John Surtees struggles to restart his stalled Lola T70 Mk3 Aston Martin at the commencement of the Nurburgring 1000 Km, 28 May 1967…
Alongside him , slightly obscured, poleman Phil Hill in the sensational Chaparral 2F Chev is also slow away, meanwhile a gaggle of Porsche 910’s sprint away, likely culprits the works cars of Rolf Stommelen, Gerhard Mitter and Jo Siffert.
A happy confluence of events was the construction of Aston Martin’s new V8 engine and racer/entrant Jackie Epstein’s approach to Eric Broadley to build a coupe variant of the 1966 Can Am Championship winning Lola T70 Spyder Group 7 machine. John Surtees of course won the very first Can Am series in a T70 Mk2 Chev. Eric Broadley and Surtees formed Lola Racing Ltd as a works development and racing arm, Surtees honed the T70, he outlined his philosophy in developing the car in a MotorSport interview in August 2003.
‘With a long distance car you can’t have something that rides on a knife edge like a top F1 car…You are trying to get consistency, you don’t want an unpredictable and volatile character. By the time the T70’s got some running in them they were very driveable, very predictable cars which you could drive up to the limit and perhaps a little bit over. This gave the driver confidence’.
Surely one of the swoopiest, voluptuous and sexiest racers ever- the Lola T70 Mk3 Coupe ‘SL73/101’ was the first Lola Aston built and was shown to rapturous crowd approval at the annual Racing Car Show at London’s Olympia in January 1967. Tadek Marek’s new Aston Martin ‘DP218’ V8 engine also made its first public appearance at the show on the Surtees Racing stand, the announcement of the relationship between the concerns- Lola, Astons and Surtees was made at the show.
On the face of it the association had every chance of success.
The combination of one of sportscar racings best chassis, a lightweight, powerful engine which promised to provide the Lola with better balance than the Chev engined T70’s and John Surtees track testing ability and sheer speed promised much. Aston Martin chief David Brown was of the view that ‘racing improves the breed’ whilst his chief engineer Tadek Marek was not especially enamoured of the a high risk strategy. After all, his new engine was designed as a road car motor not a race engine.
Undaunted David Brown proceeded and Aston Martin Lagonda supplied special versions of Marek’s design with a capacity of 5008.5cc- bore/stroke of 98x83mm. The all aluminium, duplex chain driven quad cam, 2 valve, dry-sumped, Lucas fuel injected V8 was quoted by Astons as producing 450bhp @ 6750rpm and 413 lb/ft of torque at Le Mans 1967.
‘DP218 was first tested in a T70 Spyder in Autumn 1966. At that first development stage, using a compression ratio of 11:1 and fitted with four Weber 48IDA carburettors the engine was quoted as giving 421bhp @ 6500rpm and 386 lb/ft of torque. Testing showed there were many problems with the engine most notably the motor popped a rod through the side of its aluminium block due to oil starvation. Eventually a much developed engine, one of a batch of ten that had been delivered, with attention to the dry sump system, was installed in March 1967 into the new Coupe for Team Surtees to run. The most obvious problems in testing were a bad vibration and an inability to rev beyond 6100 rpm.
The big, booming car was the third fastest machine present in the dry and fastest in the wet at the Le Mans test days on April 8 and 9…
The car was fast through the corners but was unable to top 186mph as a consequence of not being able to pull more than 6000rpm on the Mulsanne. Aston’s were convinced that Lucas fuel injection, which was shortly to be installed would cure the problem. The quickest cars were the works Ferrari P4’s of Bandini, Amon, Scarfiotti and Parkes with Bandini at the end of the day the quickest. The two Fords driven by McLaren and Donohue ‘rumbled ominously but did not press the button’. Mind you the Mark 4 was timed at 205mph and Ferrari 198 on the Mulsanne.
The MotorSport report of the test weekend wryly observes ‘…the two giants (Ford and Ferrari) kept an eye on Lola, Ford knowing that their whole racing effort was born of the brain of Eric Broadley and Ferrari knowing that Surtees can never be underrated’… ‘Although on paper Ferrari left Le Mans as top dog, no one was being fooled by the freak circumstances, for had it been dry on Sunday it might have been a different story and both teams were very impressed with the Lola Aston Martin efforts, remembering their own experiences when running a brand new design for the first time. It seems that Ford did not want to run in the rain for fear of a repetition of the accident to Hansgen last year…’
So, in short, Lola Astons peers were impressed by the car and the threat it potentially represented.
Lola Astons first race appearance was at the Nurburgring 1000 Km on May 28…
It was planned to race the car at Spa but it was not ready in time so the beautiful beast made its race debut at the daunting Nurburgring. Lucas fuel injection was amongst the latest refinements to DP218.
On the face of it the car was far from the most nimble present, nor was the Phil Hill/Mike Spence Chaparral 2F Chev on pole, but Surtees popped ‘101’ second on the grid, he shared the drive with David Hobbs. Porsche 910’s were the next quickest group of cars.
Surtees stalled the unfamiliar car at the start but was soon up to 7th place by lap seven when a rear wishbone broke going down through the Fuchsrohre. Surtees managed to stop the car without damage to either the machinery or the driver, but that was the end of the meeting- and of useful testing miles. Udo Schutz and Joe Buzzetta won the race in a 910.
