The archives with Doug Nye: October 2017

How Eric Broadley helped develop the Ford GT40… from behind the wheel – and why McLaren needs to send its Formula 1 cars for a respray

At the Goodwood Revival a special feature will commemorate the late, great Eric Broadley – creator of Lola Cars. His remarkably neat and compact Mark 6 GT, which became the taproot of the Ford GT programme, has been owned by American race mechanic/engineer/driver Allen Grant since the mid-1960s. He brought it to the Festival and it will reappear at the Revival. Through Allen I have fallen heir to a fantastically detailed confidential programme report, in this case issued to Carroll Shelby – compiled by chief engineer Roy Lunn of the Ford Division’s ‘Advanced Concepts Dept – Special Vehicle Activity – GT and Sports Car Project’.

It reviews the programme through the autumn of 1963 after specifying the ‘Program Objectives’ as being: “To design and develop a GT prototype vehicle from which could be derived a team of race cars. These vehicles should have the potential to win the major road races such as Le Mans and Sebring. To create a high-performance, two-seater sports car prototype that, if produced in low volume, would neutralise the Corvette image by substantially better performance and by surpassing it in style and feature appeal.”

No pressure there, then. The report details how: “It was decided to use a European source for the execution of the project and a survey of possible vendors was made. The program [sic] was approved on July 12, 1963, and a selection of the vendor made by the end of July, 1963. The Lola Car Company in England was chosen for two main reasons; Eric Broadley, who runs the company, had already built prototypes of a similar type GT using a Ford 289 CID engine; Mr Broadley was also receptive to working on the design with Ford engineers and to having the vehicle promoted as a Ford GT car.

“An arrangement was made with the Lola Car Company to procure two of its existing prototypes for use as component development vehicles. These two have been fitted with new suspension, engines and cooling systems of Ford origin in order to determine the ingredients for the final Ford GT design. Development testing at Brands Hatch, Goodwood, Monza and Snetterton started late in August and extended through to November…”

Drivers were original designer Broadley – he was very competent behind the wheel – Bruce McLaren and Roy Salvadori. Eric lapped the Brands Hatch club circuit in 59.5sec and Goodwood in 1min 35.8sec. After adjustments, Bruce’s Goodwood best was a 1min 25.8sec. At Monza Bruce’s posted a 1min 44.8sec against Salvadori’s lap record there in the Aston Martin Project 214, set just six weeks earlier during his famous battle with Michael Parkes’s works Ferrari 250 GTO, of 1min 43.5sec.

In November, Eric and Bruce tested the modified Lola GT again, this time at Snetterton. Interestingly, after a session in which Bruce’s best time was a 1min 43.3sec, Eric Broadley did a 37.3. This sparked Bruce into returning a 36.4. He then reported to his new Ford paymasters: “The steering was much improved over early trials; there was no tendency to deviate from a straight line, either under heavy braking at high speed, or when using the edge of the road before or after a corner. The car had been bump steering, but is not now, with just one provision. The fitting of the low rebound rate shock absorbers, which brought back a trace of this condition. The steering ratio still feels high (quick); only a movement of the wrists is necessary to correct a high-speed slide and it is difficult to do this accurately; the high-speed bend on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans would need only pressure on the steering wheel rather than movement. Although a lower gear ratio is essential for Le Mans, the present ratio could suit Sebring. With the lower ratio in mind, I would like to see the steering wheel kept as near vertical as it is now, or nearer, making it possible to make nearly a complete turn to the right, say, with the right hand. The damper improved the general feel. As the spring rate was increased, the car used less road and lap times improved; it was not as controllable or predictable, but the cornering speed was not then limited by what felt to be considerable body roll and slide.

“The increase in front spring rate did not generate any more understeer; the cornering attitude of the car became much more consistent, however. At no time has there been a strong understeer condition, and I would like to see a good deal of understeer as a possible setting for Le Mans; considerable time can be gained with an understeering car in the region of White House, Dunlop Bridge and Mulsanne Corner [by which he meant the kink on the Straight, not the 90-degree right-hander at the end] – all very fast corners… I think the highest-rate front and rear springs with the shock absorbers set at 1 or 2 from maximum, would be the optimum. At Snetterton during cornering, the rear wheels could be broken loose by full throttle application in third gear; this condition is one that has been improving steadily; at Goodwood during initial testing it was possible to put the car completely sideways with the same power application.

“At Snetterton on the exit from Coram Curve, the car would end up oversteering slightly on full throttle in third, and the fast left-hand curve before the main straight ended up in an oversteer if full throttle was used, such that it was necessary to back off” – and so on.

McLaren fully justified his reputation as a fine test and development driver, and his contribution to development of the Ford GT and GT40 series was immense. But Broadley was the ideas man, who could also drive a bit…

ALL McLAREN supporters have surely been pained by the team’s present F1 plight. Aesthetically the discomfort is shared for some by the ghastly livery combination of a particularly offensive shade of orange and black. When current regulations in any case make the competing cars look oversized and gormless, ‘The Show’ surely demands all the help it can get from attractive and tasteful liveries.

This was a factor that Bruce McLaren and his team’s co-owner Teddy Mayer appreciated in trend-setting style back in the mid-1960s. The original requirement, as Teddy once told me, was simply to ensure their cars stood out from the rest on television. Guess what? Apart from the USA, where in effect a pioneering – and poor – colour system had been launched in the 1950s, global TV was black-and-white. The 1965 Tasman Formula cars built by the new Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Team were painted white, with contrasting centreline stripes. They stood out perfectly on TV, but neither team principal learned the lesson. The earliest ‘Jolly Green Giant’ Cooper-Zerex-based sports car that Bruce campaigned in 1964 was finished in British Racing Green and white. Their prototype McLaren-Oldsmobile M1A sports car was then finished in New Zealand colours of black with a silver stripe. It proved successful but looked lost on screen.

It was Teddy who was most attuned to how the coverage looked. He was, after all, the sponsor finder. For 1965 the works McLaren sports cars emerged in brick-red. That was better – but it was still a rather flat and dull shade of red; no match whatsoever for Ferrari Rosso Corsa.

Then Teddy saw British private owner/driver Jackie Epstein’s Lola-Chevrolet T70: “It was painted in a bright yellow-orange papaya shade that would show up like a beacon on TV.” He and Bruce adopted that bright papaya and it became standard team livery on sports and F1 cars from the Can-Am-winning M6A of 1967.

The shade has passed into racing folklore as ‘McLaren orange’ and, forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t some marketeer at the modern team make a fuss about re-adopting ‘McLaren orange’? Well, I think the marketeers’ hue and saturation controls need recalibrating, as was demonstrated for all enthusiasts to see at the Goodwood Festival.

There in the McLaren enclave, in its dull, sad and demeaning orange and black, the current F1 car was parked adjacent to the successful original papaya – aka ‘orange’ – McLaren M8 Can-Am car. After a brief shower the sun came out as the clouds thinned – and where the M8 was concerned it was like switching on an electric arc light.

The papaya simply glowed – as Teddy and Bruce had intended way back when – declaring presence, majesty and emphatically demanding respect. Simultaneously the black-and-orange Formula 1 car sat there, unreflective, unremarkable – morose in its unreliable misery. I asked a friend whoever had been responsible for choosing such a combination in contrast to what the team’s towering history could have told them they already had. And the answer, to report it accurately, was “F***** if I know – horrible isn’t it?” About the only one of McLaren’s present problems that is curable instantly is its livery. Bruce and Teddy were bright boys. And so was their chosen colour…

Doug Nye is the UK’s most eminent motor racing historian and has been writing authoritatively about the sport since the 1960s