Whatever Lola Wants - Lola Gets!

Driving a Lola F 5000

The Lola cars were built by Eric Broadley in the UK, and it is rumoured that he coined the name after the musical score, Whatever Lola Wants - Lola Gets! Having been involved in the production of racing cars myself, I know what Broadley would have felt. As you design and then build a race car, it becomes top priority. The family starves before the car is deprived of parts!

Many people wonder just what the fire-breathing F 5000 cars were like to drive, and let me assure you, that is exactly what they were. Fire breathers! 5 litre Chev V8’s delivering 550-600 BHP stuffed in the back of an F1 style chassis weighing just over 600 kgs all up with fuel and oil. I have had that opportunity to drive one, so read on and see what it is like to do 300 kays per hour in a single seater.

Firstly a little about “my” Lola. This was a Lola T 430, one of only three ever built as a special order for Count Van Der Straaten for the VDS Team. These were not related to the T 330/T 332/T 400 series cars, but were three specials using, it is presumed, a smaller F 2 tub. Brackets had to be added to the central tub to get the suspension pick-up points far enough outboard, and at one stage these cars were even known as the “Flying Brackets.”

As all modern race cars it was rear engined, with the 5 litre Chev mated to a Hewland DG 300 transaxle (gearbox and differential combined). Very wide slicks, huge wing and large discs on all four wheels naturally. These were purpose built 5 litre race cars that would do 0-160 kays in 4.6 seconds and a standing quarter of a mile in under 10 seconds. Of the three cars, one was destroyed in a race crash, one is in America and this particular car I last saw advertised for crazy money in a NZ magazine.

As I got in to drive the car for the first time, the owner said, “Imagine you are sitting in a coffin, surrounded by petrol, with 500 pounds of engine and gearbox on your back and using your feet as the front bumper!” With those cautionary words ringing in my ears I fired up 600 horsepower of Chevrolet.

These cars were before the auto transmission, steering wheel flippers of today’s F1 car. There was a strong clutch pedal to depress, a right hand gear shift, and a tachometer to tell you when you reached 7,000 RPM and it was time to change gear again.

And change gear you do, as there is so much power to weight that as soon as you have found 3rd gear, you are looking for 4th and then 5th. This is not a high revving “peaky” engine, but an engine with Grunt. And that is a capital G! At Calder Raceway in Victoria, Australia, Lola and I did 300 kph down the short straightaway. It would have done more if the straight had been longer.

Driving an F 5000 has been described as, “Like throwing a four pound sledge hammer handle first.” The weight is all in the tail, and indiscriminate jumping on the go pedal half way round a corner will see the rear bite and the front of the car lift and jump across the race surface. These are cars that demand concentration and demand to be driven into and around corners by people who are not afraid of four pound sledge hammer throwing!

It is actually very difficult to drive these things slowly. Get too low in the revs and the car “lumps” its way around the track as you have got off the power curve. The car will also not steer nicely in the corners and you find that you are taking the bends in a series of “swoops” rather than a smooth line. These vehicles need to be driven hard to make the job easier, even though that sounds a bit of an oxymoron.

The technique to going quick in one of these jiggers is to leave the braking as late as possible, and enter the corner under brakes, so that the front tyres are biting. Now you gently feed in the power and as you get past the apex of the corner you can start using as much welly as you dare. You will find you come out of the corner so fast that you are immediately looking for the next gear up, and before you know it, there is another corner in front of you. Brakes - gears - turn in - smooth power - to full power and you’re away again.

The T 430 was known as a ‘nervous’ car, and “mine” certainly was that day. Too much accelerator too soon would see the Lola scrabbling for traction - none of your sissy ‘traction control’ in one of these. With undulations in the track surface, the Lola becomes “squirrelly” and you rely on the huge back tyres to push the car straight again. The F 5000 is not a car to relax in, it is a vehicle that demands intense concentration. You do not have to be Charles Atlas to drive one, but you need your full faculties of concentration. 50 laps in one of these is more of a mental exercise than a physical exercise.

The cornering speeds are so high, that you don’t look and drive to a visual apex. You ‘sense’ where the car is, relative to the track, and work out what correction you have to do with your brain. Quite different from road driving which is a visual sensory input. Driving something as quick as the F 5000 needs you to have your vestibular system working overtime (that’s the part of your inner ear that tells you where you are in space and whether you are upside down). You are not driving by the seat of your pants - you are driving with what’s between your ears!

To reinforce that, when you are driving an open wheeler at speed you do not “see” the front wheels. You know they are there, but they “disappear” as you concentrate on getting the car around the corner at the fastest speed possible. You do not have the time to look at the wheels, you are looking several hundred metres down the track and just letting your peripheral vision pick up the track edges.

However, even though it is not the most physical pursuit you can do, driving an F 5000 does have a physical side. Physical pain. You may have read of drivers having a “seat fitting” before going to test a race car, and this is most important. You have to be comfortable in them. The G forces in the corners and under brakes are so high that unless the seat is a very snug fit, you move around in the vehicle (even though you are wearing a 6 point harness) and bang bits of your body on all sorts of tubes and projections.

These were real “men’s” cars (although a couple of ladies did compete in the category). Big, noisy and ballsy (which is why none of the ladies who tried them were too successful in them). I am happy to have left my fingerprints in one! And 300 kays ain’t hanging about either!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I said to take a look at this car. I wanted to know where it was built and what was the connection between it and the Shah of Iran? This was the Peykan, a CKD Hillman Hunter built in Iran. When the Shah was overthrown the exports of the CKD crates ceased. At one stage, exports of the Peykan were the greatest number of cars exported from the UK. How about that!

So to this week and here is something completely different! One of my American motoring friends has kept a camera with him and snapped a few “interesting” vehicles in Thailand over time. I am not sure on some of these either. I am looking for you to let ME know what they are!

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first to correctly identify all three and fax 038 427 596 or email [email protected]

Good luck!