A late invitation to race at the Silverstone Classic arrived via my friend Richard Meaden. Yes, we are spending too much time in each other’s company of late.
The Surtees/Hobbs T70 at Brands in 1967
“Not sure I can Dickie, need to spend some time at home”
“It’s in a Lola T70, Christopher”
A short pause.
“What time do you need me there for the Thursday test?”
When it comes to the Lola T70, you find time. I don’t really feel the need to explain the appeal of Eric Broadley’s slither of racing perfection, save to acknowledge that if you ask a child to draw a racing car in profile, it more often than not perfectly describes the profile of a T70 Mk3B. And if you asked an adult male of the species to write down the perfect recipe for a drivers’ car, the T70’s mix of vast Chevy power and light kerbweight is perfection.
Lolas on the Slough production line in 1968
The T70 story began in 1965, taking the form of an open-top sportscar, but it wasn’t until later in the decade that the machine morphed into the thing you see here – the Mk3B. Now I’m not going to offer any precise facts on how many were built and how much power they had, but the car was a huge success in period, winning the Daytona 24-hour, and it has become the perfect classic sports car for the modern, er, historic scene.
The reason for that is simple. The motor is simple, the chassis is pretty simple and it goes like stink. Simples. The cars which superseded it, the Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917, are far more complicated and cannot really be run hard at several race meetings each year unless you are the richest man in the world.
But we wouldn’t be racing a real T70, we’d be racing a continuation car, made by a chap called Chris Fox. Can you just build a copy of a T70, call it just that and then go and race it? Of course not.
Bonnier/Muller Lola T70 Mk3B at Spa, 1969
The route to this car is long and convoluted, but what emerges is a racer that is an exact replica of the original, which doesn’t transgress any intellectual property laws (so I have been assured), has been created with the blessing of Eric Broadley himself and which is, if one can utter such a statement, the best value £250,000 car on sale anywhere on planet earth.
The man behind the car is Chris Fox, an ex-Lola employee who ran some of the teams’ race projects for several years. He founded Fox Racing developments and ended up taking over the sales and distribution of all parts for all of Lola’s older racing cars. Now he’s gone a step further and, because he has access to all the original drawings and has all the body mouldings, he’s building complete cars.
It’s called the Broadley T76, the name taken from the internal Lola designation for the very final specification Mk3B’s to leave the factory in the late 60s.
The Harris/Meaden T70 on track at Silverstone
The thing is just stunning in the flesh. A classic riveted aluminium chassis, proper suspension and, in the case of this car a 5.0-litre small block pushing 520hp. For the race weekend the car was ballasted to 860kg, but with some small modifications Chris reckons you could return a number beginning with a seven. With 520 horsepower. Can see why it makes me quite excited now?
The transmission is a big old Hewland LG 600, five gears with a dog-leg first. Dampers are by Koni with two-way adjustment. Rear rubber is 16 inches in width and treaded. The differential has some locking ability and there is a steering wheel and three pedals. The rest is up to the driver.
Normally at this point you’d be subjected to a race report outlining the fascinating travails of myself and Mr Meaden as we race someone else’s beautiful car, but this time I just need to tell you what it’s like to drive the thing. The seating position is just what you’d hope of a 60s sports-prototype: laid back, on-the-floor with a surprisingly large wheel coming at your chest. No power steering here. The little gearlever sits beside your right thigh, pretty much on top of the fuel tank. This is a genuine bathtub racer; you sit between two vast fuel cells and that’s the last time we’ll mention that.
Final prep for the Lolas in the Silverstone paddock
Ahead of you are a bank of analogue gauges, only three of which really matter – two small ones reading oil pressure and water temperature, and a large one telling of engine speed. We’re allowed 7,900rpm.
