Matich A53 ‘007’ front suspension detail- upper and lower wishbones, coil springs and luvverly double-adjustable alloy bodied Koni’s- de-rigueur in F1 and F5000 at the time. Cast magnesium uprights, Melmag wheels, Lockheed calipers grabbing Repco disc rotors. Note the tubular steel subframe which mounts to the aluminium Matich designed but Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation fabricated monocoque chassis- they also cast the Matich steering rack. Pretty lady behind the car on Goodyear duty is unknown, sadly. Derek Kneller is working on the left front, guy with ‘builders cleavage’ is Grant O’Neill. Around the left-rear is Peter Hughes in the white T-Shirt with ‘Lugsy’ Graham Adams in the yellow polo shirt (T Glenn)

Bob Muir settles himself into the cockpit of the new Matich A53 Repco on Friday 1 February, prior to its debut race, the Oran Park Tasman round on 3 February 1974…

Frank and his team had finished the car before the Tasman but Matich was badly hurt in a boating accident the week before the meeting in which he was electrocuted and injured badly.

Bob was chosen by Frank to race the car after he tested it- against doctors orders and satisfied himself that the rigours of a full race weekend, inclusive of the 90 lap race in summer heat were beyond him at that early stage stage of his recovery.

As things transpired Muir raced the A53 only the once at Oran Park before Frank returned to the cockpit at Surfers Paradise a week later- FM did the last three Tasman rounds and soon after retired from racing for good.

Frank Matich tests the A53 early on that Friday before OP- I wonder how many laps he did and how long the task list was after his first test laps?! (D Harvey)

The 1974 Tasman was a beauty.

By the time of the fifth round at Oran Park, there had been four different winners in New Zealand.

John Walker took the opener at Levin on 5 January in his one-of-a-kind Lola T330 Repco Holden, Peter Gethin won at Pukekohe the following weekend in his VDS Chevron B24 Chev- then John McCormack was victorious in the somewhat geriatric, but continually developed Elfin MR5 Repco at Wigram- that year the New Zealand Grand Prix. Max Stewart won the Teretonga round in his mighty fast Lola T330 Chev ‘HU-1’ the very first of the breed, Frank Gardner’s development or prototype car in fact.

Muir aboard at OP. Repco Holden F5000 engine- car fitted with the ‘ultimate spec’ flat-plane crank unit giving circa 520bhp and not losing the mountain of torque for which these units were known in the quest for more power. Note the ‘Varley’ battery behind the Lucas injection unit and coil- no doubt now very well insulated from the ‘good vibrations’ of the engine which ‘shook the shitter’ out of the battery and cost the one race only A52 victory of the Glynn Scott Memorial Trophy, Gold Star race at Surfers Paradise on 2 September 1973 (T Glenn)

I wrote at length about Frank and his Formula 5000 designs a while back, click on this link for a comprehensive story and analysis of these wonderful machines, with A53 ‘007’ the last and best; https://primotipo.com/2015/09/11/frank-matich-matich-f5000-cars-etcetera/

This article is about the development of the Repco-Holden F5000 V8; https://primotipo.com/2018/05/03/repco-holden-f5000-v8/

(D Kneller)

The photo above is of Matich Chief Mechanic Derek Kneller and Bob Muir consulting during practice at Oran Park, the one below is a fortnight later at Sandown- its FM exiting Peters/Torana Corner and blasting up the back straight in a new ‘small-window’ Bell Star.

Bell together with Goodyear were two of the racing brands for which Matich held the local commercial rights. The helmet is a “Bell 120 (Degree) Full Face Helmet- they retailed at $79.90 at the time…”, quipped Matich employee Rob McDonald.

So, by Oran Park the Matich lads were up against it with their new car- the opposition were race ready off the back of the first four intensely Tasman fought rounds. Mind you, it is fair to say that the A53 was a slightly tidied up and evolved version of the short-lived A52 which met its maker when Muir had a testing shunt in it at Warwick Farm in late September 1973.

(unattributed)

Generally the designers original intent is its most pure, don’t you think?

If i’m critical of the look of the car, a machine which to me was a real honey of a thing, maybe the only element which is not aesthetically pleasing is the way the A50-52 cockpit surround doesn’t integrate well with the nosecone.

The thing was a jet right outta the box mind you- so who gives a shit what I think!

