Brock’s at Spa ’77

Brock’s best over­seas per­for­mance is well known to many long-time rac­ing en­thu­si­asts in the Old Dart, but largely un­known in his home­land.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Brock’s best over­seas per­for­mance is well known to many long-time rac­ing en­thu­si­asts in the Old Dart, but largely un­known in his home­land. It’s the story of the dash­ing Aussie race driver who part­nered a prickly, over­weight Pom­mie.

Peter Brock’s great­est per­for­mance on the in­ter­na­tional stage wasn’t at Le Mans in 1984 in the much-hyped Bob Jane T-Marts-backed Porsche 956 as­sault. Nor did it come dur­ing the equally high-pro­file V8 Com­modore at­tack on the 1986 Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship with his own Holden Dealer Team.

In­stead, his best re­sult from his many, if spo­radic, sor­ties over­seas was a gi­ant-killing per­for­mance a decade ear­lier – for a very dif­fer­ent dealer team.

Brock and Brit Gerry Mar­shall’s sec­ond place in the 1977 Spa 24 Hour tour­ing car clas­sic long ago fell off the bot­tom of Brock’s rac­ing re­sume and into ob­scu­rity. This was largely be­cause there was lit­tle re­portage of the feat back home in Aus­tralia. And dis­in­ter­est from those ig­no­rant Holden en­thu­si­asts who strug­gled to grasp that GM-H was but one of Gen­eral Mo­tors’ mar­ques.

Yet the achieve­ment meant a lot to Brock him­self. Shortly be­fore his death in 2006, when plans were be­ing hatched to re­unite him with the off­beat class car which Mar­shall and he drove

the wheels off in mid ‘77, he said:

“Win­ning the class at Spa was an achieve­ment in my ca­reer that is not up in lights with the Bathurst wins, but it is one of the most sat­is­fy­ing re­sults. We won the In­dex of Per­for­mance and I had a great deal of fun driv­ing that car with Gerry.”

Flavour­ing this story are the con­trasts be­tween easy­go­ing heart-throb Brock, ev­ery bit the dash­ing rac­ing driver from cen­tral cast­ing, and the prickly, 18-stone and im­prob­a­bly quick Mar­shall.

‘Big Gerry’ was a gi­ant of Bri­tish mo­tor rac­ing in more ways than one, de­fy­ing the laws of physics to pro­pel cars to a suc­ces­sion of un­likely vic­to­ries that earned him cult-hero sta­tus.

Motorsport mag­a­zine’s Mark Hughes wrote the fol­low­ing about the larger-than-life fig­ure after his pass­ing in 2005, 17 months be­fore Brock’s.

“He was al­ways happy to chat, es­pe­cially about him­self. He’d chat about other driv­ers too – but only about how they weren’t re­ally that good. In one of his loos there was a pic­ture of him­self on a podium. Some were turned off by that sort of thing,

but if you just saw the hu­mour in it, reck­oned that his re­mark­able ex­ploits had al­lowed him some in­dul­gence, then you got to see there wasn’t any mal­ice in it. In fact he was a big old emo­tional softie un­der­neath it all, and some­times gen­er­ous to a fault.”

The odd cou­ple came to­gether when Brock’s GM con­nec­tions in­tro­duced him to the Vaux­hall equiv­a­lent. The Vic­to­rian was in be­tween stints with the Holden Dealer Team and in Europe look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties after his 1976 Le Mans at­tempt in a BMW CSL fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions.

DTV was owned by Dutch-born for­mer aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer Bill Bly­den­stein who ap­proached Vaux­hall in the late 1960s for some clan­des­tine fac­tory sup­port when run­ning Vi­vas in sa­loon car events. Mar­shall was his ace steerer and their suc­cess went to a new level when, for 1971, Bly­den­stein’s rac­ing pro­gram – es­tab­lished in the un­likely set­ting of a dis­used English rail­way sta­tion – was re-con­sti­tuted un­der the ban­ner of ‘Dealer Team Vaux­hall’. A con­sor­tium of Vaux­hall deal­ers banded to­gether to fore­stall any op­po­si­tion from ei­ther Vaux­hall or GM.

