Even if you struggle to master it on track, Eric Broadley’s classic ’60s sports-racer will win you over with its looks. Prepare to fall in love…
By Richard Heseltine
Point of view is the crux. It’s quite simple really; the Lola T70 is the most beautiful sports-racing car ever made. Period. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, of course, quite wrong. Save perhaps the Chevron B16, nothing comes close to invoking such an intense case of puppy love on initial contact. This is how racing cars should look; muscular, curvaceous and captivating. None of that slab-of-side, geometric nonsense thank you. Here was a car conceived with little more than a vivid imagination, a slide rule and a HB pencil. One that remains the most fêted Lola product amid a back catalogue that stretches back half a century; so much so that the Huntingdon firm will even knit you a new one, at a price.
Thing is, for all its gorgeousness, presence and whatnot, the T70 never was a particularly successful racing car. Not really, not for its intended purpose as an international player, anyway. After constructing his striking – and influential – Ford small-block V8-powered MkVI coupé, Lola’s Eric Broadley effectively took a year’s sabbatical to conceive and build the Blue Oval’s Le Mans challenger for 1964: the GT40. With lessons learned with the MKVI’s spaceframe chassis, he sketched out the Detroit-funded sports-prototype with an ally-skinned monocoque. Except Ford, with its extensive insight into endurance racing, overruled him and insisted on steel. So it was heavy. And rusted. No matter, Broadley got a new factory out of the deal and had already laid out plans for the car he really wanted to build.
The result was the Group 7 T70 Spider. “It was a good design,” recalls the prolific Tony Southgate, whose résumé includes Grand Prix, Le Mans and Indy 500 winners. Having started out as Broadley’s first employee, the 750MC racing driver turned draughtsman had walked shortly after “the men in shiny suits” arrived from Dearborn, and returned to the firm as soon as the Ford execs left. “I was effectively Eric’s right-hand man,” he recalls. “He would produce the concept and suspension geometry and I would fill in the rest with some sound engineering, although Mike Smith did the doors. I hated doing doors.”
Though never assigned any credit, the sensational T70 outline was largely the work of Specialised Moulding’s Jim Clark. The former architect and Lotus man (he penned the Elan FHC and the 30 sports-racer in part), had left his native New Zealand to design cars in Europe because “I didn’t want to spend all my time doing pig pens… We did all sorts of stuff at SM including the Chevron B16 and McLaren M6GT.” The resemblance between all three cars is obvious.
With 1964 Formula 1 World Champion John Surtees acting as marque talisman aboard his Team Surtees entry, the T70 proved an instant winner, ‘Il Grande John’ scorching his way to 1966 US Road Racing Championship honours. But more was to come, the classic coupé edition taking a bow in Chevy bent-eight-powered form at the January 1967 Racing Car Show at Olympia. Creating more of a hubbub, though, was news that two chassis were destined for Le Mans with Aston Martin’s latest V8 amidships. Latest, if not altogether sorted…
The first customer car was subsequently delivered to Jackie Epstein who gave the model its debut in that year’s Spa 1000km. Sharing with Paul Hawkins, he finished a respectable fourth overall, despite having to run in the top-flight Group 6 class rather than Group 4 as the car had yet to be homologated.
Then came the Nürburgring 1000km, the works Aston-engined T70 of Surtees and David Hobbs qualifying second overall behind the Phil Hill/Mike Spence Chaparral, only to retire early on with suspension issues. Come Le Mans and the two factory cars embarrassingly fell out early on: Surtees and Hobbs retired after just three laps with piston failure, the Chris Irwin/Pier de Klerk sister car following suit just 22 tours later with crankshaft maladies. The Tadek Marek-conceived V8 wouldn’t again appear at La Sarthe until 1977…
For the rest of the ’67 season, works and privateer entries – with Chevy power – proved competitive if only in sprint races. Denny Hulme triumphed at Croft in Sid Taylor’s entry, Hawkins in the Gallaher GT Trophy at Warwick Farm and the Cape Three Hours at Killarney, a round of the Springbok series.
