Saturday Sleuthing: Gardner's Coke Commodore

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 03/08/2013
  • By V8 Sleuth

Much of the focus this year in the world of V8 Supercars has been on Casey Stoner and the two-time MotoGP World Champion’s swap to four wheels in the Dunlop Series. 

He’s the latest in a long line of motorcycle racers to have moved into V8 Supercars/touring cars, which actually sets the scene quite perfectly to look today on Saturday Sleuthing at another former Motorcycle World Champion’s car created by his own team.

Wayne Gardner set up his own team for the 1994 season with Coca-Cola sponsorship out of what was the Bob Forbes/GIO operation. He also instantly gained a teammate in former GIO driver – and now Channel Seven commentator – Neil Crompton, and the recently built Commodore that Crompton had been driving.

But the Coke team needed to build another new (Chevrolet-powered) car for the boss, which they did so in time for the start of the 1994 Australian Touring Car Championship at Amaroo in Sydney.

Gardner, Amaroo 1994

So where did it end up?

Built using a Dencar bodyshell, the car ran for the entire ’94 season as the #4 Coke entry, including the endurance races where Crompton co-drove with Gardner, though they crashed out at both Sandown and Bathurst.

Gardner finished 12th in the ATCC in 1994 and the team – and thus this car – started the year using HRT customer engines before Peter Molloy became involved with their engine program mid-season.

Gardner retained the car in 1995 – updated to the latest VR bodywork – and finished on the podium in the opening ATCC round at a soggy Sandown before clashing with his teammate after contact with Phil Ward off the start line at the Bathurst ATCC round.

Gardner, Sandown 1995

The 1987 World Champion drove the car for the entire 1995 ATCC, finishing ninth in a season where he and his fellow Dunlop runners were hampered by the earthquake at the company’s Kobe, Japan, factory. 

The car retained the #4 for Sandown and Bathurst, though was piloted by Brad Jones and Win Percy while Gardner and Crompton drove a car constructed mid-season that had become #7.

This four-man endurance driver line-up had a range of unique elements including the fact all four pilots were ex-Holden Racing Team drivers and all four were left-handed!

Jones and Percy failed to finish at Sandown (suffering axle bearing failure after 98 laps) but turned in a strong effort on the Mountain by finishing fifth, though it could have been a podium result given the #4 car ran second at lap 139 of 161.

However, Jones struggled to keep the pace up on the run home and was so dehydrated post-race he was put on a drip to recover – so fifth place was still a handy effort.

Jones and Percy, Bathurst 1995

Gardner moved back into this car for the 1996 season and started the year with plenty of pace in the opening round under lights on the short track at Eastern Creek, finishing second overall to a young rookie on debut in the ATCC – Craig Lowndes.

He finished sixth in the Championship with the highlight a race win at the penultimate round at Mallala, though mid-season the team was forced to cut back from two cars to one due to budget constraints.

Also running a program in the Japanese GT Championship meant Gardner missed the Gold Coast Indy event, with Brad Jones piloting the #4 Commodore in the non-championship event.

The Coke team debuted a new car for the 1996 endurance races, so this chassis was then put to one side.

Gardner, Eastern Creek 1996

At the end of the season it was stripped and re-fitted as well as painted yellow for the Lansvale Smash Repairs team, which did a deal to run the car in 1997 out of the Wayne Gardner Racing workshop as a customer car under the eye of their former engineer Wally Storey. 

Steve Reed and Trevor Ashby continued their partnership, sharing the striking blue, yellow and red ICI Autocolour-backed car in various rounds of the Shell Series and teaming up for the Sandown and Bathurst races at the end of the season.

Reed, Calder 1997

They finished eighth overall at Bathurst before again sharing the car in 1998, though this time they ran it themselves after WGR closed down at the end of ’97.

Ashby and Reed again paired up for another crack at Bathurst, though electrical problems took them out after 131 laps while running ninth.

The end of the car’s fourth Bathurst in five years was also the end of WGR1’s competition life as the Lansvale team built a new VS Commodore with Paris Acott for 1999.

Asby and Reed, Bathurst 1998

The original car sat around as a bodyshell for a few years before being secured by perennial privateer Richard Mork in 2004 (after the Lansvale team had been sold out to Tasman Motorsport), who used parts from it on a VS Commodore he had built up from an unused Dencar bodyshell.

After passing through the hands of a few other owners, it was sold last April to its current owners Dylan Innes and Steve Tate, who is the son of former Holden Dealer Team and Peter Janson ace wrench Ian Tate.

And we’re pleased to report that a restoration project is underway!

“We’re in the process of sourcing period-correct parts and it’s in the waiting now to head off to the panel shop for its makeover,” Innes told the V8 Sleuth this week.

“We’ll return it to being a Coke car, but we’re not sure as to which year. It will probably be 1996. Wayne won a race at Mallala that year in it, so we’ll probably present it as that, or else somewhere in the ’96 period.

“The biggest challenge has been getting hold of photos so we can work out exactly what livery to run. But luckily the V8 Sleuth himself has just secured a pretty large image archive so we knew where to go for that side of things!

“We don’t have a specific timeframe that it has to be ready for. We just want to get everything together and get it all back together and try and get it as close to how it was in the day.”

We look forward to seeing how things progress with this important part of V8 Supercar history!


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