O’Brien’s finest hour

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

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.

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