Being unfamiliar with Peter Brock is pretty much unthinkable to Australian auto racing fans, but for much of the rest of the world, that’s the sorry state we live in. This is a shame, not just because Peter Brock was a truly gifted driver and ran a great factory-approved tuning company, but because the story of his downfall is truly fascinating, and involves a box of crystals and epoxy that tap into mythical orgone energy. Seriously.
Before we open that box of energy, it’s worth giving a bit of background on Brock. Brock was, without question, one of Australia’s best known and most successful auto racers, ever.
Brock has won the Australian Touring Car Championship three times, the grueling Bathurst 1000 endurance race an incredible nine times, an achievement that’s yet to be matched, won the Sandown 500 touring car race another nine times, and did some open-wheel racing and European touring car racing as well.
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The man could drive.
While he’s raced cars from a number of manufacturers, including Porsche, Volvo, BMW, and Peugeot, Brock is most closely associated with Holden, General Motor’s now-just-an-importer Australian division. In fact, Brock’s ties to Holden were strong enough that in 1980 he took over a company called the Holden Dealer Team (HDT), which started as Holden’s semi-official racing team, and was turned into a genuine Holden dealer-supported team when Brock took over.
Brock expanded HDT from just a dealer-supported racing team to include becoming a Holden factory-approved performance tuner, modifying cars sent straight from Holden’s factories into HDT Special Vehicles.
Some HDT vehicles were homologation specials, essentially race cars made available for sale per the rules of Group A and Group C racing. Others were simply performance-enhanced vehicles with distinctive styling modifications, like what Mercedes’ AMG division or BMW’s M cars provide.
The HDT cars were very desirable and sold well, even with their limited production—only 4,246 were made, in total.
To look at where Brock was in early 1987, you’d find someone absolutely at the top of their game. He was an incredibly successful racing driver, had a great relationship with General Motors/Holden and was producing some really exciting cars, all under his own very well-known name. He could even pull off the below pose in a full tux, standing in front of one of the most outrageously-bodykitted tuned cars ever. Things couldn’t have been better.
Everything changed with the 1987 introduction of the HDT Director, one of the most ambitious HDT cars, based on the Holden Commodore. In addition to many performance enhancements, the HDT Director featured an extensive body kit that made the thing look like it came from an ‘80s Manga comic about some teen girl who was rebuilt into a crime-fighting cyborg.
But it wasn’t the body kit or even the entire car itself that caused the issue, not exactly: It was a $480 (adjusted for time, that’d be about $525 U.S. dollars) option called the Energy Polarizer.
First unveiled in 1986 and then fitted as standard to every HDT Director, the Energy Polarizer was, physically, a plastic box filled with a pair of magnets separated by some crystals embedded in epoxy resin. It was held to the body of HDT cars with a single, self-tapping screw.
To understand why this thing even exists at all, we have to talk about Brock’s chiropractor, Dr. Eric Dowker, who, apparently, was actually known as “Dr. Feelgood.”
Peter Brock, then in his early 40s, lived like you’d expect an Australian racing driver of the ‘70s to have lived: lots of booze and cigarettes and fiberglass particle inhalation. Brock’s health wasn’t great, so his girlfriend sent him to a doctor she knew and who fit with her New Age belief system: Dowker.
Dowker got Brock to eat healthier, quit smoking and drinking, and all that rational stuff that makes people, you know, healthier. All of this was couched in a lot of New Agey talk of crystals and energy, but the result was Brock felt better and became a convert to Dowker’s philosophies.
Before long, there were crystals mounted to the engine dyno at HDT’s shop, and from there it didn’t take long for “research” to be conducted about applying these crystals to the engines themselves, which is what birthed the Energy Polarizer.
The crystal affectation was noted by people of the era, like John Harvey, quoted in the book Peter Brock: How Good Is This?:
The whole thing started some three or four years before it hit the headlines. My first indication that there was something, well, not odd, but just a bit different, was people dangling crystals into cups of tea and over meals. I thought, “What’s going on here?” and so did a few other people. We thought it was harmless; if people wanted to believe in crystals for whatever reason, who cares? Then it developed a bit further than that. The first indication I had that it was having some influence on the racing team was I think Larry and Neil Burns found crystals either strapped to, or located on, the engine dyno and/or on the engines themselves.
