Lola success continues in Huntingdon
Things happen quickly, quietly and efficiently at Lola Cars, and since the firm’s move from the Slough to the Huntingdon Trading Estate just over a year ago, Eric Broadley and his team have achieved a good deal, and further enhanced their already strongly established reputation. Yet Lola do not court publicity to any extent, they prefer to let success and the customer service they offer speak for itself. Although firms like March and Brabham regularly hit the headlines it is Lola Cars who can claim the honour of producing more racing cars than anyone else last year, no less than 135, had a turn-over of £1/2 million and 90% of their sales were for export. It is a fantastic record for any engineering company, whatever branch, particularly one with less than 50 employees, and in a year starting with the complete disruption of a move.
Furthermore there has been plenty of on-the-track success for the Broadley designed Lolas as well as impressive sales records. Frank Gardner, who has a two-year driver/development engineer contract with the firm, won the Rothmans Formula 5000 Championship using first the Lola T192 and later the futuristic T300, Lola also clinched the European 2-litre Sportscar Championship in 1971 turning the tables on Chevron who beat them by a single point the previous year, and a similar Lola T212 won the South African Springbok Series. During 1971 Lola made a substantial effort to take the Can-Am series from the all supreme McLaren team but, despite the driving talents of Jackie Stewart, this didn’t succeed although Stewart did win a couple of the races and, on a much less powerful front, the Lola designed for the new Super Vee category proved a great success in Europe and America.
But undoubtedly the Lola in the news at present is the T280 model which is the new 3-litre sports car from Huntingdon which in its initial outing at Buenos Aires proved that, at last, Britain once again has produced a car which really can win the long distance classics like Le Mans, Nurburgring and Spa. In Argentina the two Lolas were more than a match for the Alfa Romeo T33s and were giving the Ferraris a hard chase and this was after only a minimum development at the Paul Ricard circuit. Yet, while the efforts of Formula 5000 drivers trying scrambles bikes in the woods behind Brands Hatch warrant full coverage in the Daily Express, a genuinely exciting new British racing car does not even warrant a mention. Such are the ways of Fleet Street!
As we said earlier Lola do not court press coverage to any extent and when Motor Sport visited the Huntingdon works in Glebe Road we were actually the very first press representatives to have a conducted tour around the extensive facility. It is undoubtedly the most impressive British racing car factory, being a completely new building and remembering that before Broadley moved into motor racing as an amateur 15 years ago, he was by profession a factory planner. The premises are freehold and Lola were just in time to benefit from a government investment grant. They have plenty of land on which to expand and though the present buildings cover 22,000 sq. ft. there are plans and land available to expand in stages up to a maximum of 100,000 sq. ft. if necessary. Apart from the offices the rest of the factory is open plan with the stores, which contains £180,000 stock, occupying the front section naturally partitioned off.
The rest of the floor space is planned to accommodate the very extensive machining facilities including some automatic lathes and other machine shop equipment and are thus able to machine practically everything for their own requirements including wheels. There are extensive welding and fabricating facilities including argon arc sets and the sheet metal monocoques are also constructed on the premises. The remainder of the space is taken up by the various builds, the Super Vee section being virtually on a production line basis, while when we visited the factory, a corner was occupied by the two 3-litre cars, one of them on a surface plate.
Eric Broadley is very much the working Managing Director and he can be seen rushing around the premises consulting with his fellow designers one minute, over to the latest racing car the next and then into his office to take a transatlantic phone call. When Lola’s name is mentioned so is Broadley’s but also playing a vital role in the success of the company is the works director Rob Rushbrook. Originally Rushbrook had his own engine re-building shop but he helped Broadley build his second-ever racing car (they were down in Bromley, Kent in those days), and has been with him ever since. The only other director of Lola is Broadley’s brother who does not play an active part in the company. Other key personnel include Harry Atkinson who looks after the financial and sales side of the business having joined the company when they were at Slough, Derek Ongaro, a former Surtees man who looks after the cost accounting and various other jobs which come his way like handling the press. Bob Marston, a former Cooper and Surtees designer, is the development engineer along with two design draughtsmen, and a parts list specialist, while Andy Prescott is the works foreman and is the expert when it comes to monocoque construction.
Lola moved to Huntingdon from rather scattered premises on the Slough Trading Estate in January 1971 and now, with a year behind them at the new site, they feel they are just about settled in. They have established a social club for the employees and had a Lola works dinner and dance this year. It is a mark of respect that the workers have for Broadley that when the move was made up North nearly all the labour force moved too and were given generous allowances to do so. All this has bred a great deal of loyalty to the firm and while in the workshops one felt that there was an excellent atmosphere around the place.
In the old days readers may remember works cars entered under the title Lola Equipe driven by such people as Peter Ashdown but these days Lola prefer to sell cars to customers rather than race them—they make more money that way. Of course, there are problems like lack of technical feedback which Lola have largely overcome. For 1972 their 3-litre sports cars will be prepared and entered by Jo Bonnier’s team for Bonnier is the European agent for Lola. In America Stewart’s Can-Am car was run and financed by the US agent Carl Haas in 1971 and this agreement is to continue, while in Britain Lola’s arrangement with Frank Gardner worked very well indeed and will continue into the coming year. As well as running the Formula 5000 team, Gardner is responsible for all the development test-driving and Broadley and Marston are absolutely delighted with the way the veteran Australian driver is able to sort cars and offer his own ideas as well as having the speed to win regularly in Formula 5000. Previously Lola had an agreement with Mike Hailwood and the Jackie Epstein team but Hailwood wasn’t able to give the designers the feedback they wanted.
