HTC Car Profile: David Gardner’s Castrol Barbagallo VN Commodore


HTC Car Profile: David Gardner’s Castrol Barbagallo VN Commodore

Images courtesy of The Coventry Collection and Rhys Vandersyde

In our latest car and driver profile here on the Heritage Touring Cars website we’re looking at Dave Gardner’s ex-Alf Barbagallo VN Group A Commodore.

Paying homage to Larry Perkins and the band of privateer ‘unsung-heroes’ who raced the cars that his Perkins Engineering organisation built, Gardner purchased a VS Commodore V8 Supercar and peeled back the years of development to reveal one of only a handful of VN Commodores built for Group A in this country.

VN Group A Commodores were a pretty rare commodity on the racetracks of Australia back in the early 1990s. In fact only 11 such cars actually raced here between 1991 and 1993.

Gardner’s car was built as a customer car for Western Australian privateer racing stalwart Alf Barbagallo in 1992 by Perkins Engineering, and given chassis number PE 015.

Barbagallo was six-time Western Australian Sprintcar Champion and founded his Perth based automotive dealership in 1967. With brother Tony he successfully built it up to a business which today retails over 20 automotive brands.

This VN made its national race debut at the 1992 Australian Touring Car Championship round held at Wanneroo Raceway, which was later renamed Barbagallo Raceway in deference to the original owner of this very car.

Albert Park

With Castrol backing the VN also raced in the Adelaide GP support races in 1992 – the final Group A races held in Australia.

Barbagallo updated PE 015 for the 1993 season to the new five-litre winged specification, which later became known as V8 Supercars. The VN was also given a quick facelift to become a VP Commodore at this point.

The local racer elected to only do the Western Australian round of the Championship but later in the year teamed with car builder Larry Perkins to win the 1993 Barbagallo 300 endurance race.

Pretty Pictures - Perth

Barbagallo used the Commodore in WA events as well as local ATCC races throughout 1994 and 1995, by which time it had been upgraded to the latest VR model and he again teamed with Perkins to win the Barbagallo 300.

Barbagallo sold the car in 1996 and it went through several owners.

Nathan Pretty purchased the car and raced it at Bathurst in 1998 and intermittently at various rounds of the V8 Supercars Championship throughout 1999 and 2000 when budget permitted.

Later used as a ride car by Ben Eggleston, Gardner purchased the car in 2010 with a view to restoring it back to its VN Group A specification.

“I’ve got a thing about Perkins cars,” he says.

“Over the years I’d watched what he did. The fact that he built a car and raced a car and built the engines – it was a one-stop-shop and that appealed to me.

“Everyone was chasing Walkinshaws so I thought I’d be nice to do something different and get a VN back on the track. No one in our category was racing a VN – people haven’t seen them for a long time.

“There were only five Group A VNs that Larry built and this particular one won the Barbagallo enduro a couple of times.

“There was a nice Perkins connection there. So I took the decision to convert the car from VS V8 Supercar back to VN Group A.”

Albert Park

The rebuild required the replacement of everything from the B-pillar back – a monumental task that took many years to complete.

“Most of the VNs became V8 Supercars, so to go backwards was very difficult and a big expense, but I thought I’d bite the bullet and do it.

“As it got upgraded to a Supercar the bar-work changed. It was also re-tubbed to move to the wider track of the VS Supercar. So effectively everything from the B-pillar back came off the car and all the floor pan and bar work was replaced.”

Gardner strived to get everything on the car correct for the 1992 Group A era. This attention to detail extended to the driver who gave the freshly restored VN Group A its shakedown. Well, his surname anyway!

Jack Perkins was only six years-old when his Dad’s team built PE 015 but was more than keen to slide behind the wheel and check-out his father’s handy-work.

“I’d always said to him from the outset that I wanted to put him in the car,” says Gardner.

“He’d showed quite a bit of interest in what I was doing. We kept in touch and when it came to giving the car its first shakedown at Wakefield Park he came up from Melbourne to give it a run. It was a good bit of fun. I’d like to run him in the car a bit more but of course he’s been busy this year!”

PE 015 joins four other Perkins built Commodores in Gardner’s collection. There’s also PE 018, PE 029, PE 030 (the 1997 Bathurst Winner) and PE 038, a collection spanning VN, VP, VR, VS and VX Commodore models.

“With the other cars that I’ve got I’ve got a nice run of Castrol Perkins cars,” says Gardner.

“This is the one I race. I try and get it out there and let the people see it. There’s no point having it if you can’t enjoy it.”

Stay tuned to the Heritage Touring Cars website for more Car Profiles on interesting cars and their drivers throughout the remainder of the year.

The Heritage Touring Cars will next take to the track at Sandown Raceway in Victoria for Historic Sandown on November 7-8.