The Lola T70 sits among a pantheon of greats.
Almost 60 years on, the Lola T70 remains a highly sought, stunningly beautiful, iconic race car.
This exceptional machine is arguably one of the most attractive race cars ever produced. Its curves are flawless perfection. The guttural V8 gurgle of a Lola T70 still commands attention of the crowds when it rolls out onto a racetrack.
The Lola T70 gave small, privateer race car manufacturers hope against the factory giants of Ferrari, Ford and Porsche. It has a fascinating history and deserves to be held in high esteem.
Lola T70: A respected history
Eric Broadley founded UK-based manufacturer Lola in 1958. Broadley enjoyed success designing and building single-seater Formula cars before the Lola MK6 GT caught the attention of Ford.
Broadley was hired to work on Ford’s extensive GT40 project, which needed his expertise for a couple of years. However, Broadley yearned to design and build his own race cars. Finally, Ford agreed to release him.
Armed with deeper knowledge and experience of designing race cars, Broadley led Lola into a new era.
Together with the expert guidance of the legendary John Surtees, the driver who refined the T70 like no other, the duo would embark on an unforgettable motor racing journey.
The Lola T70’s history is what some might call a ‘proper’ motor racing history. Its insurmountable successes were shaped by gut-wrenching failures, some of which were almost fatal.
Lola’s initial T70 MKI model was first presented at the London Racing Car Show in January 1965. Tested extensively by Surtees, the MKI featured an aluminium tube and steel chassis. It carried a Chevy V8, encased in a fiberglass body.
The first iteration of the T70 remains highly sought in the modern day. Only 15 examples were produced and, when one does become available, they are usually snapped up. The MKI also featured in the 1966 Elvis Presley movie 'Spinout', and was tested by Hollywood actor and amateur racer Steve McQueen at Riverside.
A year later, in 1966, the Lola T70 MKII was built. With its mostly aluminium monocoque, the T70 MKII was lighter and quicker than its predecessor. It proved to be the most successful version of the T70. Denny Hulme racked up victory after victory in Europe and it was a sign of bigger things to come.
The Iconic British Racer
Tragedy almost struck in late 1965, however, when Surtees was involved in a near-fatal accident at Mosport racetrack in Ontario, Canada. Surtees was practising with the T70 MKII at the circuit when its suspension failed, causing a huge accident.
Surtees suffered catastrophic injuries and, all things considered, was lucky to come out of it alive. Fable has it his Lola chassis was buried beneath the crash site, where it remains today.
Remarkably, Surtees was back racing in a T70 MKII for the start of the 1966 Can-Am season. He won three out of six races to clinch the drivers’ championship for Team Surtees and Lola. The Lola T70 MKII dominated that season, winning five of the six races as Dan Gurney (All American Racers) and Mark Donohue (Roger Penske Racing) also tasted success.
But the success was swift: Surtees won just one Can-Am race the following season as McLaren’s entry with the M6A dwarfed everything in its path.
Amid the increased popularity of sports car racing in Europe, and increased competition, Lola responded with a newer, improved T70 MKIII and T70 MKIIIB in 1968. These models were more powerful and, thanks to the brilliant mind of Tony Southgate, had much better aerodynamics. The MKIIIB featured a full aluminium monocoque, as well as a 5-speed Hewland LG600 gearbox.
Lola T70: Time to move on
The MKIII and MKIIIB – the latter named to satisfy homologation requirements – enjoyed a fruitful spell in endurance racing. It included arguably the T70’s most famous victory, for Penske Racing at the 24 Hours of Daytona in early 1969.
However, the success of the Lola T70 would again be short lived. Homologation requirements were soon lowered, which allowed the more modern Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s to dominate. The T70’s big American engines were also prone to reliability issues in Europe, where a lower grade of fuel was used.
And when Lola experimented with other engines, it often ended in disaster. Ahead of Le Mans in 1967, Lola partnered with Aston Martin to fit the T70 with V8s. Testing (in the rain) yielded promising results, with Ford and Ferrari glancing curiously over their shoulders. However, even under Surtees’ stewardship, the T70 lasted just 25 laps in the race before retiring with engine failure.
Racing was moving on and, unfortunately, it meant the Lola T70 was left behind for a newer, lighter model in the T160.
Had circumstances been different, or had Porsche and Ferrari failed to create their own superstars, one could argue the Lola T70 would have dominated further.
Making a comeback
But there is no argument in saying the Lola T70 remains a hugely iconic race car from a bygone era of racing.
So much so, that in the late 1990s, Lola recognized the importance of the T70 and how they were still revered and loved in the modern day. The British marque decided to make a continuation of the MKIIIB series, using original tooling and specifications from its initial launch.
Only eight examples of the continuation were produced, like this one found on the Racing Edge Paddock, before Lola's demise in 2012. The complexity of building accurate continuation cars means they are often made in small numbers, making them exclusively rare. But they were so accurate, in fact, that they were immediately accepted to compete in the strictest of FIA-sanctioned historic events.
The Lola T70 remains a racing classic. To own one, visit the Racing Edge Paddock and Inquire today.