Once upon a time, the kit car industry produced cars with bodies that resembled sports prototype racers but which were inevitably built on the floorpans of clapped out VWs. The result was cars that looked like they should do 200mph but frequently struggled to reach half that, while the acceleration, handling and brakes weren’t up to much either.
Thankfully things have changed, with all the pseudo Le Mans racer kits now available able to offer the performance to back up the looks. However, only one of them can offer all round inboard suspension, mid-mounted V8 power and the pedigree of a multiple championship winning manufacturer – and that’s the GD T70 Spyder.
Also racing in the series were Heritage Lola T70 Spyder replicas, the lines of which particularly appealed to Gardner Douglas’ main man Andy Burrows. When the opportunity arose to buy one of these complete with moulds, Andy took it. Using the Heritage car as a starting point, Gardner Douglas then redesigned and updated every aspect from the body to the suspension to produce a car that – like their 427 – combines classic styling with modern chassis technology to produce a good looking car that works well on both road and track.
Consequently, while the GD T70 Spyder still visually resembles Lola’s original, it has a wider, more practical cockpit. That curvaceous body has also been subject to a number of other subtle changes to meet SVA requirements for road use. And while the chassis is still a 1960s style steel spaceframe with riveted aluminium panelling, the suspension mounted to it is rather more modern in concept.
To wit, fabricated tubular steel rocker arms with inboard coilover dampers front and rear, utilising a combination of spherical rod ends and polypropylene bushes for road use or spherical rod ends throughout for racing. Andy would actually have preferred to use current Formula 1 style pull rod suspension, but the car was originally designed to run in the Retro Sports GT Challenge whose regs didn’t allow it. The intent to race also explains why the standard braking equipment is 13” AP Racing vented discs with four pot callipers all round.
Standard engine fitment is the ubiquitous small block Chevrolet pushrod V8, though Ford and Rover alternatives can be used and Gardner Douglas are currently developing it to take Chevy’s more modern LS1 and LS6 engines as well. With standard panels and an iron blocked (but alloy headed) Chevy V8, the GD T70 weighs in at around 930kg, but go for the optional lightweight body panels and an all aluminium Chevy and it drops to just 870kg. Not surprisingly, a Porsche transaxle is the unit of choice for road use, with Hewland racing versions for pure track cars.
A comprehensive kit of parts providing pretty well everything needed to build one apart from engine and gearbox will cost you £22,456 including VAT, meaning that you could put a good 350bhp small block powered example together for under £30,000, while for another £7,500 Gardner Douglas will put one together for you.
Although the GD T70 prototype debuted at the Donnington kit car show late in 2001, it wasn’t quite finished at the time, but it took to the tracks in 2002 in ‘race only’ trim. Unfortunately it couldn’t emulate its GD 427 stablemate’s racing success because the tyres dictated by the regulations didn’t provide enough grip for the performance available, so Gardner Douglas decided to make it road legal. So we decided to bring you a Pistonheads road test.
Gardner Douglas can't hand the keys to just anybody due to insurance restrictions. It's also one of those cars that can't be mastered in an instant so to show it's capabilities Andy took me for a memorable excursion on the local roads.
With no windscreen and an open cockpit you’d expect a cold, draughty ride, but in fact the cockpit proves to be a dead air area that gets very warm, with the only significant airflow being to your head. And if you sit really low in the seat and just peer over the wind deflector, even your head doesn’t get much draught (Andy's driven the T70 at over 140mph without losing his cap).
Some form of eye protection is advisable, and while Andy sticks to sunglasses, a full-face helmet wouldn’t look out of place and would also help lessen the noise. I’m not talking exhaust here, but general mechanical noise from the engine, which is loud enough to make conversation almost impossible even at ordinary road speeds and would be very wearing on long journeys.
It probably wouldn’t be so bad with an LS1 or road spec engine, but the demonstrator uses a detuned racing engine, this being their championship winning iron block/alloy headed dry sumped 350 Chevy. It’s now been fitted with a milder cam to make it more road friendly, dropping the power from over 500bhp to around 450bhp, though it still doesn’t like being driven at low revs.
In contrast, the ‘semi-race’ suspension proved to be perfectly happy in slow traffic and on its softer road settings gave a very comfortable ride apart from along one of those road sections with regular ridges, which set up a vibration that was transmitted up through the seats to the occupants. Even then there were no squeaks or rattles, indicating just how solid and well put together this car is.
After a few miles to get everything warmed up we turned off the traffic clogged main roads and off onto some twisting minor roads where Andy was able to give the car its head, with full use of the throttle producing some impressive slam in the back acceleration. To quantify this, in current trim the GD T70 has been timed doing 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and 0-100 in 7.4 seconds on normal road tyres.
It’s also been timed doing 0-100-0 in 12.1 seconds, so as you can imagine, progress between the bends was decidedly rapid. As indeed was progress round them, the T70 displaying superb grip and seemingly vice free handling as Andy powered the car though both sweeping and tight turns along the quiet country roads. It short, it’s a very impressive performer, and it was obvious that Andy could have pushed it harder had we been on the track rather than the road.
Then it was my turn in the right hand seat for a short and rather more sedate run back to base, to get some impression of what it’s like behind the wheel. The driving position is very much ‘bum on floor’ with the floor mounted pedals just slightly offset towards the centre and nothing being adjustable (unless you go for the optional runner mounted seats) although everything can be set to suit the driver during the build.
Having a competition clutch that’s like an on/off switch mated to an engine that doesn’t like low revs makes setting off tricky, though it’s fine once you’re on the move, with the right hand rod gear change being nice and precise (in a very mechanical sort of way) although finding the right gear in the unmarked gate can be a problem on first acquaintance.
With only 1.75 turns lock to lock from the special rack and no soggy rubber bushes in the suspension, the GD T70 is about as reactive and communicative as a road car can get, responding instantly to every adjustment the driver makes, with the whole car feeling very taught and solid. And despite the high geared rack, small wheel and wide tyres, the steering isn’t heavy even at manoeuvring speed, while it doesn’t take much pressure on the middle pedal for those big AP brakes to get to work either.
In conclusion, from my brief experience I think that a GD T70 fitted with a milder 350bhp (or LS1) engine and normal clutch would give you a fast, easy to drive road car that would be great for track days, while one fitted with a 500bhp engine and lightweight panels would probably give you the fastest road legal car on the track. That, we are sure, will appeal to some of you :)
© Copyright Graham Bell 2003