Repco’s Ken Symes and Derek Kneller push FM’s A53 from the Sandown fork up area or dummy grid into pitlane, Shell Corner or more boringly ‘Turn One’ behind. Note the engine oil sump on near side aft of the radiator. Note brake air-scoops since OP (P Weaver)

The A53’s was first completed and wheel-aligned on the ground on 11 January 1974- ‘by that stage the Tasman was already underway but we could have had the car finished easily in time for Pukekohe. Repco didn’t want us to go given the fuel shortage dramas they expected in New Zealand’ recalled Derek Kneller. The first OPEC Oil Embargo or crisis began in October 1973 with New Zealand particularly impacted given 80% of their crude oil needs were provided by Middle Eastern countries.

With hindsight Repco over-reacted, but the net effect of their decision (despite well before renewing Matich’s annual August to August sponsorship agreement through to the end of August 1974) was that Team Matich didn’t race in New Zealand- so the final build of the car was done in relatively relaxed fashion rather than with the pressure of the 5 January first round in mind.

‘Mind you, Frank sent me to the Pukekohe first round race weekend to scout around and report back on the Tasman field on latest developments and what everybody was up’ Derek recalled. No doubt the new Warwick Brown and Graeme Lawrence Lola T332’s were of particular interest.

When back in Sydney the crew completed the car- the team at that stage comprised FM, DK, Peter Hughes, Grant O’Neill and Leon Jarvis.

A53 was first tested at Oran Park on 24 January, the driving chores shared by Matich and Enno Buesselmann.

Enno had come out of FV and FF and had a strong 1973 driving the Bob and Marj Brown owned ANF2 Birrana 273 Ford-Hart- he was third in the championship that year behind Leo Geoghegan’s dominant, similar, works car. Matich decided to give him some laps in the car.

‘Enno did two stints of 10 laps apiece’ recalls Derek. ‘We didn’t time the first ten given it was his first time in a big car but he got down to a best of 47 seconds dead in the second of his two sessions. With the same setup as Enno FM did a 44.6- and then later in the day a best of 43.6 seconds after some changes were made to the car’.

The team then left the circuit with a decent job list before the Oran Park Tasman round.

‘Frank had a visitor from Repco in Sydney- one of the senior guys, he planned to take him out in his boat, Frank had a home and boat slipway at Clareville. The boat wouldn’t start- the battery was flat. He grabbed a Honda generator and the leads for a battery charger and mistakenly pushed the lead into the 240 volt, rather than 12 volt plug- he then got a big shock from the alligator clip which attached itself to the fleshy part of his hand, burning it badly. Simultaneously he fell forward downwards and over the battery, burning his chest and losing consciousness’.

‘Kris saw some of this from the wharf and jumped into a skiff to help his Dad- who motioned not to come near the live boat- the generator stalled ending the ordeal. Frank had burns to the fleshy piece of his right hand between the thumb and forefinger and chest.’ In addition there was the mental shock related to the whole incident. Most of you are aware the gearshift in a racing car is usually on the right so FM had a considerable challenge in managing 100 miles at Oran Park a few days hence.

Despite the accident Matich had not lost his sense of humour, team machinist/fabricator Peter Hughes recalls Frank saying to him ‘that when he lost consciousness and came around again “I could hear the generator running and thought I’ve died and gone to hell and they have Honda generators here!”, He also told me that he couldn’t grasp the round knob to turn it off and pushed the choke lever up to stall it. Sense of humour and thinking all the time’ concluded Peter.

Despite that setback Matich, heavily bandaged, and no doubt against his medical advice did ten laps of Oran Park on the Friday before the meeting getting down to a best of 42.4 seconds.

The team had dramas in practice at OP, typical teething problems, including  the engine, which meant that Bob started off the back of the grid, his best according to Team Matich records was a 42.8- the result in the race was a DNF after fuel-pump failure.

Max Stewart’s T330 won the ‘Oran Park 100’ race that day, but Peter Gethin again finished- its was his fifth in a row finish, this time in fifth place, ultimately he would win the title with an eight out of eight 1974 Tasman finishing record.

Derek, ‘On the Wednesday (6 February) after the race we went back to Oran Park for some further testing.’

‘We had fitted a new rear suspension crossbeam and also cured the fuel pump problem. During the Oran Park race Frank walked to several corners to observe the A53 on track, and after the race he checked his rear suspension drawing and come up with a new spec for the rear crossbeam, he stood the spring/shock unit more upright by a couple of degrees. After the Wednesday test he was pleased with the change.’

