Fantastic Feat - 1966 Lola T90 Ford Indycar
In 1958, Eric Broadley established Lola Cars Limited. Originally a an architect, he found himself attracted to the world of motorsport. By 1956 he built his first car, the Broadley Special. With this Austin 7-based, Ford-engined sports prototype, Broadley competed in the 750 Motor Club against fellow engineers Frank Costin, Brian Hart and Colin Chapman.
The Special proved to be a very competitive car. Eric Broadley promptly won several local and national events with the car. His instant success attracted the attention of a number of drivers looking for alternatives to the Lotus Eleven. Broadley realized the opportunity at hand, and decided to move his out of control hobby to new heights.
The result was the more streamlined and more powerful Coventry Climax-engined Lola Mk1, which emerged in 1958. Broadley had taken the new name from the musical Damn Yankees, which featured the line “ Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets“.
The new tube frame chassis car was a major step forward, as it was capable of speeds which Broadley felt exceeded his driving skill. Nevertheless he became the first man to lap the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit in under one minute. Like the Special before it, the Mk1 proceeded to dominate local and national events. With one-time Formula One driver Peter Ashdown at the wheel, the Lola managed to thrash the Lotus Eleven with devastating ease.
Business was booming with no fewer than 35 Mk1’s leaving Broadley’s small shop in West Byfleet, Surrey. By the time the last car reached completion, the Lola name was already associated with Formula Junior and Formula One. The innovative Mk4 F1 car broke new ground in terms of suspension design, and set a template that would be used into the next decade.
For 1963 the company moved into top level sportscar racing with the advanced Ford V8-powered Mk6 GT, one of the first mid-engined sports prototypes to grace Le Mans. Even though the ambitious program turned out to be a failure in terms of results with many retirements, the sleek machine did attract the attention of Henry Ford II.
Ford offered Broadley a lucrative deal to design a Le Mans winner for him since he wanted to humiliate Ferrari after a botched business deal. The collaboration produced a refined version of the Mk6, which would become known as the Ford GT40.
Ever the free spirit, Broadley only hung around the Ford-project for 18 months before deciding he wanted to be his own boss again. He relocated his business to Slough, and churned out a series of unsuccessful F2 and F3 cars before arriving at his finest piece, T70 Spyder.
Featuring a very effective chassis, evocative shape and a selection of relentlessly powerful and reliable Chevrolet V8-engines, the T70 would etch the Lola name into the history books over the years. The enduring legend took its first major success by winning the very first season of Canadian American Challenge with John Surtees.
A true entrepreneur, Eric Broadly was keen on expanding his business to include more and more different forms of motorsport. With this in mind he took up a new challenge in the form of the best-watched race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Motivated by the T70’s North American winning streak and the immense American market, he designed the T80 Indycar with help from a young Tony Southgate for 1965.
Like the lackluster F2 designs before it, the Lola Indycar featured an aluminium monocoque chassis wit steel subframes mounted front and rear. A quad-cam, alcohol fueled 260 Ford “Indy“ V8 mounted in the middle sent 500 horsepower to the rear wheels. Ironically, the Ford engine was based very loosely on the engine Broadley had used to power his Mk6 GT.
Three cars were constructed for Lindsey Hopkins’ American Red Ball outfit, J.C. Agajanian’s Hurst team and Ansted-Thompson Racing. Two chassis went to star drivers A.J. Foyt (AT Racing) and Parnelli Jones (Hurst), and a third fell into the hands of Bud Tingelstad (American Red Ball), who managed to finish fourth in the car’s debut race at Trenton. After that the Lola Indy project quickly went south however, as both A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones refused to race the car at Indianapolis after only a short test session.
Instead the two men elected to run their year-old Lotus 34’s. Tingelstad persevered however, and Foyt’s teammate Al Unser grabbed a hold of the second Lola. Unser found out why Foyt and Jones had made the switch soon enough, as he experienced hair raising handling problems.
A rushed development program had culminated in a totally inappropriate suspension design and a dangerously unstable car. Despite this Unser managed to finish a colorless 9th, while Tingelstad crashed out on lap 115. Adding insult to injury, longtime rivals Lotus managed to score the first victory for a mid-engined car with Jim Clark and the 38.
Embarrassed by the failures of 1965, Eric Broadley felt the need to revindicate himself and his company the following year. The hard lesson learned were put to good use with a total redesign of the car’s suspension, which along with several other refinements necessitated the new T90 designation.
In addition to the chassis improvements, Lola’s design team adapted the rear-subframe to accept both the Ford V8 and the venerable supercharged Offenhauser 2.8L four-cylinder engine developing 20 more horsepower.
America’s premier Lola importer John Mecom ordered three of the new T90’s for his Indy effort. The first chassis was fitted with the Offenhauser motor and given to Rodger Ward, who immediately showed the car’s potential by finishing second at Phoenix International Raceway. Following this amazing performance, Ward took Lola to its first USAC win at Trenton.
For the Indy 500 two Ford-powered chassis were built for Indycar rookies Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill. Both men had come over from the mad world of Formula One to try their luck turning left on the world famous Brickyard. The arrival of the pair marked a high point in the so-called British Invasion of the 500 mile race, which started with Brabham in 1961.
