Fast family transport and one very special wagon.
Icons aren’t born. Just like people they evolve over time, through events, chance meetings, wins and even losses until finally achieving hero status. This is the story of an iconic car, the very first HDT Peter Brock Commodore Wagon.
Michael Dontas started his working life in his father Sam’s Electric Power Tool Services business in Whitmore Square in Adelaide. Over the years the business flourished. In March 1984 when Michael placed the order for the VK Wagon he was already the proud owner of a VH Group A SS.
George Zadow, a mate of Michael’s, had taken a job selling cars at United Motors owned by Vin Keen who had helped Peter Brock set up HDT. Michael approached George looking for something a little different to the SS for his wife Trish to drive. They had just had twins so there was a real need for more space. The VK was about to arrive in dealerships so the two set about speccing up the new family car.
Michael ticked every box on the options list. The VK Wagon in Cerulean Green would have the 5.0L V8, Cruise Control, Limited Slip Diff, Central Locking, the four- speaker Eurovox sound system and… "I had this idea in my head for what I wanted," says Michael "and it all went from there." Zadow started the communications with HDT for the build and Tag Number L122760 became a reality. "We watched the car come down the line at Holden's facility in Elizabeth."
Michael fondly recalls his first visit to HDT. "Larry Perkins, at the time in charge of engine development told me I would have to sign the secrets act before being admitted to the facility in Leveson St, North Melbourne. At first, I thought he was joking, but he was deadly serious. The dayglo orange VK race cars were on rotisseries in build, and I was not to discuss anything that I saw. Larry asked me what I wanted from the engine, and from that, the choices were made."
The new high output engine would have a baffled sump, different pistons, bearings, worked heads, a free-flowing air cleaner and a bigger exhaust, including headers. Fuel capacity was increased to 90 litres with a bespoke split-baffled fuel tank, chrome rocker covers and oil cap added some bling.
As well as more mumbo, the wagon got rear wheel discs and a bigger bore master cylinder. Ride height was lowered, springs upgraded, Bilstein dampers all around, bigger front and rear sway bars, HDT rear lower arm bushes and even the strut top bearings were changed.
Headlights got bigger watt globes and the steering wheel was swapped for a black leather HDT Momo and a driver's footrest fitted. Bumpers were colour-coded, Berlina Stripes deleted, and Calais side moulds fitted. Finally, the Peter Brock signature was added to the tailgate window as well as the Australian flags on the front guards.
"I went for the Centra Alloys with Yokohama A 008 tyres. It took about a month to complete and then Peter rang me and asked if they could use the car for their new marketing brochure. Of course, I said yes." HDT 1205 was now a reality. "It was the first wagon they had done, and a very high spec car. I think that’s why Peter took such an interest in it. At a delivered cost of $28,500, it would have compared in price to a Benz."
Michael, like many HDT owners, was a keen follower of motorsport, especially the V8s. Through mutual friend Steve Ward (a name synonymous with HDT sales in Adelaide for many years) he was introduced to Peter Brock. "We shared a common interest in herbal teas, and we just hit it off," recalls Michael. That was the beginning of a long and close friendship with Australia’s most charismatic and revered race driver. "Brock always had time for everyone," says Michael, "We had some really good times."
In the days of the Adelaide Grand Prix which incorporated touring car races, it was commonplace for local businesses to provide corporate hospitality areas for their best clients. Michael fondly remembers Brock joining them in the hospitality area and chatting with their client base. This was a mark of the friendship between the two men. There was no financial arrangement and Brock was comfortable with that, often staying two or three hours at the site and frustrating his then-accompanying PA.
The VK immediately took up its daily duties carrying precious cargo in bassinets initially and then ferrying their boys Mark, and twins Craig and Troy to school over the next five years.
"The appearance of the wagon changed over time, with a new HDT grille and then an HDT body kit. Then we got Momo stars. I still have the body kit that goes with the car. The VK did receive a Plus Pack eventually including Energy Polariser which remains in the car today".
In 1989 the wagon was traded on a new car for Trish at United Motors, but that wasn’t the end of the Dontas Family’s affair with the VK. It was eldest son Mark who in the 1990s decided he wanted the VK back, sought it out and repurchased it as his daily driver. The relationship didn’t last however and the VK was again moved on.
Fast forward to 2014. Mark once again had a hankering to get the VK back and restore it to its former glory. It had been such a part of the family history. After some clever detective work, Mark located the car (still in SA) and the whole family went to inspect it. To their pleasant surprise, all the key features of the car were still there. The Scheel seats, although a little tatty were still in place, the original matching numbers engine, and the Eurovox stereo.
It was Michael’s wife Trish who had the deciding vote. "We have to buy it back," she said, and they did… in pieces. Yes, that’s right the VK was in pieces. Following Brock’s untimely passing in 2006 the owner dismantled the car for restoration. Even the engine had been dismantled. There was a careful audit to ensure as much of the original car was present as possible and the bulk lot trailered home for the start of the next adventure.
The wagon was completely dismantled prior to transport to paint and panel. Once returned, it was entrusted to Holden enthusiast Craig Gough who completed the engine and got the car to key start once again.
Winner products took care of the Scheel seats, headlining and carpets, and then it was all hands on deck to complete the job. Michael recalls, "It took months to find replacement parts for the dash that were either brittle or broken. I scored a new Trimatic shifter and I put a Momo wheel back on it. The original exhaust is split but merges over the diff and splits again."
"I hunted all over the country to find the exact replacement. The worst part was the rear electric windows; they are cable operated. The heater is controlled by vacuum lines. Mark made them work but it was a long job. We fitted all new Bilstein shocks and new bushes."
"We tried three Eurovox stereos without success, but now we have a modern unit with the HDT facia. It’s much better. Even the air conditioner is better than ever. I think one of the nicest things was putting the Polariser aerial on the back window and the United Motors sticker. The decal for HDT improved I had made from a photograph because they weren’t available. But you have to do these things."
Turning the key on the now fully restored Brock car evokes sentiments of a bygone era. There is a lumpy idle from the cam that makes you smile as the exhaust joins into the song. It’s incredible in today’s oppressively corporate motor manufacturing world to think that a dealer could build a bespoke car for a customer with the manufacturer's blessing. These were heady days and the cars that came from them are clearly time capsules that need to be preserved.
Story: Nick Lenthall
Photos: Troy Barker