By David K. McNulty, MCT NATCB*

This article was originally written in 2009 f0r the PRI Convention at the Orlando, Florida Convention Center. Since then, SEMA and PRI have come under one ownership but have expanded into a very sophisticated program.

Pete Brock and his wife Gayle were among the notables in attendance at the PRI Show held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. They greeted fans and signed posters at the Grassroots Motorsports Magazine exhibit.

To those who know of Peter Brock and have followed his career, he seems to have “Lived the Dream.” Rarely does one person actually live the life that most others could experience only in fantasy.

While hearing of others’ experiencing success, it is natural to discount the obstacles that necessarily come with the territory. His was not a fairy tale life without missed opportunities or setbacks. He too had his share of bad luck and fierce competition.

$T2eC16V,!)UE9s3wCO0mBQn!ycwWdg~~60_3When asked about his formal education, how he managed to turn a hobby into a successful career and why he became interested in imports, he responded so calmly and clearly that one could imagine it to be easy for anyone to accomplish.

The reason Peter Brock is drawn to imports goes way back to his childhood experience. As a youngster, he had a neighbor who owned and raced an MG-TC. This neighbor took an interest in him, taught him about cars, let him help with some preparations, and took him to races. With that kind of an introduction, he was smitten and by the eighth grade, had a job at one of the Bay area Hot Rod shops.

College was something he attended primarily to satisfy his mother. Studying Engineering at Stanford University did not feel right to him. Fortunately he had heard of the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.

He visited the school during Easter Break. This was not a normal visit
in that rather than walk in the front door, introduce himself and ask to be shown around, he went through the rear entrance and audited some classes. He would soon see enough to know that this was where he wanted to study. Immediately upon coming to that conclusion, he walked through the front door and inquired about enrollment.

To his surprise and dismay, he learned that this was not just any school. Students had to have been involved in the field and have portfolios of their work to submit for approval before their acceptance. Not being one to shrink from an obstacle, he inquired further as to just what exactly a portfolio really was, promptly went out to his car and created one on regular lined notebook paper. It may have been the least professional submission the Art Center had ever received, but it must have been impressive, because it convinced them that he was talented, driven and resourceful.

As excited as he was to be attending the Art Center College of Design, he did not graduate. This was not a fairy tale life and there were problems. Money, or rather, the lack of it, would not allow him to continue long enough to finish. In those days, General Motors was well aware of the Art Center College and regularly sent Head Hunters to meet with the students in search of new talent.

Peter Brock had met with these gentlemen and had been told to let them know when he had graduated. As his tuition was expiring, he contacted General Motors and informed them that he was soon to be out of school due to lack became of finances and inquired if the offer still applied. The important part of their response was a plane ticket. At only 19, Peter Brock was the youngest General Motors designer.

As fate would have it, being so young and not an actual graduate of the Art Center College of Design, he was placed on unimportant non-production related projects. He was relegated to Concept Cars. Various projects were undertaken with all of his energies, but whose fates were out of his control. One project was the “Cadet” which was envisioned as a microcar and targeted toward students. This ended mid project when G.M. decided that making small cars was beneath them. Another project he worked on was a drawing of a futuristic sports car concept that would become the Corvette Sting Ray.

In 1958 he parted company with G.M. to return to Southern California, the grass roots car culture, and racing. Soon, he was working at Hollywood Motors, with Max and Ida Balchowsky (Old Yeller). Carroll Shelby was among the regular visitors to Hollywood Motors and occasionally drove for them.

Max was a genius and taught Peter a lot about racing and fabrication. Carroll and Peter became well acquainted. Each became aware of the other’s capabilities; as a result, when Shelby started his Driving School, Peter Brock became his first employee. Now, at the ripe age of 23, he became the Head Instructor at Carroll Shelby’s Driving School.

It is sometimes fun to step back and realize that the icons we see now were themselves once under budgeted start-ups. Shelby Racing was no exception. As a Shelby employee, and having been a designer with G.M., Peter finally got his chance to get involved with a serious race car; the Cobra Daytona Coupe.

Small organization as it was, there were not a lot of committees to deal with so his designs were unadulterated. Having taken advantage of the wealth of engineering information at the G.M. library, Peter Brock had a more accurate understanding of aerodynamics than the competition, the Daytonas were very fast.

In 1965 Peter Brock left Shelby to develop his own team, BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises). If you are not independently wealthy, a sponsor is a necessity. Hino was a Japanese company that made trucks and cars not yet available to the American market. They were interested in fueling American awareness of their cars by winning some races. The racing effort was successful to the point of developing the Hino to be competitive and winning a race.

The race win made the news in Japan and Peter Brock soon had a signed contract for more racing, a dealership and a territory. It seemed as if all signals were green until a key member of the Board of Directors died from a heart attack. Toyota absorbed Hino and struck a deal with Shelby to the exclusion of Mr. Brock And BRE.

The Toyota-Shelby situation generated understandable friction and a strong desire to embarrass the Shelby and the Toyota racing effort. The only remaining choice was Datsun. The American branch was not interested in sponsorship, but through a contact Peter had made with Hino, who just “happened” to know the CEO of Nissan in Japan, a deal was struck.

It was not long after the Datsuns were winning races that the American branch came onboard. An interesting side note is that in the development of the racing Datsuns, additional cooling air for the front brakes was addressed. It was customary to place scoops under the grill to catch air to be redirected.

No one had ever connected them to do double duty in that there was down force to be generated which could aid cornering ability. They looked ugly and didn’t quite fit within the rules, but under the guise of Front Brake Air Scoop, the Air Dam was born. Ugly or not they worked famously and soon became beautiful in the eyes of their beholders.

Peter Brock was introduced to fast cars as a youth; later becoming a successful team owner. This article covers only the material discussed in the interview at PRI which took him from a pre-teen with no car experience to a successful team owner. It is common knowledge that his career successes continue today. For more information of his recent history, one needs only to consult the BRE website.

Enjoy this other PRI article written in 2009…

Image Credit: David K. McNulty

Did we leave something out or misspell your name? Contact the Editor

*Formerly a Master Certified Technician, NATCB (National Automotive Technicians Certification Board. Certification ratified by the ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Exellence) and now author of Auto Industry related articles. McNulty has enjoyed much of his free time restoring his own muscle car.

Co-existing with ethanol

Facebook Comments