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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
DeTomaso P72 US unveiling

You just got back from Monterey Car Week. I’ve never been and seem to be paralyzed to attend because of all the activities that go on that week. What did you do while there and what would you recommend for a first-time attendee like me?

First, I’d get a hotel room reserved no later than March. You can always cancel days you decide not to attend but finding a room much later than that could be a problem.  Next, accept that you can’t go to everything. You may look at a schedule and the map and think it’s doable but add an hour to any estimated travel time for the heavier than normal traffic and the time it takes to park.

Next, I would recommend basing your decisions on what to do on cost and of course the activity. Events now occur as soon as the weekend before the Pebble Beach Concours, which started Monterey Car Week in the first place.  Hotel room prices are jacked up no less than 4-fold that week so determining your hotel budget is a good way to decide how soon you want to start your week of car activities. There is plenty to see in just the two days of the weekend of the Pebble Concours or you can start the weekend before at the Pre-Historics at the Laguna Seca track and gorge on car activities all week long.

Peter and DarioFor a first time visit I’d skip the hyper expensive activities.  The Quail Motorsports Gathering on Friday is like a huge lawn party with great cars, great food, great people (I seem to be doing a world tour with Dario Franchitti as we just saw each other at Goodwood last month and now the Quail in Monterey), drinks and gelato(!) all included in the price of admission. But what a price, and you can’t actually just outright purchase a ticket, you have to enter a lottery to “win” the opportunity to purchase a ticket going for approximately $1000 these days.  Probably the next most expensive activity is why the week exists in the first place, the Pebble Beach Concours. This year tickets went from $375-$450 based on when you bought them. If the Pebble Concours is on your bucket list than you of course have to go. The price doesn’t deter attendance so pack a good dose of patience to sit in traffic, wait for shuttles from the parking lot and so on. Luckily most other events recognize this is the main event of the week so everything but track activity at Laguna is over by Sunday and there are no other event conflicts with the Concours.

Monday – Tuesday

There are a lot of great car activities free of charge.  The Automobilia show Monday and Tuesday is always a treat to walk through. We’ve found some hard to find items there, like the leather helmet and goggles Gayle wanted to wear when driving her Beck 550 Spyder. It was made in France, just like the originals.

Tuesday the Concours on the Avenue in Carmel-by-the-sea is a great way to start the week with 18 blocks of the downtown area roped off, showcasing a variety of cars. Walk around and enjoy the cars and take a break for a fine lunch at any of the many upscale restaurants the cars will be parked in front of (be sure to save extra $s for the great meals available in the Monterey area).

Wednesday

Monterey Jet CenterWe attend good friend, Gordon McCall’s, Motorworks Revival on Wednesday night at the Monterey Jet Center.  Jets, fine automobiles and great people watching it’s how we normally start our Monterey Week. There are several attendee packages available in the three digit price range. This year, amongst other amazing vehicles and jets (of which you can go inside and tour (and dream) was Camilo Pardo and his beautiful Ford GT, which he had me sign, as seen here.

Thursday thru Saturday

Peter Brock at Bonhams AuctionThere are numerous car auctions occurring during the week such as Mecum, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Russo and Steele. Many, if not all, require a paid admittance. It’s not a bad way though to see a lot of fine cars as well as their estimated values at a less expensive price of admission than some of the car shows. Look at the cars, take a seat and enjoy the bidding. It’s a fine way to spend some time. It’s not unusual for me to give some background on a car at an auction, as seen here.

All throughout the week, including Sunday

Laguna Seca is humming like a hive with track practice, qualifying and racing on Saturday and Sunday. Reasonably priced, a lot of action and attendees in jeans, it’s where I try to spend most of my time during Monterey Car Week.

Saturday

Concours de lemons A highlight for us this year was the Concours d’Lemons, another free event, this one held in a park near the Embassy Suites in Seaside. Held on the Saturday of Monterey Car Week, it features the deplorables of the automotive world. Gayle and I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. What a hoot! My favorite was a rusted out Karmen Ghia with tarp straps holding down the hood, duct tape over a headlight, a patina that can’t be described and too many other features to mention. Gayle and I were interviewed about the event, showcasing a Sci-Fi B-Movie Packard for a TV show in France called “Turbo”.  We had a great time and highly recommend this Saturday morning event.

concours de lemons

We then went from Lemons to the Concorso Italiano. This is a long standing event that has evolved to include many marques. Special cars are brought up to the announcer’s stand where the crowd is educated on that particular auto’s specialness. Seen here is the DeTomaso P72 with Matt Stone interviewing me about the car on stage. It’s a nice event.

concorso italiano

 

 

 

Throughout the week are various special events and unveilings, such as the U.S. unveiling of the De Tomaso P72 on Thursday at the Pebble Beach Lodge. I have been honored to have De Tomaso include me, and the P70 I designed in 1964, at the worldwide unveiling at Goodwood and the US unveiling. I was especially thrilled when the fine folks at DeTomaso presented me with this lifetime of design achievement award. It looks really good in my awards case at the BRE shop! Sunday is of course the Pebble Beach Concours.

