Just five years after their birth, Lola hit the Grand Prix trail, and took a debut pole. Paul Fearnley drives the Mk4 and explains why it didn’t lead on to better things in F1
What was the most impressive aspect of the 1962 Formula One season? This month’s cover story answers that, we hope: the starburst arrival of the monocoque Lotus 25.
Okay, what was the second-most impressive aspect? A tougher call, this one.
The ask-the-audience answer is BRM’s speed and consistency: Graham Hill’s four wins, two seconds and singleton point-less race (from nine starts) on his way to the first of two F1 titles.
Yes, but it had taken the Bourne marque more than a decade of trial and error to achieve this.
No, we believe the second-most impressive aspect of the 1962 season, a year that cemented British dominance, is unfairly overlooked.
As you will have read already, we hope, freethinking Eric Broadley’s neat prototype clubman’s gem had shimmered across Britain’s tracks just four years previously. And now his first GP car, the beautiful Mk4, was knocking on victory’s world championship door in its maiden season (winning at non-championship level), beating the might of Ferrari and Porsche.
Had it not been for a backmarker dawdling in the spray at the last comer — the crucial right before the long, undulating finishing straight — of an epic German Grand Prix, John Surtees might have guided the Mk4 to victory at the Niirburgring, instead of finishing second to Hill’s BRM. Think of it: low-key Lola, the design brains trust that has so often hid its light under others’ bushels since, winning first time out on the mighty Nordschleife. Unassuming Broadley was never going to shade the Flash ‘Arry genius of Colin Chapman, but such a memorable victory might have propelled his fledgling Fl team onto a different level, held its crucial constituent parts together.
But Heini Walter’s guerilla Ecurie Filipinetti four-cylinder Porsche 718 did lie in the mist And Hill did beat Surtees to a soggy chequered flag, by just over 2sec. And Lola’s season did fizzle out in a welter of retirements. And backers Bowmaker did withdraw support as a result And Surtees, his F1 education completed by an intense R&D year with Lola, did feel able, finally, to sign for Ferrari.
Instead, Tim Pamell and Bob Anderson ran the cars as part of privateer efforts during 1963, and scored 19 points less than in 1962 — i.e. none.
And instead, FoMoCo came a-calling at Lola’s Bromley base, wowed by free-thinking Broadley’s midengined GT racer, the GT40, née Mk6. Le Mans, Indianapolis and increasing customer demand, all of them far more lucrative than the Formula One of the period, thereafter blunted any GP aspirations Broadley held.
Truth be told, it had never been his be-all and end-all. Truth be told, it was near-neighbour and admirer Surtees who had kick-started Lola’s F1 programme; Broadley had been too busy fretting over his threadbare finances to consider it. After a season going nowhere in an off-the-peg second-string Cooper, though, Surtees knew his career needed new impetus, needed the benefit of a focused works effixt. By the summer of 1961, his intensity and drive had brought finance house Bowmaker, experienced principal Reg Parnell, and the Fluntested but indubitably talented Broadley together. And before the season was out, he would be sorting Lola’s F1 prototype.
The final piece of the puzzle was meant to be Coventry-Climax’s 90-degree V8 FWMV, which arrived just in time for the 1962 Dutch GP on May 20. Fitted with a four-cylinder Climax, Surtees’ Lola had regularly been best of the non-V8 rest in early-season `sighter’ races, sharing fastest lap with the date-with-destiny-bound Lotus 18/21 of Stirling Moss in Goodwood’s Glover Trophy. But the V8 was not the immediate panacea it had been hoped.
All looked well from the outside, Surtees planting the Mk4 on pole for its world championship debut. But, from within, he was unhappy with its unpredictable handling. The altered mountings demanded by the V8, and its extra power, had revealed too many spaces in the Mk4’s frame. There were other cracks in the veneer, too: only the official timekeepers had ‘spotted’ Surtees’ out-of-the-blue banzai lap; and Broadley had seen the future in a sand-blasted paddock the paradigm shift that was Chapman’s 25.
The race was a more accurate indicator, Surtees dropping to fourth at the start before skating off the road on lap nine at a 125mph-over-brow right, his progress arrested by some of John Hugenholtz’s newfangled catch-fencing and, beyond, a crumple zone of sit-up-and-beg bicycles so beloved of the Dutch.
The cause of the crash? The left-front wishbone had broken at the first time of full-tanks (26 gallons) asking. Lola had a lot to learn. But Lola had very little time.
The car was nicely engineered, Broadley going his own route on front suspension, long trailing arms transferring some loads back into the cockpit area it’s just that he had underestimated those loads. And others. This only became apparent at Spa.
The previous weekend, Surtees had won the 2000 Guineas F1 encounter at Mallory Park, leading the 75-lap Whitsun race from start to finish, despite the presence of Jim Clark’s 25 (an early retiree) and Jack Brabham’s stopgap customer spaceframe Lotus 24 (a distant second). Spa, though, was a daunting and wholly different matter: Surtees was struggling for consistent handling, and for a solution. The penny dropped, though, when a corner was jacked up so a new Dunlop R5 could be bolted on. The other three wheels stayed squarely on Spa’s terrafirma.
Which is why, from where I am sitting, ticking-over Climax vibromassaging my shoulders, all appears to be triangulated. Lola had flexed its muscles, stiffened its resolve, buttressing the cockpit area with a host of extra tubes which must be much stronger than their runny-custard hue suggests.
The proof of this pudding was the non-championship, but fullshot entry, Reims GP in July ’62. Surtees led comfortably. Until a valve spring broke at half-distance.
