14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


sportscarpros CottonBalls

Michael & Andrew Cotton


Top of Page

The Prototype Crocodile Dundee

Frank Gardner was one of the men you expected to last for ever…well, beyond his 78 years, but it was cancer that claimed his life on August 29 after a no doubt courageous battle.

Frank was a jack of all trades, and master of most of them. Three times British Touring Car Champion, twice the BRDC’s British champion, British Formula 5000 champion in 1971, accomplished sports car racer, he was one of the many Australians who came over to Britain in the 1960s to make his fame, and along the way, win a huge legion of friends and fans. He was the first driver in the world to chalk up 100 wins in international racing, in a wide variety of machines.

The only regime in which Frank failed to score was in Formula One. He drove John Willment’s Brabhams in the World Championship in 1964 and in 1965, and Bernard White’s BRM P261 in 1968, but failed to score any points (best result, 8th in the 1965 British Grand Prix in a BRM powered BT11). He had more success in non-championship F1 events, though, finishing second in the Australian Tasman GP in 1966 and 1972, third in the Mediterranean Grand Prix in 1965 and third in the 1971 International Gold Cup.

Frank’s single-seater career was woven with the rise of Jack Brabham’s career as a constructor. He contested the Tasman Series in Ron Tauranac designed Brabhams from 1964 to 1967, and in the latter year finished runner- up both in the Tasman Series in a BT16 and in the European Formula 2 Championship in a BT23.

The year 1967 was auspicious, for along with success in F2 Frank was the outright winner of the British Touring Car Championship in an Alan Mann Ford Falcon. And the following year he won a back-to-back British title in an Alan Mann Ford Escort.  Runner-up in the BTCC in 1970, his big effort was in the newly established F5000 championship, in which he was third in 1970 driving a Lola T192 Chevrolet, and champion in 1971.

Oh yes, Frank was a sports car driver too, a regular performer at Le Mans in the 1960s. His best result was on his debut in 1962 in a Lotus Engineering Elite, which he shared with David Hobbs. They finished eighth overall, won the 1,300 cc class and the Index of Thermal Efficiency. The following year he shared a Team Elite entry with John Coundley, but retired with a failed engine on Sunday morning.

He returned to Le Mans in 1966 with John Whitmore in an Alan Mann Ford Mk2 7-litre but went out with a clutch failure after six hours, but they had some compensation by finishing second in the Spa 1,000 Kms. Frank’s last appearance at Le Mans, in 1967, was disappointing too. He shared one of the many Fords with Roger McCluskey, a Ford entry no less, but the American crashed it out of 12th place at dawn.

Frank Gardner shared with David Piper the honour, if that is the right word, for giving the then-notorious Porsche 917 its first race finish, at the Nürburgring in 1969.  The story goes, according to Piper, that since all the factory contracted drivers declined to handle the beast in the ‘green hell’, and since he, David, had already placed an order, would he care to drive at the ‘Ring…oh, and could he bring a friend?

David asked Frank, “who lived just round the corner” if he had a free weekend, and a fee of £300 was on offer to drive this new Porsche. They turned up for breakfast at the Sporthotel and realised that all the works drivers were laughing at them, but a deal was a deal and they went out to practise. “Christ, if you lost control of this thing you’d need a compass to find your way back” was Frank’s first reaction. Their instructions, though, were to finish the race, no matter how far down the order, and this they did.

After a very circumspect run they brought the 917 home in eighth place, and Rico Steinemann, Porsche’s competitions manager, was so relieved that he upped their fee to £500 apiece and sent each of them home with a Shell road atlas!  Referring after the event to the 917’s extraordinarily flexible chassis, Frank told me “every time you go to change gear, the knob’s gone somewhere else!”

That was Frank, master of the laconic quote. He was, in his youth, a professional boxer, speedway rider, champion swimmer and surfboat racer, and when he stripped off his tee-shirt on a hot day, he displayed a powerful physique that made the ladies swoon. Not that he was aggressive, though, far from it. He had a ready smile, a quick wit, and like Jack Brabham, was a hands-on guy who was never happier than when rebuilding a gearbox or tuning a suspension. Editor Brooksie got it in one when he remembered Frank Gardner as “the prototype Crocodile Dundee”.

Frank will be longest remembered for his mastery of big, powerful cars. He won the British Touring Car Championship once more in 1973 at the wheel of the SCA European Road Services Chevrolet Camaro. He returned to live in Australia in the mid-70s to race Holdens in the burgeoning touring car championship, finishing second in the big Bathurst 1000 in 1975. In his final season, 1977, he raced a highly modified Chevrolet Corvair to win the Australian Sports Sedan Championship and then, at the age of 47, put his helmet away and became a highly successful team owner.

Frank managed the Allan Grice touring car and sports sedan teams in the late 70s, and was awarded the BMW contract in 1980, with the 318i, winning the 1985 and 1987 Australian Touring Car Championships with Jim Richards. With the contract expired Frank ran a privateer Ford Sierra for Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezeera, and against the odds they won the Bathurst 1000 in 1988. BMW awarded a new contract to Frank Gardner’s own team in 1991 winning three Australian Super Touring titles, with Longhurst in 1994 and with Paul Morris in 1995 and 1997.

When that programme ended Frank became involved in driver training, starting a school which flourishes to this day. There are not so many people in motor racing who deserve the accolade of ‘legendary’, but Frank Gardner is foremost among those who do.

- Michael Cotton, September 2009