New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorman -

Matich and Mclaren

For his New Zealand de­but, Matich cam­paigned both the 19B and the Brab­ham at the Mount Maun­ganui road race meet­ing in De­cem­ber 1963, eas­ily win­ning the sports car event. He also looked set to take out the Bay of Plenty fea­ture race on the same day, af­ter notch­ing up a lap record, when a loose bolt in the Brab­ham’s ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal forced him out of the lead.

In 1966, driv­ing an Elfin 400 Oldsmo­bile, Frank won the first of four Aus­tralian Tourist Tro­phies for sports cars. His own Can-am– like Matich SR3 Olds took out the ti­tle in 1967 and was re­pow­ered with a Repco V8 the fol­low­ing year. The hand­some-look­ing SR4 that pow­ered him to vic­tory in the 1969 Aus­tralian sports car cham­pi­onship is still re­garded as one of the best cars ever built in Aus­tralia.

Frank was in uni­son with Bruce Mclaren right from their first meet­ing, and the Aus­tralian was asked to be­come in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of the Ford GT40. How­ever, this would have meant mov­ing from Syd­ney to the North­ern Hemi­sphere. Dur­ing his sub­se­quent trips to Bri­tain, Matich stayed with Bruce and Pat Mclaren at their Sur­biton flat in Sur­rey and with the Mclaren fam­ily on his vis­its to Auck­land. Their en­gi­neer­ing back­grounds were in align­ment, and Frank en­cour­aged Bruce to build his own cars. By co­in­ci­dence, Matich rang the Mclaren fac­tory the day Bruce was killed at Good­wood — and both Frank and Joan trav­elled to Auck­land for the fu­neral the fol­low­ing week.


The move to F5000 was log­i­cal, and Matich wisely chose a Mclaren M10A, which car­ried him to se­cond over­all in the 1970 Tas­man Cup se­ries. In typ­i­cal Matich fash­ion, he made the Pukekohe Grand Prix win a fam­ily af­fair, with two of his four chil­dren join­ing him on the vic­tor’s podium to the ap­plause of the crowd. Clock­ing an of­fi­cial 261kph on the back straight, Frank made the race win look easy.

Matich fin­ished third at Levin the week be­fore, but he won the Lady Wi­gram Tro­phy in Christchurch and was fourth at Surfers Par­adise. The fol­low­ing sea­son, Frank again fin­ished run­ner-up in the Tas­man Cup with the M10A and took the Mclaren to North Amer­ica, where he cam­paigned the Sports Car Club of Amer­ica (SCCA) L&M F5000 Cham­pi­onship, tak­ing sixth place in the se­ries.

When Roth­mans Team Matich ar­rived in New Zealand for the 1971 Tas­man se­ries, it was a big show in­deed. There were two Mclaren M10AS for Frank and fel­low Aussie Don O’sul­li­van, with back­ing from Goodyear and Repco, which pro­vided the mod­i­fied Holden V8 en­gines. The team in­cluded a dozen mem­bers, two spare mo­tors, and a trav­el­ling work­shop.

De­spite his great form, vic­to­ries just seemed to elude Frank in 1971 when he was se­cond at Pukekohe, Wi­gram, and Tere­tonga, while his en­gine failed at War­wick Farm. He was third at Sandown Park, but would have been a com­fort­able se­cond had his car not run out of fuel on the last lap. There was re­demp­tion at Surfers Par­adise where he won, leav­ing him just four points be­hind cham­pi­onship vic­tor Gra­ham Mcrae.

Frank had built a strong rap­port with Repco, and it was now claim­ing 336kw (450hp) from its power units com­pared with around 354kw (475bhp) for the Chevro­let, and 373kw (500bhp) for the Ford V8s. Al­though still down on power, the Repco en­gine was lighter and fea­tured ex­ten­sive use of mag­ne­sium and al­loy cast­ings. The mo­tor de­sign team in­cluded Phil Irv­ing, who had been as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­ment of the F1 Repco en­gines in 1966. Al­though the Holden iron crank­shaft was re­tained, en­gine ca­pac­ity was brought down from 5.7 litres (350ci) to 4.9 litres (302ci) by re­duc­ing the stroke. No fewer than 400 spe­cial parts were re­quired for each Lu­cas fu­elin­jected en­gine.