It was clear, however, that the T70 hadn’t fully delivered upon its promise.
Into 1968 and engine displacement was capped at five litres by the CSI: the 327cu in Chevy cranked out 5354cc so engine specialist Jim Travers of Traco Engineering developed a short-stroke 304.6in version. Even so, few Group 4-homologated T70s ever raced seriously in the World Championship of Makes. Sixth in the BOAC 500 for Jo Bonnier and Sten Axelsson was the best placing for the model that season. At national level, however, it proved invincible, winning every Group 4 race of the year: Brian Redman at Oulton Park, Denny Hulme at Silverstone’s May and Martini 300 meetings, Frank Gardner in the same Sid Taylor car at Mallory Park and Brands Hatch, and Mike de Udy at Oulton Park.
For the following year, Lola introduced the MkIIIB with a new all-ally monocoque that owed its architecture – if only in part – to the T160 Can-Am weapon. Outwardly identifiable by its single pair of headlights, and forward-hinged (in place of gullwing) doors, the latest strain was, and remains, a work of singular beauty.
And Lola picked up from where it had left off in Blighty, winning seven out of eight British GT races in 1969, but it still fell some way short of expectation on the world stage with the notable exception of Team Penske’s victory in the Daytona 24 Hours. The Pennsylvania squad’s hurriedly-finished, Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons-driven entry won largely by stealth, triumphing only after faster rivals broke; to finish first, you must first finish and all that. James Garner’s American International Racing T70 driven by Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher took the runner-up spot, albeit 30 laps down. Jo Bonnier’s second place in the final championship round at the Osterreichring, and four wins out of five races in the Springbok series, rounded out the Lola’s season.
By the dawn of the ’70s, the game was up. There wasn’t a single major placing in the International Championship of Makes, although the T70 was still a player in sprint events. Richard Attwood took wins at Montlhéry and Dijon, with Jean-Pierre Beltoise rounding off its victory roll at Magny-Cours in July of that year aboard David Piper’s example.
Except the T70 never really went away. Into the early ’70s, the model made a brief comeback as a road car under the aegis of former Scuderia Fillipinetti chief (and often only) mechanic, Franco Sbarro. The Italian-born, Swiss-domiciled engineer converted racers into road cars, initially with Lola’s blessing, making as many as a dozen ‘Sloughys’ (really!). Of these, some have since been rebuilt as race cars, just to add to the confusion.
Some T70s dropped further down the food chain, finding a place in Interserie events, others being raced with intermittent success in South American long-distance events. Then came historics, the T70 officially being classed as a ‘historic’ racing car while barely a decade old. And one of the great stalwarts of the big-banger movement is Nigel Hulme who has spent the past 30 years racing seven different T70s, most recently the ex-Wilson Fittipaldi MkIIIB.
“I always loved these cars as a boy. The noise used to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end,” he recalls. “Having dabbled in refurbishing old heaps and then selling them on, I was able to purchase an ex-Le Mans Porsche 911. I entered in the Wild Rose Caravan Park GT Championship in the mid-to-late ’70s and found that it was not really suitable as I was getting blown away by Chevron B8s. Ray Potter then approached me about buying the Porsche and we finished up doing a deal for my first T70, an ex-Can-Am Spider. It had a Ford 427 ‘side-oiler’ in the back and all I managed to do was swap ends. Anyway, David Piper got to hear about the car and he and Mike Knight were starting a series for this type of car which was going to go international; he asked if I would join the fun. Into the ’80s, we did the Atlantic Computers Leasing GT Championship and had a few class wins.” More than a few, Hulme also winning the 1985 Failsafe GT Championship.
