OBITUARY: Frank Matich 1935-2015
Frank Matich was one of Australia’s finest motor racing craftsman and competitors.
Less than 24 hours after his death, the motor racing world reflected on the valuable contribution Matich has given the sport over the decades.
Matich was a giant of the game in the 1960’s and 1970’s when he recorded his finest wins on the track including GT, Formula Junior, Tasman Series, Australian Tourist Trophy, a New Zealand Grand Prix and back-to-back Australian Grand Prix wins.
His deft touch behind the wheel was measured ostensibly against the world’s best drivers who converged on the Antipodes for the Tasman Series.
Matich made his mark in Jaguar C and D Types, Elfins, Brabham Climaxes before designing and developing his own cars, which was his true passion.
In the 1960’s he turned down several offers by F1 teams to take his career offshore but instead set about constructing what would become a series of potent machines.
Lotus patriarch Colin Chapman once approached Matich to drive for him but the Sydney racer was sponsored by French company Total which, at the time, did not allow its drivers to race in England.
His destiny instead was to remain focussed on building and competing in cars in Australia.
Matich’s SR3 and SR4 examples, which reflected Can-Am cars, were powered by Oldsmobile and Repco engines and took the domestic scene by storm.
Matich would finish second in the Tasman Series (he managed five wins over the course of his participation in the series) in 1970 in a McLaren M10A.
His greatest escape came in 1965 when the throttle stuck open in his Lotus at a meeting at Lakeside before crashing through barriers and suffering burns.
“One of the things that flashed through my mind was a photograph I saw somewhere of a racing driver bailing out of his car with his clothes alight just like mine,” Matich would say from his hospital bed at Redcliffe.
By 1972 Matich landed the Australian Drivers Championship in his own A50 Repco Holden.
Matich was doing domestically what Jack Brabham did on the biggest stage of them all in grand prix racing by winning in cars of his own manufacture.
He also had the special ability to develop tyres and according to competitor and author Jim Scaysbrook, was instrumental in Goodyear’s racing activities after his success in developing Firestone rubber.
After retiring from competition driving in 1974, Matich attached himself to accessories and ultimately into motorcycle gear.
Eventually Matich hooked up with Pirelli which undertook a full development program with Alan Hales and Neil Chivas at Amaroo Park through his Sydney operation, which led to an assault on the Castrol 6 Hour race.
Under the control of Matich’s son Kris, the Pirelli program would see 15 of the 39 starters at the 1979 Castrol 6 Hour at Amaroo Park on the Italian tyres. The race was duly won by Hales and Chivas.
Matich Racing was eventually formed in 1981 and it would field some of Australia’s best motorcycle riders for the next five years including Alan Hales, Rob Phyllis, Wayne Gardner, Len Willing, Vince Sharpe, Geoff French and Alan Blanco.
After establishing Pirelli as a major brand in Australia, the Matich motorcycle racing team saw its final year of operation in 1986.
But it was car racing which laid the foundation for Matich to become revered as one of the most accomplished constructors and racers Australia has produced.
His battles in the Tasman Series were legendary where he could hold his own against the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren et al, all of them representing the very best the F1 world could offer.
Despite his racing talent, Kris Matich summed up the preferences of his dad by saying he was an engineer first and a driver second.
Frank Matich was a stickler for testing and developing machines.
His mantra was that if you tried 10 improvements and just two worked then he was two in front of the bloke had tried nothing.
“The fact is he loved testing and developing the car which clearly lead to better results on Saturday and Sunday,” Kris Matich told Speedcafe.com.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t enjoy racing today where “testing” has all but been banned at the top end of motorsport categories to save money.
“He would simply have retired I think if that were the case.
“I can remember so many midweek testing days at Warwick Farm where on occasion I would be able to wrangle a day off school.
“Hours were spent lapping usually in no more than two to three laps at a time, reviewing changes that had been made to the car.
“If the laps times weren’t faster there were long faces all over the place because the car should have been quicker.
“For quite a few years we lived above the workshop so dad was in his element always in the workshop and my mum (Joan) running back and forth with food and coffee to keep dad and his loyal team of mechanics going.
“I think this was a ploy to get more overtime out of them.
“Speaking of mum, it is important not to forget how big a part she played in his racing career and business with Firestone and later Goodyear and Bell Helmets.”
Kris Matich also shared the story of how his parents met, which he says “sums up dad pretty well”.
“He needed some electrical parts for his MGTC which was his first race car,” he said
“He had been told that staff at Lucas got a 50 percent discount so he started to chat up the receptionist at Lucas (Joan).
“He was on a budget so the discount made a big difference.
“He got the parts, got the discount and got the girl as well.”
Another rich chapter in the history of Australian motor racing closes although the memories of Matich, his creations and his efforts will live forever.