THE news that PremiAir Racing will pay tribute to Wayne Gardner Racing’s Coca-Cola Commodore team on its #22 Commodore at this year’s Repco Bathurst 1000 has been met with favourable response from the Supercars fanbase.
But looking at the car that Chris Pither and Cameron Hill will drive in this year’s ‘Great Race’ has had plenty of our readers asking us – what happened to the Coca-Cola/WGR Commodore touring cars from the 1990s?
The good news is that they’re all still around, however the bad news is that – for the moment – very few of them are in a complete, ready-to-roll state!
Gardner’s team was born out of the old Bob Forbes Racing operation based in Mona Vale in Sydney. The 1987 500cc World Motorcycle Champion purchased the team from Forbes and turned it into Wayne Gardner Racing for the 1994 season.
Former Forbes driver Neil Crompton stayed on, and he and Gardner drove a pair of Coke Commodores across the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Crompton’s car was parked due to funding restrictions midway through 1996, though he returned to co-drive at Bathurst and the team ran two cars in the end of season New Zealand series.
Gardner pressed on with a single car for 1997 (Crompton drove a second car at Albert Park and Gold Coast in between his North American Touring Car Championship commitments) and ran a pair of cars at Bathurst.
He closed the team at season’s end and sold off everything, though retained one car to use in select events in 1998 and then ran in Coke-backed Perkins customer cars in marque events in 1999.
All up, the team raced four Coke Commodores during WGR’s full-time period between 1994 and 1997, three of them built by WGR and one of them that came across from the former Forbes team and became a Coke car.
The ex-GIO Crompton Forbes car (raced by Crompton in 1994 and the first part of 1995) is now owned by a collector in Victoria with a plan to restore it.
The first WGR-built car, WGR1, was Gardner’s car in 1994, 1995 and 1996 before being used by the Lansvale team.
In 2020 it was returned to its original Coke livery and has been retained by a private owned in Melbourne, though was advertised for sale this year.
The second WGR-built car, WGR2, was Crompton’s car in the second part of 1995 and into 1996 and was in fact the car that Gardner kept and used in the 1998 Albert Park, Sandown, Gold Coast and Bathurst events.
It’s now owned by a private collector in Victoria who is getting it restored to its original WGR/Coke livery and specification.
The last WGR-built car, WGR3, was debuted at the 1996 Sandown 500 and was taken to victory in the Calder round of the 1997 championship at Calder by Gardner.
Later sold to Rod Nash for the now-Tickford Racing owner’s entry into V8 Supercars in 1998, this car is also now with a collector in Victoria and is a restoration project.
While there may not be a plethora of mobile Coke cans driving around at the moment, the good news is that WGR’s Coca-Cola Commodore history is still out there and will re-appear in due course.