Frank drove 27 laps in total and Bob Muir drove 12. The majority of Frank’s were in the 42’s with a quickest of 41.0. Bob’s furst stint was also in the 42’s and his second stint reeled off 5 laps- 41.3, 41.1, 41.3, 41.0 and 41.0. Pole for the race was 39.9. From my working with FM i know there would have been at least 1 second being held back in testing when FM was fighting fit let alone suffering from the injuries from the accident. After this test we were given another work list to complete before setting off for Surfers on Thursday afternoon’ Kneller concluded.

Team Matich then trucked the mighty quick car up to the Gold Coast where Matich was so fast in the A52 not so many months before during the September 1973 Gold Star round.

His time was good enough for fourth on the grid, despite it being his first real go in the car and coping with a broken throttle cable and too much oversteer- he finished third behind the Teddy Pillette and Gethin VDS Chevron B24’s despite knocking off a front wing on lap 15.

FM’s was a mighty fine display of speed amongst all those highly developed cars- not to say personal grit and determination in all the circumstances.

Sandown is a power circuit, Matich put his flat-plane crank 520bhp Repco engine to good use qualifying second on the grid behind Gethin. A crowd of over 20,000 people saw Matich lead for 15 laps before water pump problems- apparent from lap 5, the resultant cooked motor ended his day.

Gethin took the win from Graham McRae’s McRae GM2 Chev- the disappointment of the series in terms of results if not in absolute pace and Walker’s T330 Repco.

A53 at rest in the Adelaide International paddock (C Bond)

 

Matich during his final race appearance- the ‘Adelaide 100’ at Adelaide International on 24 February 1974. FM fourth behind Warwick Brown, Peter Gethin and Graeme Lawrence- Lola T332, Chevron B24 and Lola T332, all Chev powered (D Mellonie)

And so to the final Tasman round, Adelaide International, and as it turned out FM’s final race.

Frank again popped the car second on the grid, the car was fitted with a fresh engine, a tenth shy of Stewart’s T330.

In the race he was running second before spinning on some oil and again worked his way up to second- and challenging Brown hard in the final stages, before he spun four laps from the end when his engine momentarily cut out. He finished fourth, 27 seconds behind winner Warwick Brown.

WB had the honour of taking the very first win for the Lola T332- the first of hundreds of victories for the T332/T332C/T332CS/T333 F5000/Single-Seat Can-Am family of cars! Warwick’s car, or his patron, Pat Burke’s to be more precise, chassis ‘HU-27′, was the very first of the T332’s.

The A53 was a great bit of kit- it won the the 1976 Australian Grand Prix in John Goss’ hands (in chassis A51/3 ‘005’) a couple of years after it’s birth.

If only FM had gone to the US in 1974. It would have been fascinating to see how a 520 bhp, flat-plane-crank Repco V8 powered A53 would have fared amongst a plethora of Lola T332 Chevs. With the lessons learned during the unsuccessful 1973 L&M Series campaign for sure they would have put up quite a fight…

Derek Kneller and Ken Symes fettle the A53 in the Sandown Park paddock (A Radley)

Lets come back to Frank’s retirement, Derek Kneller again picks up the story.

‘We were set up beautifully for 1974.

Repco had renewed the sponsorship arrangement in August 1973, they had allocated us four engines which were powerful, as displayed during the Tasman races we did- and the new car was quick.

Consulting with the Matich Red Books (FM used a series of red hard cover foolscap books as data logs), when he got out of the car at Adelaide he dictated a long job list for the car, all to be done before the next race. Car too low/too much brake on the rear/too much wing?/steering vibration/more roll stiffness at rear/stay with banana wing (Matich at the time had the ‘original Matich wing’ and an ‘American banana’ style)/check bump steer and shocks/rear springs harder/new brake ducts/tyre pressures too high.

When he got out of the car and we left Adelaide he planned to race on.’

Frank and Joan Matich in the Warwick Farm form up area poor to the 1973 Tasman round- Matich A50 Repco ‘001’. Note the neck brace Joan is wearing

‘In Adelaide he spun twice, once on oil and the second time he couldn’t work out why. He had constant ringing in the ears as a result of the boating incident and just felt at 39 he could not concentrate as he had always been able to before so he felt it was perhaps time. At the same time FM’s wife Joan was having severe ongoing problems with her neck including surgery. So it was a combination of factors as a consequence of the accident and the need to focus on Joan and the rest of the family that led to the decision to retire, sell the racing cars but otherwise remain in business including the racing franchises such as Goodyear and Bell’ Kneller said.

