From Matich to McBen­der

Last is­sue, AMC’s US con­trib­u­tor Mike Matune chron­i­cled the Matich SR3 that re­mained state­side af­ter Frank Matich’s as­sault on the Can-Am se­ries. This is­sue he turns his at­ten­tion to a sec­ond Matich racer, an A50 that con­tested races in the USA in both F5

Australian Muscle Car - - Whaddayaknow -

In the early 1970s, For­mula 5000 grabbed the at­ten­tion of driv­ers, teams and fans in the United States, Europe, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. Frank Matich was an early F5000 com­peti­tor, first in a McLaren M10 and later with his own cre­ation, the Matich A50. Suc­cess was re­alised at home when he won the 1970 and 1971 Aus­tralian Grands Prix, in McLaren and Matich chas­sis re­spec­tively.

There’s noth­ing like suc­cess to cre­ate de­mand, and ad­di­tional Matich A50s en­sued with one mak­ing its way to the US. Over three sea­sons that car made ap­pear­ances in the L&M F5000 se­ries in the hands of Ge­orge Follmer, John Gim­bel and Merle Bren­nan.

Bren­nan can be seen in the hat of­fload­ing the black A50 at the Vir­ginia City Hill­climb (above).

An­other time, while Bren­nan was tow­ing the car back from the Oc­to­ber 1974 race at River­side, Cal­i­for­nia to his shop in Reno, Ne­vada, the trailer came loose from the tow ve­hi­cle and the Matich, strapped to the trailer, plunged off the road. Sub­se­quent in­spec­tion re­vealed a mono­coque dam­aged be­yond re­pair, but this didn’t rep­re­sent the car’s demise. Bren­nan, by all ac­counts a mas­ter fab­ri­ca­tor, took the us­able pieces from the A50, com­bined them with a square tube space frame he con­structed and a body from a LeGrand sports racer, and cre­ated the ‘Bren­nan Spe­cial’. Over the next year and a half Bren­nan com­peted with the bright orange ma­chine in the Sports Car Club of Amer­ica’s ASR (A Sports Racer) class.

As out­lined else­where in this edition, the SCCA found it­self in some­thing of a quandary re­gard­ing F5000. Race pro­mot­ers wanted a re­turn to the glory days (and huge tick­ets sales) of the Can-Am, while teams and driv­ers were less than in­ter­ested in any­thing that would make their present rac­ers ob­so­lete. The an­swer came in the form of the sin­gle seat Can-Am fea­tur­ing the same F5000 cars cloaked in all-en­velop­ing, closed-wheel body­work. Also el­i­gi­ble were older Can-Am cars and SCCA ASR rac­ers lim­ited to five litres.

Bren­nan ac­quired an ex-Can-Am McLaren and sold the ‘Bren­nan Spe­cial’ to Chris Ben­der, who worked to ready the car for the res­ur­rected Can-Am se­ries. By Ben­der’s ac­count, the ‘Bren­nan Spe­cial’ con­tained nu­mer­ous McLaren com­po­nents, his thought be­ing that Matich used these along with the be­spoke tub and body­work in the A50’s con­struc­tion. He would call the car a McBen­der or a McLaren and some­times a com­bi­na­tion of the two, some­what con­fus­ing its lin­eage. The car made its se­ries de­but at La­guna Seca (pic­tured #41 in yel­low) at the sec­ond round of the 1977 sea­son, where he fin­ished a very cred­itable fourth. How­ever, as the sea­son and se­ries pro­gressed, Ben­der found the car less com­pet­i­tive as other teams caught up.

The car was se­verely dam­aged in a late sea­son ac­ci­dent dur­ing an SCCA En­duro. Ben­der later swapped the wreck for a used Jaguar XKE with Mike Doyle, who didn’t keep it long be­fore sell­ing it es­sen­tially un­touched to Den­nis Quella. Un­der Quella’s own­er­ship the car was re­built and cam­paigned in the Den­ver area un­til it was sold to Jim Free­man of New York in 1988.

Free­man raced the car in nu­mer­ous his­toric events across the US pretty much as he had re­ceived it from Quella. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 1996 Can-Am re­vival, the car was ex­ten­sively re­built. Free­man refers to the car as a Matich in def­er­ence to its ori­gins. Hence, the body is adorned to­day with pic­tures of a kan­ga­roo and a koala in ad­di­tion to car­ry­ing the Aus­tralian colours promi­nently on its rear wing. It still makes spo­radic ap­pear­ances at His­toric race meet­ings.

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