“They’re such a joy to drive when set up correctly,” he adds. “They’re really forgiving and neutral. You can set them up as you like as they’re very adjustable. T70s are easy to drive to about eight-tenths but you’ll have to have your wits about you above that. You’ll need a good amount of time before you can safely go to the limit. But you can run one on a modest budget, although you will definitely need help from someone who really knows their stuff. Over the period
I’ve owned T70s, pretty much everything that was ever likely to break has, and I’ve been lucky in having [ex-Piper mechanic] Clive Robinson to sort my cars so they’ve become very reliable and competitive.”
Eligible for many blue-chip stand-alone events (witness Simon Hadfield’s brilliant Whitsun Trophy win at last September’s Goodwood Revival in the ex-Mecom Spider), the Classic Endurance Racing meetings plus the HSCC’s Guards Trophy series (although it’s ineligible for overall points), it’s rarer to find an event where T70s aren’t competing. And with dozens of cars having been made originally, and that’s before you count the number of, cough, non-Lola-made ‘genuine authentic fakes’ that are doing the rounds, there are plenty to go around. Add in off-the-shelf parts availability (it’s mostly proprietary stuff – even the steering rack is a modified BMC 1100 item) and running costs shouldn’t be too awful. Well relative to any Maranello or Weissach product, anyway.
But then we were sold just on the looks.
That the T70 remains hugely popular with fans on both sides of the pitwall, and Lola is tapping a rich nostalgia vein and building new ones, says it all. Eric Broadley’s would-be world beater is simply a copper-bottomed classic, proof that a tidy design is the symptom of a tidy mind.
“I raced one”
This ever-genial Lancastrian made the leap to sports car stardom after switching from a Jaguar ‘Lightweight’ E-type to a T70 Spider.
“At the end of the 1965 season with the Red Rose Motors E-type, Charles Bridges [the team principal] asked me what I’d like to drive in ’66. I should have said ‘Formula 3’, as that was the only recognised way to the top. However, I’d just been to a race at Croft which featured Can-Am-type cars. My answer was, ‘If I really have a choice, it would be a Lola T70.’
“Sure enough, in April 1966 I received a call from Charles asking me if I could be at Oulton Park at 8am the following Thursday. Of course I could, and there in the spring sunshine sat this beautiful T70. Charles said, ‘Bugger you Redman, I’m driving it first!’ Well, it came to a rest three feet from a large oak tree which used to stand on the inside of Old Hall.
“The 1966 season was very good with a mix of club and international races. This experience of ‘big cars’ led to a drive at the Spa 1000km race with Peter Sutcliffe in his GT40, where we finished fourth overall. That then led to me joining the John Wyer/Gulf team. At the end of the year I was one of three recipients of a Grovewood Award, so in retrospect I think it was not only a huge amount of fun but also the right choice.”
One to buy
Lola T70 – £199,000
From: Lola Cars Ltd, 01480 451301 www.lolacars.com
Lola Cars is proud to announce a limited production run of new T70 MkIIIB chassis eligible for the world’s major historic racing series.This is a genuine continuation of the original specification car. The first T70 MkIIIB continuation chassis was unveiled in 2006, and the initial run of five cars has been sold. Lola is now accepting deposits for orders for a second batch of five cars, with an extensive schedule of circuit demonstrations in Europe and North America for prospective buyers.
Full specifications, eligibility details and project news can be found at www.lolaheritage.co.uk or www.lolacars.com, and interested parties are invited to contact project coordinator Glyn Jones.
Others to consider
Fab early Can-Am machine with real pedigree, styled by artist Michael Turner.
Beautiful Bolton-made machine is another racer set to become a ‘continuation car’.
T70 forerunner is now twice as pricey. Impeccable provenance and an era-defining race car.
Lola Heritage www.lolaheritage.co.uk 01480 451301
Simon Hadfield Racecar Restorations 01509 506054
Colin Blower Garages Ltd www.colinblower.co.uk 01455 632299
Cult Sports Cars www.cultsportscars.com +64 3 546 6667
John Starkey Cars www.johnstarkeycars.com (772) 384 1179