Frank was a pi­o­neer in run­ning Repco V8s and re­al­is­tic enough to be­lieve ri­val Amer­i­can bent eights may have been slightly stronger at the top end while the Repco was su­pe­rior in the mid range.

By the time I vis­ited Repco’s ­en­gine­ de­vel­op­ment cen­tre in Mel­bourne in 1973, no fewer than eight Aus­tralasian F5000 com­peti­tors had for­saken Chevro­let and Ford power for the Aus­tralian mo­tors. By then, power had in­creased to 373kw at 7500rpm for a mo­tor that was unique in us­ing cast-al­loy pis­tons in pref­er­ence to forged ones.

The Matich F5000

Matich was al­ways on the hunt for im­prove­ments, reck­on­ing that if eight out of 10 mod­i­fi­ca­tions made no dif­fer­ence, you were still two changes ahead. While other Mclaren M10AS ran 15-inch-di­am­e­ter wheels all round, Frank fit­ted 13-inch rims at the front and fab­ri­cated be­spoke cool­ing ducts to cool the front disc brakes.

His chas­sis ex­per­i­ments and in­no­va­tion were up­per­most and, af­ter the suc­cess of his sports car, came the chal­lenge to build his own sin­gle-seater, which even­tu­ally emerged in the shape of the Matich A50 Repco.

This car took him to fourth in the 1972 Tas­man Cup. The A50 boasted a longer wheel­base than the M10A and par­al­lel bot­tom links for the rear sus­pen­sion re­plac­ing the usual Mclaren wish­bone ar­range­ment. Frank made — or had made — the sus­pen­sion, steer­ing rack, shock ab­sorbers, and ac­ces­sories for the A50 and en­gi­neered the car for ease of main­te­nance. An en­gine change re­quired a mere two hours — onequar­ter the time needed for the Mclaren.

A blown mo­tor put him out of the 1972


Af­ter a 16-year ca­reer, Frank re­tired from rac­ing in 1974 but never lost his pas­sion for the sport. He had built two highly suc­cess­ful sports cars and seven F5000 open-wheel­ers, of which three or four are still in ex­is­tence. Sig­nif­i­cantly, while Matich never drove in For­mula 1, he was made a mem­ber of the Grand Prix Driv­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, most likely on the rec­om­men­da­tion of mem­bers of this ex­clu­sive in­ner cir­cle, in­clud­ing Jim Clark and Stir­ling Moss. Early in 1974, Frank’s rac­ing fal­tered when he suf­fered a se­vere elec­tri­cal shock and burns to his hands while work­ing on a marine en­gine.

Fit­ted with a new flat-plane– crank en­gine, his A53 never ap­peared in New Zealand that sum­mer but he raced it at Sandown Park in Mel­bourne only weeks be­fore his re­tire­ment. Matich led for 15 laps be­fore a wa­ter-pump fail­ure forced the car into the pits with an over­heat­ing en­gine. In Frank’s fi­nal race at Ade­laide, he was again run­ning se­cond when he spun on oil, restarted in sev­enth place, and worked his way back to se­cond be­fore an en­gine mis­fire rel­e­gated him to an even­tual fourth. He hung up his hat in May that year, and Repco with­drew from the sport at the same time, end­ing two decades of in­volve­ment that had started with the May­bach Spe­cial Stan Jones drove to vic­tory in the first NZGP at Ard­more in 1954.

While not al­ways rec­og­nized, Frank Matich stands along­side Aus­tralian mo­tor sport greats Jack Brab­ham, Alan Jones, and Peter Brock.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists are un­able to see eye-to-eye with rac­ing driv­ers, but I had no such prob­lem with Frank, who told things as they were and was al­ways easy to work with. When he in­vited me to a Tas­man race party at his har­bour­side home on Syd­ney’s North Shore in the early ’70s, it wasn’t hard to see why he had de­cided to live and race in this part of the world rather than ac­cept in­vi­ta­tions to com­pete on the world stage. Frank and Joan were de­light­ful hosts, and, strolling out along their pri­vate jetty, it was easy to be­lieve all was right with the world.

In his own words, Frank was happy to be “a big croc in a small pud­dle” — he’d cho­sen well.

Frank, seen here in the 2.5-litre Brab­ham BT7, was a mas­ter at War­wick Farm

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