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
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.