Their re­la­tion­ship spawned a se­ries of fa­mously suc­cess­ful cars in the early 1970s with nick­names like the ‘Old Nail’ (a Firenza), the Ven­tora-based, Repco V8-en­gined ‘Big Bertha’ and the Firenza-based ‘Baby Bertha’ (pic­tured). But it’s a car with­out a nick­name – and mild in com­par­i­son to the Berthas – that’s cen­tral to a lit­tle known chap­ter of Peter Brock’s rac­ing ca­reer and our fo­cus here.

24 hours in Spa


24 Heures de Fran­cor­champs of 1977 was the 30th run­ning of Bel­gium’s endurance clas­sic, which be­gan in 1924, a year after the most fa­mous twice-round-the-clock marathon, Le Mans. That July 23-24 af­fair was the sec­ond-last held on the orig­i­nal 14.12km lay­out, with the famed track trun­cated to 7km for 1979.

The Spa 24 Hours was held in­ter­mit­tently for its first four decades but con­tin­u­ously since 1964. This was the same year its fo­cus switched from sportscars to sa­loons. It switched back in 2001 and for the last six years it’s been con­tested by the boom­ing FIA GT3 class.

“The Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club of Bel­gium have a unique race with the Spa 24 Hours around the pic­turesque and ul­tra-quick cir­cuit at Fran­cor­champs,” wrote Bob Con­stan­duros in his 1977 race re­port in UK’s Au­tosport. “The prob­lem in the last few years has been to de­cide for which cars it should be run.”

For ’77 the RACB opted for the FIA’s Group 1 tour­ing car regs after run­ning the more mod­i­fied Group 2 cars with mixed suc­cess in pre­vi­ous years.

“Now G1 is an anom­aly-rid­den class,” Con­stan­duros’ re­port con­tin­ued, “the French, English and Bel­gian cham­pi­onships, the prin­ci­pal ones, are run from that ba­sis, with vari­a­tions.”

Those vari­ables per­tained to front sus­pen­sion mod­i­fi­ca­tions, diff cool­ers, rear spoil­ers and the re­moval of trim and seats.

If that sounds like an el­i­gi­bil­ity night­mare wait­ing the hap­pen, the laid­back Bel­gians must have pulled the right strings as they were re­warded with a bumper 80-car en­try for the 60 grids slots avail­able. These were split into three classes: up to 1600cc, 1601-2500cc and over 2500cc.

The top class con­sisted of nine BMW 530is, five of the older BMW CSis, two Chevro­let Ca­maros, one Mercedes, eight Ford Capris and five Opel Com­modores. Nat­u­rally, the win­ner was ex­pected to come from one of these 30 cars and with BMW and Ford hav­ing dom­i­nated the race through the 1970s, no one was ex­pect­ing another mar­que to spring a sur­prise. Much less an up­set win or even a out­right podium for an un­der 2500cc class con­tender.

A fleet of Alfa Romeos, in­clud­ing a quar­tet of works-sup­ported Au­todelta en­tries, dom­i­nated that mid­dle class, with four 2.3-litre Vaux­hall Mag­nums ex­pected to pro­vide the stiffest op­po­si­tion. In ad­di­tion to the Dealer Team Vaux­hall en­try of Mar­shall and Brock, there were two Bel­gian-built cars and Brit Jeff Al­lam’s car.

Mean­time, an eclec­tic bunch of un­der 1600cc tid­dlers in­cluded VW Golfs and Sciroc­cos, Audis, var­i­ous Toy­otas and the Gi­tanes-backed Simca Avengers.

Squads or­gan­ised them­selves into teams in or­der to con­test the event’s fa­mous King’s Cup, which had been won the past six years by Alfa Romeo.

