1980 HDT VC

PAST BLAST BEST OF

JOHN BOWE PHOTOS THOMAS WIELECKI

JB DRIVES DOWN MEMORY LANE IN THE ‘RACE OF CHAMPIONS’ HDT COMMODORE THAT KICK-STARTED HIS OWN TOURING CAR CAREER

The last time I laid eyes on this car, Formula One driver Didier Pironi was buried in the passenger side rear door! It was the 1980 Australian Grand Prix at Calder Park in Melbourne.

Bob Jane – the brains behind Calder Park – had brought back our new world champ, Alan Jones, to race a whole lot of other drivers in a dozen brand new Brock Commodores. The whole thing was a pretty big deal.

I was racing that weekend in a Formula 5000, and I was lucky enough to be invited to race in the Race of Champions. What a great showcase that was for this new car. It was all the racing heroes of the day and it was a bit of a free-for-all! I was an open wheeler driver and we’re not into body contact, but all these other blokes were pretty eager so just to keep up with them you had to be pretty willing.

There was a race on Saturday and a race on Sunday and on aggregate points, I actually won! All of a sudden, I’d become someone who’d been noticed! This was 1980, and I didn’t get into Touring Cars until five years later. I’ve got a picture at home somewhere of Jackie Stewart – he was an icon of F1 and did some commentary for TV – presenting me with a great big ‘Big M Milk’ trophy with a group of pretty Big M girls standing behind me. That was a pretty major moment, let me tell you!

It was actually a lot of fun. These cars were bog standard cars from HDT, right down to those Uniroyal tyres. Peter Brock was the Holden factory driver when half of Australia drove Holdens. The man was a hero. I had some conversations with him and his management about driving for the Holden Dealer Team, but it never came to anything.

RACE OF CHAMPIONS

WHAT BETTER way to promote Australia’s newest highperformance road car than by racing it? That was the thinking behind the Race of Champions at the Australian Grand Prix at Calder Park in November 1980. It was a very public debut for the then-new HDT Commodore created by Peter Brock’s HDT Special Vehicles.

Lining up on the grid that weekend were 11 identical – except for colour – VC HDT Commodores. (The plan was to race a dozen, but one car suffered problems.). Kevin Bartlett won the first race on Saturday, with a young bloke by the name of John Bowe coming second. After starting some way back on the grid, Peter Brock won Sunday’s second race in his lone black car.

The races demonstrated just how good the original Brock Commodore was. Back then, Australia was Kingswood Country.

Motorists were only just getting used to the term ‘Radial Tuned Suspension’ and testers were in awe of even a base-model Commodore L’s chassis dynamics. So putting a dozen road cars onto a track was a visionary idea.

This is the car that Australia’s first F1 Champ Sir Jack Brabham raced.

Numbered 11, it’s now owned by John and Donna McCoy-Lancaster who restored the car during 2006/07. Big thanks to both of them and their mate for bringing the car to our photo shoot.

But him doing these road cars was pretty special stuff.

Even today, it’s quite an impressive drive.

It has quite nice steering which I put down to the rack-and-pinion set-up, when even European cars of the time still had boxes.

Brocky installed Bilsteins and played with the camber and caster to provide more cornering grip. There’s a bit of rear steer but the whole thing feels nimble and responsive.

And you can feel that it’s light. At around 1300kg, it’s half a tonne lighter than modern day HSVs. Lightness equals power so the VC gets along at a pretty good rate. I think they were quoted at 160kW which is bugger-all in today’s terms. But at the time, this car was a huge breakthrough.

Brocky had a hot-rodder’s feel for cars and I think in today’s world where we’re more strictly governed by rules and regulations, maybe he wouldn’t have been as successful.

But in that era, what he did was what every little kid would love to do – build special, muscly, high-performance road cars!

It was the start of what we still have – our own little iconic Australian muscle car industry.

“IT WAS ALL THE RACING HEROES OF THE DAY AND IT WAS A BIT OF A FREE-FOR-ALL!”

ENGINE 5044cc V8, OHV, 16v POWER 160kW @ 4500rpm TORQUE 450Nm @ 2800rpm TRANSMISSION M21 4-speed manual SUSPENSION Macpherson struts, anti-roll bar (f); live axle, coil springs, trailing arms, Panhard rod, anti-roll bar (r) BRAKES discs (f/r)