Gardner was instrumental in the building of the now very successful T300 Formula 5000 car in which he clinched the Rothmans Championship. He started the season with the larger T192 model but saw the possibilities of fitting a 5-litre engine in one of the lighter and smaller Formula Two chassis. Although the F2 car had by this time gained an unhappy reputation for being a difficult car, with surprisingly little strengthening and modification the Chevrolet V8 was shoe-horned in and immediately proved a great success. Side rather than a front mounted radiator were fitted high up on the cockpit sides giving the car a futuristic appearance thanks to some exciting Specialised Moulding bodywork.
Peter Jackson’s Specialised Mouldings Ltd. firm has played a large part in Lola history. Lola were the glass fibre company’s first ever customers back in the South London days and the happy association has continued ever since. Specialised are also on the Huntingdon trading estate and the two firms work very closely together on aerodynamics and bodywork, Broadley finding the SM wind tunnel a great asset.
Following Gardner’s success with the T300, this model has attracted a good deal of sales from the USA in 1972 and apart from many private owners, the Carl Hogan team, which has won the L. & M. Continental Championship for the past two years with a McLaren, have ordered a pair of the cars for reigning champion David Hobbs and the young American Brett Lunger.
Naturally the Lola range is very extensive and they are building cars for plenty of other categories as well. On the sports car front the very successful 2-litre T212 model has been revised and in its successor, the T290 looks like enjoying even greater sales and track success. Jo Bonnier has ordered an additional three of the 3-litre cars which he will presumably sell to other European teams. On the Can-Am front Lola built two separate cars last season, the customer T222 of which six were produced and the less conventional T260 car for the L. & M. team for Stewart. This featured such details as inboard horizontally mounted spring damper units at the front and a very short body. It was a car which was about a year too late and during the season it received a good deal of modification and was rarely on terms with the McLaren despite Stewart’s driving ability. Broadley told us that he has learned a good deal from the exercise, is determined to go back to give the McLaren team and Porsche a good run for their money in 1972. Stewart however has switched to the McLaren team so a replacement driver is yet to be named. Incidentally Broadley says the customer will be able to buy exactly the same car as Haas runs this year.
Carl Haas is a quite remarkable marketer and salesman of racing cars and Lola’s continued success has a good deal to do with his own personal energy. Last year for instance Lola built 44 Super Vee Formula cars and 28 Formula Ford of which all but a handful were sold by Haas in the USA and while demand for the Formula Ford has slackened off, Super Vee demand is increasing. Both these cars have space frame chassis which are built by yet another Huntingdon firm, Arch Motors. In 1970 Carl Haas had a huge run on the Formula Ford cars and so many were built that Lola’s total production figure went over 200. However despite lower sales this year the turnover, and presumably the profit, was a record.
One category of racing in which Lola has been very successful over the past five years has been Indianapolis. Graham Hill’s winning Red Ball Special was of course a Broadley design and other successful Indy cars have been Lola copies. Last year Broadley gave this type of racing a miss but though, as always, he answered the questions we put to him guardedly it is certain that there will be a new Lola for Indianapolis this year and, by all accounts, it could be a good one.
Ever since Lola’s single Formula One effort with the Bowmaker team in 1963 there have been rumours of Broadley designing another Formula One car. A couple of years ago Ken Tyrrell was spotted smuggling an F1 engine into the Slough factory but in the end nothing came of that and from time to time Bonnier has been reputed to be having a Lola Formula One built. The latest rumour is that the 1300 model will be adapted to take a Cosworth DFV engine. Broadley denies this saying that the car would have to be completely re-designed due to its present small fuel capacity and anyway he is far too busy with new Can-Am and Indy projects. But it would be nice to see a Lola F1 again and the possibility is not discounted in the future.
There has also been talk of Lola entering the road car market possibly in the Ferrari category. A couple of racing car shows ago a Lola T70GT was dolled up for the road by a Swiss gentleman and since the model’s useful racing life came to an end quite a few other people have made T70s into road going ears. Broadley himself smiles enigmatically when considering this but says he sees too many obstacles to building road cars at present not only on the construction side but also such things as dealerships and guarantees.
Now 42, Eric Broadley has changed little over the years. He is a basically introverted man not given to idle chat. But if you are interested in his cars and his firm he will discuss them happily, giving each question a great deal of thought before answering it. No doubt when he goes to America they find it hard to believe that here is the man who masterminds the largest racing car construction business in the world. That is understandable but Broadley is not a man to be dismissed simply as a racing car boffin. He and his staff have built a company that is a model of efficiency and one any branch of specialised engineering could do well to emulate. Britain and motor racing owes a good deal to Lola.—A.R.M.