FRANK Matich, who died on Monday at 80 after a long illness, could have been Australia’s next Jack Brabham, but shunned international glory for a more regular life at home.
Matich performed so well against the visiting international drivers to Australia in the 1960s that he was courted by a number of Formula One teams, including Cooper, Lotus, McLaren and even Ferrari.
It was not just his driving ability – which Frank himself underplayed – but his engineering ability that made Matich such a rare talent, and attractive to the fast-developing world of F1.
He was a good friend of Bruce McLaren, who tried a number of times to entice him to Europe, including one firm offer to become involved in the Ford GT40 development program that Matich was keen to pursue before being injured in a race accident.
Years later, Bruce entrusted Matich with the development of McLaren’s first Formula 5000 open-wheeler, which not only gave Matich his first Australian Grand Prix victory but went on to numerous international successes. Matich himself took his Holden-engined version to America, finishing first and second in the first two rounds of the US championship.
Matich’s career spanned 16 years and netted the 1972 Australian Drivers Championship, the 1969 Australian Sports Car Championship, the 1961 Australian GT Championship, two Australian Grands Prix and the New Zealand Grand Prix.
For the second half of his career, Matich built his own world-class sports and racing cars, but suddenly retired in early 1974 due to complications from being seriously electrocuted while working on his boat. He nursed his wife back to health after spinal surgery, looked after his four children and turned his attention to business.
He was a towering talent in the 1960s and, like his great rival Leo Geoghegan who also died recently, helped build the sport we know today.
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