AN INAUGURAL winner of Australia’s ‘Great Race’, Frank Coad, has been remembered as a man who “did everything at 110 percent” and “lived life to the fullest”.
Coad passed away on November 7, aged 91, and was farewelled last Thursday at a private funeral service in Bendigo, Victoria.
Born William Francis Coad, his most well-known achievement was driving a Vauxhall Cresta to victory in the first Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island in 1960.
That race was the forerunner to what is now known as the Bathurst 1000, having moved from the seaside Victorian venue to Mount Panorama in 1963.
Coad shared the Cresta in the event with co-driver John Roxburgh, who went on to become CAMS president and passed away in 1993.
The duo emerged victorious in the 1960 race amid torrid conditions as the circuit broke up under the strain of an event that lasted 8 hours, 20 minutes and 45 seconds.
Meticulous research and preparation had been the key to overcoming the faster Gavin Youl/John Youl Mercedes, which eventually crashed out.
“A fortnight beforehand we’d done a full 500 mile under race conditions,” Coad told the ABC last year.
“[The Youl brothers, from Tasmania] didn’t realise how severe Phillip Island was on tyres and knocking cars around. It was a very tough circuit that way.
“We’d done all our preparation, we knew how far we could go on our front tyres without any troubles, and they didn’t.
“They went through the first pit stop and they carried on with the original tyres hoping they’d get another run out of them. But it didn’t happen. A tyre blew, they turned it over and wrecked it.”
Although only class results were officially minuted in the event’s early years, Coad and Roxburgh are widely recognised as the race’s outright winners.
The condition of the circuit, which was formed with cold-mix bitumen as the bridge to Phillip Island could not carry hot-mix machinery, eventually led to the event’s relocation to Bathurst.
At the time of the 1960 triumph Coad and brother George ran a Vauxhall dealership, named G.W. Coad and Sons in honour of their father George Snr, in the northern Victorian town of Kerang.
While Vauxhall’s parent company General Motors had a policy not to support motor racing, Coad spoke proudly in 2020 of the increase in sales brought about by the victory.
Coad and Roxburgh were denied back-to-back wins in the Armstrong 500 the following year after a spin from Roxburgh cost the pair’s Vauxhall Velox vital minutes.
They teamed again in a Velox in 1962 but failed to finish and Coad made just one more Great Race start; sharing a Datsun 1600 with John Leighton in the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Bathurst.
Coad’s motorsport exploits though stretched far beyond the fabled Great Race.
He learnt his driving skills as a youth on the family farm at Kerang aboard a 1924 Model T Ford and by his late teens was competing in hill climbs, sprints and club events in a home-built special conceived by George Snr.
After the purchase of the Vauxhall dealership in 1954, Coad and brother George began racing a Vauxhall Vagabond Tourer in sportscar events.
A desire to be more competitive led to the construction of a Vauxhall Special, which featured a chassis designed and built by Harry Firth, fitted with the six-cylinder engine from the Vagabond.
Coad debuted the car at the 1956 Australian Grand Prix meeting at Albert Park, finishing ninth in the sportscar support race, and subsequently campaigned it throughout Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales.
The Special received a major makeover in 1959, which included the installation of a Repco Holden engine and a new fibreglass body. Coad recorded a sportscar lap record at Phillip island in the car in this form.
Coad’s performances in the Vauxhall Special led to a series of opportunities in other people’s machinery, including Len Lukey’s Cooper Bristol and Derek Jolly’s Decca Special, Lotus Seven and Lotus 15.
A later stint with the Datsun Racing Team featured not only a Bathurst 500 start, but outings in the ’68 Surfers Paradise 6 Hour, ’69 and ’70 Rothmans 12 Hours and ’69 Sandown 3 Hour.
Although Coad had moved with his family to Melbourne to pursue his motorsport career in 1962, a preference for a country life resulted in a shift to Sea Lake in the heart of Victoria’s Mallee Region two years later.
There Coad owned and ran the local Holden dealership and his passion for both the region and motorsport led him to create the Sea Lake Mallee Rally around Lake Tyrrell.
Established in 1973, it was the oldest ongoing off-road event in Australia at the time of its most recent running in 2018. Efforts continue to revive it.
In 1975 Coad bought back the Vauxhall Special that he’d sold in 1961 and returned it to the race track after a five-year restoration. The car remains in the family today.
Tributes to Coad on Thursday recognised his passions for cars, motorbikes, aircraft, horses, golf, pistol shooting, nature and, most strongly, his love for his family.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Zena, children Susan, Julie and Vicki, and their respective families.
A public memorial will be held in early 2022.