Peter Brock with DeTomaso Team
DeTomaso P72 US unveiling
DeTomaso Award for P72

Throughout the week enjoy the riches of restaurants in this Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove area. Do some research and make reservations a few weeks in advance.

Save your money to enjoy Monterey Car Week (hotel costs alone are impressive). Don’t be overly ambitious and be resolved that you’re going to arrive at some activities later than what you wanted due to factors out of your control like traffic and parking.

I saw that your recent book on the Shelby DeTomaso P70 Sports Racer won the Gold Award by the Automotive Heritage Association. Congratulations! Now that you’ve seen the new DeTomaso P72 at Goodwood, what do you think of it? Some reviews say it’s an homage to your P70 but I’m not sure I see a resemblance.

First, thanks for acknowledging the book award. Time passes so quickly we haven’t had a chance to even post the news on our own social media pages. The award is a real honor, especially considering the competition it was up against and that it’s a reasonably priced soft cover book. I never thought it would be a contender but thankfully the judges focused on the content and quality.

The book covers my years of design at Shelby's. Several cars are covered in detail such as the Nethercutt Mirage, Lang Cooper and of course the Shelby - DeTomaso P70. My time designing the P70 in Modena, Italy was some of the most educational and enjoyable of my life.

To celebrate the Gold award and the excitement around the DeTomaso P72 being at Monterey next week we’re offering a special on the book. This applies ONLY from the time of this posting through Friday August 30th 5pm Pacific Time. 15% off brings the price of this “awarding winning!” book to only $29.71.  Get yours now!

Jown Wong and Peter Brock with DeTomaso P72Now on to the DeTomaso P72. When I saw the car at Goodwood I was really impressed. I evidently wasn’t the only one as the DeTomaso people just informed me that ALL 72 cars they plan to build have been sold! Pretty incredible if true. What interests me about this success… oh wait, let me address the comments about the P72 not having any resemblance to my P70.

I don’t think Jowyn Wong, the P72’s designer, ever had any intention of following my lines exactly. The P72 is simply an homage to the mid ‘60s era in GT form.  Yes, there are a couple of subtle details but this is Jowyn’s creation completely and I think it’s pretty wonderful. It’s a return to the soft sensual forms of those cars that were built in Modena back then. There were really some fine, sharp-edged designs being created in that era by Giugiarao, like his fabulous Mangusta, but those were created as forms that could use the crisp-edge tooling P72 Posteravailable for production cars like Tjaarda’ s Pantera.  Cars being hand-built in Modena were, by necessity, much softer as each was essentially a hand hammered form.

Others have commented that the P72 looks similar to Ferraris’ P3 and P4. Possibly… if so that’s a real compliment but I feel that Wong had his own ideas of what a “retro looking” GT DeTomaso should look like. Government regulations continually change, so cars have to change to keep up. In addition, new technologies (e.g. lights and lower profile tires with larger diameter wheels) allow for different shapes to be created. I think the comparison images of the P70 and the P72 in inverse seen to the right  (which will be offered as a limited edition poster at Monterey next week) show some inspirational “resemblance”.  Pretty cool…a real honor for a design that’s now more than 50 years old!

Now back to what I find amazing about the success of the P72.  It’s acceptance and success is all based on the car’s visual appearance; its aesthetic DESIGN. The car’s power plant and chassis details haven’t even been released . The P72 concept shown at Goodwood was based on the same organization’s Apollo car, which is more of a racing GT.  The P72 is a real GT designed for the street.

The P72 will be shown at Monterey next week for the first time in the U.S. We’ll be there at a press event at Pebble on Thursday and with the car at the Concours Italiano on Saturday. Friday we’ll be at the Bonhams auction at the Quail when the original DeTomaso P70 will be auctioned (approximately 11:30am). It’s going to be a very DeTomaso week for us at Monterey. Very exciting!  We hope to see you there.

The Race - Trans Am 1971

Q: Recently a video of “Against All Odds”, the brief documentary on the BRE Datsun team in ’71-’72, was posted online. Some of the responses people posted reminded me of the controversy that keeps coming up about your BRE team winning the ’71 season-ending Trans-Am race at Laguna. The “winning” Alfa was disqualified in a post-race inspection with an illegal oversize fuel tank. What are your thoughts on this race; what happened and why do you think this story never dies down?”

