The S5000 Heritage Series recognises the legendary drivers and cars of Formula 5000, the category which is represented in spirit and modern-day form by the VHT S5000 Australian Drivers’ Championship.
Frank Matich is remembered not only as one of the greatest drivers of the Formula 5000 era, but as a true great of Australian motorsport.
Alongside Sir Jack Brabham and last week’s featured legend, Garrie Cooper, Matich is one of an exclusive group of Australian drivers who raced – and won – in the cars they created.
Widely regarded as the best driver in Australia during the 1960s and early 1970s, Matich proved his class alongside the gold standard of world motorsport – be it Formula 1 champions on the track, or illustrious constructors such as McLaren and Lola on the design floor.
Analytical, determined and abundantly talented, Matich worked hard and from modest beginnings to establish a career in motorsport.
Born and raised in New South Wales, Matich trained as a mechanical and aeronautical engineer and began racing an MG TC in hillclimbs and on the Mount Druitt airstrip circuit in the 1950s.
His big break in motorsport came from a Sydney sports car dealership, Leaton Motors, for whom Matich worked as a highly knowledgeable, mechanically proficient salesman. Leaton Motors entered a Jaguar D-Type sports car in prominent races with its young employee as the driver, who quickly displayed he knew how to drive cars as capably as he tuned and sold them.
By 1961, Matich had contended for the prestigious Tourist Trophy, won the Australian GT Championship and was well on the way to a professional motorsport career. With the backing of French oil company Total, Matich soon moved into open wheel racing and eventually progressed to the Australian Drivers’ Championship and Tasman Series.
It was in the latter competition, against Formula 1 drivers of the day who ventured to Australia and New Zealand to race during the northern winter, that Matich truly announced his arrival.
Matich raced with, and on occasion beat, the likes of Jack Brabham, Jim Clark and Graham Hill – all of whom were already Formula 1 world champions and would become close contemporaries.
A career highlight came in the Lakeside round of the 1965 Tasman Series, when Matich (driving a Brabham-Climax) and Clark (Lotus-Climax) waged an incredible race-long tussle. The pair traded the lead numerous times and lapped most of the field until engine issues curtailed Matich’s progress.
However, in the ultimate display of sporting respect, Clark slowed down and waited for Matich to rejoin so that they could resume their battle. Matich would later recount that Clark rated the contest as the best of his career and insisted the Australian join him for a post-race victory lap.
Remarkably, Matich had earlier turned down an offer from Clark’s close friend and legendary Lotus designer, Colin Chapman, to drive for the famous marque in international competition. Single-minded and self-assured enough to not be lured by potential Formula 1 success, Matich chose to stay in Australia for family and commercial reasons.
Such was the respect Matich commanded among the Formula 1 fraternity, he was extended a place within the exclusive Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) and to this day remains the only member of the GPDA to have never raced in Formula 1.
Bruce McLaren, a rival in the Tasman Series, became one of Matich’s closest friends. Of similar age and hailing from the same corner of the world, the Kiwi and Australian were likeminded and bonded by their engineering backgrounds.
McLaren ultimately convinced Matich to design and build his own cars, which resulted in the awe-inspiring Matich SR3 and SR4 sports cars that dominated their class in the late 1960s.
When Formula 5000 arrived in Australia in 1969, Matich acquired a McLaren M10A which he raced under the Rothmans Team Matich banner and won races with in three countries – the 1970 Australian and New Zealand Grands Prix, and a round of the American L&M series at Riverside in 1971.
It was in this period that Matich set his mind to the creation of his own F5000, the A50, which he took to a stunning back-to-back Australian Grand Prix victory on the car’s debut at Warwick Farm. The livery carried by the A50 in this race is the inspiration for our S5000 heritage design.
The A50’s orange hue is a tribute to the iconic racing colour of McLaren, who sadly lost his life following a testing accident at Goodwood in 1970.
In 1972, Matich won the Australian Drivers’ Championship and CAMS Gold Star with the A50 after winning four of the series’ six races. The following year, Matich introduced his second F5000 design, the A51 which was succeeded by the A53 chassis in 1974.
Matich retired from racing in 1974 but his cars remained on F5000 grids in Australia until the category’s final years. The marque’s last major race win came in the 1976 Australian Grand Prix at Sandown, when John Goss drove an upgraded A51/A53 chassis to victory.
Frank Matich passed away in 2015 at the age of 80, and was posthumously inducted into the Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame in 2016.
In 2013, Matich was named by the international Autosport magazine as one of the best 50 drivers never to have raced in Formula 1.
MATICH – MAJOR RACE & CHAMPIONSHIP SUCCESSES IN FORMULA 5000
– 1970 New Zealand Grand Prix, Pukekohe (Frank Matich, McLaren M10A-Chevrolet)
– 1970 Australian Grand Prix, Warwick Farm (Frank Matich, McLaren M10A-Repco Holden)
– 1971 Riverside Grand Prix, USA (Frank Matich, McLaren M10A-Repco Holden)
– 1971 Australian Grand Prix, Warwick Farm (Frank Matich, Matich A50-Repco Holden)
– 1972 Australian Drivers Championship (Frank Matich, Matich A50-Repco Holden)
– 1976 Australian Grand Prix (John Goss, Matich A53-Repco Holden)
Image Credits: Autopics.com.au
CLICK HERE for our first instalment of the S5000 Heritage Series featuring Garrie Cooper and Elfin.