Big bangers of the sixties: Lola T70 part 4

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A sad year

Every year has its own highlights and dark patches for racing fans, but 1968 was a year most would have wished had not happened at all. The deaths of Jimmy Clark, Mike Spence, Jo Schlesser, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Chris Lambert and Dickie Stoop, along with frightening crashes for Formula One cars experimenting with wings, brought sad news almost every month.

1968 is also a year Eric Broadley would probably prefer not to dwell on. To get out of the “too many projects in 1967” problem, there had to be too many projects for 1968 – new T102 Formula Two BMW cars, new T140 Formula A chassis, new T150 USAC/Indy chassis, a new T180 Formula One chassis for Surtees and Honda and, as a replacement for the difficult T70 Mk III spyders, a T160 CanAm car. Consequently the new cars suffered from a lack of testing. By mid-year Lola was hard at it redesigning and developing the T142, T152, T162, a T190 Formula 5000 chassis and an all-new coupe for 1969, the T70 Mk IIIB GT.

During 1968 the factory built two more Mk III spyders for the USA, and six more coupes. A grand total of eighty-two T70 cars had now been built, and most were still racing. Along with early McLarens, Lolas were still the chassis to have in US club racing, although most were now sprouting all sorts of front bib and canard spoilers, rear aerofoils, trim tabs and extended fenders to accommodate the ever-wider tyres.

But 1968 was the swansong for the T70 in the CanAm series, with only George Follmer in the ex-Penske Mark IIIB making a mark, by coming second at Lola’s favourite track, the Las Vegas Stardust Raceway. Otherwise it was a McLaren M8A steamroller, with first and second in the championship – plus $160,000! Surtees was disgusted with the underdeveloped T160, and the overweight F1 Honda, and sadly severed his relationship with Lola at the end of the year; Broadley had lost a brilliant development driver.

The situation was a little brighter with the coupe. Now that 25 cars had been built, the T70 MkIII was homologated in Group 4, and thus the British Sports Car Championship. With plenty of GT40s around, six Lola coupes could only add to the excitement.

Mike d’Udy set the year rolling by taking the South African Land Speed record away from David Piper’s Ferrari with an average of 191.8 mph. The cash he got from that success paid for shipping the Lola over to Sebring, where he lined up with three more coupes against the Group 4 JWA Gulf Ford GT40s, Ed Nelson’s GT40, a lone Howmet turbine, and the Daytona-winning fleet of Group Six 2.2-litre Porsche 907 coupes.

Jo Bonner had bought SL73/101, the prototype and Le Mans car, now painted in his yellow, white and red colours. The other two Lolas were chassis 117 and 131, run by film-star James Garner’s American International Racing team. American publicity reported that both the 1967 Le Mans cars were to run at Sebring. Whilst it is true that the ACO records do who that the Lola chassis were numbers 101 and 117, one can only wonder how the Team Surtees car came to be renumbered 121 when it returned to the UK after Le Mans, and how a new chassis, only completed on August 25, 1967, came to have chassis plate 117 affixed before it was shipped to the States.

Practising for Sebring was incredibly close, and augured well for the race. Siffert’s 907 was on pole, one second ahead of the Ickx/Redman Gulf GT40. Then came Dr Dick Thompson 0.2 sec down in the Howmet, with Scooter Patrick a further 0.2 sec away in the fastest AIR Lola. D’Udy was ninth on the grid, but still only 1.4 sec behind Ickx, with Bonnier tenth, suffering somewhat with new Goodyear rubber and a new Bartz Chevy.

The Porsches shot into the lead, hotly pursued by the Lolas, with the Gulf GT40s avoiding the first-hour “Grand Prix” on team orders. Scooter Patrick soon passed the Porsches and gradually pulled out a good lead, achieving the fastest race lap of 2min 49.0sec; 0.4 seconds faster than Siffert’s pole position! The Lola T70s might sound like rumbling beasts, with those big 6-litre Chevrolet engines, but they could move!

Sadly, at the three-hour mark, Patrick retired the Lola when the suspension broke on Sebring’s bumpy surface. The second AIR car suffered clutch trouble, whilst both d’Udy and Bonnier had punctures and a succession of plug troubles.

