By Chris Meaden

Frank Gardner’s Chev Corvair dominated the Australian Sports Sedan scene so much that he almost unintentionally killed off the category.

 Tom Nailard was involved in the building of the car. Much of the car’s hardware came from one of Frank Gardner’s previous employers, Lola, in the form of Lola T332 running gear.

 

Frank immediately had problems with the governing body of Australian motor sport, the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) which were to plague him and to lead to the eventual demise of the car.  Some of the creative ideas used on the Corvair were not what CAMS intended for the category. The radiators (heat exchangers) were located in the body work just in front of the rear wheels, instead of where you would expect the radiator to be, at the front of the car. This allowed the frontal area of the body work to be very clean and probably improved weight distribution, however he was eventually forced to move the radiator to the front of the car. The hastily blanked off section of the guards can be seen in this early pic of the car HERE [NOTE: click your browser “back” button to return to this page].

 

The car arrived too late in 1976 to make an impact in that year’s Australian Sports Sedan championship, when the Corvair debuted at Oran Park midyear. However, it swept all before it in 1977 in Frank’s hands. He won almost every race he entered. I remember that the car was never very quick in the rain. I’m not sure if it was due to the car or Frank, but that was almost the only time it was defeated.

        

He gave Bob Jane plenty of grief but not just on the track.  Frank was sponsored by John Player cigarettes and at the time Bob Jane had the Marlboro $100,000 Sports Sedan Series running at his beloved Calder Raceway.  In a recent TV interview Bob Jane indicated that Marlboro was not happy that a car bearing their opposition’s logo was winning all the races! It may not be a coincidence that the cigarette company’s sponsorship of the series ceased soon after.

 

If my memory is correct, Frank Gardner was being bothered by an old back injury and decided to put Allan Grice in the seat for 1978 the championship.  The branding of the car change to the Craven Mild cigarette brand to reflect Allan’s existing sponsorship arrangements. Gricey won the 1978 title and backed that up with another win in 1979. 

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.

     

Many drivers took advantage of this including Bryan Thomson with his famous VW Fastback Chev, Jim McKeown with his final turbocharged Porsche Sports Sedan, Ken Hastings VW Beetle and later his Karmann Ghia

 Despite the heroic attempts by Bob Jane in his Monaro and Jim Richards in his Big M sponsored Falcon, the Confederation of Australian Motorsport could see that for anyone to regularly defeat the Corvair, they would have to build a rear engined car. The selection of rear engine road cars to choose from was thin on the ground and mostly represented obsolete, out-of-production cars that hardly represented of the future of motoring industry in Australia.  Therefore CAMS decided to change the rules to specify that the engine had to be placed in the same relationship to the rear axle as the standard road car.

 

This made the Corvair effectively obsolete overnight. Although the late Pat Crea made a courageous attempt with a complying configuration with his VW Beetle, which at that time was raced by Darrylyn Huitt. I think it was a Traco Oldsmobile V8 that Pat stuck out the back of the car in the normal location. The experiment was a disaster with the car redefining the term ‘terminal understeer’. The car looked as if it was going to do wheel-stands as it accelerated!

The Corvair was placed on the market with the suggestion to potential buyers that the car would make an interesting addition to the sports car category, in which it could maybe potentially compete. But predictably the car was not sold. All the useful hardware was removed from the car and the shell was dumped at a local council rubbish dump!

What a miserable end to a perfectly conceived Sports Sedan.

       

 Just before the rules were changed, Les Swallow completed constructed of a boxy style early model four door Corvair. The car was not overly competitive on it limited outings. Does anyone have photos of the car or know of it fate?

 

There is a web site devoted to Corvairs powered by alternative power sources, and I do not mean greenhouse friendly power sources! You can access its page related to the Frank Gardner Corvair by clicking  HERE  [NOTE: click your browser “back” button to return to this page].

 Published 31/03/07.

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