Saturday Sleuthing has covered a lot of ground in recent weeks with a wide range of cars.
Sometimes it’s because a particular car has a special connection to the upcoming venue of a Virgin Australia Supercars Championship event or sometimes it’s due to a special anniversary.
In the case of the Holden Racing Team’s original VN Commodore Group A it’s because this year is the 25th anniversary of this historically-significant race car.
While the VN didn’t bathe itself in glory with Bathurst or championship wins like other Commodore models, the last of the Group A homologation specials still had a dedicated band of campaigners led by the factory Holden Racing Team.
Today on Saturday Sleuthing we’re taking a closer look at the long and detailed life of HRT’s first VN Commodore – HRT chassis 026.
This very car, in fact, was the first race car manufactured by the Holden Racing Team itself (using a Dencar-prepared chassis), given the team’s previous VLs were built originally by Perkins Engineering or Tom Walkinshaw Racing in the UK.
The first HRT VN Commodore was debuted by Brit Win Percy at the opening round of the 1991 Australian Touring Car Championship at Sandown running as car #16.
Percy and the VN finished in a respectable fifth position on debut, but both it and the rest of the pack were making up the numbers as Nissan’s GT-Rs crushed the field.
Percy drove HRT 026 for the remaining rounds of the series with the exception of the second Lakeside round (there were two held there that year) where Bathurst-winning partner Allan Grice raced the VN for the first time.
Percy and Grice shared the car for the 1991 Sandown 500 but failed to finish after gearbox issues and the car didn’t race at Bathurst as the team debuted another brand new VN.
For the 1992 season HRT elected to run only a partial season schedule, so therefore the 026 chassis only ran in a handful of rounds in the hands of Tomas Mezera.
After the loved Czech crashed in qualifying at Eastern Creek it was this car wheeled out of the truck for him to use on Sunday race day – nothing like having a spare car to call upon!
Later in the year the car was converted to the new VP specification with the new Chevrolet engine installed and the new, more effective front and rear aero kit added.
As a VP the car first ran as #15 with Tomas Mezera and Brad Jones driving at the 1992 Sandown 500 and taking a third place finish. The duo drove the car again at Bathurst for a 15th place finish after Jones spent time beached on the outside kerb at Hell Corner after a spin.
Mezera drove the car for the first five rounds of the new five-litre Australian Touring Car Championship the following year, putting the car on pole for the first race at Amaroo Park.
The car was involved in a multi-car accident at Winton after Mezera launched off the side of Alan Jones’ Falcon as he tried to avoid an accident between John Bowe and Mark Skaife and the damage was significant. It was enough to sideline the car until the 1993 Australian Grand Prix event later in the year.
Mezera retained the car for the 1994 season, running now as #015 with new backing from Mobil in the wake of Peter Brock’s arrival at HRT in the off-season.
The chassis wasn’t raced in the endurance events that season, though it appeared at the Adelaide Grand Prix meeting where HRT ran three cars for the first time and Lowndes was behind the wheel with the racing number of #016.
The introduction of the VR model Commodore for 1995 meant that HRT 026 was converted to the new bodywork of the new car and used by the team to develop the aerodynamic package for the new shape. However it did not race that year and was retained as a spare car.
Eventually it was sold in 1996 to privateers Michael Hart and Peter Lawrence, but did not appear until later in the year at the AMP Bathurst 1000 where they ran four laps in practice before a failure meant they did not start the race.
The duo ran select Victorian rounds of the Shell Australian Touring Car Championship in 1997 before teaming up again for Bathurst, this time making the race but not being classified as a finisher because the pairing failed to complete sufficient laps.
The car was not seen for some time but resurfaced when put up for sale mid-1999 and purchased by Terry Wyhoon, who ran it in the inaugural Konica V8 Lites Series in 2000 as a VS model car.
While Peter Brock never actually raced HRT 026, his James sure did, taking the role of assisting in preparation for Bathurst 2000 and filling the role of co-driver to car owner Wyhoon.
Wyhoon again ran the car in the 2001 Konica Series before updating to a Falcon with Clyde Lawrence purchasing the HRT car to race in the development category for a few more years before its competition life came to a close.
It was purchased over a decade ago by a Melbourne collector who, last time we were in touch with him, has the long-term ambition to restore it back to HRT specification at some point in the future.
We’d love to see this car back out in all of its HRT glory sometime in the future – it sure has plenty of history!
Check back next Saturday on supercars.com.au for another Saturday Sleuthing story, this time on a Ford Credit Falcon that very easily could have given Glenn Seton the Bathurst win he so richly deserved.
If there’s a car you’d like to see featured in an upcoming story you can get in touch with the V8 Sleuth via any of the following methods: