I do seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest! In your last issue, John Surtees and Brian Joscelyne of AMOC wrote on the subject of these cars and I should like to reply.
First of all, Brian Joscelyne asks how come there are now three Lola Astons in existence today when only two were made by the factory?
The answer is really quite simple. SL73/101, the first Lola T70 coupe built in 1967, has had a clear, if not straightforward, history since it was built and this is recounted in my article on the Lola-Astons.
SL73/121 was the car raced at Le Mans in 1967 by John Surtees and David Hobbs. After that debacle, Surtees installed a 5.9-litre Chevrolet and he and Hobbs entered the Reims 12hr race, holding second place until retiring; at the BOAC 500 Surtees took the lap record before retiring, and Hobbs entered the Wills Trophy at Croft and won the second heat. The car was then sold to Jackie Epstein and its history is as recorded in my article.
The OTHER SL73/121 is a genuine Lola T70 (chassis number unknown), which came from Sweden to England in the late ’70s or early ’80s. The car was rebuilt here in England as a Lola-Aston and numbered as SL73/121. It was then sold to Jim Freeman of America, the Chairman of AMOC (Eastern division), who raced it very successfully over several seasons before, I hear, selling the car to Japan.
In conclusion, you imagine my surprise upon discovering 121 to be still in England after 25-odd years tucked away. It does make one wonder just how many other motoring gems are still around somewhere. Now, if only I could find the remains of one of those wonderful old aero-engined Brooklands cars…
Turning to John Surtees’ points: First of all, most of my account of the career of the Lola-Astons came from contemporary accounts in MOTOR SPORT or Autosport, plus lengthy interviews with Jackie Epstein, and with Denny Hulme before his untimely death. It was MOTOR SPORT which recorded the Marchal plugs episode, and Jackie Epstein, Paul Hawkins’ co-driver, told me of their especially high gear at Reims and recorded it as his impression that Surtees’ crankshaft broke, as did Denny Hulme who was sharing Sid Taylor’s T70 with Frank Gardner. Wrong! — so, sorry, Mr Surtees.
John Surtees goes on to point out that the faults of the engine were down to the manufacturer, and one can draw no other conclusion. The Lola-Astons were a valiant effort for Britain and it is a pity they did not succeed. I certainly have never looked at the project through rosecoloured spectacles. Something which has not been mentioned, however, is the effect that the fuel which the circuit operators provided for the long distance races such as Le Mans and Reims would have had on the high compression (12:1) Chevrolet V8 engines racing at that time. High octane (up to 112 RON) fuel was used in these engines in their homeland; with their iron heads, the lower octane European fuel must have accounted for an awful lot of the failures of these engines in Lola T70s in international events. Other high performance sports-racing engines, even Ferraris, rarely ran compression ratios of more than 10.1 and therefore risked less damage due to detonation. Not an excuse for the Lolas, merely observation!
John Starkey, Bentley, Warwickshire.