The DTV elected to build up a brand new Mag­num for the event, “to make use of the knowl­edge that we gained by com­pet­ing in the 600km [race] at Spa on May 8th this year,” team man­ager Gerry John­stone ex­plained. “We de­cided to de­tune the en­gine by low­er­ing the com­pres­sion Above: Pre-race fes­tiv­i­ties in the town that gave its name to ev­ery spa bath in the world. Better to share a Stella Ar­tois with Mar­shall at the Ho­tel du Por­tu­gal than a hot spring bath, we reckon. ra­tio and re­vert­ing to a mid­dle camshaft pro­file and to baf­fle the oil sump. For the 600km race we had fit­ted a front spoiler and as a re­sult the car had a ten­dency to un­der­steer. When as­sem­bling the new car we de­cided to build it with softer front sus­pen­sion set­tings in an at­tempt to re­duce the un­der­steer.”

The near stan­dard DTV Mag­num was built in a mat­ter of days, just in time for the team to catch a Wed­nes­day ferry and hit the track for Thurs­day prac­tice.

“Win­ning the class at Spa was an achieve­ment in my ca­reer that is not up in lights with the Bathurst wins, but it is one of the most sat­is­fy­ing re­sults. We won the In­dex of Per­for­mance and I had a great deal of fun driv­ing that car with Gerry.” – Peter Brock

“We all felt con­fi­dent al­though we seemed a lit­tle slow hav­ing qual­i­fied 28th over­all,” Gerry John­stone con­tin­ues. “Most of the fastest 20 con­sisted of three-litre BMWs, Capris and Opel Com­modores; we were sec­ond in class to a works Dolomite.”

Mar­shall’s best time of four min­utes 42.4 sec­onds was no less than 17.2 sec­onds slower than the Chev Ca­maro of the Ver­meulen broth­ers, Loek and Huub, a pair of Dutch film­mak­ers!

Los­ing 15-plus sec­onds per lap didn’t auger well for an out­right re­sult, but the at­tri­tion in the first few laps after the 3pm Sat­ur­day start pointed to what lay ahead.

The spec­ta­cle of 60 cars charg­ing down into Eau Rouge was ‘en­hanced’ by a clash that sent the small cars pin­balling into each other and the armco, al­though all were able to con­tinue.

Mar­shall made a spec­tac­u­lar start and man­aged to pass as many as 10 cars on the open­ing lap, show­ing his in­tent to push hard.

At the end of the first hour the #56 Mag­num was lead­ing its class and run­ning a fine 13th over­all, as the gun BMWs squab­bled for the lead.

“How­ever, in the [third] hour, things were to change for Gerry,” re­ported Con­stan­duros. “He pit­ted with the Mag­num and it wouldn’t restart. They changed the starter and checked the so­le­noid wiring but lost 15 min­utes be­fore the car went out again.”

This dropped the Vaux­hall to 25th over­all and sev­enth in class, mo­ti­vat­ing Mar­shall to charge be­fore Brock be­gan a three-hour stint.

“At 6.12pm Mar­shall handed over to Brock, the car run­ning per­fectly,” team man­ager John­stone’s re­port de­tailed. “At 7pm Brock had pulled back to 21st over­all, 6th in class. By 8pm, 19th over­all, 5th in class and at 9pm, 17th over­all and 4th in class. At 9.14pm Brock handed back to Mar­shall.”

Con­stan­duro’s re­port de­scribed the scene as dark­ness de­scended upon the Ardennes:

“The evening was sur­pris­ingly warm as the race drew into the night. The ex­cel­lent crowd was at­tracted to the steady thump of the dis­cothe­ques, but there were many watch­ing the race, as there would be through­out the night.

“The rain would come and go dur­ing the early night hours, but it didn’t de­ter the spec­ta­tors. Even though the rain would some­times die, it would sud­denly come pelt­ing down again so that the track stayed wet.”

