|Lola T282 Cosworth|
Having served Lola and the company's customers very well for five seasons, the T70 was finally discontinued in 1969. Building a replacement that would be a match for the might of the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 was not surprisingly beyond the specialist manufacturer's modest means. One of the biggest problems was the unavailability of an engine that could match the German and Italian V12s for power and/or durability. Instead Lola set its sights on the European Two Litre Championship with the all-new T210 for which customers lined up in large numbers and competitive engines were readily available.
Ahead of the 1972 season, the sports car racing regulations were dramatically revised. The existing 'Group 5' big-bore machines were effectively banned and replaced by what in years previous had been labelled 'Group 6'. The new 'Group 5' regulations scratched all homologation requirements and featured a three litre displacement limit. Conveniently, this was an exact copy of the contemporary Formula 1 engine regulations. For specialist manufacturers like Lola, this re-opened the door to the World Championship as with the Cosworth DFV a competitive engine was once again available.
Lola's Eric Broadley jumped at the opportunity and assisted by chief engineer Bob Marston and talented young designers John Barnard and Patrick Head developed a brand new sports prototype racer for the 1972 season. Using the resources economically, a basic design was laid down that formed the basis for both a new three-litre and two-litre racer, known as the T280 and T290 respectively. Like the highly advanced T210 and subsequent T212, the new generation of Lola sports racers used a lightweight aluminium monocoque.
The biggest difference between the two new cars was obviously found in the engine compartment. One of the strengths of the Cosworth DFV engine was that it was rigid enough to be used as a stressed member of the chassis, while the smaller, four cylinder engines required an additional subframe to support the rear suspension loads. Another distinguishing factor were the in-board mounted brakes on the three-litre version, which allowed for wider wheels to be used. The rest of the T280/T290 also followed conventional lines with double wishbones at the front and reversed lower wishbones, top links and twin trailing-arms at the rear.
Clothed in a slippery fibre-glass body, the first two T280s were sold to Jo Bonnier, who was also Lola's representative on the European continent. The two cars were fielded by Ecurie Bonnier in the World Championship where they faced very strong competition from the likes of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Matra and also fellow DFV runners Mirage. In the season opening long distance races, the T280s proved quick but also demonstrated the DFV's tendency to vibrate itself and/or the car to pieces. A victory in the March, 1972 Le Mans 4 Hours proved the new Lola's potential.
Unfortunately, Le Mans also proved particularly cruel for the T280 and Jo Bonnier as during the 24 Hours later in the year, the Swedish racer crashed his Lola fatally. Ecurie Bonnier continued to run the surviving T280, scoring a victory in the 1000 km of Paris at Montlhery. Two additional chassis were also sold and raced by their respective owners with considerable success. A fifth car was also built up to replace the example crashed at Le Mans. The four surviving T280s were raced for many more years in a wide variety of major and minor events.
For 1973, the three and two litre cars evolved into the T282 and T292 with much of the work focusing on improved aerodynamics, resulting in a sharper nose and full-width rear wing. Just one T282 was produced, which was raced extensively by Scuderia Filipinetti in striking Gitanes colours. Later in the decade four more three-litre cars were built, labeled T286 and equipped with the latest bodywork developed for the far more popular T290 derivatives. Due to the limited development work and the very strong competition, these three litre cars were not able to keep up the good form shown during the first season.
Although available throughout the 1970s, Lola eventually only produced ten three-litre chassis. That relatively small number is a stark contrast to the 100+ examples built of the various T290 varieties. Bonnier's fatal crash has also cast a dark shadow over the T280's early career, when it briefly ranked among the fastest sports racers in the world. In recent years, all of the surviving cars have resurfaced and have been restored to full running order for their respective owners and enthusiasts alike to enjoy.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on August 10, 2012
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