- So many questions: At 19, was Peter Brock the youngest designer ever hired by GM? Did he design the ’63 Corvette Sting Ray or did Larry Shinoda? What‘Is it like hang gliding at 15,000 feet?
- Brock and fellow designer Ian Callum have been working in recent years with an Irish company, AVA, to launch a Corvette Sting Ray reinterpreted as an all-electric “hyperclassic.”
- Brock can’t seem to put down his pencil, he’s always drawing, always trying to come up with an idea that can resonate in the auto market. Stay tuned.
It’s been a great year for Peter Brock: he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame, accepted the Eyes on Design Lifetime Design Achievement Award, received the Carroll Shelby Spirit Award during Monterey Car Week, and met the grandkids of the German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm and autographed his copy of Brock’s book on the Shelby DeTomaso P70.
He has done more media interviews and appeared at more car shows than he can count and has racked up a ton of miles, even before traveling to Jakarta next month for the International Datsun Die-Cast Show in recognition of the BREs. Datsun that won four national championships. for Brock Racing Enterprises in the 1970s.
Before landing in Jakarta, the 85-year-old Brock will stop in suburban Detroit to serve as the Master of Motorsports for the American Speed Festival, which takes place September 29-October 2 at the M1 Concourse. , a private racing community and track that occupies land that used to be a General Motors assembly plant in Pontiac. He will be the special guest at Saturday night’s $500 per person benefit gala, the Checkered Flag Ball, in honor of Shelby American’s 60th anniversary.
During his whirlwind tour, Brock took time to talk to Autoweek about his long career, his work on the iconic 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, his motivation for creating the Shelby Daytona Cobra coupe, and his love of hang gliding. which became much more than a hobby. And while he’s earned the right to spend his days leisurely fishing, golfing, or playing cards, Brock can’t seem to put down his pencil: he’s always drawing, always trying to come up with an idea that might resonate with the auto market. Stay tuned.
After so many accomplishments, Brock likes to talk about the past, but often prefers to reflect on those who inspired him and associated with him during the year. When asked if it’s true that he was the youngest designer ever hired by General Motors (age 19 in 1956, while attending the Art Center School in California), Brock deviates and says that he actually thinks Robert Cumberford was a few weeks older. young when he worked at GM.
“So, you know, he’s pointed it out a couple of times,” Brock says of his former colleague, then compliments him. “Bob is probably one of the best design critics, in his writing, his journalistic material, he’s done a tremendous job over the years.”
Brock is grateful and will never forget his formative years working at GM, for about two years, with Bill Mitchell when he succeeded another design icon, Harley Earl, who retired as GM’s chief designer in 1958.
“I mean, who, who gets that opportunity when they’re 19 years old, to work under the direction of the guy who had probably the greatest design era of all time: American automotive design,” says Brock.
It was Mitchell who saved the Corvette from the scrap heap at a time when the company’s bean counters wanted to kill it due to poor sales after it was launched in June 1953. Ford released the Thunderbird the following year, and in a moment it outsold the Corvette 15 to 1.
“The T-bird wiped them out,” recalls Brock. “I mean, they had an all-steel car with windows that roll up and roll down with air conditioning, heat, everything an American likes in a good personal car.”
With GM management short on patience, Harley Earl had one more idea: emulate the European model for a super-racecar version of the Corvette that would get people excited. Zora Arkus-Duntov led the Corvette SS program and Robert Cumberford was part of the design team. The car raced in the 1957 Sebring 12 Hours, retiring after 23 laps due to overheating and brake and suspension problems.
That’s not the kind of publicity the Corvette team was looking for.
“Management came in and killed the whole Corvette program and said, ‘Okay, that’s the end of it. No more Corvette Racing and no more production,’” says Brock.
This happens as Earl passes the design baton to Mitchell, who wasn’t ready to give up the Corvette.
“Bill said, ‘Shit, we’re going to get on with the car,'” Brock recalls, but the work on a second-generation Corvette had to be done in secret, and Mitchell had identified the young talent (including Brock, Gene Garfinkle, Norm Neumann, Chuck Pohlmann and study director Bob Veryzer) to get the job done, not in the Chevrolet study but in Research Study B in a basement at GM’s technical center in Warren, Michigan.
Mitchell had been to the 1957 Turin Auto Show, “where he had seen all these little aerodynamics,” like the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. “Mitchell saw that car and said, ‘That’s the car’” that would inspire the next Corvette and handed over photos to Brock and the other young designers to get started.
“I was just pitching this as an idea to see if it would work,” Brock says of Mitchell. “And the more time passed, the more enthusiastic he got about it. And I ended up being the lead designer on the project. He liked what he was doing, so we built a scale model. And he loved that and said, ‘Okay, let’s do the full scale.’ So we did the full scale on it. And Mitchell says, ‘Okay, we’re going to build that.’”
And that was the start of the second-generation Corvette, which didn’t launch until 1963, some five years after Brock left GM, with Larry Shinoda getting most of the credit. But the biggest inspiration for Shinoda was Brock’s sketch, which Mitchell liked and urged the team to develop further.
“If you look at the (production) ’63, it’s this car,” Brock says of his sketch. “I mean, it’s all there is to it.”
Remember how Brock doesn’t like to rest? He and fellow designer Ian Callum have been working in recent years with an Irish company, AVA, to launch a replica of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray as an all-electric “hyperclassic.”
After leaving GM in 1958, Brock returned to California (he grew up near Sausalito) and rekindled his love of motorsports. At 16, he had saved his money to buy a 1949 MG, and then, shortly after, a 1946 Ford convertible nicknamed “Fordillac” for the Cadillac engine Brock had installed.
Returning to California, he worked in a garage and spent his afternoons fixing up a 1950s Cooper that he planned to race.
In 1962, Carroll Shelby hired Brock as Employee No. 1 for the newly born American brand Shelby. Brock ran the Carroll Shelby Performance Driving School and worked at Shelby American until 1965 designing car logos, merchandise, advertisements and liveries, as well as Shelby components for the Shelby Mustang GT350. More importantly, he designed Shelby American race cars, including the De Tomaso P70 and the Shelby Daytona Cobra coupe.
“The car was so radically different at the time that there was a lot of resistance to the design,” Brock says of the Daytona Cobra. At 26, he was the youngest guy in the shop at the time, and he had an idea on how to convert the AC Cobra roadster to race in Europe.
“I said, ‘There’s a loophole in the rules that will allow us to take the body off the roadster and put a new one on it.’ And I said, ‘I can design a car with so little drag that we can use the exact same chassis underneath, and we can go from 160 miles per hour to almost 200.’ I said, ‘I can guarantee he’ll do at least 180.’”
Carroll Shelby gave the green light and the Shelby Daytona Cobra coupe was born. “We went to Europe and wiped out the whole world with it,” Brock says of the car he designed that won the FIA GT World Championship in 1965.
“Winning the world championship with that, especially when we went out and beat Ferrari, who had dominated for so many years, and to do it with an American production engine, was very, very satisfying,” recalls Brock.
Brock probably needs to add a wing to his home in Henderson, Nevada, to display all the trophies, plaques, engraved cups and other special accolades he’s received for a truly storied career as a designer, photographer and motorsports pioneer. .
And at 85, he still enjoys Kart racing.