Frank Gardner, who has died at home in Australia aged 78, was tough, determined and hugely skilful in the cockpit. Out of it, his down-to-earth approach to life was reflected in a sharply sardonic wit and a genius for one-liners. But his deadpan humour cloaked not only great intelligence and self-discipline, but also a deep technical understanding of how to get the best out of any racing car. As a development driver he had few equals.
After early success in his native New South Wales in Jaguars – a radically modified XK120, then a C-type and D-type, both of which Frank rebuilt from wrecks – he came to Europe in 1958 and found work as a team mechanic at Aston Martin. A job at a racing drivers’ school got him a few drives, and then he joined Jack Brabham’s new company building, and racing, Formula Juniors and small sports-racers. He was already 34 when he had an F1 season in John Willment’s uncompetitive Brabham-BRM, but he also drove Willment Cobras and Lotus-Cortinas, which led to a relationship with Ford and the Alan Mann team.
He went on to show his versatility in a variety of seats: GT40s, Lola T70s, 7-litre Fords at Le Mans and Daytona, and a works F2 Brabham, in which he finished second to Jacky Ickx in the 1967 European Championship. The same year he was joint runner-up in the Tasman Series to Jim Clark, and dominated the British Saloon Car Championship in the V8 Ford Falcon he’d developed for Mann. He was champion again in ’68 in an FVA-powered Escort. He also played a major role in the gestation of the Ford F3L sports prototype, and was called in by Porsche to give the then difficult 917 its first race finish.
Then came a long relationship with Lola, for whom he developed and raced several generations of F5000 cars, winning the 1971 title. He continued to race big touring cars, moving on from Ford Mustang to Chevrolet Camaro and winning the British title again. At one stage he held 16 class lap records at British circuits. He returned to Australia with his family in 1975, racing an F5000-based Chevrolet Corvair with success, and then turned to team management, helping the Australian BMW team to a string of titles.
Frank was committed to preparing both cars and drivers to race safely, and ran his own high-performance driving school. He liked to say, “I don’t want to be the best racing driver, just the oldest.” His books, The Castrol Racing Drivers Manual (1973) and Drive to Survive (1980) are classics of common sense and good advice.
Ken Rudd was a driving force in the rise of the AC Ace in 1950s production sports car racing. From his dealership in Worthing he campaigned Ace-Bristols with great success all over the UK, and took them to Le Mans as well, finishing 10th in 1957 with Peter Bolton. In ’59 he borrowed a customer’s road car and entered it for Ted Whiteaway and John Turner: remarkably, they finished seventh overall and won the 2-litre class. In 1961, with supplies of the Bristol engine drying up, he fitted a tuned version of the Ford Zephyr engine into the Ace, which AC marketed as the Ace 2.6.
His other projects ranged from right-hand drive conversions for Alfa-Romeos to whisky decanters in the shape of car radiators, but after his Ruddspeed business folded in the 1970s he moved to Spain, where he died last month aged 87.