1987 HDT Director Review

By: David Morley, Photography by: Lou Martin, UC Files

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The HDT Director - the swansong of the Brock Commodore series - was brave and hugely controversial


1987 HDT Director

If a pair of VB Commodores was the original prototype-batch that started the whole Brock Commodore dynasty, then this car, the 1987 HDT Director was without a doubt the car that ended it all. It not only put an end to Brock’s burgeoning Holden-based road-car business, but it and the Bathurst variant also drove a mighty wedge between PB himself and his Holden family; an outcome that Aussie race fans and a couple of generations of tappet-heads couldn’t even imagine. Until it happened.

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It all depended on how you looked at it. From Brock’s point of view, the Director was the embodiment of just how world-class his HDT cars could be. They were high-performance thoroughbreds; innovators; world beaters. From Holden’s place at the knee of corporate giant General Motors, however, the very same Director was a skull-and-crossbones; a big, red, don’t-touch warning that Brock had overstepped the mark and was putting GM in a potentially very sketchy corporate position. Both views are supported by the facts. The car itself was pretty advanced in some ways, yet still used the rugged, simple engineering that had made HDT cars so popular. The engine remained an iron, pushrod V8, complete with two valves per cylinder and a four-barrel carburettor. Output? Who knows, but figure on the 177kW claimed at the time and you’d be close. And that was plenty in the day, too, remember. But long before the VT Commodore (a full decade later in 1997) or the AU Falcon (1998) Brock’s flagship had bona fide independent rear suspension, lifted, in this case, from the Euro-market Opel Rekord and adapted to the VL Commodore’s rear floorpan.

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Mind you, that wasn’t really the stretch it sounded, since every Commodore from VB to VL shared much of its platform with the Rekord, so making the IRS fit was clever, but hardly reinventing the wheel. But Brock knew that IRS had the potential to transform the Director’s handling and ride; he’d been exposed to IRS-equipped European GM product (including the Opel Monza) via road cars he’d driven while racing in Europe (including Le Mans) in the mid-80s.

The mad body-kit transformed the look of the Holden Calais (upon which the Director was based) and those wheelarch blisters and roof spoiler remain completely out there. The fuzzy velour interior has dated a bit, too, but in that lovely green-blue with the Momo three-spoke tiller, it was more tasteful than it sounds.

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The problem, meanwhile, was that Brock had not given Holden the chance to look at and test the IRS set-up nor many of the Director’s other modifications. And without the sort of Nth-degree testing that any General Motors company insists upon before a product hits the market (let alone a high-profile product like this one) Holden was looking down the barrel of having its showrooms full of Brock cars that were potentially unsafe and may not have met all the relevant ADRs. Even when you’re the Chosen One (as Brock most certainly had been) you can’t get away with that sort of stuff. Throw in the controversial Energy Polariser which was, again depending on your point of view, either a brilliant new technology or a load of bollocks, and the stage was set for a showdown. Which is exactly what happened.

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So the Director was the car that killed the Brock HDT golden goose, or at least, it was the car that steered Brock over the edge and into the abyss. How many were made? Hard to know exactly, but between nine and 12 seems to be the smart answer. How many had IRS? Perhaps most of them, but maybe not all of them. And where is the car in the brochure – the very one that Brock unveiled that fateful night in February 1987? It stayed in Australia for decades, changing hands a couple of times but was recently bought by a US-based, Aussie ex-pat collector and shipped to the US.

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Just like the guy who happened to be filming Mick Fanning when the shark had a crack at him, I was the bloke in the right place at the right time back on a February night in 1987. In a flash reception centre in Melbourne’s south-east, P Brock and his chiropractor guru, Eric Dowker, whisked a cover off the HDT Director and proudly stood back. It was like pulling the pin out of a grenade and dropping it at your own feet.

Next day, Holden officially severed all ties. For those of us watching, it was the bust-up that had previously been unimaginable. No winners that night.

To be standing there was actually quite surreal. Brock was in a dinner suit but while he clearly believed the Director was the start of something big, there wasn’t a single invited person there who didn’t understand that they were watching the disintegration of what had been a beautiful relationship. That it was Brock’s single-minded determination to trust his own beliefs did little to ease the pain. This was a train-wreck.

Eric Dowker was the joker in the pack, too. Although I’d never met him (as a shit-kicker on a car magazine, I was a complete nobody in these circles) Dowker approached me, shook my hand and greeted me by name. How the hell he knew who I was still amazes me, but that’s what happened.

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