No doubt Matich indicating he wanted to retire made the decision for Repco to withdraw from racing easier given the global competitive pressures upon them in the increasingly difficult economic situation of the time- oil shocks, the progressive lowering of Australian Tariffs and global ‘stagflation’.

Derek Kneller returned to the UK (there are some great stories there to be told when his book is finished!, c’mon Derek lots of us are waiting for that little baby!) with Peter Hughes the last of the race team to leave, he ‘worked with Tony Simmons for a while then when John Goss finally bought the A53 I worked with John and Grant O’Neill until 1975- the 1975 Tasman was the last series with John before marrying and travelling around Australia for two years.’

(M Bisset Collection)

Etcetera: The closely related Matich A52 Repco ‘006’…

During 1973, as related in one of the linked articles above, Matich took two A51’s to the US to contest the American F5000 Championship, the ‘L&M Series’, the cars used were chassis ‘005’ and ‘006’- ‘005’ was tested for a day at Warwick Farm before shipping to the states, ‘006’ was not.

The team who travelled to the US were, FM, DK, Chief Mechanic, Chris Miles, Team Manager, Bob Riley, Draftsman and engineering of the car, John Anderson and Leon Jarvis, Mechanics and Ken Symes looking after four Repco V8’s

Derek Kneller recalls ‘The cars did not perform as expected we had a handling problem on the latest spec Goodyear’s and the bumpy nature of the US circuits. The tyres weren’t identical to those we tested before going to the US. FM wasn’t the only driver testing the F5000 tyres, the final production tyres we were presented were different, so we were playing catch-up. The cars were still as fast as any at the Riverside first round mind you’.

‘The biggest problem was engine related. The higher cornering speeds of the US circuits threw up a scavenge problem in the Repco engines, this seemed to get worse as the season went on and at Watkins Glen the crankshaft bearings were damaged in both cars during practice and both were withdrawn from the race after discussion with Repco management in Maidstone the night before the race. This meeting was the first at which we ran the flat-plane crank engines.’

‘If Frank had qualified on the time he did on the Friday we would have been on the front two rows at the Glen. By then Matich had the car sorted on the tyres- this involved changes to shocks/camber and toe to get the loading right. We also moved the battery to the front to load the car up front a bit more.’

‘At the start of the season the A51 was as competitive as the T330 but its development accelerated with so many drivers and teams running and experimenting with the T330’s’.

‘Straight after the race weekend at Watkins Glen chassis ‘006’ was flown back to Sydney with me so that the handling and engine problems could be sorted. Chassis ‘005’ was left in the States with the rest of the team.’

Matich A51 ‘006’ and A51 ‘005’ in the Watkins Glen pitlane, June 1973- A51 ‘006’ rebuilt as an A52 using the same ‘006’ chassis as per text (D Kneller)

‘On returning to Sydney the engine problem was overcome, an additional scavenge pump was added to scavenge oil from above the camshaft. Oil was being retained in the valley above the camshaft in the longer fast corners causing oil starvation in the oil tank, leading to bearing failure.’

After the engine problem was sorted it was decided to redesign the chassis to overcome the handling deficiencies, hence the A52 design…The A52 was built using the A51 ‘006’ chassis and rear end but with a longer engine/gearbox adaptor (bellhousing) giving a 2inch longer (50mm) wheelbase than the A51, this was in line with the Lola T330′.

‘The radiators were moved to the sides of the chassis along with modifications to the engine water pump so that each radiator cooled the opposite side cylinder head and were shrouded with aluminum ductings’.

‘The oil tank was repositioned behind the left-hand radiator (from beside the cars gearbox, outside its wheelbase) and the battery moved from the front of the car to above the bellhousing’.

At the front of the chassis the steering rack was moved from the chassis itself to a heavily redesigned front subframe. The top pick up point for the shock absorber/spring assembly was raised approx 1 1/4 inch (30mm) along with a redesigned lower wishbone and new front uprights. These mods gave an increase in front suspension movement’.

‘To complete the design a chisel shaped nose made from fibre glass was added, the complete car was about 10 Kg lighter than the A51’.

‘The A52 was tested extensively by Frank at Warwick Farm during late July/early August 1973 with a hope of returning to the US series, but a problem with the sponsors in the US prevented this happening’.

FM Matich A52 Repco, ahead of Max Stewart’s Lola T330 Chev, Glynn Scott Memorial Trophy, September 1973 (K Payne)

‘We had hoped to be back by Atlanta but we had problems with Carroll Smith and the Earley’s who owed us money. They were a father/son combination who were chiropodists operating their business and workshop in Dover, Ohio. Smith went AWOL at the Glen- non-one could get hold of him, he was bluing with the Earley’s too and then turned up a couple of races later with Graham McRae’ recalled Derek.