The motor fires cleanly with a little throttle and the noise is astounding. When a T70 fires, people instinctively come from nearby to find the source of the music. First takes a decent shove to the left and back, you just ease away from the floor-hinged clutch and roll away. But the moment you push the throttle pedal further, the motor splutters and dies and comes alive again and coughs and then booms into life as it passes 4,000rpm. Forget notions of lazy Yankie V8 torque and drivability. This small block on carbs works between 4K and 7.9K is a pure race motor. Outside of that it doesn’t want to know.
Small block V8, 16-inch tyres, noise - perfect
You peel out of Silverstone’s new pit lane, short-shift to second and apply half the throttle’s throw. And you fire expletives into the chin bar of your crash helmet “Fook me this is FAST!! What the hell did it feel like in 1969??!!”
As befits its simple mechanicals, the car is a completely transparent driving device. In slower turns the rear wants to slide, so you simply manage your angles. As speeds increase the front begins to push more, and I’m told this is a result of a rule change that forces all T70s competing in 2014 to run 20mm higher and not use aero ‘flicks’ to push the nose downwards. The result is a disappointing film of understeer, but this does lead to amusing provocation to mobilise the rear and get the cornering angles you need. The gearshift is pure cave dweller: push the clutch all the way down and bang the lever with all your might. Just gorgeous.
Robo-Chris gets ready for his stint
But really you just manage the braking zones - not too bad, now you come to ask, the pedal has that delicious racecar resistance to a shove. Then you wobble through the corners and just let the thing go down the straights. Feeling it lope into oversteer just as you enter the Hangar straight, then gunning to 170mph before trailing it into Stowe in an attempt to avoid that understeer – well, all of that is where driving becomes one of the better things you can do with your life. I also have one naughty secret – I did a session without ear plugs just to drink in the volume. It’s perfect. Took me a week to get my hearing back to its normal (sub-normal) level, but well worth it.
How did we do? Pretty good given the car was only finished two weeks before the race. We qualified fourth from a grid of, I recall, around 50 cars. I think I counted seven Mk3Bs and a heap of other very fast V8-powered metal. The ex-Ickx 512M was also running, which made it rather difficult to concentrate. Is there a better looking machine?
Sharp end of the grid for the Harris/Meaden car
We’d had pretty much zero testing time because, wonderful event it may be, the Silverstone Classic crams in the races and each 30-minute session only needs one red flag to render it pretty much useless. I took the start having completed, I think, six laps in the Broadley. But as already mentioned, if there’s a car anyone can learn quickly, it’s this one.
From the rolling start the O’Connell Chevron B19 shot into the lead, leaving me to have a decent dice with Leo Voyazides in his real T70! It was nine laps of immense fun, overtaking and re-taking and sliding and the odd mistake, but all in good humour. I couldn’t match him on the straights, and the brake pedal went long on lap three, but when I pitted, thanks to the Chevron tripping-over a back-marker, we were leading the race.
Leisurely pit stop cost some time
But we journos never like to be hurried on a weekend, so we took an extra half minute over our mostly shambolic pit-stop and Mr Meaden rejoined in third, soon to be bumped off a potential podium by a hard-charging Andy Wolfe. At this point I’d usually make some gag about Dickie realising the burger van was leaving at 8pm and upping his pace accordingly, but sadly his new athletic physique doesn’t allow it.
The man from Evo got the bit between his teeth, pushed hard to catch Steve Tandy’s gorgeous yellow T70 and we had ourselves a podium! Not bad for two hacks in a two-week-old car.
So, the things you need to know are: the Silverstone Classic is a must for any car enthusiast. I loved it as a competitor and a spectator. The variety of machinery on offer, and the hard racing is infectious. Oh, and Chris is planning to put some license plates on a T76 sometime soon. I cannot wait to see the results.
Happy days on the podium, sombre times elsewhere
On a sadder note, I didn’t know Denis Welch
who sadly died
the day after our race at Silverstone. But he was a respected member of a community that provides some of the best racing car spectacles available to us. My thoughts are with his family and friends.