The thinking behind what the Polarizer actually did was, as you can probably guess, pretty vague. Brock himself described it as
“It’s a magic cure. It makes a shithouse car good.”
... which isn’t exactly scientific, but the more detailed explanation, that it uses orgone energy to “align the molecules” of whatever it’s attached to doesn’t really work any better than the “magic cure/anti-shithouse” explanation.
At first the Polarizers were fitted to HDT race cars in secret, only being discovered when one came unmounted in a practice session and banged around the cabin, unmoored, nearly causing an accident. This incident caused Brock to fire his longtime race partner and chief engineer, Larry Perkins, who called Peter out on how insane and possibly dangerous all this crystalline bullshit was.
While this was all bad enough, things got much worse with the introduction of the ill-fated HDT Director, which included the Energy Polarizer as standard. This is what made Holden’s name directly associated with this little box of crystals and magic.
Holden at first was just confused, but when the company got a hold of an Energy Polarizer and opened it up to find a concentrated, crystalline source of total bullshit, the manufacturer became pretty alarmed. To Holden’s credit, it gave Brock and Dowker (who marketed the Polarizer under the DB Tech brand name) a chance to explain just what the hell the thing did.
Brock and Dowker released a statement:
The statement, as you can imagine, is complete horseshit. They refer to the mythical orgone energy as A.B.A. energy to make it sound more scientific, suggesting that any molecules in the “sphere of influence” are made to be “aligned to the direction of the high energy transmission,” which, somehow, is good for cars.
The statement also references “printed circuitry” in the Polarizer, of which it has none, and, more alarmingly, suggests extremely low tire pressures that are to be used with the Polarizer, 24 PSI, or sometimes even lower, with 20 PSI being suggested for the Director.
That’s pretty damn close to a flat tire, as Peter Brock: How Good Is This? notes.
Because of the Polarizer and, less embarrassingly, HDT developing a new rear suspension setup without Holden’s approval or testing, Holden officially ended all relationships with HDT and Brock.
Australian news covered the breakup in detail:
Brock contacted General Motors in Detroit to see about testing the Polarizer, and lied to Holden about GM’s reaction, telling Holden that GM was considering fitting them to all their vehicles. Frankly, while a lie, it probably wouldn’t have made an ‘88 Chevy Citation any worse, really.
Things got more and more embarrassing for Brock, who was awarded the Australian Skeptics’ Society’s Bent Spoon Award, which published cringe-inducing quotes from Brock like this one:
“Inside my Polarizer, among other things, you’ve got magnetic energy acting on a crystal which causes the transmission of a high frequency wave which in fact is orgone energy. When the car is fully charged with orgone energy, the molecules are all nicely aligned and you can feel it working better.”
This is the sort of shit you expect to hear when you’re stuck next to the worst person at a party in Santa Monica, not from Australia’s most beloved racing driver.
The whole thing left Brock in a financial mess, and while he eventually returned to racing, things were pretty much over for any automotive-related businesses. Brock raced other makes, then eventually reconciled with Holden and his old chief Larry Perkins in the ‘90s. Brock died in a racing accident in the 2006 Targa West rally at the age of 61.
What’s really ironic is the kicker at the end of this story: since very few cars (173, to be precise) equipped with Polarizers were made, those that had them—and the Polarizers themselves—became quite valuable for collectors. For example, in 2010 a Polarizer-equipped Director sold for $300,000 Australian, which is close to $250,000 American dollars.
This popularity actually made Holden themselves sell a car with an all-new Energy Polarizer in 2011. The HDT VE-VL Heritage Edition Commodore is equipped with a special body kit, Peter Brock’s signature, and a box full of New Age bullshit that Holden is now happy to install on their cars, fully aware that it does precisely nothing.
Well, nothing except use incredible orgone energy to stimulate the nostalgia centers of people’s brains to make them spend money on a box of rocks, tinfoil, and glue screwed into their car’s engine compartment.
I’m pretty sure that makes Holden the only automaker ever to officially sell a car with a component that allegedly works with orgone energy, or crystals, or “molecular alignment.”
It looks like Peter Brock won in the end, after all.