Lifestyle

Dramatic Climax


The Lola-Climax Mk I was perhaps the most sought-after of all British small-capacity sports-racing cars of the 1950s

This well-presented Lola-Climax Mk I is not only a fine example of perhaps the most sought-after of all British small-capacity sports-racing cars of the 1950s, it is also one that can boast an exceptional history. The Lola Mk I was the first commercial sports-racing car product of Lola Cars, Ltd., newly established in 1958 by Eric Broadley, one of the most renowned and best regarded of all great British racing car designers.

Eric Broadley's first prototype was constructed at the West Byfleet workshop of fabricator and sheet-metal specialist Maurice Gomm. Over the following four years, 35 of the multi-tubular space frame Mk I sports racing cars were built at the Bromley, South London, garage of business partner Rob Rushbrook.

Before the advent of the exceptionally pretty Lola Mk I, 1,100-cc sports car racing was dominated by the exotically sleek Lotus Eleven, with occasional intervention by the Elva marque. However, the new 1,100-cc Lola was immediately a winner. The lovely Lola became the first sports car of any capacity to lap Brands Hatch inside one minute, and the cars broke the Lotus Eleven stranglehold on their class and forced Colin Chapman to rethink that design to create the unsuccessful Lotus 17.

As offered here, the car has been very little used in recent years and the mandatory checks should be undertaken prior to competitive use. We recommend the consideration of this Lola -- a potential front-runner in capable hands within its present-day Historic racing class. It is a wonderful reminder of Lola's Lotus-eating foundations and above all, one of the most beautifully-styled and proportioned front-engined sports-racing cars of all time.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $188,420 at the Bonhams Goodwood Revival auction on August 31, 2007.

Over my years doing this column for SCM, I've had occasion to write about all manner of old racing cars. I've written about glorious failures, dominant successes, quirky specials, crown jewels, driver's cars, and truly awful drivers. In all my stories, I don't think I've ever written about a car whose defining characteristic was that it is an irrepressible-grin, bugs-in-your-teeth, YEE-HAH! fun car to drive. My shop maintains a number of these for various clients, so I know them well. For sheer giggles per lap, I don't think there is a vintage racer around that can match the Lola Mk I.

Eric Broadley trained as an architect in the late 1940s, but his heart was in motor racing. In those days in England, there was a "Clubman" class that used a side-valve 1,172-cc Ford engine and consisted mostly of Austin 7-based home-built specials. Eric and his cousin built a car for the class, called the Broadley Special, and Eric drove it with good success in the mid-'50s. They decided the next step should be to build something to compete with the Lotus Eleven that was dominating small-bore sports car racing at the time, so they sold the special for an impressive £600 ($1,680) to finance the project, and Broadley set to work on a design. He came up with an extremely sophisticated tubular chassis design that was very stiff but weighed only 60 pounds. As the project gained headway, he had to sell his motorbike to generate the required funds, and the car gained the name "Lola" after the popular song "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets." Maurice Gomm crafted the original aluminum bodywork.

"Lola" immediately started winning

"Lola" was finished and registered in July 1958, and immediately started winning, originally with Broadley driving and then with the more-accomplished Peter Ashdown. By late in the year, they had requests to build three additional cars, so Broadley sold Lola (the car), borrowed £1,000 ($2,800) from his father, and set up Lola Cars, Ltd. to produce what was now called the Lola Mk I. They built three cars for the 1959 season and then really got going in 1960, when most of the cars were built. Officially, they built 35 before production ended in 1962, though a few more chassis may well have escaped out the back door in a familiar tradition for avoiding British auto taxes.

By 1960, the Lola Mk I was the car to have in small-bore sports racing, clearly outshining the (1956 design) Lotus Eleven and generally proving faster than the Lotus 17 and Elva Mk 5, which were designed to compete with it. It remained the class of the field until the mid-engined Elva Mk 6 arrived in 1961, followed by the Lotus 23 in 1962. If you accept the concept that the 1950s was the period of front-engined, skinny-tired race cars and that the '60s were the advent of mid engines and sticky tires, the Lola Mk I was the last and the greatest of small-bore 1950s racers.

Did I mention that they are fun to drive? It seems to be a combination of Lola getting everything right. First of all, they're gorgeous, and though it shouldn't matter, it does; sitting in one just makes you feel good. It's an amazingly small car in its feel, much smaller somehow than the Lotus Eleven. The body is stretched very tightly over the mechanical package, the wheelarches bulge to cover the 15-inch wheels and tires, and the cockpit hangs on to a 6 foot, 200 lb driver like me just like a formula car. This is a car you wear. Driving it, the first thing you notice is that it's amazingly quick. The Climax engine is a joy to run.

The car weighs 1,100 lbs dripping wet and the cars my shop maintains routinely generate 115 hp at the wheels, so you're talking power to weight of under 10:1, which ain't slow. The tires are really skinny (4-inch tread at the front, 4 1/2 at the back) so they don't have a lot of grip, but you're not turning or stopping much weight either. Plus, the car just loves to be driven loose. This is not a knife-edge car; the limit is wide, forgiving, and asking to be explored.

One of the great driving experiences

The overall combination is one of the great driving experiences in vintage racing, and also one of the most ego-satisfying. A well-driven Lola Mk I can show its heels to Ferraris and Listers in the '50s grid on short tracks like Laguna Seca and can run embarrassingly close to the lead even at tracks like Watkins Glen or Elkhart Lake. Unfortunately, the vintage racing world has already discovered this, and Lola Mk I values have doubled over the past three or four years. They now trade at a substantial premium over the Lotus Eleven, which, with its aluminum body and frequently longer racing resume, would appear to be a better "collector" car.

A Lotus Eleven with full race preparation sold at the same auction for $165,000, while this Lola Mk I sold for $188,000, needing, I'd guess, $25,000 worth of work to have it truly race-ready. Interestingly, I'd say this was almost exactly fair money.

The Lola Mk I uses a fiberglass body (except for the first few). The cars were sold to privateers and mostly raced in regional- and national-, rather than international-level events. On top of that, they ran in the small-bore class, which isn't where the grand reputations were established, so they really shouldn't (and probably don't) have much collector value. On the other hand, they were and are giant killers. They are incredibly fun to drive, relatively inexpensive to maintain, and drop-dead gorgeous. The Lola Mk I is probably the ultimate weapons-grade vintage racing car, and the value reflects the fact. It was fairly bought in today's market.

Details

Years Produced: 1959-62

Number Produced: 35

Original List Price: $2,800

SCM Valuation: $175,000-$225,000

Chassis # Location: Top of tube just above driver's left foot

Engine # Location: Boss on right front of block

Club Info: Lola Heritage

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1956-60 Lotus Eleven, 1959 Lotus 17, 1958-60 Elva Mk 4, 5

Investment Grade: A


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