Category Archives: Blog Stories

An Appreciation of Change by Peter Brock

A major milestone occurred last week. A car design I created a few years ago (mentioned in the article below that appeared in Classic Motorsports more than 2 years ago) has sat languishing as the client has had his attention elsewhere. Last week the exclusivity I granted this client expired. I am free once again to design whatever I want. At my “advanced” age, it’s been frustrating to put my heart and soul into a design and not see anything come of it. I plan to make up for lost time!


An Appreciation of Change
By Peter Brock
As seen in Classic Motorsports magazine February 2022

Working as an independent automotive designer in this modern age presents some unique challenges. The opportunities to create something of value in such an already congested environment are rare indeed simply because the word “independent” doesn’t really mesh with an international industry already filled with highly complex corporate design teams. Instead of being left alone to create independently they are normally set up to operate at the direction of a remote marketing division that exists solely to determine and direct what it collectively thinks the public wants. Such specious information, often gathered by randomly collected “focus groups” usually has such conflicting opinions, that it’s essentially valueless. This is easily proven by the morass of tasteless junk that constantly fills our highways.  Still, for me the rare opportunity to design independently occasionally arises. The chance to create something both aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically satisfying while being environmentally efficient is exciting to say the least. That’s occurring now in my life and I’m genuinely excited. The chance to use new materials and the latest technology is incredibly stimulating as each provides the opportunity to work with new people expert in their specialized fields.

Having been originally schooled in the time-honored techniques of pencil work on a drawing board it’s been interesting over the past few years to watch the industry’s almost universal transition to electronics for both artistic and engineering solutions. Computers have allowed the unification of creative thought and precise hardline engineering because of the practical demand that all involved be able to operate on the same screen at the same time whether across the room or in another country.

Since the late ‘20s, when a young Californian named Harley Earle brought the use of styling clay and the element of aesthetic exterior design to General Motors, that carefully hand applied substance has been used almost exclusively to sculpt forms unique to each of America’s automotive design eras. In addition to pencil work I also learned how to design with clay when I attended Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design back in the ‘50s. I have continued to use that unique skill to sculpt new ideas in quarter scale whenever the prospect presented itself. In the past few months I’ve spent hours on a new design that may actually see production within the next year or so.

What has changed in recent years is that my self-trusted clay skills have become almost obsolete in favor of electronic modeling that has become so sophisticated that current computer-delivered renderings appear almost real. However, I still trust my abilities in 3D, as I feel there’s still nothing to equal working subtle surfaces by hand and eye. Understandably this takes hours and modern industry has little appreciation for time lost to what has been accepted as a superior method to achieve the equivalent result.

What has really improved though in the modern design process is the transition from scale to full size. Any designer who has sketched new ideas in clay soon learns that scale models seldom transfer to full size successfully. The eye sees miniatures and full size in an entirely different way, so any new automotive form must be seen outside in full scale to determine its real aesthetic impact. Full size clay models have almost disappeared from modern automotive design studios. Instead, full size prototypes are now rapidly sculpted from huge blocks of hard foam with sophisticated five-axis CNC machines that that deliver almost perfect renditions in hours instead of weeks. In an industry where time is critical the advent of electronics has almost completely obliterated the hand-sculpted art form.

For someone like myself, essentially a dinosaur from a past era, the change has been both exciting and overwhelming. Now an electronic scan of my quarter scale creation can be converted to a full-scale replica in a matter of hours. If approved I may be able to show you the real thing in a few months.

Epilogue – the few months came and went and then it was a few years. I can’t control what someone does, or does not do, with my designs. If all goes to plan, now that we are back in control, look for an unveiling at SEMA and possibly two new cars next year.

The Crystal Ball by Peter Brock

A couple of weekends ago Gayle (my wife) was working on her beloved 1974 BMW tii, replacing a turn light bulb and had a friend remove the inner panel of the passenger door as the slide for the window had bound up and needed some lubrication. I watched as she “loved” on the car, cleaning the back of the turn light lens cover, putting some polish on a rag and wiping down the underside of the hood. By contrast, as I drove to work today I saw a Tesla truck in a neighbor’s driveway, reminded of the seemingly unrealistic EV quotas the government recently announced, all while saying how they’re successfully reducing inflation and working to make things more affordable. I wonder if the truck will even exist some 50 years from now, let alone have someone loving on it.