Timanus inspecing Cheater Alfa
Click for entire Autoweek Nov 6, 1971 article

It amazes me how this race still sets off people’s passions. No one would probably even remember it today if it weren’t for those hard-core Alfa fans who mistakenly insist the cheating Alfa was robbed of the championship.  More than 10 years ago, after a Trans-Am panel discussion at the Petersen Museum, we sent out a newsletter that mentioned how the driver of the cheater Alfa admitted it was a cheater car. We couldn’t believe the mail I got from people saying they had thought more of me than to make something like that up! The whole discourse is on tape. All of us who were there heard it but of course we knew the whole story because we were so deeply involved in the controversy.

Alfa and Datsun head to headThere are so many rumors still circulating about that race, like how I paid someone off to have the Laguna Seca race added to the calendar at the end of the season so we’d have a chance to get more points and beat the Alfas for the championship. I wouldn’t even have known how to do that and I certainly wouldn’t have done anything the Japanese (the honorable Mr. K at Datsun) would have thought inappropriate. For those that don’t know the story of what happened let me digress. In our first year of running the BRE Datsun 510s in the 2.5 Trans-Am series in 1971 we were behind the seasoned and favored Alfas in points almost to the end of the year. But, thanks to our amazing team and driver, John Morton, we were steadily gaining on them as we improved our cars. We had a really good shot at winning the last race at Laguna Seca. Winning that crucial event would give Datsun/Nissan the necessary points to win the SCCA’s 2.5 Trans-Am championship.

Alfa spins out 510
Click for entire Autoweek Nov 6, 1971 article

During the race the lead Alfa, driven by Horst Kwech, and our leading 510 with John Morton behind the wheel, were battling hard. Kwech kept trying to run John off the track (another controversy is whether or not Kwech was doing this intentionally). Kwech knew that even if he crashed into Morton and they both went out, there were several other fast Alfas running. If we went out and any of them finished, Alfa would win the championship. This championship battle brought thousands of fans to Laguna to see this final race. The race was a barn burner that still has those who were there saying it was one of the greatest races they’d ever seen. After a lot of trading paint Kwech’s Alfa hit John right at the top of the corkscrew, spinning him out but John quickly recovered and was back on track re-passing the Alfa which then hit him again! That’s when I decided these two needed to be separated because it was obvious that Kwech would continue hitting John and it didn’t matter if he took himself out in the battle. I signaled John in for the one pit stop we’d have to make for fuel. That put Kwech well in the lead, but I knew he’d also have to stop for fuel as there was no way he could run the distance on the 15 gallons the cars were permitted to run. Only Kwech never stopped! His Alfa cruised on to an easy win and miraculously sputtered out of fuel just past the finish line! It appeared that Kwech had gambled on having enough fuel to finish the race. But I knew better.

If this had happened earlier in the season he might have gotten away with this but by the end of the season we had learned the Alfa could only run about one hour and seven minutes on a full tank. I pulled John in for fuel at one hour and ten minutes knowing by then something wasn’t right with the lead Alfa. We weren’t the only ones to notice. I had a protest written at the close of the race but I needn’t have bothered as another team beat me to it. When the SCCA officials checked the Alfa’s fuel capacity it was much larger than regulations allowed. The Alfa was disqualified. The next day the official results were posted. BRE had won the race and the 2.5 TransAm championship for Datsun/Nissan!

You may wonder how I can remember such details, like how long the Alfas could run on a tank, almost 5 decades ago. The experiences of the BRE team were captured in detail that season (and the next two years) by talented author, Sylvia Wilkinson, in her book “The Stainless Steel Carrot”.  We first came to know Sylvia when she approached me at the beginning of the season about being, what is now called, an “embedded journalist”. She wanted to write a book about an up-and-coming race car driver and had astutely recognized John as a good candidate. It’s not possible to adequately describe how brilliant this book is in capturing the activities and thoughts and feelings of the team as we worked our way through the entire season to become champions.

The chapter on the Laguna race exposes how some team members thought I had pulled in John to fuel early because they thought I didn’t have enough confidence in his driving when it was exactly the opposite. I knew John was fast enough to again pass Kwech but I also knew Kwech would probably take him out again and there simply wasn’t enough time left to gamble. The book also shares how a team member got on John for not being more upset with Kwech continually hitting him (car-to-car), but if you know John you know he’d never lose control of the situation. Sylvia also heartbreakingly describes what it was like for John to not win the race on the track.

Anyone who’s heard me talk about this race knows how emotional I get when I feel for how John was robbed of his rightful place on the podium, being handed the trophy, kissing the girl, shaking Mr. K’s hand, waving to the cheering crowd and the public acknowledgement of winning the Trans-Am 2.5 Championship in his first year with the Datsun 510. The reaction of Alfa fans was much worse. I understand it in the moment when most had no idea what had really occurred but there’s no excuse for it in the years past.