It was the same in Britain and Europe. The Lola coupe was deceptively fast, and thundered round the circuits at the start of the races with displays of superb handling and close racing to delight the fans. All too often, however, mechanical trouble intervened in the long-distance events and the challenge would fade.

Short club sprints were fine, and Lolas won all the British Group 4 races. Most consistent were the white and green cars of Dubliner Sidney Taylor, who ran a construction machinery hire company in his spare time to pay for the racing. The cars (chassis 102 until July 1968, when 134 was delivered) were probably the best prepared T70s ever, thanks to dedicated engineer Ron Bennett.

Chassis 102 achieved eight wins in fifteen starts, and chassis 134 five wins in only seven starts, plus an impressive list of fastest laps and circuit records in the hands of drivers Frank Gardner, Denny Hulme, Brian Redman and Sid Taylor himself. Jo Bonnier, fellow Swede Ulf Norinder, Mike d’Udy, Jackie Epstein, John Woolfe, David Prophet and Chris Craft also followed the prize-money circuit around Europe, in company with the British contingent of GT40s, Chevrons and 2-litre Porsches.

Ulf Norinder and Jackie Epstein took their cars to Le Mans. The Epstein car was chassis 121, the car driven by Surtees in 1967 but now with different body panels. Epstein had been T-boned by Ron Fry at the Silverstone Martini meeting and had been back to the factory for tub repairs and a new set of bodywork; Specialised Mouldings had a set of bodywork prepared for a customer who had not turned up, so Epstein got a cheap set of deep purple bodywork instead of his usual British Racing Green.

At Le Mans, he was so well prepared that he had nothing for his team to do, so the mechanics cut out a large steel key and fixed it to the roof of the Lola, to the delight of the crowd. They applauded even more when the mechanics pretended to “wind up” the Lola just before the race! This car lasted into the seventeenth hour before retiring with transmission failure, but Ulf Norinder ran out of fuel early on and was disqualified.

The London Racing Car Show in January 1969 saw the appearance of two new cars. The last Mk III chassis, SL73/135, had gone to Franco Sbarro in Switzerland, who had turned a racing coupe into a civilised road car with electric windows, air conditioning, wood veneer, leather trim, silencer and a price tag of £7000 before tax. The other car was a SL76/138, the second T70 Mk IIIB GT, already painted in Sidney Taylor’s colours (the first, SL76/139, had been shipped to Penske on the last day of 1968).

The Mk IIIB received its homologation on the basis that it was a developed Mk III T70. In fact it was a totally new car; there was nothing interchangeable between the Mk III and the Mk IIIB. The Mk IIIB was designed at the same time as the FA/F5000 T142 and used all the same standard running gear.

The chassis was a bonded and riveted light-alloy monocoque, with windscreen bonded into monocoque and roll-over bar as before. Specialised Mouldings had produced ultra-light panels using the very new carbon fibre filaments laid as a strengthening grid. The doors were no longer gull-wing, but hinged forward. Front suspension was independent with upper and lower wishbones on self-aligning roller bearings and ball-joints, Koni shock absorbers adjustable for bump and rebound, and co-axial springs.

The rear suspension differed only in that it had double wishbones and radius rods. Steering was proprietary rack and pinion with a lightweight, leather-covered 11in steering wheel. 12in x 1.1in ventilated brake discs were mounted on light-alloy bells with aluminium “four-pot” full area thick pad calipers.

The normal engine offered was a 304.6ci (5-litre) dry sump Traco-tuned V8 Chevrolet, fitted with four 48mm downdraught Weber carburettors. Transmission was by a Hewland LG600 five-speed and reverse transaxle, with roller spline driveshafts and a 7 ¼ in three-plate Borg and Beck clutch.

Flexible fuel cells were incorporated into the monocoque with a large single-filler arrangement. Feed was by two Bendix electric fuel pumps. Water and oil radiators were mounted at the front of the car. Wheels could be 8in or 10 ½in fronts with 10in, 14in or 17in rears. Maximum track was 54in front and rear, with a wheelbase of 95in, and weight with oil and water was 1930lb (860kg).

It was stated by the factory that re-homologation would be sought for a lighter development at 800kg. A batch of twelve had been laid down at Slough, and the racing fraternity could not wait to get at them. GJ