Occasionally I go back and read some of my previous editorials to see how they’ve stood the test of time. I thought this Classic Motorsports piece rather poignant, even more so than when I wrote it originally 13 years ago.

The Crystal Ball
by Peter Brock
Classic Motorsports magazine, May 2011

As traditional, old school car guys, passionately devoted to almost anything mechanical, historical, esthetically wonderful, or even just plain rare that permits us to stand in wonder, or better yet propel ourselves faster than ever imagined back in the day, we’re always being asked, Why? Our value system for old cars and their mystique doesn’t align well with our rapidly changing world, and yet the value of what we squirrel away somehow seems to keep rising; Rarity has its price, but for how long? And then there are those continual other questions concerning worth, as opposed to value, as if it were the money that really mattered. Automotive treasure never seems to make any sense to people without passion. It’s never been easy to explain to your next door neighbor who wonders what it is you do out there night after night all alone in your garage. Wives or girlfriends either get it, learn and join in, or eventually drift away…maybe even to the guy next door.

Trying to peer into the future is always fraught with peril; one risks getting blindsided by some emerging technology you didn’t even know existed when asked to comment on what we might expect somewhere down the line.

Practical electronics have been around since the early days of the telegraph. Back then pundits in the local saloon were earnestly trying to convince those who would listen that breeding faster horses for the pony express was the way to go. That’s always been a problem with becoming too expert in any specific field of interest. Just when you think you’ve got those Webers really dialed in and even your friends are asking you to tune theirs, some kid shows up with something called fuel injection.

Electronics have gradually changed everything we know, or think we understand about almost everything, but most importantly, at least to us gear-heads, is the fact that infinite streams of precisely measured electrons have had an incalculable impact on our automobiles. Everything we do to evaluate, change or improve the focus of our attention is now somehow more effectively measured by an electronic device. In some ways this constant eradication of mystery by electronic analysis makes life easier, faster and sometimes even less frustrating, but it’s also eliminated the pace of human discovery that made analyzing the source of a high speed miss or stumble so interesting and even pleasurable to share with those who value the intellectual exchange of ideas.

That much slower verbal interchange of past experiences is part of what we value in messing with old iron. Having the chance to talk with the people who were actually involved in some manner with these old icons makes the experience of working on them even sweeter, as the historical context is every bit as important as their mechanical attributes. Those grizzled vintage racers of yesteryear couldn’t rely on electronics but instead usually had faster, far more practical methods for solving problems. I once asked Smokey Yunick why the headers on his race cars each had a tiny hole drilled just past the flange on his exhaust headers. He just looked at me as if the answer was so obvious that I must have been retarded. “If the car comes into the pit with a dead cylinder all you need to do is look at the color in the hole to know which plug needs changing.” As time goes by and that simple, practical black magic called experience fades and is replaced by modern data control systems that are faster and more practical, but sometimes not as interesting, fun or even personally satisfying as doing it the old way, we lose much of the purpose of collecting and working on history. At the present ever-increasing rate of change, interest in things automotive could fade away entirely. That’s why it’s important to preserve old cars.

Consider now the ever increasing application of electronics and microcomputers in modern automobiles. The technology for these new models advances so quickly that by the time the first owner is ready to sell, the state of the art will have moved on so rapidly that any electronic spare parts to effect a repair will have already become obsolete in terms of the manufacturer’s next generation. By the time this present model is ten years old the teams of engineers who designed its electronic technology will have retired or moved on so far that they will have forgotten how it was originally conceived! The design of the present electronic components will be considered so out of date that service facilities too will have moved on to equipment matching the more modern systems and technicians will have little in the way of expertise or hardware to repair the vehicle. Want to add in some new instruments? Not possible as the central control unit won’t permit an addition that wasn’t programmed in from the start. Carburetors? Points-type ignitions? You’ve got to be kidding.

