One for the road Lola T70 Road Car. Built for racing, now driven to the shops. Seeking something a little different to use on the road, Keith Newcombe bought a Lola T70. Yes, the race car… Words Ivan Ostroff. Photography Justin Leighton.
LOLA T70 ON THE ROAD
You can’t ever fully extend the car on the road. When you approach a roundabout or a junction in the car, everyone just stops to let you in. You tend to get people close up the backside when it’s still cold and you are driving slow but, once she warms up, when the flames shoot out of the exhausts, then they soon back off. You just take your foot off on the overrun and that keeps white van man at bay. I sometimes drive past McLaren’s HQ and at their roundabout I boot it and watch their staff cheer and clap.’
Lola enthusiast Keith Newcombe, talking about his Lola T70 MkIII. Yes, a real T70, which he drives on the road. There were a couple of Lola T70s registered for use on the public road back in the day, but for many years there had been no genuine road-legal T70s – until Keith decided he wanted one. After getting fedup with being asked if either of his AC Cobras were Dax kits, Keith sold both cars and bought a Lola T70; or, to be more accurate, four T70s.
‘I wanted an outrageously powerful and beautiful car that no one would question as being a kit car,’ he explains. ‘It also had to be something that would make people’s jaws drop when they realised what it was. I considered a GT40 but felt that I might have the same situation as with the Cobras. From the get-go, I wanted a road car; then I got to thinking, the sister to the GT40 was the T70 and it is such a beautiful machine.
‘I bought a Spyder first, ten to 12 years ago, and then I bought another one about eight years ago, but I realised that I needed a Coupé so that I could still go to work in it if it looked like rain. I bought this Coupé nine years ago. Then, five years ago, I bought the last one, the Red Rose Racing Spyder. Sounds like a bit of an addiction, I suppose, but I just couldn’t resist it.
‘This Coupé left the factory at Slough as Spyder MkIII chassis #SL73/103 and was sold to John Mecom, the Lola importer in Dallas, Texas. It was raced and had many podium finishes in the USA in that configuration. As well as achieving many good places with various American drivers, in April 1967, driven by Woody Young, the car scored a third place at the Las Vegas GP, then second in the Rose Cup race at Portland in June ’1968. In February ’1969 it won at Riverside, then was second at Sears Point before winning once again at Riverside.
‘The car was fully restored around 1989 in America and was converted to a Coupé about eight years ago. However, the workmanship was not to the standard I expected, so my engineer Mick Evans and I took the whole car apart and started all over again. When it was finished and painted, I had the number 3 put on, as it was the third MkIII constructed.’
The T70 story goes back to 1963 when Ford, after failing to buy Ferrari, approached Eric Broadley at Lola Cars Ltd about building a new Ford GT. Attracted by the new Lola GT Mk6 as well as by Broadley’s expertise, Ford purchased two cars from Lola for testing and evaluation. From August 1963, John Wyer and Eric Broadley worked on what became the Ford GT project, until disagreements over design plus Broadley’s preference to produce cars bearing his own company name caused Broadley to split from Wyer and Ford.
John Wyer then continued with Ford to create the Ford GT40, while Eric Broadley developed the Lola GT into the car that became the mighty Lola T70, in which John Surtees won the CanAm championship in 1966. Lola T70s were driven to victory by drivers such as David Hobbs, Denny Hulme and Brian Redman, and had success in many Group 7 events as well as the TT and Martini races.
Keith continues: ‘Mick Evans has spent an enormous amount of time getting the Lola to a point where it can be used on a track, or without problems in nose-to-tail town traffic. Mick’s main concern was getting sufficient airflow over the radiators for good cooling.’ To which Mick adds: ‘There are now three fans, which can be used one at a time or all together depending on the environment; we can now actually over-cool it if we need to!’
To make the car road legal, apart from adding indicators, a speedometer and road tyres, Mick fitted extra brake calipers at the back to get a decent working hydraulic handbrake system. Extra cooling ducts for the rear calipers were fashioned by Mick and Keith, and where the top of the ducting meets the rear clam shell, the tubes are spring loaded to ensure a good seal.
‘We did quite a lot of work to the lights,’ says Mick. ‘At the back we used old-stock Lucas parts, and what appear to be spotlights at the front are actually indicators. Simpson Race Exhausts of Slough constructed a bespoke exhaust system with proper silencers, made from stainless steel sheet that was hand-rolled; the whole thing is literally a work of art.’
The standard racing alternator just above the gearbox was only intended to provide enough electrical output while the car was in motion. To ensure adequate charging in slow-moving traffic, a secondary alternator has been fitted at the front of the right-hand bank of cylinders and is driven off the crankshaft by a specially made billet aluminium double pulley.
As the engine sits so close to the driver, Mick also made a new bulkhead from two layers of Kevlar for added protection. ‘Just in case. There is only about an inch between the end of the crankshaft and your back.’ The suspension is raised slightly to enable the Lola to clear road humps without damaging its underside. The shocks are all adjustable and the ride is set to ‘bearable’ – if they were set at track rates the car would be a misery on any long journey. The tyres are also a tad softer than they would be on a track. The Chevy V8 is a full-race 5.9-litre with four Weber 48 IDAs, and all its components are racing parts. ‘I’ve done 160mphplus at Dunsfold and it was quite stable,’ says Keith.
Time to find out for myself how this T70 drives on the road, if not at 160mph. I climb over the wide sill and drop my rump into the driver’s seat. Although it’s little more than a layer of upholstery draped over the monocoque, it is comfortable and its very reclined driving position is perfect. The cockpit is pure race car, with a full rollcage, and although there is a passenger seat, not even a contortionist could sit there while squeezed under that diagonal bracing strut. I note the speedo fitted in a spare instrument recess on the passenger end of the dash, seemingly as far away from the driver as possible.