At Le Mans the team had both ‘101’ and a new chassis ‘SL73/121’ which was fitted with a longer tail made of aluminium, the standard cars body was in fibreglass made by Specialised Mouldings. The new car was to be driven by Surtees/Hobbs, the other by Chris Irwin and Peter de Klerk.
Both cars had problems in practice caused by overheating, with the Lola mechanics looking after chassis setup claiming the engines ignition timing to be 180 degrees out. Some sources have it that the overheating was caused by the different aerodynamics of the longer tail which enclosed the engine. In addition, against Aston’s advice, Surtees negotiated a sponsorship agreement to use Marchal spark-plugs. The stage was set for the disastrous events which followed.
Poor Surtees started the classic from grid 13 and then only covered 3 laps when ‘121’ was outed by a burned piston. ‘101’, the car started by Chris Irwin was back on grid 25. The drivers struggled with the car for 2.5 hours during which time the mechanics replaced a broken camshaft driveshaft, the engine lost oil pressure, overheated and finally broke a crankshaft damper.
The race was won by the Shelby American entered Ford GT Mk4 driven by the all-American crew of Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt.
Post race the Lola Astons were were returned to Slough, the ‘DP218’ engines removed and both cars re-engined with Chevrolet pushrod V8’s, the Aston experiment was over. It was clear the short term prospects of getting the engine race worthy were slim.
When the race engines were returned to AML and stripped it was found that the blocks had twisted and cracks were found in the main bearing housing. The engine went through a major redesign to strengthen the motors bottom end which prevented the launch of the Aston Martin DBS V8 road car until 1969, initially 6 cylinder variants were sold.
Surtees had this to say about the Lola Aston Martin program…
‘The Aston V8 could have achieved so much but was a total disaster. We didn’t expect to compete on out and out speed- we were hoping to a degree that weather would play a hand. If it rained a bit as it did at the Nuburgring and the Le Mans practice we were very competitive. Before Le Mans we did a long test at Goodwood, ten or twelve hours, but in the race we only lasted a few laps because Aston Martin had changed the design of the head gaskets! As soon as we got the cars back from Le Mans we took the Aston engines out and that was the end of that’.
In addition Surtees felt the T70 Mk3 chassis was inferior to his Can Am T70 Mk2 ‘I didn’t like the Mk3. The front suspension was altered and i hadn’t done any development or testing on the changes. I didn’t like the effect on the character of the car, it lacked the positiveness of the original and didn’t suit my style of driving. I didn’t mind a car being a little loose at times, but i couldn’t stand something which you couldn’t point where you wanted. Some people tried to compensate by playing with the aerodynamics, but i just stopped using the Mk3. Luckily the previous years car was still in America so we dragged that out of retirement’.
In the same MotorSport article Surtees notes the contribution of Firestone tyres to the package. He did most of the Firestone testing in the UK, with a lot of work done on springs and dampers, and working closely with Koni to keep pace with tyre development, a spin-off of the Firestone/Goodyear war of the time. ‘That brought its problems too, because as you improve the tyres you put greater stress through everything, but the car retained its user-friendly character’.
There are some contradictions in the quotes above, Surtees was a tough character, after all, despite the Lola’s shortcomings he was off the front of the grid at the Nurburgring so the chassis cannot have been too bad!
In the end the Lola Aston Martin program was one of unfulfilled promise, but David Brown was right- racing did indeed improve the breed. The rigours of competition identified design shortfalls in the original DP218 engine which were not apparent during road testing. As a consequence the modified production V8 proved to be a strong, reliable unit- and the basis of a good race engine in the decades to follow!
From Surtees perspective he had bigger fish to fry. He was juggling multiple race programs on both sides of the Atlantic with the Lola/Honda F1 exercise, Lola T100 Ford FVA F2 car and in the Can Am where Lola’s dominance was being overtaken by the ‘papaya menace’- Bruce McLaren’s M6 McLaren Chevs. John’s endurance T70 program was best advanced by bolting Chevy’s into the back of the cars in place of the Aston engines. Only a week after Le Mans Surtees ran at the front of the pack so engined at the Reims 12 Hour…before popping his Chevy engine. Unfortunately the Chevs rarely provided the reliability the T70 needed for endurance success in the blue riband events. But what a car all the same!…
1967 Endurance Season…
I wrote an article a while back about the Ferrari P4 which also profiled the main protagonists of sportscar racing in ’67- Ford Mk4, Ferrari P4 and Chaparral 2F Chev which may be of interest. The article also has photos of the Lola Astons at Le Mans.
See also this article on Le Mans 1967.
‘Aston Martin: A Racing History’ Anthony Pritchard, ‘Lola, The Illustrated History 1957 to 1977’ John Starkey, MotorSport May 1967 and August 2003, Team Dan
Rainer Schlegelmilch, Dave Friedman Archive, Autosport, MotorSport, LAT
Tailpiece: The Lola Aston Martin relationship was rekindled a while later, here the Lola B08/60 Aston Martin 6 litre V12 in 2009…