Today’s vehicles might be repaired in ten years with used replacement parts scrounged from a wrecking yard but the cost of doing so will exceed the value of the car. In short a modern vehicle’s useable lifetime will soon match that of a contemporary computer. It’ll be simpler, faster and cheaper to buy a new one than repair something that doesn’t match the sophistication of the latest offering. Doesn’t exactly sound appealing to today’s old car enthusiast does it?

So take good care of your old iron. Its value is that it’s simply understood and can be repaired or modified right there in your garage. Better yet it’s something to be savored between friends, like a fine wine. The advantage being that it won’t disappear after the moment but will always be there until it’s passed along to another who understands its value.

The Fighter: The Daytona Cobra Coupe’s Last Race

Carroll Shelby’s two Daytona Cobra Coupes’ impressive showing in their first season in the US and Europe in 1964 finally convinced some cool-eyed skeptics within Ford management that the ex-Texas chicken farmer and his small team of Southern California racers might actually have the “right stuff” to compete on an international level. They awarded Shelby their nascent Ford GT40 program for 1965. Ford’s master plan was to have Shelby cancel his Cobra program at the end of ’64 so the Texan’s experienced crew could focus entirely on their GT40 program.

Ray Geddes, a financial and operations manager at Ford, however, realized that while Ford’s still-problematic GT40 program was still being sorted out, Shelby’s Daytona Cobras could continue to lead Ford’s charge against Ferrari in the GT category. All Ford had to do was find a team other than Shelby’s to run them. Alan Mann Racing in the UK was the natural choice. Mann’s privateer successes with Ford rally cars in Britain had led to Ford contracting him to run a combined Ford team for the 1964 season. As a result of Mann’s success, he was contracted by Ford to run Shelby’s Daytona Coupes in Europe in ‘65. Their impressive goal would be to secure the FIA’s World GT Championship against Jaguar, Ferrari and Aston Martin, while Shelby’s California team focused their attention on sorting out Ford’s GT40 program in the Prototype category.

Shelby team mechanic Charlie Agapiou, an ex-pat Brit who had been working on the Daytonas during the ’64 season was the perfect choice to be the crew chief for Mann’s British Cobra team in Europe. Shelby team-driver Bob Bondurant approached Carroll and asked if he could drive for Mann’s Cobra team. Bondurant felt his future career lay in having a successful race season in Europe and he’d won Le Mans in ’64 in Daytona Coupe CSX 2299 with co-driver Dan Gurney. Carroll gave the okay and Bondurant flew into Heathrow to be picked up and report for team duty. It didn’t go as Bondo’ had envisioned. Bob got off his flight in Heathrow to find Mann had come to the airport personally to meet him. Bondurant introduced himself at which time Mann handed him a return ticket for a flight back to the ‘States! He explained he already had his own ace drivers, British stars, Sir John Whitmore and Jack Sears, and thus he didn’t need Bob. Thinking quickly, Bob explained he’d been personally approved by Shelby and extolled the virtues of Mann having a third driver. Mann finally reluctantly relented, making it clear Bob was never to place above his English countrymen. Bob agreed, but later shared that at the moment a fire had been lit within him and he made it a personal goal to make sure he won as often as he could.

This background leads us to the story of Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 2601, seen here at the last race of the '65 season in August of ‘65 at Enna, Sicily, driven by Bondurant. The damage shows the ferocity of the fight between Bondo’ and his Mann teammate, Jack Sears, who was driving Daytona CSX 2299.

Bondo had already secured the FIA World GT Championship in CSX 2601 a month earlier at the Reims 12 Hour in France. With the championship secured and going into the last race of the season in Italy, team manager Mann once again ordered Bondo' to run second, probably thinking this time he would acquiesce. Bob agreed if, they were really going to race against the Ferraris. Bondo’ knew the Daytonas were faster than the three Ferrari LM prototypes and felt he could win overall. Mann however, only cared about the GT win points and told Sears to cruise. Knowing it was the last race ever for the Daytonas, Bondurant decided to, once again, ignore team orders and go for the overall win, which would mean challenging Sears as well. At first Bondurant followed team orders allowing Sears to lead, but this was letting the Ferraris get too far ahead!  Bondurant went for the lead, but his English teammate kept dropping a wheel off the track to keep the American at bay, heaving stones and debris at the American. It was a vicious fight, but Bondo’ finally fought his way by and went after the Ferraris.

