Great racing cars: 1966-70 Lola T70



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

To buy the lead image click here.

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1966-70 Lola T70

Martin Birrane
Former racer, owner of Lola Cars from 1997-2012

The Lola T70 is one of the few cars that can stop me in my tracks. It was one of the reasons why I love Lola so much and, indirectly, it was probably one of the reasons why I let my heart rule my head when I bought Lola in 1997.

I remember the sound most of all, that big 5-litre Chevy. I remember being at Brands Hatch spectating in 1968 and seeing them come over the brow of Paddock Hill Bend. There seemed to be all colours of the rainbow coming toward me: yellow T70s, white, red, green… There was the Jo Bonnier car, Sid Taylor’s and Jackie Epstein’s. Glorious.

The noise they made on the downshift and the way they went through Paddock Hill Bend was just electrifying! I still own two of the Can-Am cars and have owned MkIIIBs as well in the past.

What sets them apart from other great sports-prototypes is their enduring beauty. That is a massive credit to Eric Broadley, who in my mind was an engineering genius. The sad thing was that the engines that were available, the Chevys and the Fords, just were not reliable enough for long races. I know Roger Penske managed to finish the Daytona 24 Hours and win it in 1969, but they were walking wounded, really.

To drive a T70 is exhilarating. They are light, they have relatively little downforce, they are beautiful cars to drive on the throttle. You could throw them into a corner and you could bring them back easily. They were thrilling cars to drive as well as to watch, so they tick all of the boxes for me.

In particular they had a timeless quality and you can go to the Silverstone Classic these days and see a good dozen of them racing year after year. They still thrill the fans because of their look and sound. That a car designed in the early 1960s is still racing hard now is a huge tribute to Eric Broadley and his vision. For me to have the chance of seeing them as a spectator, to race one as a driver, to own one as an enthusiast and to have also overseen an official continuation series makes me feel very fortunate.

Beauty in the eye of any beholder
But the Lola T70 only enjoyed limited success on the international stage, says Richard Heseltine

Point of view is the crux. It’s quite simple really; the Lola T70 is the most beautiful sports-racing car ever made. Period. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, of course, quite wrong. Save perhaps the Chevron B16, nothing comes close to invoking such an intense case of puppy love on initial contact. This is how racing cars should look; muscular, curvaceous and captivating. None of that slab-of-side, geometric nonsense thank you. Here was a car conceived with little more than a vivid imagination, a slide rule and an HB pencil. One that remains the most fêted Lola product amid a back catalogue that covers half a century.

Thing is, for all its gorgeousness, presence and whatnot, the T70 never was a particularly successful racing car. Not really, not for its intended purpose as an international player, anyway.

First came the Group 7 T70 Spider. “It was a good design,” recalls the prolific Tony Southgate, whose résumé includes Grand Prix, Le Mans and Indy 500 winners. “I was effectively Eric Broadley’s right-hand man,” he recalls. “He would produce the concept and suspension geometry and I would fill in the rest with some sound engineering, although Mike Smith did the doors. I hated doing doors.”

Though never assigned any credit, the sensational T70 outline was largely the work of Specialised Moulding’s Jim Clark. The former architect and Lotus man (he penned the Elan FHC and the 30 sports-racer in part), had left his native New Zealand to design cars in Europe because “I didn’t want to spend all my time doing pig pens… We did all sorts of stuff at SM including the Chevron B16 and McLaren M6GT.” The resemblance between all three cars is obvious.

With 1964 Formula 1 world champion John Surtees acting as marque talisman aboard his Team Surtees entry, the T70 proved an instant winner, ‘Il Grande John’ scorching his way to the 1966 US Road Racing Championship. But more was to come, the classic coupé edition taking a bow at the January 1967 Racing Car Show at Olympia.

Essential info: Lola T70

Notable entrants: Surtees, Jo Bonnier
Notable drivers: John Surtees, Mark Donohue, Dan Gurney, Brian Redman, David Hobbs, Paul Hawkins, Walt Hansgen… and many more.
Debut: 1965 Sebring 12 Hours
Achievements: 7 wins, 8 poles (WSC & Can-Am)
Constructors’ Championships: 0.
Drivers’ Championships: 1 (Can-Am 1966)

The first customer car was delivered to Jackie Epstein, who gave the model its debut in that year’s Spa 1000Kms. Sharing with Paul Hawkins, he finished a respectable fourth overall, despite having to run in the top-flight Group 6 class rather than Group 4 as the car had yet to be homologated. Then came the Nürburgring 1000Kms, the works Aston-engined T70 of Surtees and David Hobbs qualifying second behind the Phil Hill/Mike Spence Chaparral, only to retire early on with suspension bothers. Come Le Mans and the two Aston Martin-powered factory cars embarrassingly fell out early on: Surtees and Hobbs retired after just three laps with piston failure, the Chris Irwin/Peter de Klerk sister car following suit just 22 tours later with crankshaft maladies.

For the rest of the ’67 season, works and privateer entries — with Chevy power — proved competitive if only in sprint races. Into 1968 and engine displacement was capped at five litres by governing body the CSI: the 327cu in Chevy cranked out 5354cc so engine specialist Jim Travers of Traco Engineering developed a shortstroke 304.6in version. Even so, few Group 4-homologated T70s ever raced seriously in the World Championship of Makes. Sixth in the BOAC 500 for Jo Bonnier and Sten Axelsson was the best placing for the model that season. At national level, however, it proved invincible, winning every Group 4 race.

For the following year, Lola introduced the MkIIIB with a new all-ally monocoque that owed its architecture — if only in part — to the T160 Can-Am car. Outwardly identifiable by its single pair of headlights, and forward-hinged doors, the latest strain was, and remains, a work of singular beauty.

And Lola picked up from where it had left off in Blighty, winning seven out of eight British GT races in 1969, but it still fell some way short of expectation on the world stage with the exception of Team Penske’s victory in the Daytona 24 Hours. The Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons-driven entry won largely by stealth after faster rivals broke; to finish first, you must first finish and all that.

Taken from the January 2009 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here

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