|Lola T70 Mk3B Coupe Chevrolet|
Eric Broadley's Lola specialized in building small displacement sports cars and single seaters, before stepping up to the virtually no-limit Group 6 class with the V8-engined Mk VI GT in 1963. The mid-engined machine featured a state of the art monocoque chassis and a Ford Fairlane V8. It grabbed the attention of Ford in Detroit and shortly after Broadley was deeply involved in what would later become the GT40. He did not stay long as he felt the Detroit design brief included too many compromises to make the GT40 a success on the track. Broadley again focused on the production of the familiar smaller cars, still using a spaceframe design.
It did not take long for Broadley to be tempted to build a large displacement sportscar again. This time his eye was on the American racing scene, where no-limit Group 7 cars were raced in a very lucrative championship. With the arrival of the mid-engined layout and the more advanced chassis designs, it had become virtually impossible for entrants to build a racing car in their backyard, so the demand for customer sports cars grew rapidly. One of the first to acknowledge this was Bruce McLaren as he licensed his M1 Group 7 car to Elva for production. Lola quickly followed suit with the T70 introduced in 1965.
Designed to take any American V8 engine, the T70 featured a monocoque chassis constructed of a mix of aluminium and steel for additional reinforcement. The suspension was very conventional by double wishbones and coil springs over dampers. Somewhat more unusual was the location of the front brakes, just outside of the wheels. This was done to provide sufficient amounts of cool air to the discs. The package was topped off by a sleek fiberglass spyder body, designed to meet the class' only requirement; an open top body.
One of the first people to campaign a T70 Spyder was 1964 F1 World Champion John Surtees and his effort served as a semi-Works team. Powered by a Chevrolet engine growing gradually in size from 5 to 5.9 litre and 550 bhp, Surtees was immediately successful. For 1966 several chassis modifications were carried through to form the T70 Mk2. With this car, Surtees scored wins in three of the six rounds of the newly formed Can-Am challenge and at the end of the season he was crowned champion. His performance inspired many privateers to buy the relatively cheap Lola / Chevrolet package to take a stab at Group 7 and Can-Am.
With the Spyder such a big hit, Broadley saw an opportunity to homologate the Chevrolet engined machine for Group 4, which required a production minimum of 50 cars. At the end of 1966 over 40 cars were completed and the homologation loomed for 1967. To be eligible for Group 4, several modifications were required, the biggest being the installation of a roof and a windscreen. Obviously a completely new body was required and with the help of Tony Southgate and a wind-tunnel, Broadley created a highly effective shape. Up to that point the minimizing drag and lift was the biggest concern, but thanks to its high tail, the T70 Mk3 Coupe actually created considerable downforce. This made the new Lola very stable, even at high speeds.
With the new Coupe body, Lola offered a two for one machine, which could be raced as a Group 7 Spyder and a Group 4 Coupe, powered by the six litre version of the small-block V8. In the latter configuration, it predominantly faced the Ford GT40, which was by then also built in sufficient number for Group 4. Aston Martin was also interested in the T70 Coupe for a renewed attack at Le Mans with a twin-cam V8 engine that was under development. Not built in sufficient numbers, like the Chevrolet T70, the Aston engined machine was forced to run in the Group 6 class against the latest Ferraris and Fords. The Aston effort proved a big failure as the V8 was severely underpowered and equally unreliable. A very early retirement from Le Mans also meant the premature end of the program. Sadly it remained the only manufacturer interest in the T70.
Soon after that devastating 1967 Le Mans race, Lola received more bad news as the sport's governing body (CSI) announced that the 'Group 6' prototype class would be restricted to 3 litre and the 'Group 4' sportscar class to 5 litre. This pretty much rendered the T70 Coupe useless for 1968 and the company could look forward to many cancelled orders. Fortunately the CSI showed some leniency and allowed the T70 into Group 4 again, under the condition that it ran with a five litre engine. With the prototypes allowed to be much lighter, it looked like the T70 still had little chance of taking overall victories. In Group 4, it again faced the GT40 over which, the T70 should have an edge considering its big weight advantage.
The successes of the T70 were in 1968 again restricted to sprint races. The Chevrolet small block was a commendable powerplant in sprint races, yet it struggled to cope with the strains of endurance racing. Especially the valve-train suffered from fatigue in long races because of the relatively high weight of the very large valves fitted. With smaller valves the engine would obviously lose its competitiveness. Another reason why the T70 struggled was the lack of a truly professional team to prepare and run it. Most of Lola's attention was on Formula 1, Indy racing and Can-Am. Racing the T70 Coupe was pretty much left to the gentleman racers and they could not match the standards set by the John Wyer's with his Gulf livered GT40s.
Lola did not give up just yet and stepped things up for 1969 with the Mk3B variant of the T70 Coupe. This used a full aluminium monocoque similar to that of the 1968 T160 Can-Am racer. The fiberglass body also received plenty of attention and created even more downforce than its predecessor. The biggest visual difference was the lower nose with two headlights on either side, installed under a Perspex cover. Equipped with Fuel Injection the Chevrolet V8 was now able to produce approximately 450 bhp and the Hewland LG600 was now equipped with five instead of four forward gears. It is safe to say that the T70 Mk3B was a completely new car, but the CSI again leaned in Lolas favour and considered it a mere development of the already homologated Mk3.
Among the many interested parties in the lighter and more powerful Lola was Roger Penske as he bought an example for Mark Donohue to race. Penske's preparation standards were more than a match for Wyer's and at Daytona in February of 1969 the T70 finally scored its first major international victory. It was to be the car's only top level win as the reduction to 25 cars required for homologation opened the door for a new generation of prototype racing cars. A month after the Daytona win Porsche unveiled the 917 at Geneva and the rest, so they say, is history. It should be noted though that the 917 was a horribly unstable machine until a high tail similar to that of the T70 Coupe was fitted. Before the season was out, the Mk3B had built up an impressive tally of wins in minor races in European and South African races. Jo Bonnier came very close to beating the 25% more powerful 917 at the Osterreichring, but he to settle for second in his T70.
With the 917 now fully sorted and the arrival of the Ferrari 512, the days of the T70 Coupe were finally numbered in 1970. Although it was not nearly as successful as its Spyder sister, the T70 Coupe has worked its way into the hearts of many enthusiasts in no small part thanks to its stunning appearance. The advanced aerodynamics and chassis design might have deserved a better engine to complete the package. On the other hand it was the easily available Chevrolet engine that made the T70 success and still makes it a popular choice in historic racing. In fact it is so popular that Lola have recently started producing a continuation model, identical to the 1969 Mk3B. The 'new' T70s are even allowed to race in historic events, which understandably is not to everyone's liking.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on May 09, 2007
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