O’Brien’s finest hour
If O’Brien was to stay in the game, he would need to do something that he never contemplated doing before – race a Holden! “I was never a Holden man. I was always into Fords from my speedway days. But the Sierras were too much. I got on well with Larry Perkins. He told me, ‘If you want a good car, I’ll build you a good car.’ So we did it. It cost me $140,000.”
PE003 was the first customer built Perkins Engineering VL Commodore and would serve O’Brien well from 1987 until he sold it after the 1991 Bathurst 1000. Its first race was the Calder 300, which used the combined traditional circuit and the banked Thunderdome for the first time, a test event ahead of the World Touring Car Championship round in October. Perkins qualified the new Commodore third and led the race until he handed over to O’Brien on the second last lap! O’Brien, who had barely any seat time in the Commodore, gingerly bought it home a safe second.
For the Bathurst 1000, contested by locals and WTCC regulars, O’Brien was back with good friend Brian Sampson. In a race that caught out many of the internationals in the wild weather, the pair did well to finish 14th.
The VL Commodore was updated to full TWR specs in 1988, complete with the twin throttle body fuel injection and plastic body addenda.
“I needed two of those injected engines plus gearboxes and other trick parts and I soon worked out that I had spent over half-a-million in less than a year!”
To help pay the bills, O’Brien accepted an offer from a wealthy prestige car dealer, the late Ray Lintott, to buy a half share of the Commodore in time for that year’s Bathurst.
“The deal was that whoever smashes it pays the bill. Unfortunately in the race poor old Ray crashed it heavily at Griffin’s Bend. We had done a brake pad change and bolted on new tyres. He didn’t pump the pedal and couldn’t stop. He was so distraught that he relinquished his half share, which helped pay for the repair.”
By this time O’Brien was just focusing on the Bathurst race. The 1989 season would be another disappointing year with another meeting with the wall at Griffin’s Bend.
“I was finishing my second stint. I always do a double opening stint and it was just loss of concentration. My fault.”
The next year, however, would provide O’Brien with his best ever Bathurst result, albeit controversially. After a trouble-free race O’Brien and Sampson finished a fine eighth, but were later not classified as they hadn’t greeted the chequered flag! Sampson was in the car and was about to be lapped by Grice in the winning HRT Commodore when the chequered flag came out. Officials deemed that the Everlast Commodore needed to complete another lap to ‘greet the chequered flag’.
“The chequered flag was shown (to our car),” he explains. “We had the photos to prove it. Anyway, we couldn’t do another lap as the track marshals on Mountain Straight were directing us into the paddock. Mind you, I don’t think we had enough fuel for another lap…”
Contemporary reports cited mechanical issues, but they did manage to get back to parc-ferme.
“It was farcical! We protested and we were reinstated.”
Brian Callaghan Senior and Junior joined the Everlast team in 1991 and would remain with O’Brien until he disbanded the team in 1997.
“Brian was an old speedway mate of mine. He was struggling to come up with a budget to continue racing at Bathurst at the time so we pooled our resources together.”
The 1991 race would be O’Brien’s last start with his faithful PE003 Walkinshaw VL Commodore. It This spread: His faithful VL turned well in excessive of 1000 laps at Bathurst between 1987 and 1991 in practice, qualifying and the race. Centre of strip pics: On the Thunderdome’s banking; ’87 WTCC round; 1990’s ecstasy turned to agony due to over-officious officialdom; completed 116 laps after a multitude of problems with the rear axle seal and was not classified.