The lead­ing BMWs – from Bri­tish (Tom Walkin­shaw Rac­ing), French (Team Benoit) and Ital­ian (Luigi Rac­ing) squads – were all af­flicted by mi­nor is­sues that al­lowed the lead­ing Capri of Gor­don Spice to chal­lenge. At mid­night a trio of Beam­ers and the Ford were the only cars on the lead lap. The DTV Mag­num was many laps down but threat­en­ing the top 10 over­all.

It cracked the 10 around the halfway mark, 3am, when the Spice Capri led what was a top­sy­turvy, dra­matic and highly en­ter­tain­ing af­fair. The rain and the po­ten­tial per­ils of stand­ing wa­ter put paid to the ef­forts of the fastest Alfa.

“An over-en­thu­si­as­tic mar­shal jumped out onto the track to warn Carlo Facetti of the pud­dle at the bot­tom of Eau Rouge and put him off line. He hit the bar­rier on the inside, and then the out­side, short­en­ing the Alfetta and the team by one.”

This was the pe­riod when the out­right race win­ner was ef­fec­tively de­cided, with no one able to match the pace of French rally ace, Jean-Claude An­druet, win­ner of the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally. An­druet’s speed in the BMW 530i he shared with Bel­gian Eddy Joosen was so far su­pe­rior that it es­tab­lished a lead it was not to lose over the fi­nal 11 hours.

As an aside, his Wikipae­dia en­try in­cludes the fol­low­ing: “An­druet’s son Gilles was a chess player and was mur­dered in 1995 in murky cir­cum­stances.”

By 8am the gap to sec­ond was four laps and the #10 BMW only needed to keep cir­cu­lat­ing to claim the win.

Mar­shall/Brock had risen as high as sev­enth, but were los­ing ground, as the DTV’s John­stone ex­plains.

“We were on Dun­lops, it was wet and Gerry and Brocky com­plained they had no grip. We were los­ing ground, so I went and bought a set of Miche­lins. Dun­lop sort of turned a blind eye – after all, their stickers were on the car.

“As soon as Miche­lins were fit­ted our driv­ers again turned out to be 10 sec­onds per lap faster than the Gulf Mag­nums (in­stead of be­ing five sec­onds slower when on Dun­lops).”

The15-sec­ond per lap turn­around in lap time sent the Vaux­hall surg­ing for­ward again, but not be­fore Brock had knocked off the back bumper in a spin, as he told Rac­ing Car News:

“The track was dry­ing quickly. As we stopped for some petrol, we de­cided to change two tyres in the time it took to fill it up with fuel. I put a pair of slicks on the back and went out and hoed into it. How­ever, round the back of the cir­cuit, howl­ing through this bend, all of a sud­den I came upon a cloud­burst – the track was to­tally awash – and I was do­ing about 130mph. Well, I’ve never gone so far side­ways for so long – I had full op­po­site lock on and all I could do was just sit there and hang on. It didn’t spin, and it didn’t straighten up. It just went side­ways up the road for about a kilo­me­tre. Fi­nally, when it was down to 15 or 20mph I gave it a lurch, it wob­bled round and cor­rected it­self on the grass verge, just glanc­ing the past the Armco on the grass. I hastily headed for the pits for some in­ter­me­di­ates, and out we went again.”

At 12.44pm Brock handed over to Mar­shall for the run to the flag. With just over two hours re­main­ing, car #56 was fourth over­all and sec­ond in class, with two car­rots dan­gling ahead of the English­man. Within reach, if he was pre­pared to risk push­ing on, were a Capri and the un­der 2500cc di­vi­sion lead­ing Alfetta.

“The gap be­tween Mar­shall and the Alfetta was about three and a half min­utes at one o’clock and down to three min­utes four laps later,” Con­stan­duros’ re­port de­tails. “Gerry’s driv­ing was get­ting the crowd worked up. The PA com­men­ta­tor pointed him out and all in the grand­stand were on their feet watch­ing him through Eau Rouge. Quickly Gerry over­hauled the Alfetta, and set off after Vince Wood­man.

