Eric Broadley, the man who founded Lola cars and turned it into a world-beating race car builder, has died at the age of 88.
Lola Cars is well known the world over as one of the UK’s most prolific manufacturers of race-winning machinery. Eric Broadley, company founder, has died at the age of 88.
Broadley founded Lola in 1958, and through four decades was one of Britain’s most successful motor manufacturing companies. More than 2000 Lola cars produced, covering almost every formula and category of serious, pure motor racing.
Lola Cars won the Indianapolis 500, they dominated Formula 5000 for years, and they were equally successful elsewhere, including the later years of Can-Am racing.
Lola’s list of race wins is long and varied, making Eric perhaps the most successful independent racing car manufacturer of all time. His designs and innovations have been hugely influential.
Eric’s other vital skill was as a businessman. Great talent is needed to design a winning car but it is perhaps even harder to create a profitable enterprise in the volatile world of racing car manufacturing, where winning is everything. Eric had inevitable ups and downs, the latter mostly from his attempts to break into Formula 1.
He was drawn towards it because the big money seemed to be there – but Lola’s forays into F1 seemed eternally dogged by misfortune. Early on, he had moved into single-seaters, his first mid-engined car being the 1961 Mk3 Formula Junior, which was followed in 1962 by a Climax V8-engined Formula 1 car backed by Bowmaker – but that project died when Bowmaker pulled out of motor racing abruptly in January 1963.
Bowmaker’s withdrawal had killed off the first Lola works F1 team but it was another big business decision, this time by the American Ford Motor Company, that would decide Lola’s immediate future later that year.
The incredible Mk6 GT Prototype of 1963 was destined never to become a road car, but it did alter the focus of Eric’s career for a time, and in a way that he had not expected. Built to the FIA’s new Grand Touring Prototype regulations, was one of Eric’s most brilliant early masterpieces. Constructed in 1962, its fabulous appearance was the sensation of the Racing Car Show in January 1963. Looking new and exciting, the Mk6’s perfectly proportioned, futuristic glass-fibre body covered Eric’s inspired new chassis design, which was light and very stiff.
With its slippery body, standing just 40in high, a top speed of 180mph was predicted. That car could have taken on Ferrari and won many races in 1963, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, but luck wasn’t with it. Without doubt, proper funding would have realised the potential of this superb car immediately.
In 1963, the Ford Motor Company was keen to take on Ferrari at Le Mans without delay. When the Mk6, despite its modest budget, showed great promise at Le Mans in the hands of Richard Attwood and David Hobbs, its potential was immediately appreciated in Dearborn. An impressed Ford Motor Company offered Eric a two-year contract that would take his services and everything to do with Lola Cars, exclusively and completely, into the Ford GT works programme.
Famously, the Mk6 was to form the basis of the original GT40, which did eventually lead to the famous victories at Le Mans. After creative differences with Ford over the direction the GT40 should go, Broadley ended Lola’s relationship with Ford after just one year.
Eric then picked up where he had left off – he regrouped in premises in Slough, designing, building and selling racing cars. Success followed quickly in many different fields: Graham Hill won the 1966 Indianapolis 500 in a Lola run by Mecom Racing and, in the same year, John Surtees won the first Can-Am Championship with his Lola T70-Chevrolet.
Eric moved the company to bigger premises in Huntingdon and carried on for another 33 years until 1999, when he sold the company to Martin Birrane.