20 January 2017

Lola T70: The Racing History

“Well, it’s just a gorgeous car. Any angle you look at it, it’s just great. And it’s the same to drive. No vices.” Auspicious words indeed, uttered by Bob Akin in the ‘80s, many years after the Lola T70 had first gone in to production; a testament perhaps to the car’s place in racing history as a timeless classic.

From very humble beginnings on a trading estate in Slough, the Lola T70 went on to become one of the greatest racing cars of all time, with a very interesting history to match. The car was raced by many of the stars of stars of sports car racing: from Graham Hill, John Surtees and Bruce McLaren to Denny Hulme and Brian Redman,

Eric Broadley established the Lola marque in 1958 and, other than a short break (when he was contracted to build cars for Ford), the company created racing cars for over 50 years. The Lola T70 was first displayed at the 1965 Racing Car Show in London, and it made an immediate impact. John Surtees had gone in to partnership with Lola to form Team Surtees, and the very first car - SL70/1 - went to him. In initial testing at the car beat established Formula 1 performance records, and promoters were reportedly concerned that fans would start deserting F1 to watch Group 7/9 cars instead. By the end of the ’66 season, the Lola T70 owned outright lap records at no less than seven British race circuits.

In July 1966, the Royal Automobile Club announced the end of Group 7/9 racing in the hope of encouraging Formula 2 racing instead. This wasn’t a major issue for the drivers, who followed the cars to the US and South Africa, but Lola had to adapt the car so that it could compete in other sports car racing.

Throughout the ‘60s race cars were improving all the time, alongside the technological advancements of the day. The body shape of the T70 changed as it was tested in a wind tunnel for improved aerodynamics. The resultant coupe body shape gave the GT40 some well-needed competition in the late 60’s. As Autosport put it: “What does it feel like to recline in an upside-down goldfish-bowl of a vehicle weighing a shade over 17.5cwt with the option of 418bhp at the end of a length of a throttle cable?” I, for one, would love to find out!

The cars raced at Le Mans in 1968 under unusual circumstances. The race was held in the September due to student unrest in France throughout that summer. 1968 also saw the tables turned as the new T160 was missing out to the faster McLaren.

The Lola’s didn’t miss out on the glamour attached to racing in the 1960s either. Engineer and driver Ron Bennet owned a night club in the Midlands called ‘The Steering Wheel Club’. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall there for just one evening! The T70 also featured in many of Steve McQueen’s films like Race of the Champion and Le Mans, possibly the best racing film ever made.

In more recent years, the parts on cars have been swapped around, providing a headache for the historian, enthusiast and owner. Lola themselves have considered once or twice building new T70s but the FIA stipulated they would not be allowed in to historic competition and the idea was shelved. In the US, FIA papers are not required for historic racing, so many T70s have found their way to the States.

The Lola T70’s history is explored in detail in a new edition just published by Veloce. Lola T70 – The Racing History and Individual Chassis Record is full of technical detail, engaging images and photographs as well as cut-away drawings. The book contains copies of data sheets from various cars and races, giving a real feel of the model’s history and progress through the decades. The generosity of the contributors allows the reader to get a real feel for the true spirit of motorsport and racing in the 1960s and beyond.

Part of Veloce’s Classic Reprint series, the book covers several racing seasons in great detail, race by race. It also has a complete history and record of each individual T70, T160 and T165 chassis, recently updated in this edition, demonstrating the author John Starkey’s dedication to the marque. He and his many contributors have complied what must be the most complete history of the T70 ever published.

Lola T70 – The Racing History and Individual Chassis Record by John Starkey, ISBN 978 1 787110-51-9, is published by Veloce Publishing and available to order from all good book shops or the publisher: www.veloce.co.uk

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