Frank Gardner’s JOHN PLAYER Racing Corvair

This is perhaps the most well known, but mysterious of all Corvair’s. Not many details are known about the JOHN PLAYER sponsored Australian Sports Sedan from the late 1970’s.

images4The information and photos here have been copied from a publication titled, “41 out of 49” produced by the John Player (English cigarettes) company which sponsored Frank Gardner and a September 1979 issue of Chequered Flag, an Australian road and track magazine. The first publication also has a short bio on Frank Gardner, a very successful Australian racing driver and development engineer who was responsible for the success of this Corvair.

Frank’s resume includes a co-drive of the Ford GT- 40 MKIIB in 1967 with Roger McCluskey.

Frank returned to Australia from Europe in 1975 where he, along with several others began development of the Corvair using F5000 open wheel components combined with a sedan body. This had been tried before with some success, that is until Frank Gardner came along.

The rules at the time allowed cars that originally had engines located in the rear of the car to move the location forward of the rear axle if desired, or at least there was no specific rule to disallow that happening. This was an advantage for cars that originally had the engine swinging out the back, such as the Corvair.

images3After a whirlwind of rumors and speculation among the sedan racing community, the car made its debut on July 31, 1976 at Oran Park  for the third round of the 1976 Australian Sports Sedan Championship where it was immediately protested by the other teams!

The governing body for Australian racing, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (C.A.M.S.) had already issued a log book to the car which meant it could race protest or not, but due to Franks interpretation of the sanctioning body’s ambiguous rules, he asked for experienced scrutineers to examine the car and he would change whatever they questioned.

In an effort to keep everyone happy, especially the crowd who came out to see the Corvair run that day the officials decided to let the car run but Frank had to agree not to “dice it up” with the leading championship contenders. And to add insult to injury he would have to start at the back of the pack despite having won the pole!

This particular race was to be run in two 20 lap heats on the short Oran Park circuit with a short break between heats.

The overall winner was determined by the car that had the most points from the two heats. By the end of the first lap Gardner had passed five cars putting him in seventh place. Frank picked his passing opportunities with care and managed to finish third without “dicing”! Frank stated that he was taking it easy in that first heat.

The second heat race was exciting as Frank and the Corvair  pretty much carved up the field and was in the lead by lap four and won the heat. Well, not exactly as one of the contending teams protested on the grounds of his interpretation of the agreement that Frank couldn’t take the lead.

Frank obviously had a different interpretation of “not to dice”. As a result the black flag was shown and Frank brought the car in.

One of the items Frank had to change to satisfy the officials was to move the water radiators to the front from their rear position as was the practice for F5000 open wheelers.

Frank made the required changes to the car and proceeded to win the rest of the races that year. This development caused a great change in the sedan racing ranks as everyone was now playing catch up to the Corvair.

Frank Gardner went on to win the 1977 Sports Sedan championship with his Corvair.

At the end of the 1977 season Frank Gardner elected to retire from driving but, that is not the end of the Corvair race car or its winning ways.

images2It re-appeared in the gold and white livery of the CRAVEN MILD Racing  (cigarettes) Team  driven by Allan Grice,  a well known and respected driver. Allan and crew managed to win the 1978 Australian Sports Sedan Championship.  Oh, and his team manager was some guy named Frank Gardner. Yeah, that same Frank Gardner!

This would be the last year for the Corvair  as it would be ineligible due to its age.

Although the body has many race car modifications it has most of the original steel body parts.

The car is 47″ high at the roof  with a track of 63″ and a wheelbase of 106″. The front and rear lids are fiberglass and the doors still have the steel frames. Weight is under 2097 pounds.

The paint scheme is the Players two tone blue over black with white accent stripes.

The interior is Spartan race car with a formed aluminum  racing seat. The roll cage looks thin but adequate. Driving position is on the right side as the Aussies follow England on this. The rear window  is plastic with some vent holes at the lower edge. The side windows also are plastic  riveted in place with a sliding panel for ventilation.

images1The power plant is a Repco Holden 308 cubic inch Formula 5000 style with mechanical fuel injection assembled by Repco. The engine, when in fine tune puts out around 500 BHP. I’m sure headers were used and it appears the car had some sort of mufflers with pipes out the back not unlike some V8 Vairs today.

Cooling is by a front mounted radiator but the original car had two rear mounted radiators. The sanctioning body ruling made the rads move up front. The front sheet metal around the air intake changed frequently as development continued.

The fully independent suspension is derived from Lola F5000  components but they were highly modified for the job at hand. It has Lola rear uprights and half shafts with inboard disc brakes.

The car used a Hewland 5 speed transaxle as did the F5000 cars. Formula 5000 was the same as SCCA Formula A series and  had a minimum weight of 1250 lbs.

The front brakes were dual piston discs.

I suppose the best way to sum the car up is that it was a Formula 5000 with a sedan body.

Frank Gardner – October 10, 1939-August 28, 2009