By this time Graham Hill was an established name in the world of motorsport. The well-spoken, impeccably dressed and impossibly charming gentlemen had already amassed 10 Grand Prix victories and taken the 1962 World Championship title with BRM.
Hill had remained at the team ever since, and welcomed his young and upcoming teammate Jackie Stewart in 1965. The Scotsman impressed in his first season by taking a win at the Italian Grand Prix. In a further testament to his raw talent, he managed to take top honors at Monaco a mere eight days before his Indy debut.
Although Graham Hill clearly had the better reputation of the two, he initially wasn’t slated to appear at Indy. Originally the third Mecom car belonged to veteran racer Walt Hansgen, but he was tragically killed when his powerful 7L Ford GT40 MkII slid off the track in heavy rain at the annual Le Mans Test. Graham Hill opted to replace Hansgen to join Stewart and make his much-publicized Indycar debut.
Both Stewart and Hill comfortably made it to the grid for the big race, with the Scotsman taking a very respectable 11th place with 159.972 mph (257.450 kph) in front of the vastly more experienced Rodger Ward in 13th with 159.460 mph (256.626 kph). Graham Hill completed the Mecom contingent with a fine 15th place at 159.243 mph (256.276 kph).
With 33 drivers divided over 11 rows present, the T90’s performance was proving to be very decent indeed. Ford-engines dominated the front row of the grid, with Mario Andretti on pole in a Hawk followed by Jim Clark and George Snider in Lotus machines.
Come race day, the field settled behind the Mercury Comet Cyclone GT Convertible pace car to start a 200 lap fight to the finish. Disaster struck virtually instantly however, as Billy Foster (CAN) spun out of control after a close encounter with Gordon Johncock mere moments after the green flag fell. His Vollstedt-Ford collected the outside barrier just beyond the start/finish line, and was greeted with fourteen other cars piling up in the melee.
The ensuing chaos provoked a red flag situation, and the race was stopped. Eleven cars were damaged beyond repair, and a stray wheel had unfortunately found its way into the crowd where it injured a spectator. Luckily no other serious casualties occurred, except for A.J. Foyt injuring his hand while hastily climbing over a catch fence.
Almost 90 minutes after the crash the race was restarted, with just 22 cars left in running order. The grueling nature of the titanic oval event revealed itself by picking off one car after another, four of which found themselves a bit too close to the outer wall. A never-ending stream of mechanical failures and three black flags reduced the field to just six runners a mere ten laps from the checkered flag.
With just four cars within range of winning the race, the heat was on for the final few laps between Jim McElreath, Gordon Johncock, Jim Clark and Graham Hill.
As the cars crossed the finish line Jim Clark’s crew briefly cheered after ostensibly taking the victory. To their shock and horror however, the unofficial race results told a very different story.
Throughout the race the scoring system had been a tremendous mess, with constant changes to the official running order. The stewards scrambled in a constant frenzy to manually correct mistakes on the fly.
Their final score placed Graham Hill ahead of Jim Clark by 41.13 seconds. The victory came as a shock to absolutely everyone, including Hill himself.
Always the impeccable gentleman, Hill admitted to being suprised and puzzled to have taken the victory. Nevetheless he enjoyed his stay in victory lane, drinking the traditional bottle of milk, kissing the princess and posing for the camera.
Multiple theories arose as to what went wrong with the scoring that fateful day. Jim Clark’s two spins during the race were seen as possible causes for confusion, as he had lost little time despite looking like he had dropped a a lap behind.
A second reason was found with Clark’s teammate Al Unser running with a very similar paint scheme, which could have lead the scorers to mistake his car for Clark’s or vice versa, which could explain the supposed lost lap.
Independent scoring done by the IMS Radio Network pointed towards Hill being ahead however, and when the official confirmation came in the following morning Lotus declined to protest, citing their insecurity about the events of Jim Clark’s second spin. The possibility of Hill’s Lola slipping by unnoticed while Clark was recovering was simply too great.
Adding fuel to the fire, another scenario suggested Gordon Johncock had actually taken the win, since he had curiously completed the race distance in less time than the three cars in front of him.
His Gerhardt-Ford had suffered mild damage to its nosecone in the start incident, which forced him to start from the pitlane. Sources suggest his first lap after the restart wasn’t counted because of this, which lead to him effectively incurring a one lap penalty.
Whatever the case, Graham Hill and Lola’s win remained official. With this achievement Hill had completed his second leg of the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport, and Eric Broadley’s Lola Cars had won its first major international event. Nothing else mattered.
The Lola T90 gave Eric Broadley’s humble racecar factory its first global breakthrough. But winning one of the most popular, distinguished and toughest races on the planet, the Lola name had been put on the map for good. Lola chassis would win two more editions at the Brickyard with Al Unser in 1978 and Arie Luyendijk (NED) in 1990, but neither victories were as sweet as helping one of the greatest drivers of all time to conquer the infamous Triple Crown of Motorsport.
Lola’s business would continue to thrive for decades to come as a chassis supplier, but the glorious win at Indiananapolis would in hindsight become the brand’s crowning achievement. Regulation changes banned the competitive T70 in 1972, and with its extinction Lola’s reputation began to falter with one failed endeavor after another, culminating in Broadley selling the company in 1997.
Under new management the business survived until 2012, but has since become defunct. In spite of this, the Lola name lives on as a legendary moniker which graced countless gorgeous racing machines in a great variety of disciplines.