Design legend Peter Brock to be honored at American Speed ​​Festival

The upcoming American Speed ​​Festival presented by Comerica Bank at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, MI will shine a spotlight on Shelby American, with several amazing examples on display, including the first race car Shelby ever sold new: a 1963 Cobra CSX2154, one of the cars from the Cobra Experience in California. Carroll Shelby was, of course, the man at the helm of the company that bears his name, which produced a host of cars that achieved almost mythical status. Joining Shelby during the company’s formative years was designer Peter Brock, who, second only to Shelby himself, was responsible for the cars that reigned supreme in racing from Laguna Seca to Le Mans and, of course, Daytona.

Celebrating the Shelby brand, Brock will be the guest of honor throughout the American Speed ​​Festival and will participate in a live discussion hosted by former racer and broadcaster extraordinaire David Hobbs.

Brock was born in Sausalito, CA in 1936. He developed a passion for automotive design early on, purchasing a 1949 MG at age 16 and learning to work on cars. Around the same time, he traveled south to see road races at Pebble Beach that featured Phil Hill, among others. Before finishing high school, he traded in the MG for a 1946 Ford Convertible that he painted white and added two parallel blue stripes on the hood and trunk. A design iconography was born that will forever be associated with Shelby.

“I’ve loved car design from the beginning,” recalls Brock.

Brock enrolled at Stanford University to study engineering, but dropped out and headed to Southern California, where he attempted to enroll at the prestigious Art Center of Design in Pasadena. He needed to have a portfolio to be considered and since he had nothing to show for it, he went to his car and drew several car sketches which he submitted to the admissions office. He was immediately accepted.

Just a year into his time at Art Center, General Motors recruited Brock to join its design department, becoming the youngest designer at GM in the process. It was one of the Brock sketches chosen by GM Vice President of Design Bill Mitchell that would become the next Corvette in Stingray form.

“Working on the Corvette Stingray program was one of the best things in my life,” exclaims Brock. “I was 19 at the time and at the time they were putting young designers into what was called the ‘Research Design Studio’ where they were letting young designers out, because it had nothing to do with production design.

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“It was 1957 and Chevrolet management had canceled the Corvette program,” he continues. “But Bill Mitchell wanted to revive the Corvette program against the wishes of top management, so the only way to do it was in secret. So he sent it over to the Design Studio and had three or four of us work on it. He had been to the Turin Auto Show and was heavily influenced by the aerodynamic designs he saw there. He asked us to use those designs as a theme. After a few days, he went into the studio, took a sketch off the wall, and asked who had done it. I put my hand up and he said, ‘now everyone has to do better than this.’ He comes back a few days later, pulls another sketch off the wall, and asks who did it. I raise my hand again and this time he’s like, ‘Okay, you’re going to lead this project and you’re going to design the next Corvette.’”

The work included designing the Corvette Stingray as a race car, which didn’t end up in production until Brock left GM.

Brock partnered with Shelby in 1961, originally as part of Shelby’s high-performance driving school, and in doing so became Shelby American’s first paid employee. His tenure lasted only four very prolific years. During that time, Brock not only handled all of the graphic design work, but also designed many of the Shelby Mustang GT350 components, as well as designed several race cars culminating in the World Championship-winning Shelby Daytona Coupes. 1965 FIA GT – The first, and to date only, American manufacturer to win the championship.

“When I started at GM, I spent a lot of time in the library and found some mimeographs of German aerodynamic designs from the 1930s. I couldn’t read German, but I could understand numbers,” explains Brock. “It was quite an unconventional thought because at the time the teardrop shape was what dominated the aerodynamics. But his idea was with a flat roof and a cut-out rear.

“Years later we had the opportunity at Shelby to put new bodywork on the Cobra Roadster, which only had a top speed of 160mph,” he continues. “We could change the body but not the chassis. I thought. ‘We have enough power, we just need to make the car more slippery through the air. The thing was so weird looking, with a funny roof and a docked tail, and there were so many smart guys working at Shelby that they were hard to convince. We took it to Daytona and after a few laps our drivers Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert told us we were running away from the Ferraris. So we dropped the rpm by 500 and went even faster. We did it again and found we had the same speed, but could do two more laps on fuel. That’s how we ran the race and the same thing happened at all the tracks afterwards. (Note: MacDonald and Holbert did not finish the 1964 Daytona Continental 2000km, but did win the GT Class at both Sebring and Le Mans that year.)

Leaving Shelby in 1965, Brock hung up his own shingle: Brock Racing Enterprises, or BRE as it was more commonly known. While BRE worked with several car brands, he was best known for racing success with Datsun (also known as Nissan). BRE enjoyed factory status and went on to dominate the SCCA National and Trans Am Series championships through mid-1972.

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Brock then founded Ultralite Products, which quickly became one of the largest companies developing hang gliding products. But it wasn’t long before Brock returned to the automotive world as a design instructor, consultant, author and photographer, which he continues to this day.

“What I remember is that I’ve had this opportunity to work with the most interesting people, the most passionate people in car design,” says Brock. “I’ve had the opportunity to work all over the world and everywhere I’ve been, there have been a lot of tremendously talented people excited to work on what the project at hand was. Each of them had something to contribute: a completely different philosophy or idea. So when you look back, it’s the people that have made it so interesting.”

The American Speed ​​Festival takes place from September 29 to October 2. Click here to obtain more information.

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