I secure the Pro Series G-Force Racing Gear seatbelts, and check reach for the pedals. Perfect, and ideally placed for heel-and-toeing. OK, check the master switch is on, twist the ignition key, turn the round fuel pump switch to the right, press the button, push my foot down on the throttle and karumba! The huge race-tuned Chevy V8 just aft of my ears explodes with a thunderous racket. It’s hot in Sussex today, so, after rotating the T-shaped interior door closing mechanism on the gullwing door, I check the little quarterlight is open to avoid suffocation.
A distinct and firm movement is required with the LG600 gearbox: left and back, ka-lack into the dogleg first gear; the clutch is heavy but easy, and as soon as 1500rpm comes up, a nice smart movement gets you into second, then the same procedure into third.
Slowing down at a T-junction, I double-declutch down into second and the very short throw works like a dream. Brakes are still a bit cold: they’re hard, and they squeak on the way into a roundabout.
I try to blast the tail around, just cannot resist it, but the grip is phenomenal. The V8 noise is outrageous, but in such a very good way. On the track a T70 is a forgiving car and on the road I am amazed by how easy it is to drive. Folk waffle on about horsepower and power bands but in a road car it is more about power-to- weight ratios and torque for stonking performance, and the Lola ticks all those boxes in droves.
The engine has not been detuned yet it is completely manageable. There is so much grunt on tap and it doesn’t hunt or misbehave, but pulls cleanly throughout the rev range from 400rpm without fluffing. Trickle along at 1200rpm in almost any gear, floor it and the engine will pull away like a turbine. Conversely, from 2000rpm in any of the first four gears it simply accelerates like a slingshot, as the tachometer needle spools around past 4000rpm, the scenery literally blurs through the side windows and you feel you are in a Tardis heading for tomorrow before it’s ready to arrive. The engine is limited to 7500rpm in the interests of longevity but there is no way you could need anything like that on the road.
Attacking a roundabout quickly is a real blast; the car is monstrously powerful yet there is such an abundance of grip that you can scorch the tail on the exit and catch it without embarrassment. On the track you can sense slight roll in a T70 but you’re just not going to be driving that fast on a public road. On the busy A286 there is always something coming towards you, so opportunities to overtake are limited in an ordinary car; in the T70 you just double-declutch down into second, bury the right foot and a whole line of cars is dispensed with in nano-seconds, well before anything gets near. Dramatic but safe. The T70 lapped quicker than a Formula 1 car in period and its acceleration from 100mph in fifth gear is gutwrenching, yet it is just so flexible. Incredible.
Bumbling around the roundabout at the entry to Midhurst I fluff the ’change and get third instead of second, but the Lola pulls away without drama. Today of all days, the Midhurst traffic is heavy and the sun is beating down into the Lola’s cockpit. The car isn’t overheating at all – but I am, so I pull over and grab a drink from my bag. Pulling out to re-join the traffic flow requires more than usual care, for rear visibility is certainly not one of the Lola’s strong points. Alright, let’s be honest, the T70 is stiflingly hot in the cockpit unless you are moving quickly enough to get some air through the car, rearward vision is an absolute pain, there is nothing between the driver and the engine except a piece of Kevlar, and it’s very noisy. So by the end of my journey across Sussex I was halfdeaf, dripping with perspiration and pretty much wiped out. Does a Lola T70 make a practical road car? Oh yes. Abso-bloomin’-lutely!
THANKS TO Lola gurus John Starkey and Nigel Hulme.
A WORD FROM THE EXPERT
Nigel Hulme has nearly 40 years’ experience with the T70
Nigel Hulme has been driving T70s since around 1980, and in 1985 he won the Failsafe Historic GT Championship. He raced for many years in South Africa, and took four second places in the support races for the British Grands Prix in 2006 and 2007.
It was Nigel who helped Keith Newcombe set-up his T70s properly, following a test session at Mallory. Whoever had previously set them up had not done a good job, to the point they were actually dangerous. Nigel got his mechanic Clive Robinson involved and together they sorted the Red Rose car.
They changed the dampers and altered the suspension set-up. ‘We highlighted faults in the fuel system so that Mick [Keith’s mechanic] was able to get them fixed. After two or three test sessions we got the car performing really well.
‘Having a T70 on the road is a huge amount of fun – the cars are forgiving and they are not too bad to drive. I am quite keen on driving overpowered race cars on the road… Today, everything is so mundane, but this is something you can drive to the pub at the weekend or take out early in the morning on an open country road. That would be just bliss. ‘I ran a McLaren M6GT for around 17 years until I regretfully sold it in 2010 and I’ve run several GT40s. My T70 was a pure racer but driving Keith’s MkIII on the road was a sheer delight.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1967 Lola T70 MkIII
Engine 5900cc Chevrolet V8, four Weber 48 IDA carburettors
Power 495bhp @ 4750rpm / DIN
Torque 475lb ft @ 4900rpm / DIN
Transmission Hewland LG600 five-speed manual
Steering Rack and pinion Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, radius rods at rear
Performance Top speed 175mph
‘I sometimes drive past McLaren’s HQ, boot it at their roundabout, and watch their staff cheer and clap’
‘From 2000rpm in any of the first four gears it simply accelerates like a slingshot’
Left and facing page Our man Ostroff gets to grips with the T70 – on the road; its outrageously low profile still surprises, 50 years on. Clockwise from right Appropriately named destination for a T70 drive; interior is all race car; cooling now properly sorted; chassis plate reveals Slough origins. Above and below right Hewland LG600 dogleg gearbox needs decisive ’changes; profile shot shows how close that big Chevy V8 is to the driver’s seat.