Lola T70: The rise and fall of a legend

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The year 1966 saw Lola Cars achieve the greatest success in their eight year history. The T70 Group 7 car achieved a dominant victory in the inaugural Can-Am series courtesy of John Surtees, while Graham Hill scooped the Indianapolis 500 in a Red Ball Special, nee Lola T80. Little surprise, perhaps that Eric Broadley chose in 1967 to spread Lola’s wings yet wider and build a car to compete with Ferrari, Ford and Porsche in the Group 6 Endurance Championship. The result was the T70 Mk III effectively a Can-Am car with a roof and on paper a match for the best from Maranello, Dearborn or Stuttgart. The high, flat rear deck with a rear lip spoiler eschewed the conventional wisdom of a gentle slope down at the rear (as on the Ford Mk IV). And while this created more drag (it’s Cd of 0.47 compared poorly to 0.35 of the slippery Ford) it generated three times the downforce. The T70 Coupe was the first Lola design to benefit from wind tunnel work (with the help of Tony Southgate) and the result not only looked fabulous, it proved to be a well balanced car with fine handling and excellent roadholding.

Lola offered the Coupe with Chevrolet engines of between 5.5 and 6.0 litres thereby ensuring a powerful (460 bhp), lightly-stressed and, therefore, presumably reliable car for privateers to race in the great classic at the Nurburgring, Targa Florio and Le Mans on a modest budget.

Looking for the ‘unfair advantage’ Surtees created a works team using a 5.0litre, quad cam Aston Martin engine in a T73 Coupe. It made an encouraging debut at the Le Mans test with third fastest time and ran seventh at the Nurburgring 1000kms before the suspension collapsed. However, the two cars entered at Le Mans for Surtees/Hobbs and Irwin/de Klerk retired within four hours, bringing an end to the Newport Pagnell connection.

By contrast the Chevy-powered T70’s were quick and should have been reliable. However, apart from a strong fourth at Spa for Paul Hawkins and Jackie Epstein, niggling problems prevented Lola from finishing any of the classic events despite drivers of the calibre of Brabham, Hulme, Surtees and Gardner. However in lesser events such as the Norisring, the Cape 3 hours and Villa Real in Portugal, not to mention a host of British national events, the T70 MkIll was king.

Lola’s master plan was to homologate the coupe in Group 4 to face the Ford GT40 and Ferrari 250LM which should have made it an easy winner. This required 50 examples to be produced and by mid 1967 this target had been reached when T70 Spyders were taken into account. However the CSI then the officiating body demanded that the 50 cars should all be coupes so Broadley capitulated and geared up to produce 50 5.4 litre T70 Coupes. The bombshell from the CSI followed almost immediately.

A mere six months before the 1968 season, the governing body announced that Group 6 would be for 3 litre prototypes and Group 4 for 50-off production cars with a 5-litre limit. Lola faced financial ruin. Eventually, and in view of Lola’s special circumstances, the CSI allowed homologation of the Mk III as a 5-litre Chevrolet-powered 800kg Group 4 car for 1968 and the T70 struggled through the year with little but national success on its end-of-term report.

Much relieved, Broadley developed a lighter Mk IIIB version of the T70 for 1969, the car featuring conventional doors (not gullwings) and an aggressive ‘droop-snoot’ front. Powered by a Traco Chevrolet engine this was the definitive Lola T70 and examples were bought by Roger Penske for Mark Donohue, Jo Bonnier, David Piper, Team Elite, Sid Taylor, Scuderia Filipinetti and Paul Hawkins. The season started well when Donohue and Chuck Parsons piloted the battered Penske car to victory in the Daytona 24 hours (perhaps the T70’s most memorable success) but that was where the international victories stopped.

The roll call in British Group 4 races was more impressive; Hulme won at Silverstone and Thruxton, Hawkins at Snetterton, Craft at Croft and Silverstone, Redman at Thruxton and Trevor Taylor in the TT at Oulton Park where, sadly, a fiery accident claimed the life of T70 stalwart, Hawkins. Abroad the Lola ran rampant, winning at Dijon, Montlhery, Karlskoga, Innsbruck and claiming four of the five South African Springbok series.

Although the T70 was achieving good results, the signs of its demise emerged in 1969 when Porsche raced its monstrous 917. No-one, and least of all the CSI, believed any manufacturer would build fifty 5.0-litre racing prototypes yet Porsche did and Ferrari were soon to follow. The days of Lola’s big banger had passed. Chris Willows