A Fullness of Lola

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Lola’s T70 was never really an ugly duckling, but in its metamorphosis from Mk III coupe to Mk IIIB it certainly became a most beautiful swan. It was one of the best-looking coupés ever.

They say that beauty is ageless, and this 20-year-old looks as good now as she did then. Just cast your eyes over the photographs. Imagine one in the middle of a modern Group C grid, and ask some 20-year-olds to identify the car which is as old as themselves . . .

1969 was a superb year for sports-racing fanatics. The World Championship was for 3-litre Group 6 prototypes and Group 4 sports-cars of 5 litres, or up to 2 litres, and Jackie Epstein’s superb management at Slough had got the Mk IIIB into the FIA ‘Group 4 category. “We lined up all the chassis, bucks and bodies we had in the backyard, and walked the rep past them on his may to a superb luncheon!” The only opposition to Lola at the start of the season were some ageing, but still fast and reliable, Ford GT40s.

In Britain, the RAC gave us a whole nine-race Group 4 championship. We were nearly overcome. Words cannot adequately describe the sight and sound of eight twitching and jostling Lola T70s hurtling towards you off the grid.

It needs a special collective noun. A “burbling” or “roaring” of Lola? That may describe the deep rumbling 5-litre Chevrolet sound but, as with a “pride” of lions, where their haughty beauty has a more lasting impact than their roar, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the sleek, curvaceous lines of this beautiful lady: perhaps a “fullness” of Lola?

Lola built sixteen Mk IIIB racers. Top names of the era drove them: Piper, Redman, Hobbs, Trevor Taylor, Bonnier, Norinder, Troberg, Müller, Morand, Prophet, Huhn, Craft, Attwood, and those dry humoured Aussies, laconic Frank Gardner and exclamatory Paul Hawkins. It was the tragedy of the year when Paul died at the wheel of his Lola in the Tourist Trophy at Oulton Park. He was sadly missed by fans and by the racing fraternity for a long time.

A first-time-out win at Daytona for the meticulously-prepared Penske car heralded a bright future for the IIIB coupé, which was never fully realised. It was this great opportunist year of 1969 that people remember most of the Lola — an incredibly fast and stable car, never far off the pace of the 2.2-litre Porsche 908 Prototypes, yet constantly let down by engine failure.

It was unfortunately the nature of the animal. Group 6 was for specially-designed and highly-stressed racing engines; Group 4 was for the stock-block. The American tuners Bartz and Traco knew how to extract the horsepower, but at a price — the price of reliability for all but sprint races.

The cars also suffered. For once Eric Broadley had pursued Colin Chapman’s theme of lightness, but, since the Lola sold to “impecunious” racers, not lightness by expensive alloys. Thus the early-season bumps of Daytona, Sebring and the Monza banking caused some suspension failures.

By mid-season Porsche was testing its new prototype monster, the 917. It also lined up 25 of them, so the 5-litre racing prototype became Group 4. Ferrari followed suit. The writing was on the wall for the T70.

But there had been five glorious years for the team at Slough. “Ah, the last truly great customer sports-car,” sighed the drivers. Still, hey presto, here they are again in Supersports. It is not now necessary to try to describe that glorious sound or that sleek, volcanic beauty. You can go and hear and see it for yourself! GJ

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