Frank Gardner was one of the world's toughest, most determined and professional racing drivers. From Australia, he is best known as a Touring car racing and Sports car racing driver. He raced in nine Formula One grand prix. He won the 1971 and 1972 Formula 5000 championships and 1976 and 1977 Australian Sports Sedan championships.
Frank Gardener was a typical Australian all-round sportsman, professional boxer, swimmer, lifeguard and motorcycle racer. In 1952 he was swimming and racing for the state and was Captain and sweep oarsman for the surf life saving crew that won both State and National titles.
He took up car racing in the 1956-57 season when he won 23 out of 24 races with his C-Type Jaguar, becoming the New South Wales sports car champion. He then headed for England and went to work for Aston Martin. From there he joined Jim Russell and, in 1962, he moved to Brabham to work on the Formula Junior cars
All this time he was working as a mechanic. He drove a Brabham a few times in 1962 and was offered a works drive for 1963 but opted to join Ian Walker.
He had a great season in sports cars and Formula Junior and, in 1964, joined John Willment to primarily race in Formula 2 but also to drive his sports and saloon cars.
He was brought in to replace Jim Clark in touring cars in Europe when Ford realised that his victories got more press than the car he was racing.
John Willment entered Formula 1 in 1965 with a Brabham-BRM, but the team were not ready to the step up to the premier league, and a fourth place in the Race of Champions was all they had to show for the season.
And, though he almost got the second drive at Brabham in 1966 and 67, Frank decided to give Grand Prix racing a miss apart from entering a BRM in the Italian GP in 1968 where he failed to qualify.
In 1968 he raced a Brabham in the Tasman series. Racing against Clark, Hill and Stewart, he gave a good account of himself.
He also raced in Formula 2 with the MRP Lola and a works Brabham, but it was in saloon cars that he found his niche. He won a string of British Touring Car Champions with Alan Mann's Escort and with both the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro taking the title in 1967, 1968 and 1973.
In 1969 he raced a Porsche 917 at the Nurburgring 1000km with David Piper. It was one of the very first 917s, with an alloy chassis, which was gas-filled. There was a gauge in the cockpit to measure the pressure. If it went to zero it meant that the chassis was broken, and he was instructed to drive carefully back to the pits. None of the regular factory drivers fancied the idea of driving it and afterwards Frank announced that it was the worst car he had ever driven. They finished 8th.
Porsche then changed the front suspension and modified the fuel system to overcome vaporisation problems caused by the exhaust gases heating the engine bay and the 917 went on to became one of the great racing cars on the 20th century.
As Gardener recounted to Nigel Roebuck: "Once I knew what the gauge was for, I also knew that if it zeroed I wasn't going to drive it mit care anywhere. I was going to park the ******* there and then, pick up my Deutschmarks and get home to Mum..."
Gardner was incredibly busy at this time as he was also competing in F5000 with a works Lola, winning the championship in 1971 and 1972.
Then in 1973 after the Tasman series, he quit single-seaters, preferring to concentrate on racing the Camaro.
He continued with the Camaro, until he returned to Australia to race in the sports sedan championships, winning the title in 1976 and 1977, when he decided to call it a day behind the wheel. However he did not leave racing and went on to run the Craven Mild, and later JPS, Diet Coke and Benson and Hedges racing teams for Holden, BMW and Ford from the 70's to the 90's.
Frank Gardner a 'racing' driver in the truest sense of the word, passed away after a long illness.