I will leave you with the following excerpts from Sylvia’s book below. (note: The second, and final, printing of the book is now sold out except for two copies we have available on our website plus a few copies we offer that are personally signed by Sylvia, John, myself and 7 other BRE team members, two who are now deceased).

The Stainless Steel Carrot
The Stainless Stee Carrot
Team Signed Stainless Steel Carrot
Team Signed Edition

Sylvia WilkinsonThe Stainless Steel Carrot by Sylvia Wilkinson: page 75, where the Laguna race has just ended, the Alfa has been challenged and SCCA officials are checking it.

The BRE crew runs back and forth with information to the camper trailer where John sits smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.  John Knepp sticks his head in the door smiling. “The fifteen-gallon tank on the Alfa just went to sixteen point one gallons and they covered up the gauge”. (note: later it was disclosed that the Alfa’s tank was THREE gallons over!)

On Sunday morning it came over the loudspeaker “The number three Alfa driven by Horst Kwech has been disqualified in the Two-Five Challenge Trans-Am race for having an illegal fuel tank. The official winner is John Morton in the BRE Datsun.”

During Sunday’s Can-Am race, John and his wife Jan walk to the back of the track to watch the race from different turns. Walking down by the fence below the people on the hillsides, the first crowd reaction, the delayed reaction to the victory comes. There is some applause, a few cheers from guys wearing Datsun jackets. But most of the them, as soon as they see his name on the back of his jacket, start hissing.

“I shouldn’t have worn this damn jacket” says John.

Jan says, “I didn’t think people would be that way. Wanting a cheater to win. I’m not prepared for people to be like that.”

“You got him on the fuel tank, huh, Morton?” A spectator walks up to John. “I didn’t get him. The officials got him.” John replies.

“He was outrunning you.”

“We were close. If he’d stopped, I think I would have won.” John pulls away. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s bad enough already. I’m sick of talking about it.”

Going to the post-race gathering when the Can-Am race ended, leaving the elevator, the comments on the Datsun win start up again as John walks through the crowd.

“That’s Morton. He’s an average-looking son of a bitch, isn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t walk around with that name on my jacket.”

“Default. Won by default.”

John and Jan leave the party after the checks are passed out. The next day, someone mentions that Stirling Moss gave a speech on cheating after they left, how there was no room in the sport of motor racing for such actions. He commented that during his participation in the sport from 1947 to 1962 “… although I heard mumblings from time to time, I cannot remember one occasion when anyone was proven to have knowingly cheated. I don’t know whose fault it was that Horst Kwech’s car was running an illegal gas tank, but I was absolutely appalled that anyone could consider cheating in motor racing.”

John: “I’ve gotten disappointed before in different ways but not getting to drive a car or having a mechanical failure are different kinds of disappointments from not getting to win a race. Getting it, like those people said, by default illustrated one thing. You win and everybody waves. I guess I never knew that people were so damn fickle and two-faced. But that’s because I had always been an underdog until this year and people thought it was nice to see an underdog win. Now with Brock, I become the favorite; people expect me to win. But in these little cars I won’t be the favorite anymore unless it’s some guy who owns a Datsun and wants to feel good; from now on out, people are going to want to see me lose. I don’t think I’ve ever cheated at anything.”

Peter Brock commented later on the crowd’s reaction. “These people have been following the series too long for it just to be a motor race. They have all chosen sides by now and you can’t blame them. It’s like the World Series; they call the umpire a son of a bitch because he made a good call.”  Before the truck left for Los Angeles, Brock had lettered on the van – 1971 2.5 TRANS-AM CHAMPIONS. His sign painter had come prepared to do the job, just in case.

Above excerpt from the Stainless Steel Carrot by Silvia Wilkinson. A great book.

Monterey Car Week

August 13-18, 2019

Nothing could top the massive activities last year at Monterey when Nissan was the featured marque at Laguna Seca.  It’s an event we will always remember thanks to Nissan and the amazing Datsun and Nissan fans! This year we won’t have a booth or presence at Laguna. Our primary focus during Monterey Week this year will be the American unveiling of the DeTomaso P72.  An homage to the Shelby – DeTomaso P70 Brock designed in Italy in 1964, the P72 is a stunner. The Brocks’ current schedule:

  • Wed 8/14:  McCalls Motorworks Revival at the Monterey Jet Center
  • Thur 8/15: Private DeTomaso P72 activity
  • Fri 8/16:
  • Sat 8/17:
    • The morning begins with both Brocks being judges for the Concours d’ Lemons California, celebrating the Oddball, Mundane and Truly Awful of the Automotive World! at the Seaside City Hall (across from the Embassy Suites)
    • Once done judging the Brocks will head to the Concorso Italiano where the DeTomaso P72 will be on display
  • Sun 8/18:  The DeTomaso P72 will be displayed on the Concept Lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours.