Too Many Projects

The Americans wanted open roadsters for their sports-car series, but with Group 7 deleted, Europe needed a Group 4 sports coupe. Jackie Epstein wanted a replacement for his ageing Ferrari 250 LM. With his Lola T70 experience in the 1966 CanAm Championship, he asked Eric Broadley to build him a coupé based on the T70 but, remembering Hawkins fiip at Mosport, he specified “it must have a front end that is easily replaceable”! Aston Martin wanted a chassis which could take its new 5-litre V8 to Le Mans. During 1966 it had been using the second Team Surtees Mark II for testing, and by August was well pleased with the results.

Broadley gave everybody everything they wanted, by developing the 1966 Mark II into the Mark III.

Still a light alloy and steel monocoque, the new car had the same wheelbase, but with a track 4in wider at 4ft 10in. Suspension was by double wishbones on self-aligning roller bearing and ball joints, with telescopic shock-absorbers and coaxial coil-spring units. Wheels were still 15in, but rims were 8in front and 10in rear, with Girling-designed 12.1/2in diameter ventilated discs with light-alloy calipers.

Both open and coupé bodies were available for the same chassis. The bodies were self-coloured carbon filament-reinforced glass-fibre by Specialised Mouldings. The sleek coupé, styled by a young New Zealander named Jim Clark, was the talk of the world’s motoring press. A wind tunnel had been used to develop the low-drag body, and the doors were gullwing, to avoid the GT40 problem of doors lifting at high speed. Low-drag bodies have low pressure at their surface, and efficient driver cooling by ram air effect will naturally create a pressure in the cabin higher than that outside. As requested, front and rear bodywork was, to quote the Lola T70 brochure, “quickly removeable”.

During 1967, thirteen Mark III spyders were shipped to the States, and ten coupés were built. The first coupé, chassis SL73/101 was recorded as completed on November 2, 1966, fitted with a 5.5-litre (333ci) V8 Chevrolet.

The car was a wow at the January 1967 Racing Car Show, resplendent in dark green with a longitudinal white stripe. However, Surtees and Hobbs were soon testing the car with the Aston Martin engine, now designated Project 218. Surtees ran successful 12- and 14-hour trials at Goodwood, whilst Hobbs lapped Silverstone in 1min 27sec — not far off the Formula One time. The only modification was to change the four-speed Hewland LG500 with the first five-speed LG600 gearbox. Aston Martin, Lola and Surtees struck a deal for Le Mans.

Surtees and Hobbs took the car to the Sarthe circuit for the April test weekend. Still painted a very dark green, but now with the Team Surtees white arrow edged with red, the car showed promise. It was third fastest at 3min 31.9sec, only six seconds behind the race-proven Ferrari P4 of Bandini and ahead of both the Donohue Ford GT40 MKIIB and McLaren’s Ford MK IV.

The disappointment was the engine. With the fuel-injection system not yet ready, the unit would not exceed 6000 rpm on carbs, and Surtees was only pulling 185mph down the Mulsanne straight, at least 10mph slower than both Ferraris and Fords. The third-place time, however, proved yet again the excellent Lola handling. Sunday was wet, and Surtees underlined the handling, by setting fastest time at 3min 37.8sec, nearly seven seconds faster than the next car, Scarfiotti’s P3/4 Ferrari.

At the Nurburgring on May 28, the Aston-engined car, running as a Group 6 Prototype, was second in practice, 8 sec behind Mike Spence in the 2F Chaparral, 2 sec ahead of Siffert’s Porsche, 20 sec ahead of Ickx in the Group 6 Gulf Mirage, and over 30 sec ahead of the best Ford GT40.

The practice promise was short-lived. After a stalled start, Big John had charged through the field to seventh place by lap 7, only to have a rear wishbone break as he dived down into the Fuchsrohre swerves flat in fifth. With the rear wheel jammed up under the wheel arch, spectators gasped as Surtees fought the car to a standstill, and a lucky escape.

At Le Mans, chassis 101 was given to Chris Irwin and South African Peter de Klerk, with Surtees and Hobbs in a new car. In an attempt to increase speed down the Mulsanne straight, Lola had fitted a smooth rear deck with an adjustable full-width spoiler to the new car. The engines now had fuel injection, and were looked after by Aston Martin mechanics.