“Gerry was pil­ing it on in his own spec­tac­u­lar way, but Vince was re­spond­ing. Gerry was chop­ping away at the gap at about three sec­onds per lap. Into that fi­nal hour, Gerry looked to have the race for sec­ond place. Then it was down to a sec­ond a lap, eight sec­onds be­tween them, 40 min­utes to go. That over 10 laps. The next lap though, it was down to five sec­onds; then, when they came around the next time, Gerry’s arm was raised out the win­dow, he was sec­ond.” Team man­ager John­stone was ec­static. “At the end of 24 Hours, Gerry brought the Mag­num home sec­ond over­all, first in class... 14 laps be­hind the win­ning BMW. All in all a fan­tas­tic re­sult. Far left: This is the win­ning BMW. Left: This im­age was taken mo­ment’s after this fea­ture’s opener, when the tid­dlers col­lided through Eau Rouge. Main: Thanks to Bon­hams Auc­tions for the cur­rent day shots, in­clud­ing of new owner James.

“The team, con­sist­ing of the two Gulf Mag­nums and our own, won the much cov­eted King’s Cup. Gen­eral Mo­tors Bel­gium were very pleased to win this as it had been won by Alfa for the last six con­sec­u­tive years. This was awarded to the team of three cars fin­ish­ing with the least amount of dis­tance be­tween the first and third car. Gen­eral Mo­tors also won the Man­u­fac­tur­ers Award.

“Thanks and congratulations to all team driv­ers, par­tic­u­larly Peter and Gerry who drove so well for so long.”

The Mag­num had cov­ered 3885km (2414 miles), av­er­ag­ing over 100mph de­spite spend­ing over an hour in pit­lane.

Con­stan­duros: “Spa had ev­ery­thing. It pro­vided a fas­ci­nat­ing fin­ish, a fine en­try, a fine vic­tory and bat­tles when you least ex­pected them.”

Spa was not to be the last time Brock and Mar­shall teamed up. As part of the re­cip­ro­cate deal, Brock hosted Mar­shall at Bathurst two months later as part of the am­bi­tious three­car Bill Pat­ter­son Rac­ing at­tack on the 1977 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. Brock was part­nered with his brother Phil in an A9X hatch, while the English­man was paired with South African Basil Van Rooyen in an A9X sedan, as were vet­er­ans Tony Roberts and Doug Chivas. While the two all-Aus­tralian crews came home inside the top

10, the Mar­shall/van Rooyen machine was a lap 107 DNF after an en­gine fail­ure.

If Mar­shall’s visit had served as a brief re­minder to some of the stel­lar Spa re­sult – in truth, few lo­cal fans were aware of their feat – then claim­ing the Bel­gian choco­lates was soon com­pletely for­got­ten as Brock went from lo­cal gun to the Bathurst 1000’s most pro­lific win­ner.

In con­trast, the DTV’s Spa 1977 feat en­tered Bri­tish motorsport folk­lore as part of cult hero Mar­shall’s legacy. So the car’s resur­fac­ing at a rac­ing car auc­tion in 2005 after some 25 years out of the limelight was met with ex­cite­ment.

It had been sold by DTV at the end of 1977 to a pri­va­teer op­er­a­tion. In 1978 it was raced by Alan Fos­ter and Win Percy in the Tourist Tro­phy at Sil­ver­stone and then at Spa. It passed through sev­eral hands and was rolled at Sil­ver­stone’s Abbey Curve. When its rac­ing ca­reer ended, the much-used car was squir­reled away in a stone barn and the Pom­mie equiv­a­lents of Aaron Noo­nan lost track of it.

It was never con­verted to a road car and thus was spared the rav­ages of UK win­ters. The Mag­num only re­quired some fresh steel in the roof and re­pairs to the rear end, which had been dam­aged in another rac­ing in­ci­dent. Even so, restor­ing the body-shell con­sumed some 363 man-hours dur­ing what would turn out to be a 55week re­build.

