was go­ing back to a New Years party. Whilst on the high­way and go­ing through a turn, I met a car com­ing the other way on the wrong side of the road. I had to move off the bi­tu­men to avoid a head-on col­li­son, at which point I lost con­trol and hit a tele­graph pole.

“It was good­night. I broke my neck, ev­ery rib on my left-hand side, burst my spleen and had a hole in a lung. “I was pretty messed up there for a bit. “I moved to Queens­land in 1980 and I wrote the L34 off prob­a­bly 12 months be­fore I moved, so it must have been New Year’s Eve 1978.

“When I got out of hos­pi­tal I bought Cees’ hatch­back and started rac­ing again. Then I de­cided I should re­build the L34 as it was only dam­aged from the back door back­wards.

“I bought another body-shell, stripped it all out, seam-welded it and foam-filled it iden­ti­cally to the orig­i­nal car.

“It was a con­course job! I had it all re­built, took it over to the up­hol­sterer to do the car­pet in the mid­dle of win­ter. He put a heater on the back par­cel shelf and up it went in smoke!”

The long-held view of mus­cle car fans around the coun­try is that the Brock 1975 Bathurst win­ner was painted black, de­stroyed in a road ac­ci­dent and the rem­nants dumped. Another line of thought was that the wreck be­came a speedway car.

Row­ell con­firms that both lines of thought are in­deed cor­rect.

“I stripped it com­pletely and cut it in half,” he says. “The front half went to God­frey Gale. He got from the B-pil­lars for­ward and he ‘glued’ that onto his dam­aged speedway car.

“I kept the seam-welded cross mem­ber out of it and all the me­chan­i­cals, which went into a hatch­back I built up. The rear end of the shell went into the Har­ford tip near Devon­port.”

Row­ell did keep the gen­uine L34 chas­sis plates from the car. Sadly, how­ever, they were stolen in a break-in at his busi­ness about five years ago.

Like so many peo­ple be­fore him, though, he was never to know at the time that his pride and pas­sion road car would have been worth quite the pretty penny some years later.

“Who was Peter Brock back then?” laughs Row­ell. “He’d won two Bathursts, not nine. He wasn’t the na­tion­wide su­per­star he be­came.

“It’s crossed my mind lots of times since then as to what it would be worth right now sit­ting gen­uine as I had had it. It’d be a six-fig­ure car now for sure.

“It was the first V8 To­rana to ever win Bathurst, a pri­va­teer car and there was a whole heap of el­e­ments sur­round­ing Brock driv­ing that car. It’s a shame, a real shame, that this is what ended up hap­pen­ing to it.”

The first V8-pow­ered To­rana to win Bathurst, in 1975, met a sad end be­fore the decade was out.

1975 Sym­mons Plains

1975 Calder Park

1975 Sandown 250

1976 Bathurst 1000 After a trou­bled 1975 ATCC, Brock and his new team had a stel­lar en­duro sea­son. The G-H team raced on into sea­son 1976.

1976 Calder Park

Top left: Sec­ond owner Roger Stan­ley raced it in ’77. Cen­tre left: Third and fi­nal owner Mick Row­ell bought the ’75 win­ner and turned it into a road car. Below left: Black beauty! This is how the fa­mous car looked at the time of its big road crash in Tassie. Below: Row­ell cut the shell in half, with the rear go­ing to the tip. Top right: The front half of the Bathurst-win­ner’s shell was grafted onto the speedway To­rana of God­frey Gale.

1977 Oran Park

Bruce Smart

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