Practice was fraught with head-gasket trouble, and Lola mechanics, detailed only to look after the chassis, claimed that they had found the ignition timing to be 180° out of phase. Mutterings became open bickering between the two camps, heightened when Surtees fitted Marchal spark plugs under a bonus agreement.

Surtees was in seventh place when he retired on lap three with a holed piston. Chris Irwin retired the second car, after 45 minutes and several pitstops, when a crankshaft damper cracked. Sadly, there were recriminations all round, and the project folded. Undoubtedly, the real problem was the minimal budget which both sides agreed denied them the necessary development time.

Across the Atlantic the Lola T70 story was racing from success to success. The popularity of the 1966 CanAm Championship had prompted sponsors to put up over $150,000 for the eight-race USRRC series. Amongst full fields of McLarens and Lolas, it was Penske Sunoco Lola time. Mark Donohue won six of the seven races he entered, was third in the other, and took five fastest race and lap records. But the USRRC races had just been an appetiser; the next race started the 1967 CanAm Championship, with $500,000 to be won.

Broadley was very busy in 1967 with the Lola Indycar project, the F2 Lola-BMWs, the Aston Martin GT project, the customer GT cars, and the Surtees F1 Honda project — but he did his usual development update on the T70.

The Mark III design was used to build an ultra-light alloy tub. The suspension was redesigned to take 9in front and 12in rear tyres, and the nose was streamlined even more. The weight saving was significant; a good 100lb less than the standard Mark III, bringing the weight into line with the 1375 lb M6A. These new spyders for Penske, Gurney and Team Surtees were designated Type 70 Mark IIIB, with chassis plates numbered SL75/122-125. Because of the many projects Lola was running, no development testing was done.

Race one was at Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Surprise, surprise, McLaren and Hulme filled the front row of the grid — but, to the shock of the USRRC boys, by ten seconds under the two-month-old USRRC lap record! Next up was Gurney in his new Lola MB, followed by Follmer, who had joined Penske to run Donohue’s USRRC winning Mark III. Then came Donohue (IIIB), Charlie Parsons (Simoniz Wax McLaren Mark 3A), Surtees (IIIB), Peter Revson (Mark III Lola) and Jim Hall in his new Chaparral 2G.

Despite the lack of testing, the Lola IIIBs set off well. McLaren and Gurney retired, leaving Surtees and Donohue trailing Hulme. Five laps from the end, Cordt’s McLaren blew its engine in front of Surtees, who spun; this allowed Donohue through into second place, but 93 seconds behind a cruising Hulme, who earned $12,500 plus bonuses. The writing was on the wall; it was the beginning of the McLaren steamroller.

Round two was at Bridgehampton on Long Island. Even Ferrari had been enticed by the sound of crisp dollar bills and, financed by Nevada gambling millionaire Bill Harrah, had sent over a P4 spyder powered by the proven 480bhp 36-valve V12; but at 1450 lb, even without a roof, the cars would prove too heavy to provide a challenge to a 6-litre Chevy in a 1350 lb McLaren.

Hurricane Doria came close on Saturday and disturbed practice. New Zealander Ross Greenville dared to go out, was blown off the track and wrecked his Lola. When the winds subsided, ten cars got under the month-old USRRC lap record! The grid read Hulme, McLaren, Gurney, Hall, Follmer. The race finished Hulme, McLaren (add $20,000), Follmer and Surtees.

To Mosport, Canada for round three, where Gurney, fed up with fuel injection problems, had reverted to carbs. There always seem to be crashes up in Canada. The Ferrari crashed, the McKee crashed, and both Penske cars crashed, Donohue bending the tub. Hard luck, smiled the opposition, but they ignored Penske efficiency. Penske sent a truck from Philadelphia on a 12-hour drive with a new tail section, whilst he flew to Indianapolis to borrow side-panels and seat sections for the tub. By 10am the next day, both Penske cars were back on the track ready to race — including a respray!

