Australian motorsport legend, and sometime F1 racer, Frank Gardner passed away at his Gold Coast home on Saturday, ending a long-time battle with illness. He was 78.

Born in October 1930, Gardner had more than 40 years involvement in motorsport in Australia and overseas, with activities ranging from racing a Norton motorcycle at Bathurst when it was a dirt road to driving Formula One cars, and making 14 starts in the Le Mans 24-hour sports car classic in France.

Gardner began his motorsport career on two wheels, racing solo speedway motorcycles in the late 1940s. He raced a car, an MG, for the first time in 1949 - and won - before heading overseas to further his career.

He made eight F1 starts in 1964 and 1965, driving Brabhams against the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Sir Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt, and Denny Hulme, but his greatest success came in tin-tops and sportscars, becoming a works driver for Porsche, Lola, General Motors, Ford, Brabham, and Lotus.

"This is just a very, very sad time," three-time F1 world champion Sir Jack Brabham admitted, "Frank was a friend for so many years and it is sad that it has had to come to an end.

"Frank was different, a real character who everyone loved to have around - he could make you laugh. He had a driving talent - he could drive anything - sportscars, single-seaters, saloon cars, everything. He drove some of our cars for a while and did a great job of that."

He competed regularly in the Le Mans 24 Hours, but his record overseas also included winning the European F5000, F2 and Touring Car championships, as well as both the British Saloon Car Championship and the British Champion Racing Driver award. He was also the first driver to win 100 international races for Ford and was awarded a special trophy to celebrate the occasion by members of the Ford family in Detroit.

Gardner returned home in 1975 and, two years later, won the Australian Sports Sedan Championship in a Chevrolet Corvair. He eventually retired from driving in 1977, but turned to team management, guiding Jim Richards to the Australian Touring Car Championship title in 1985 in a BMW 635csi and in 1987 in a BMW M3. In 1988, he was team manager for Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezera when they won the Bathurst 1000 in a turbocharged Ford Sierra.

"Frank and I raced each other in New Zealand in the early '70s and then again when I moved to Australia," Richards recalls, "I drove for him from 1982 to 1987 and they were probably best years of my career.

"Frank and Gloria lived in Sydney and I lived in Melbourne. Frank tested and prepared the cars and I just turned up and raced. He was a brilliant driver and engineer and we developed a tremendous friendship. In all that time, I don't think we ever had bad word between each other. We just had a mutual respect for what each other did. Unfortunately, it takes something like this a lot of the time for people to reflect and realise how great someone was."

"I guess this really is the end of an era," Longhurst echoed, "I certainly owe Frank a lot for picking me up and tutoring and supporting me through my career. There was never any bullshit about Frank in the way he went about preparing his cars and team - I think when I joined him and Jimmy [Richards], he was about ten years ahead of his time in this county.

"He was so methodical in his car preparation and presentation. He was stubborn in a lot of ways but, in hindsight, that thoroughness resulted in reliability and wins and I think a lot of people could learn a lot about that even today. He was also way ahead of his time in regards to how he serviced sponsors and the relationship he had with companies like BMW, WD & HO Wills, Coca-Cola, Amatil and Castrol.

"It goes without saying that he had an amazing sense of humour and, half the time, you did not know whether he was joking or serious and that took a little getting used to as a young bloke, but he was fun to be around. It was also a bit special at Bathurst every year because we shared the same birthday (October 1) and that traditionally fell over Bathurst week. To help give him that race as a team manager in 1988 was pretty satisfying."

Gardner retired from being a team manager in 1995, after taking Paul Morris to the Australian Super Touring Championship title in a BMW 318i, but had already established the Holden Performance Driving Centre near Norwell, south of Brisbane, conducting courses in motor racing and advanced driving. He was an advocate of road safety and one of the world's foremost authorities on driver training techniques. His 1980 book, Drive To Survive, is still regarded as one of the leading road safety publications ever written. In recent years, he returned regularly to Europe to participate in or attend events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Apart from motor racing, Gardner excelled in other sports. In 1952 he swam for NSW and was captain and sweep oarsman for the surf life saving crew that won both State and National titles. He also contested seven professional boxing matches that same year, and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Ultimo Technical College in Australia. Frank was also a keen golfer and had a single-figure handicap for many years.

"I am just very proud to have known the bloke," admitted cartoonist John Stoneham, who illustrated Drive to Survive, "I was just a lowly old cartoonist, but we had a tremendous friendship which lasted many, many years.

"I spent basically three months with him as we put the illustrations together for Drive To Survive - in a car, at the dinner table, in the front yard - and I don't know how many stories and jokes I heard over that time, but there are not too many I can repeat. I was welcomed into his home by his family and that was a privilege.

"I also did hundreds of illustrations for BMW back in Germany to show them things Frank was doing with the car on an engineering front. Ironically, despite all the motor racing championships he won, the one he was most proud of was his NSW Junior boxing title. He always said that boxing was a corrupt, dirty and tough sport and he learnt so much from boxing - hand-eye co-ordination, feet position, and balance - all those things. I am going to miss him - and the jokes."


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