One week later, he was menacing in second, glued to Graham Hill’s tail, in Rouen’s French GP, when carburation problems sent him, fits and starts, into the pits on lap 14. He would eventually struggle home fifth, wedged permanently in fourth gear.
It was clear, though, that new boys Lola had, impressively, caught and overtaken Cooper, Porsche and the Lotus 24 on the development front. Only the purposeful 25 and powerful P57 lay between it and victory. But this proved a gap it could not breach.
At point-and-squirt Aintree, Surtees chased the laidback Clark for the entire 75 laps; at plunge-and-swoop Nurburging, it was a steely Hill (and leaden Walter) who thwarted him.
And that was as good as it got. Put simply, Lola was not at the front of overstretched Coventry-Climax’s queue (the company had yet to commit to the 1963 season); Clark was its number one man as he strove to beat Hill to the title. So, maddeningly, when Lola had had the power, it did not have the chassis; and now, when it had the chassis, it did not have the last edge of power, nor the first word in reliability.
Surtees was third in the updated Mk4A, battling tooth and claw with Richie Ginther’s BRM at Monza, both of them a good way behind leader Hill, when his Climax cried enough, on lap 42. He was running third, too, in South Africa, a long way behind the allencompassing tide showdown between Clark and Hill, when another Climax croaked, this time after 26 laps of East London. In between times, there was a 19th-lap terminal oil leak at Watkins Glen, a GP weekend coloured by a practice wreck triggered by a broken steering link. There was no catch-fencing or bicycles this time, just a big tree, and Surtees was lucky to escape with a jarred back. He would start the race from the rear of the grid in teammate Roy Salvadori’s car.
Surtees’ regular 1962 chassis, BRGP-42 (Bovvmaker Racing, Grand Prix, Mark 4, Chassis 2) was rebuilt, and raced, in Fl in 1963 by Maurice Trintignant (Monaco), Lucien Bianchi (Spa), John Campbell-Jones (Silverstone), Mike Hailwood (Solitude, Monza and Oulton Park) and Chris Amon And now, luckily for me, I’m plonked in its compact, but comfy cockpit.
Ahead lies a three-spoked, thin-rimmed, 13-inch steering wheel, and a matt-black dash, upon which are placed four unassuming white-on-black Smiths instruments (from left to right, oil temp, water temp, oil pressure and 12k rev-counter). To the latter’s right, arranged over and under, are a pair of metal toggle switches. Flick them from left to right, prod the throttle, stab the tiny black starter button, and the V8 crackles, then pops a bit, before snapping to a remarkably unfussy 1000rpm tick-over. Later four-valve, short stroke, fuel-injected, flat-plane-crank versions of this engine smoothed out its firing order, filled in the flat spots, and boosted its 180bhp by another 30, but all at the cost of this unit’s low-down user-friendliness. The Mk4’s custodian, Sid Hoole, explains that it will rev to nine and pull from three. He explains also that I should stick to seven, as this its first run since a rebuild.
He also explains that the twin-plate clutch (one of the car’s rare modem items, an AP replacing the Borg & Beck) is progressive, that the Colotti five-speeder (an earlier, sturdier Type 29 in place of the 1962-current 32) is precise and a delight, that the Girling brakes demand little more than saloon-car pressures.
He told no lie.
Snick the chrome lever back and across the polished gate into a dog-leg first, ease on 3000rpm, and the clutch bites no more sharply than my Clio Williams used to. The throttle is creamy moreoever, the brake firm without deadness, the gearchange silken, its lack of in-mesh metallic ‘clack’ causing visual double-checks to ensure all is secure before the throats of four downdraught Weber 38DCNLs can be cleared. Colotti got lots of criticism, but modem metallurgy means this is now a box of delights, not tricks.
The biggest surprise, however, is the lightness of the rack-andpinion steering. Its geometry has little or no caster which, when combined with the miniscule and unbending contact patches, provides a feel anybody familiar with well-weighted modem power steering (back to my old Clio again, sorry) would appreciate.
This is a car I could wrap up and take home. Resite the gearknob an inch or so further away, give me 20 or so laps, and I’d be hooked. It’s easy to see why Hoole loves it so. To stare down the barrel of that shapely RAF-blue, orange-tipped nose, 15-inch Dunlops towering above it, top-link-and-lower-wishbone front suspension knees-bending under braking, adjustable (24 clicks!) Armstrong dampers reacting, coping over the bumps, eager Climax providing a sirening backdrop to it all, is addictive.
Ah, but I’m not having to deal with a chassis that whipped like sand across Zandvoort, like rain across Spa. The building of these cars (four of them in total) was a huge undertaking for such a tiny concern, but it is perhaps more impressive that Lola developed it so capably during a hectic season: radically uprated spaceframe, new suspension geometry front and rear, one-off mag-alloy front uprights in place of the original Triumph Herald units. Small beer in today’s CAD-CAM world; a big deal when slide rule was king.
Phlegmatic Broadley is not a man given to regrets, but if we were to hold one for him, it should be this: to the uninitiated, i.e. the majority, a Red Ball Special won Indy in 1966, a Ford won Le Mans 1966-69, a Honda won.the ’68 Italian GP, and a Nissan won the IMSA series four years in a row during the ’80s; so it would be fitting, and right, to see a Lola, wearing a Lola badge, running under the Lola banner, i.e. clear to the uninitiated, prevail at the sport’s highest level. Had it not been for Chapman’s flash of inspiration, and BRM’s reward for all that perspiration, whatever Lola wanted, to bastardise the song, Lola would probably have got.
Unbelievably, however, 40 years later, she is still waiting.
Our thanks to Duncan Dayton, Sid Hoole, Peter Lawrence, VSCC and Lola Heritage for their help with this article