Both the victor and the vanquished are but drops of dew, but bolts of lightning –thus should we view the world. –Ōuchi Yoshitaka
A vanquished Japanese territorial lord wrote that in 1551, and today it's how I'd like to start the tale of a forgotten American sports racing car with a Japanese heart.
When Californian Peter Brock sketched the Corvette Stingray—at 21—and then left Chevrolet to get his SCCA race license, you'd be right in thinking he may lead an exceptional life.
Four years later, in 1961, he became Carroll Shelby's first employee and created the Shelby American brand, logos, and car liveries. He designed components for the Shelby GT 350 (did I mention he was by then a gifted driver and mechanic?)
He designed the Shelby Daytona Coupes. Then he left.
And that brings us neatly to Brock Racing Enterprises, or BRE.
Japanese cars had only entered the U.S. market in 1958 with the unloved Toyopet (Toyota) Crown. BRE started in late 1965, working with Japanese automakers to improve the performance of their cars. He worked with Datsun and Toyota, but BRE had particular success with Hino.
Back then, Hino was small and beyond obscure to U.S. drivers. So the work of a talented American racer did not go unnoticed in Japan, who decided to collaborate more closely with Brock. What happened? The little BRE Hino Contessa Coupe won its first event, the 1966 Times-Mirror race at Riverside.
(Brock had some additional free time, enough to collaborate with a young filmmaker. More on that later.)
But Brock wanted more. So with a tubular steel Le Grand Mk IV mid-engine chassis, modified Hino 4-cylinder motor, and absolutely stunning bodywork—complete with a movable rear spoiler—the Samurai was to be completed by the legendary Troutman-Barnes team. (Their previous work included Scarabs and the first Chaparral, and they were one of the first entities to call their cars "prototypes.")
The car was to be entered at the 1967 Japanese (sports car) Grand Prix. His honorary team manager was actor Toshiro Mifune, best known for Roshomon, Seven Samurai—and outside of Japan as Izo Yamura in Grand Prix.
Early publicity included the cover of Road & Track for the Samurai, and although the competition was strong at the Japanese Grand Prix, there was hope that the prototype could place well and possibly kick start a Hino racing program.
But of course not. Officials disqualified the car, citing its lack of ground clearance. Soon after, the president of Hino died. The Samurai would never make its intended trip to Le Mans.
Toyota took over Hino, killing its car division. With racing aspirations, Toyota was keen to have someone like Brock develop cars—like the JP6 prototype in 1967—but gave their next racing project, the 2000GT, to Carroll Shelby.
Brock then turned his attention to Datsun, creating the BRE Datsun 2000 Roadster—in secret—which handily beat the Toyotas.
The Samurai? It is apparently restored, possibly in the U.S., waiting for its next turn in the spot light. And that young filmmaker? George Lucas.
But that's a story for another day. Click here to subscribe to Banovsky's Car of the Day email.
Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt. What, then, is all? –Hosshin
Sources / Recommended Reading