Bondo passed all three Ferraris and would have won overall, but a "SLOW... TIRES" sign from the Goodyear rep’ on pit row forced him to back off. Was it an order from Mann or Goodyear? Bondo reluctantly let Nino Vacarella, in the fastest LM, by but still took the GT win. After the checker Bondo' checked his tires… they were down to the cord! The rest of the Coupe wasn’t in great shape either as Bondo had refused to back away from Sears’ attempts to thwart his attack.

After the race, the five Daytona Coupes in Europe were gathered back at Mann’s race shop to be returned to Shelby’s in the U.S. They were in the UK under bond and had to be exported out of the country by a certain date or pay a hefty tax. Shelby refused to pay the cost of having them shipped back, now being focused on the Ford GT program. After many pleading Telexes to Shelby’s office explaining the situation, with no response, Mann finally explained that if they weren’t shipped out of the country in time, the tax authorities would dump them into the North Sea. Still no response.

Alan Mann ultimately couldn’t stand the thought that these American champions would be destroyed and lost to history. He paid to have them shipped back to Shelby’s out of his own pocket. By doing so the man whose British patriotism was so strong that he’d ordered Bondurant to let his British drivers win, saved for history what is arguably America’s Greatest Race Car.

BRE Archives

Why this Photo of the BRE Hino Samurai Brings Back Memories of One of My Favorite Race Stories. Peter Brock

The BRE and Aerovault crews gathered in the showroom to wish me happy birthday a couple of weeks ago. The showroom has what Gayle calls the “Peter Brock History Walls”. She’s taken images from when I had my first car in 1952 (an MG TC) thru my time at GM (late ‘50s), my history with Shelby (’61-’65), my BRE team (’66-’72) and my hang gliding company starting in ‘73, Ultralight Products (UP) and mounted them on the walls with dates and descriptions. A person can spend some serious time in that room.

While “shooting the breeze” with the guys while b-day cake was being cut, I was asked what my favorite image is in the room. Wow, how do you answer that? However, I quickly gravitated to this photo from 1967 at the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway. The photo was taken when the BRE Hino Samurai I designed was going through tech for the race. In the photo, a tech official is telling me he isn’t going to sign-off on the car. On the other side of the car, my honorary team manager, Toshiro Mifune (pronounced Mifoony) is preparing to protest. Mifune was the most recognizable face in Japan having acted in some 150 movies. He played Mr. Honda in Grand Prix and was most well known as being a fierce (and sometimes crazy) Samurai warrior in Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai movies, especially my favorite, The Seven Samurai. His fierce on-screen performances were in stark contrast to his quiet and gentle nature off the screen. He loved cars and he was happy to accept my offer to be our honorary team manager for the race (I learned early on at Le Mans in France that it’s helpful to have a national “local” on the team). It certainly didn’t hurt that I had named this GT car of my design, the Samurai.

I had a strong relationship with Hino going back to 1964 when a U.S. actor, Bob Dunham, acting in Japan playing an American in their films, approached me about prepping a small Hino sedan race car for him that he could race in the states whenever he was back visiting. The car had good success and soon I had negotiated with Hino to let me run two Hino Contessas, one for Bob and one for myself to race and to also design and build a GT car for them that would run at Le Mans, the BRE Hino Samurai. Early in ’67 as I was designing and building the Samurai, a gentleman from Toyota walked into my BRE shop in southern California. He said he was there to see what I was working on for Hino. I told him that was confidential and asked him to leave. He said he’d be back. I immediately called my main contact at Hino and told him what happened. My contact said Toyota was making a bid to buy part of Hino. Toyota would benefit from Hino’s truck building expertise and Toyota would build their cars. He said very likely Toyota would become my new bosses so I should show the Toyota person whatever he wanted.

