As our regular followers likely know, we focus our weekend content on racing. Pete Brock made a career out of combining design with racing.
Pete Brock is nothing short of a prolific designer, but that aside, he is a true car guy. At age 16, he saved up money to buy and work on a 1949 MG. He proceeded to paint it white so the car would match the livery of the US international racing colors.
Brock originally enrolled as an engineer at Stanford University. He later dropped out and enrolled in the renowned school for many of the world's top automotive designers, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
He was hired by General Motors at the age of 19, making him the youngest designer GM had ever hired. In late 1957, Brock drew a sketch that Bill Mitchell, the Vice President of Design for General Motors at the time, used as the inspiration for what would ultimately become the Corvette Stingray. He also contributed to the stunning 1959 Stingray Race car concept. Brock left GM in 1959, nearly 4 years before the legendary car would be released in 1963.
At only 21 years old, Brock returned to California. He started working for Max Balchowski building cars for Hollywood movies during the day, and working on his mid-50s Cooper race car at night. In 1961 Carroll Shelby was opening The Carroll Shelby School of High-Performance Driving. Pete Brock was Carroll Shelby's first paid employee. While at Shelby American, he created the logos, merchandise, ads, and car liveries. He designed the Shelby-specific pieces added to Mustangs to transform them into GT350s. He designed several race cars for Shelby including the DeTomaso P70, and perhaps most significantly, the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe.
Shelby had asked Brock to design the Daytona's aerodynamic bodywork after realizing he was losing over 10 seconds per lap with his open cockpit cars at Lemans. Brock designed the Daytona by starting with a Cobra chassis that had been crashed at the 1963 LeMans race. He removed the bodywork and put a steering wheel and seat where he felt they would be best placed. He put driver Ken Miles in the car, and starting with placing the windshield. He built the car around him using wood forms. He and the team then hand-hammered the aluminum body work for the original car.
Carroll Shelby brought in an aerodynamic specialist to look at Brock's shape. The specialist determined the car would be better off with a much longer, tapered rear section. He recommended it be nearly 3 feet longer. Despite the specialists recommendation, Shelby took a chance, and followed the recommendation of his 23-year-old designer.
In initial testing at Riverside, the car, with Miles at the wheel, achieved speeds approaching 185 miles per hour. He broke the track record by 3.5 seconds. He noted the steering got exceptionally light over 160. Brock recognized that the car needed a rear spoiler to increase stability at speeds over 180. The night before qualifying at Spa, Phil Remington fabricated one. The new improvement was so effective, Phil Hill broke the track record and took the pole in qualifying. Later on, ijn Modena Italy, Ford was testing the GT40. Both were crashed, with French driver Jo Schlesser citing the GT40's instability. Schlesser was allowed to test a Daytona Coupe. It handled so much better than the GT40, he set the the fastest speed of testing - 198 mph. Shelby asked him to drive the Coupe in some of the upcoming European races which he agreed to. The success of the Daytona Coupe for Shelby American is what convinced Ford to back Shelby financially for their full assault on LeMans the next year.
As if Brock's significant contributions to the Daytona Coupe weren't enough, he left Shelby American in late 1965 to start his own design firm and motor racing team, named BRE, for Brock racing Enterprises. BRE worked with Toyota, Hino, and Datson. When Toyota brought their development in-house, Brock approached Datsun. BRE became the West Coast factory race team for Datsun in 1969. That year, his BRE Datsun 2000 Roadsters competed in the SCCA DP class. In 1970–71, they campaigned the 240Z in the CP class, winning national championships in both years. BRE moved to the Trans Am series for 1971–72, racing the Datsun 510. They won national championships in both years. Brock disbanded the team at the end of 1972, changing his focus to hang gliding.
After building Ultralight Products into the largest hang gliding company in the world, Brock left. It's believed that he was ultimately dissatisfied with the increasingly challenging liability laws.
He has since returned to Art Center as an instructor, written books, worked for 20+ years as a photojournalist, designed the Aerovault aluminum car trailer. He continues to write and photograph races. Pete Brock's contributions are legendary. And above all, he is truly a dyed-in-the-wool car guy.