Just before race time the McLaren crew noticed a fuel leak. Hooray, cheered the opposition. But another efficient crew demonstrated its teamwork, putting in a new fuel-cell bladder and 50 gallons in 35 minutes, to have McLaren join the fray at the back of the field just 42 seconds after the start. By lap 9 he was thirteenth, by lap 14 seventh, by lap 43 third, and on lap 66 took second place behind his team-mate (clink, clink: add $22,000). Winner Hulme’s fastest race lap of 1min 20.7sec compared embarrassingly with Jim Clark’s Canadian Grand Prix pole time of 1min 22.4sec only one month earlier!

At Monterey, round four, Surtees gave up struggling with the IIIB and brought an ordinary Mark III, and Parnelli Jones turned up with the Bignotti lndy Ford Lola. There were two 5-litre P4 Ferraris for Amon and Jonathan Williams, and Sam Posey brought the second Caldwell D7, sans wing, having destroyed the first car in a testing crash. Gurney split the McLaren twins on the grid, and Jones further pleased Ford by taking fourth slot.

Gurney snatched an early lead, but Ford faces fell when the Weslake ran dry, and the Indy engine boiled its fuel. Donohue blew his engine, Revson ran out of brakes and into a wall, and Surtees tried to squeeze past Lothar Motschenbacher at the wrong corner and put out both Lolas. Hayes crashed the McKee again, and Parsons and Posey went out with overheating. Only nine cars finished out of 31 starters! It finished McLaren (add $13,500), Follmer, Bud Morely (Lola), Amon and Bill Eve (Lola).

At Riverside, Ford faces lifted again with Gurney on pole, followed by McLaren, Hulme, Hall, Andretti in the Honker II, and Jones in the Lola Indy Ford. Shelby’s bright yellow King Cobra arrived, and so bad was the handling that Jerry Titus was probably relieved that it lasted only three laps. The finishing order this time was McLaren (add $20,000), Hall, Donohue, Jones, Mike Spence in an old McLaren, and Follmer.

Surtees was really fed up by now. He sent the Mark III back, and talked new Lola concessionaire Carl Haas into bringing the 1966 winning Mark II out of his showroom for the last round at Las Vegas. They fitted the wide 1967 wheels, the new LG600 gearbox, and qualified tenth in a 27-car field.

McLaren blew his engine at the end of warm-up, and Hulme led off, but pitted when he ran over some lap one accident debris. Parnelli Jones inherited the lead until his gear lever broke off; Hall then led until his engine blew. Donohue now had the lead, chased by Surtees. At the start of the last lap, Donohue had a 12-second lead, but was missing second, third and fifth gears; Surtees was only missing second and third. In the last quarter-mile Donohue ran out of fuel and Surtees took the chequered flag, third place in the series, and $27,000.

McLaren and Hulme were first and second in the championship, and won about $110,000 between them. The Penske drivers were fourth and sixth at $40,000; Jim Hall fifth with $21,000, and Mike Spence equal-sixth with $16,000 — another successful and profitable CanAm. As race director Stirling Moss said: “These Group 7 cars were undoubtedly novv the fastest racing machines in the world, and had proved a superb spectacle for many thousands of race-goers.”

Meanwhile, back across the pond, the GT car had been showing early success. Jackie Epstein came fourth at Spa in a car collected from the factory the day before practice. Rosqvist was cleaning up the Swedish sports-car races, assisted by Jo Bonnier who had bought Le Mans car No 101. The Sid Taylor/Denny Hulme and Mike d’Udy cars were taking the awards on the British scene. Epstein followed Spa with a Euro-tour, taking in the Targa Florio, the Reims 12-Hours and the Norisring race, before shipping the car out to Australia for the spring series.

After a second place at the big Surfers Paradise race, Epstein sold the car to co-driver Paul Hawkins. Paul won all his Aussie dub races, painted the car his favourite red, and sent it to South Africa for the Springbok series. Plagued with oil surge, Paul came only second in the Kyalami Nine Hours. After converting the engine to dry sump, he won the Lourenco Marques and both Capetown races, and achieved a second at Pietermaritzburg.

The seven racing T70 GTs had taken fourteen wins, six seconds, one third and four fourths in the first year. Eric Broadley’s concept of gradual development, attention to detail, driver comfort and ease of maintenance, rather than total redesign each year, is what has made his cars so successful and so eminently saleable. GJ

(Part Four next month)