The next day the Toyota person came back and I let him in. He saw us building the Samurai and asked me what it was. I told him it was a GT car that would race at Le Mans in June and before that, the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway (Toyota owned Fuji Speedway). He didn’t say anything but I could tell he was pretty surprised. He came back the following week and told me Toyota didn’t need a GT race car and that I should stop the project. I explained I was under contract with Hino to finish the car and I had too much time and expenses invested to stop before being paid. To make a long story short, he ultimately asked me what amount of money I needed to stop the project. I contacted Hino again to make sure this was okay and they recommended I proceed with the offer. I told the guy what I would accept. He ultimately came back and said they’d pay it. Not really sure what was going to happen I continued to work on the car until payment was received and I knew the deal was real. He would occasionally stop by the shop to look around but he never brought the money. A week or two before the race he stopped visiting altogether.

With no payment I finished the car and loaded it onto a plane for Japan. The Samurai was a press sensation. What I did not know at the time, and only learned months after the race, was that Toyota had given the guy’s boss the money to pay me. Every week when the guy came by the shop, he saw the bare chassis in the center of the shop floor, the bonnet against one wall, front body work along another, etc. He didn’t understand how race cars are modular and told his boss he thought there was no chance the car would be finished. If the car wasn’t going to be finished there was no reason to give me the money so his boss pocketed the money for himself, told his bosses I had been paid, the car wouldn’t be at Fuji and told his guy not to bother coming by the shop again.

Toyota execs seeing myself and the glorious Samurai arrive in Tokyo were furious! They thought I had double crossed them. I not only learned later what happened with the money but I also found out that the reason Toyota didn’t want the car to become a reality is that they knew Hino’s stock price would go up if people saw Hino unveil this amazing GT race car at the Grand Prix. A higher stock price would mean Toyota would have to pay more to purchase part of the company. I was costing Toyota millions. They had blood in their eyes and I had no idea what was happening.

Toyota, owning Fuji Speedway, told the track officials they couldn’t pass the Samurai through tech. At each station a tech would come up with some reason the car wouldn’t pass, a tail light here, a seat belt arrangement there. Whatever they came up with we quickly fixed and the car would proceed to the next station. Toyota was seething. They went to the last station and told the tech official that under no circumstances was the car to pass tech.

That’s where we were when this photo was taken. Mifune being the star he was and the sensational looking Samurai coming in from the states (its name didn’t hurt either), there were tv camera crews and reporters following us the entire route. In the photo you can see people holding up recorders, microphones, etc off to the side. The tech, not having anything to point to that was wrong on the car, just proclaimed the car didn’t pass. When we asked why he said he didn’t have to tell us, it just doesn’t pass. Mifune challenged the official saying he must give us a reason. As you probably know, “saving face” is an important concept in the Japanese culture. To lose face is to lose respect or suffer embarrassment. The official turned to Mifune and mockingly asked him; “Who are you?” There couldn’t have been a worse insult for the most famous face in all of Japan. As cameras and recorders rolled, the gentleman Mifune put his hands on his hips (the moment seen in the photo), tensed up to where the veins on his neck were popping and his face turned purple, and turned into a Samurai warrior before our very eyes! The guttural onslaught Mifune unleashed upon the official was something I had never seen, nor seen since. The official practically melted into the pavement and the car was passed!

During practice I discovered the belly pan on the Samurai was scraping on the track’s surface from all of its downforce. It wasn’t something we were going to be able to fix and the car couldn’t run like this. Continuing to get pressure from Toyota not to run the car, without them knowing there was a problem with the car, I worked out an agreement that we would only do some slow parade laps and I would never run the Hino Samurai again. In return Toyota would allow me to design and build a GT car for them, the Toyota JP6. And that my friends, is another story (-:

If you would like to see more of the BRE Hino Samurai you can view our photo archives here and artwork here, which you can also puchase if you'd like your own!

