Frank Gardner (1931 - 2009)

Send This Page To A Friend
Fade To White
Frank Gardner (1931 - 2009)

Frank Gardner

The New South Wales Sports Car Championship

Few race drivers had a more memorable racing career than our own Frank Gardner, who took up motor racing in 1949. Gardner was born in Sydney, Australia on 1 October 1931; the son of a trawler skipper, so it was natural that his formative years should have been spent on or in the sea where he became an expert swimmer, oarsman, surfer, surf lifesaver and even a boxer.

He graduated from technical college with a degree in mechanical engineering and gravitated to an uncle who ran a transport business. His uncle's garage housed various racing cars, as he was a keen motor-racing enthusiast; by the age of seventeen, the young Gardner was at the wheel of an MG TA in his first race - which he won with ease. However, he still kept up his water sports as well as boxing, and he even found time to take up speedway racing on motor cycles.

Frank started his own small garage business and in 1953 bought an XK120 and started serious motor racing. This car was replaced by a C-type Jaguar which helped him to win the New South Wales Sports Car Championship, before being sold to Frank Matich and succeeded by a D-type Jaguar. The D-type powered Gardner to numerous wins and two more New South Wales Championships in 1956 and 1957.

Working for Aston Martin

The lure of European racing appealed to the still-youthful Gardner, so he sold up and headed for England where, after touring around for a while, he took a job with Aston Martin, working on their sports-racing cars. This was followed by a spell with Jim Russell, and his first few drives in England, at the wheel of a Lotus 18 Formula Junior car. Jack Brabham then asked Gardner to join him in the new Brabham team, so Gardner built the Brabham FJ cars, also managing to race one.

The FJ Brabhams

Successes were now coming fairly regularly in the FJ Brabhams. He also won the Index of Thermal Efficiency at Le Mans in 1962 driving a Lotus Elite. He spent 1963 with the Ian Walker team, driving if Brabhams with Paul Hawkins and picking up a fair number of wins in the process. He also raced the first Brabham sports car, again with some success. For 1964, he signed with the Willment team driving Ford saloons, Lotus and Brabham F2 cars and an AC Cobra GT. He collected a mixed bag of wins and came home to Australia in the winter to take part in the Tasman series in a 2.5-litre Brabham-Climax, picking up several places and second overall in the Tasman Championship.

Alan Mann Racing

Frank made it into Formula One in 1965 with a Brabham-BRM run by Willment, but the team lacked the resources to prepare it properly and a fourth place in the Race of Champions was his only decent result of the year. He had more luck at the wheel of a Formula Two Lola which he drove for the Midland Racing Partnership. By 1966, Gardner had been contracted to Ford to drive for Alan Mann Racing and he had a mixed season at the wheel of Ford GT 40s, Lotus Cortinas and a Ford Falcon, but had better luck in the Tasman Series where he finished up joint second in a Brabham-Climax.

Gardner was now regarded as a fine all rounder and was often called up by teams who wanted a good, reliable driver. In 1967, he drove a works F2 Brabham, almost winning the European F2 title, but he did win the British Saloon Car Championship in one of Mann's Ford Falcons. He also drove a GT 40, Lola T70 and American stock cars as well as testing F1 Brabhams for the works. His value as a test driver was now being recognised and many teams asked him to try a recalcitrant car to discover its problems. He raced a Brabham-Alfa Romeo in the 1967/1968 Tasman series, achieving several places.

The British Saloon Car Championship

In Europe during 1968, he won the British Saloon Car Championship again, this time with an Alan Mann Ford Escort. Gardner also drove FI Cooper-Maserati and BRM cars on occasions, but they were outclassed and he decided that Formula One cars were not for him, so he never raced them again. For the next few years, he Above: . concentrated on saloon-car racing, driving an Escort again in 1969, as well as Mike de Udy's Lola-Chevrolet, which gained him several wins.

For 1970, Ford brought a Boss Mustang to Britain and Gardner, now established in his own engineering business, developed it quickly into a race winner, only just failing to win the British Championship. The Lola factory asked him to sort out the troublesome Lola T190 Formula 5000 single seater and this he did by lengthening the wheelbase and making many other modifications. He then won several races with the car, much to the delight of Lola boss Eric Broadley, who offered him a job at the factory. In 1971, he developed the new Lola T300 F5000 car and notched up several good wins to take the European F5000 Championship, while he also drove a Chevrolet Camaro to numerous wins in saloon-car events.

Gardner took a Lola T300 to the Tasman Series and won the New Zealand Grand Prix, but a bad crash at Levin persuaded him to give up single-seater racing. Since then, Gardner has concentrated on his Chevrolet Camaro, winning numerous races in Britain, taking the 1972 Tarmac Championship and third place in the British Championship with several overall wins out of a possible ten. He repeated his win in the Tarmac Championship in 1973, again using a Chevrolet Camaro, but the limitation on engine capacity in saloon-car races, and the rise of Group One racing restricted Gardner's appearances in the big Camaro. However, he intended, in 1974, to continue for a little longer, keeping his hand in with routine testing of the new racing cars built by Lola. In 1975 retired and returned to Australia.

The 1977 Australian Sports Sedan Championship

But racing was in his blood, and it was not long before he was back behind the wheel. He would take out the 1977 Australian Sports Sedan Championship driving a highly modified Chevrolet Corvair. That championship victory led into a team management role when he retired from full-time driving. After running the Allan Grice Touring Car and Sports Sedan team in the late 70s, it rolled into a factory touring car preparation for BMW in the Australian Touring Car Championship, a team he would run from the programs toe in the water inception with a BMW 318i turbo Sports Sedan in 1980 all the way until 1987 when Gardner's operation was unceremoniously replaced by Peter Brock's former Holden Dealer Team operation, although that relationship broke down after a single season.

During that time his team won the 1985 and 1987 Australian Touring Car Championships with Jim Richards. Shifting to a privateer Ford Sierra team Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezera won the 1988 Bathurst 1000. When BMW returned to the Australian championship in 1991 it was with Gardner's team. The factory BMW team continued with Gardner, switching to (Supertouring cars in 1994) at the helm until 1998, winning the 1994 (with Longhurst), 1995 and 1997 (with Paul Morris) Super Touring titles. When the race team was shifted in 1998 Gardner became involved in driver training.
Frank Gardner in action at Silverstone in 1973, driving the giant Group 2 7.5 litre Chevrolet Camaro
Frank Gardner in action at Silverstone in 1973, driving the giant Group 2 7.5 litre Chevrolet Camaro.
Latest Classic Car Classifieds