Eric Broadley '76


Car Designer & Builder - Lola

THE CORNERSTONE OF American Formula 5000 racing is the Lola T332, a car originally designed in 1974 and built in a small factory in Huntingdon, England. Several people have tried to beat it, including the Lola people with the T400, but the 332 looks destined for yet another successful season. It has, in fact, gone back into production, an interesting commentary on the development of racing car design and one which closely parallels the situation in Formula 1.

The designer of the T332, and indeed of all Lolas, is Eric Broadley. He first appeared on the motor racing scene more than 20 years ago at much the same time and in much the same way as Colin Chapman. There were many interesting parallels in the early careers of these two, though subsequently they followed very different courses, Chapman moving on to road cars and his own Grand Prix team while Broadley concentrated on building racing cars for sale.

Like Chapman, who trained as a civil engineer, Broadley started his working life in an area far removed from cars; he was a surveyor for a large building firm. However, he had a cousin who did a little club racing with an Austin Seven Special and after helping out with car preparation, for which he was rewarded with an occasional drive, he decided to build himself a car in his spare time.                                                                                               .                                                                                                        ..

The first Lola had a 1172-cc side-valve Ford engine and was built in 1956. Broadley's driving, like Chapman's in his early days, was decidedly hairy. However, the car was sufficiently impressive for several people to order replicas, just as other competitors had ordered replicas of early Lotus models. There is another curious parallel between Broadley and Chapman in that neither will divulge the origin of their cars' names.

After two years of relative obscurity in club racing, Broadley and his cars suddenly hit the headlines in the spring of 1959 by finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 1l00-cc sports car race at the Goodwood Easter meeting. Until then such racing had been the preserve of Lotus and Cooper.

The next big step was into F1, with a mid-engine space frame car driven by John Surtees which showed tremendous promise. However, it did not have sufficient financial backing to take on the bigger teams. All this time Broadley was operating from a tiny back-street garage in Bromley on the outskirts of London and his only real income came from the sale of Formula Junior cars. Fortunately, his efforts had not gone unnoticed. Mauro Forghieri, then relatively new at Ferrari, regarded the Lola's suspension as the best in Fl.                                                                                                 .

Early in 1963 Broadley produced the Lola GT, a mid-engine coupe which was to have a major influence on his future. The power unit was a 4.7-liter American Ford V-8, and Ford became so interested in the project that they commissioned Eric to design and build the first of the Ford LeMans cars, the GT40. This involved moving to a smart new factory in Slough and brought Broadley into contact with a world which was, and still is, largely alien to him.

The Ford money enabled Lola to expand, and as a result Eric went on to build what was in many respects a direct competitor for the Ford, the Chevrolet-engine Lola T70. Variations on this theme were used for long-distance racing and the Can-Am series, and somebody even developed a road version. Then came the Indianapolis period, with Graham Hill winning the 1966 race afterJackie Stewart and his Lola had dropped out eight laps from the end while well in the lead. Broadley's bread-and-butter was still coming from production racing cars, most of them with small-capacity engines, and by 1971 the firm had outgrown its Slough factory. Hence the move to Huntingdon; 60 miles from London. By now Broadley was wholly engaged in building cars for sale, and his major concern was to rationalize design so that parts like wheels, uprights and wishbones could be made in relatively large quantities and used on a variety of models. He wai,; not helped by repeated changes of regulations.

Broadley. says, "With the number of people we employ nowadays (approximately 50) we need a lot of business to be profitable. Formula 5000 is our most profitable area per unit, but it is Formula Ford which provides the real volume. We sell about 80 Formula Fords a year in America, compared with 15 or less Formula 5000s. In fact, it will probably be considerably less this year, and we obviously won't sell many 5000s in Europe where the series is dead. 'Fortunately Formula 5000 seems to be well established in America, and I can't see any reason why it should not get stronger. The stock-block V-8 engine is an indigenous animal and American tuners have a lot of experience with it; it is certainly a lot cheaper to buy and run than the Offy.                                .

"Although we have to look at everything in a businesslike manner, it is the spirit of competition which spurs us on. In the early days I was very interested in Colin Chapman's designs, and the prospect of trying to beat him was one of the things which lured me into racing. Last year we knew that Eagle and Shadow would be making a big effort in Formula 5000, and it was this that prompted us to build the T400; we felt we had to do something to meet the challenge. As it turned out we needn't have bothered; but we weren't to know that at the time. And even though the T400 was a big let down at the start of the season, I personally feel it is very competitive now. Unfortunately the Americans are still not convinced, which is why we are producing the 332C; the C stands for Chaparral, and the car is to the same spec as the one in which Brian Redman won last year's championship."

Even though he is still busy with the 332C, Broadley is already working on a completely new F5000 car for 1977. Like the original T300 (and, for that matter, the current F1 March) it is based on a Formula 2 chassis and has very straight forward suspension. There is also a new F2/F3/F Atlantic car, and a new Formula Ford/Formula C.

Although he has not been directly involved with Grand Prix racing for a long time, Eric would like to get back into it. He also has some interesting.thoughts about a really low cost single seater racing category. "It wouldn't have to be fast for people to enjoy it. There's an enormous number of people who would like to go racing if they could do so cheaply; I think a lot of it is because of the ridiculous speed limits we have these days." Prospective sponsors for either scheme (FI or low-cost racing) should get in touch with Lola Cars, Huntingdon, England.

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Eric Broadley