Cobra Killers

Someone told me you were in the 1964 movie The Killers. Can you tell us more?

Back in the ‘60s things were pretty fluid in the racing world and a person could be involved in several different projects, unlike today where you mostly have to be dedicated solely to the team you’re with. Even while working at Shelby’s I raced my own cars, including a small 1000cc Hino sedan and a 1300cc Hino Contessa, both right hand drive. Fast cars attracted a lot of stars back then and they would just stop by local shops, whether it was Max Balchowsky’s Hollywood Motors where I first worked when I returned to California from GM in Detroit in 1959 or at Shelby’s.

at right: Peter Brock racing Hino Contessa at
Mission Bell 100, support race to Riverside Grand Prix
Hino Contessa

Whenever Hollywood needed race consultants and drivers it was pretty easy for them to tap local talent.  I was a consultant and stunt driver in the movie The Killers that came out in 1964 of which I remember mainly Angie Dickinson (she’s pretty easy to remember) and Ronald Reagan (his last film role). A Cobra roadster played a pivotal role in the movie. Years ago someone told my wife, Gayle, that if you slow the movie down to frame by frame, in one frame you can see a moment’s glimpse of my derriere as I jump over a fence. They offered to show her at which time she said she was already familiar with that view, but thanks anyway (-: I was also a driver in The Love Bug but most of my scenes were cut. To do these films I needed to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). SAG decided my name was too close to another actor, Peter Brooks, so they made me come up with something different. I chose Hall Brock, Hall being my mother’s maiden name. Hall Brock still receives royalty checks (small as they may be) whenever these movies play!

Killers Movie Cobra
Actors Angie Dickinson and John Cassavetes in Cobra Roadster during filming of The Killers. Note Peter Brock's Falcon sedan delivery at far left, white with blue stripes.

I was also involved in a little known short film (which did not require my SAG card) called “1:42.08”.  I was introduced to a USC Film student in ‘66. His first love was cars and he had planned to become a professional race car driver until that dream ended when he had a serious accident shortly after his High School graduation in 1962, so he enrolled at USC. In film school in ‘66 he was given his first Director’s assignment to direct a short film. Still interested in cars, he wrote a script for this film called “1:42.08 to Qualify” (title later changed to “1:42.08”). The story line is that a driver is practicing on a track with his race car to try to make a lap time of 1:42.08. No words are spoken, just a guy pushing his car (and his driving ability) to the limit trying to make the time. You can find it on the internet. This kid knew Allen Grant from Shelby American and asked for a recommendation for a driver that could also provide a car for his film project. Grant recommended me due to my experience in the movie industry and I had access to a Lotus 23 that could be used.

I borrowed the Lotus and a few days were spent filming at the Willow Springs race track in California. James Garner was there at the same time, taking laps in a Formula car for an upcoming film he would be starring in called “Grand Prix”. The most memorable part of this experience were the evenings where we hung out at dinner and this kid would share his vision for a series of sci-fi movies he wanted to make. It sounded kind of like Buck Rogers with strange creatures and better weapons. Very strange and we just kind of nodded and patronized this enthusiastic kid. In ‘63 the guys at Shelby American called the Daytona Coupe I was designing and building (before it went on track and proved itself) “Brock’s Folly”.  It would be fair to say that as we heard this kid sharing his vision we thought of this as “George’s Folly”.  The Daytona Coupe went on to win the FIA GT World Championship in ‘65. This kid, George Lucas, brought his “Buck Rogers” vision to life with the release in ’77 of his first Star Wars movie. I love it when people realize their dreams and vision even, or maybe especially, if others consider it a folly at first!

top right:  George Lucas (center) inspects position of camera man and camera in basket on camera car. Driver, Peter Brock, in Lotus at right.


center right:  Peter Brock filmed at-speed while
director George Lucas looks on at right.


bottom right:  James Garner pulls up in Formula car (on left) he's practicing in for the movie Grand Prix. Camera man and George Lucas center.
Peter Brock in Lotus at right.
George Lucas 1:42.08
George Lucas 1:42.08
George Lucas 1:42.08