240Z: Early US Racing Success with BRE

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BRE stands for Brock Racing Enterprises, which is Pete Brock’s race shop that dominated all the classes of US racing that it competed, from the late 60s until 1974 when it was disbanded. BRE was also a contracted racing team to Datsun and hence the BRE cars are some of the most significant Datsun/Nissan race cars ever to grace a racetrack.

Enthusiasts of 60s iron will recognise Pete Brock (no relation to Australian racing icon Peter Brock) as the designer of the Shelby Cobra Daytona. At the time, Pete worked for Carrol Shelby, who was having a lot of racing success with the Cobra. Having an enormous power to weight ratio, the Cobras were always quick, but the vintage lines of the AC Ace based body were a serious aerodynamic liability at super high racing speeds. Not only was it high in drag, but it suffered from tremendous front end lift. So Pete designed a sleek, windcheating body to clothe the musclebound Cobra, and it worked too, winning its class at Le Mans in 1964.

Pete Brock would part ways with Carrol Shelby in the late 60s however, to start his own racing shop, BRE. And thus starting a decade-long dominance of amateur racing by Datsun in the USA.

200_samurai.jpgTo describe Pete as just being the designer of the Shelby Daytona is to do him a great disservice. An automotive industry man, he was a designer for GM for a many years, and was involved with racing for a long time before he met Carrol Shelby. His relationship with JDM manufacturers began in the late 60s when he was asked by Hino to develop the Contessa Coupe (below) into a competitive club racer. This he did, and the Contessa held its own against the Mini Coopers in its capacity class. Brock even went onto build a concept car for Hino, the Hino Samurai (left). But the relationship was a doomed one, because Toyota would soon take over the Hino company, and very soon Hino would be restricted to being a truck manufacturer.

team_samurai.jpgPete, now without a ride, initially approached Toyota with an idea to race the 2000GT. Toyota agreed to let BRE have the gig, subsequent negotiations went well, contracts were signed and Pete went back to Southern California to eagerly gear up for 2000GT racing. However, unbeknownst to him, his old boss Carrol Shelby (ever the canny businessman) went to Japan to convince Toyota to allow Shelby American to race the 2000GT instead (we cover that story here by the way).  Pete would never actually hear from Toyota again, and found out the hard way when old contacts from Shelby American called him to let him know that “his” 2000GTs were just delivered to the Shelby workshop.

And so Pete was left out in the cold. He then approached Datsun with a proposal to race the Fairlady 2000 roadster, with no small part of his motivation being to beat Shelby on his own terms. This approach was initially rejected, but Pete used a senior contact he knew in Hino Japan to make a case on his behalf. This they did (to none other than the Chairman of Nissan Japan!) and soon after BRE received two Fairlady Roadsters and a budget to develop them into race winners. This he duly did, and with John Morton at the wheel, BRE roadsters won the D Production series in both 1968 and 1969. It should be noted that BRE never really competed against the Shelby Toyotas directly, which were in the C Production class. And Pete would have the last laugh as Toyota withdrew its support from Shelby after only one year, while his relationship with Datsun would blossom over the next half decade.

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1969 dawned into 1970, with the BRE roadsters still bringing home the silverware in its class. Over the years, Pete had become good friends with Yutaka Katayama, the “father of the 240Z”, President of Nissan USA and a great racing enthusiast. The 240Z had been aimed at US market success, so Katayama-san (or Mr K as he’s known in Zed circles) was keen for BRE to get their hands on a Zed.

200_brez.jpgSo BRE would receive a Zed from the very first shipment of twenty 240Zs destined to the USA. Which is to say that Pete Brock received one of the very first 240Zs anywhere, since the Zed went on sale in the USA quite some time before it actually was offered for sale in the Japanese market itself. Initial impressions were not good, and John Morton especially felt that the 240Z was a much softer and less sports focussed car than was hoped. Nevertheless the BRE team began to develop the 240Z into a racewinner.

1970aarc_prog.jpgThe bodyshell was completely stripped and examined, whereupon the BRE boys agreed that the platform was strong enough and did not justify any special seam welding, and the only body strengthening was a comprehensive roll cage. The car was then put back together with lowered springs, bigger swaybars and a combination of Koni and Tokico shocks (although later BRE would develop its own dampers by modifying the valving of the stock shocks). A Detroit Locker LSD was installed in the rear end and up front was an upgraded radiator and oil coolers for the trans, engine and diff. The engine was treated to forged Venolia 12.5:1 pistons, a bigger cam, triple Mikuni carbs and the cylinder head was ported. Power was quoted as being “more than 240hp”, the redline was 8300rpm and stronger valve springs and rod bolts were also added for strength in order for the engine to live at such high rpm.

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Valves and rods were stock (but prepared) and the stock crank swung in a custom made high capacity baffled sump. Even the brakes were stock, but with upgraded Raybestos pads.

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The very first race however, was a disaster for BRE. The first batch of 240Zs had an inferior crankshaft design, and at the rpm that the BRE cars were capable of generating, the 2.4L six had severe vibration issues that eventually damaged the clutch, forcing the Morton 240Z into retirement. Part of the problem was because in Japan, the racing version of the 240Z (well, Fairlady Z) was the S20 engined, 2.0L 24v DOHC “432″. The 240Z’s simpler 2.4L six was not really intended to be a circuit racing motor and it wasn’t strong enough for really big rpm. However, soon enough, this bug was eventually ironed out when Nissan redesigned the stock cranks, and with a reduced 7800rpm limit, the BRE cars were now reliable.

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The BRE Fairlady roadster had already built up enough of a points lead in that season, so that notwithstanding this retirement, Morton went onto to win the series in 1970, finishing the season with a pair of wins in the 240Z, making it two wins for two finishes. An astonishing record for a new car in its first season

1971 would begin with the BRE team having the upper hand, and the 240Z’s main opposition of Porsche 914s and Triumph TR6s would be swept aside as the Morton/BRE 240Z got pole position for every race that season, eventually taking out the series in fine style.

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This was repeated in 1972 with another championship win, making it three from three years for the 240Z, and repaying Katayama-san’s faith in BRE in spades. By this time however, the 240Z was already the best-selling sports car in the world, and so it no longer needed any marketing help from BRE’s racing victories. After dominating the C Production class for three years in a row, 1972 would be the last season for BRE and the 240Z. Pete and his talented team of engineers and drivers would set their sights on the under 2.5L class of the Trans Am championship with the 510 sedan. The BRE 510 would inherit the 240Z’s record of absolute domination and go onto become a legendary race car in its own right…but that’s a story for another day!

The BRE/Datsun association may have begun under difficult circumstances, but in the end, if BRE had gone with Toyota, the racing world would have been robbed of some awesome racing Datsuns.

200_bre2.jpgAs a cool post script, one of the conditions of Katayama-san’s appointment of BRE was that all the cool racing parts should become available for sale to the public. So, for a time, you could order BRE parts from your Datsun dealer, and the 1971, pre-inflation prices are good for a chuckle. How about BRE-design 4 spoke magnesium racing wheels for $92 each? Or a camshaft upgrade kit for $280….or a set of BRE-specification forged Venolia pistons for $210….or the Pete Brock designed front spoiler and brake cooling scoop (called a “spook”) for $32! Ahh those were the days…

Now for some Youtubes! These are not of the real #46 John Morton 240Z, but it’s a cool replica:

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