The body was taken back to bare metal. Re­moval of the roundel and orig­i­nal stickers re­vealed the orig­i­nal DTV liv­ery be­neath. Gerry Mar­shall was con­sulted and con­firmed that this was in­deed the pro­duc­tion car pre­pared to Group 1 spec­i­fi­ca­tion and driven by him and Peter Brock at Spa. The re­stor­ers sought orig­i­nal builder Gerry John­stone’s ad­vice with re­gard to au­then­tic­ity. John­stone iden­ti­fied key fea­tures such as the holes for roundel lights in the doors, only fit­ted for endurance rac­ing, and sur­mised that the car had sub­se­quently been used for ral­ly­ing. He also iden­ti­fied the var­i­ous dam­aged areas, as did Mar­shall.

Gerry John­stone duly com­pleted the car in ev­ery de­tail he could re­mem­ber, in­clud­ing re­build­ing the en­gine, rewiring the electrics and plumb­ing in the ex­haust sys­tem. On twin Weber DCOE 48 car­bu­ret­tors and a rel­a­tively mild camshaft, the lat­ter fit­ted for endurance rac­ing, the 2.3-litre en­gine pro­duces 172bhp at the rear wheels (204bhp at the fly­wheel).

In the hands of the win­ning 2005 auc­tion bid­der Adrian God­ing, the Mag­num was re­turned to the track in 2006. Sadly, Gerry Mar­shall had passed away the pre­vi­ous year and was not there to wit­ness his old car’s re­turn, though he had helped with its restora­tion, sup­ply­ing pe­riod pho­to­graphs of the DTV liv­ery.

After Mar­shall died, God­ing got in touch with Brock to in­vite him to drive the car at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed. Brock was typ­i­cally en­thu­si­as­tic, high­light­ing the fun he had driv­ing the car at Spa in com­ment­ing, “It would be great to drive that car once more.”

Sadly, that wasn’t to be for the June 2006 FoS, or any sub­se­quent years, with Brock los­ing his life in Septem­ber that year, a week after at­tend­ing the venue’s sis­ter event, the Good­wood Re­vival.

Gold­ing put the car up for auc­tion through Bon­hams ear­lier this year with a se­lec­tion of pe­riod race mem­o­ra­bilia and keep­sakes. This in­cluded race pro­grammes, a framed ‘WE WON THE CUP’ poster, the DTV race suit cloth badge worn at Spa by Gerry Mar­shall, along with his Spa driv­ers pad­dock pass, to­gether with the menu from the prize giv­ing din­ner in Brus­sels and a dis­play board com­mem­o­rat­ing Gerry Mar­shall’s il­lus­tri­ous rac­ing ca­reer.

The car was pur­chased by Tom and Louise Alexan­der for their 14-year-old son James.

“It was a spur of the mo­ment pur­chase,” said Tom, who raced against Gerry Mar­shall. “We saw the car yes­ter­day for the first time. I looked at the phe­nom­e­nal his­tory file and thought it might be a good car to buy. £82,000 (AUD$163,000) is a bar­gain. It is re­mark­ably cheap for a car with enough his­tory to get into Good­wood when Capris and such­like sell for over £100,000.

“I know it’s a few years away, but I would like to get James into his­toric sa­loon rac­ing. I am hop­ing he will drive it in the Gerry Mar­shall Tro­phy race [at Good­wood’s Mem­bers Meet­ing] in the fu­ture.”

When he does, it will be a fit­ting re­minder of the week­end when two stars of their own do­mes­tic scene joined forces to show-up crews in much faster cars.

Main: Where’s Gerry? The Mar­shall/Brock sil­ver Mag­num can be spot­ted, par­tially ob­scured, above this cap­tion. The lead­ing cars are al­ready out of frame. n io ct le ol C ss ro C l au P ns tio uc A s m ha on B

ia ed M 1 N A

The odd cou­ple sol­diered on to an­chor Vaux­hall’s win in the Coupe du Roi, aka The King’s Cup. Brock re­peated the feat, for Holden, nine years later. The rear bumper is still in­tact here.

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