‘Frank sent me back to bring all of the cars, spares- the lot, Ken and Ando were still there whilst the other three had already come back to Australia.

FM side aspect at Surfers, similarity to A53 clear albeit A53 sidepods were bigger and longer to cover the fuel cells meet the new for 1974 deformable structure regulations (K Payne)

 

Matich off to the side of the circuit at Surfers trying to diagnose his problem- a destroyed battery internals (K Payne)

‘The A52’s only race was the Gold Star race, the ‘Glynn Scott Memorial Trophy’ at Surfers Paradise on 2 Sepember 1973 when fitted with a flat plane crank Repco F5000 engine. This gave over 520hp and sounded like a Cosworth DFV on steroids! (the best of the two-plane Repco engines gave circa 495bhp@7000rpm)

‘FM was quick straight away- he knew what the tyres needed, he led the race setting fastest lap before retiring with battery failure, the high frequency vibration from the engine shook the internals of the Varley battery apart.’

‘The car was comprehensively destroyed in a test session at Warwick Farm in late September whilst driven by Bob Muir. The chassis was beyond repair, both the outer and inner skins were damaged. The photos show damage from the car hitting the water-sprinkler system at Warwick Farm, 50mm diameter steel pipes- at great speed’.

‘Frank was not happy as he had just left the circuit after a successful session to visit his wife Joan, who was in hospital- and had let Bob have a steer to get another drivers opinion of the car, Bob had been driving a Lola T330 Chev in the US’.

As a consequence of the death of A52, A53 was born using the last remaining Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation constructed chassis.

(D Kneller)

Photos of the comprehensively damaged A52 ‘006’ back at the Matich workshop in September 1973.

‘The ‘006’ remains stayed at the Matich Military Road workshop and were then moved to the warehouse in Aartarmon and then later Darley Road and were finally junked a week or two before I rejoined Matich in 1989′ said Derek.

‘Frank knew I would want to repair and restore the car which he didn’t want to do so he got rid of it not long before I arrived back to run his Headway Helmets business- I shipped a Mondiale Formula Ford out for Kris (Matich) when I came back to Australia too’ Derek recalled.

(D Kneller)

Photo and Other Credits…

Tony Glenn, Derek Kneller, Peter Hughes, Peter Weaver, David Mellonie, Dale Harvey, Peter Weaver, Alan Radley, Ken Payne via John Payne, Curt Bond, oldracingcars.com, ‘Australian Competition Yearbook’ 1975 Edition.

Click here for Allen Brown’s great summary of the Matich F5000 cars;

https://www.oldracingcars.com/f5000/matich/

Tailpiece: Muir, ready to rock n’ roll, Oran Park pit lane 1 February 1974…

(T Glenn)

Its all happening above, its the Friday before the meeting.

An obscured Bowin P6F Formula Ford is between the Matich and Brian Foley’s ‘Chesterfield Racing’ XA or XB Ford Falcon Panel Van.

The shapely form in the driving suit holding the helmet in the middle of the shot is Christine Cole/Gibson who ran a Group C ‘105 Series’ Alfa 2000 GTV from 1973 to 1975 in many races including the 1975 Australian Touring Car Championship (which she gave a really good shake!) and Manufacturers Championship- its probably Foley to the left of Cole?

The more you look, the more you see…

Finito…

Comments
  1. Peter Hughes says:

    I can answer a question relating to the first photo here. The person in the white t shirt at the back left of the car is myself. I don’t know who the other one is…too long ago to remember maybe.
    Interesting reading and very accurate. I was Franks machinist from early 1973 until Frank retired from racing in 1974.

    • markbisset says:

      Too funny Peter,
      Your ears should have been burning- Derek was singing your praises in a long chat I had with him last Thursday nite! He thought it was you in the yellow polo shirt and Lugsy Adams in the white T-Shirt- but i’ll go with your version!
      We have been in regular touch over the years but had not had a good natter for ages- he called to correct a couple of things in the article and to give me a whole swag of additional information around A52-3 and in relation to FM’s retirement circumstances. I’ve made the easy additions but need to circle back and complete the job, ill do so in the next few days.
      Where are you based?- be great to get your perspective on things at some stage.
      My number is 0419-332342 and mark@bisset.com.au
      Mark

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