Eric Broadley, founder of Lola and one of the UK’s most visionary designers and constructors of racing cars, has died at the age of 88.
Broadley, along with Colin Chapman, John Cooper and Major Arthur Mallock, was responsible for the pioneering early boom days of the British motorsport industry, having masterminded a remarkable variety of Lola models.
From the early days of the Lola Mk1 in 1958, which was designed and built in a ramshackle West Byfleet workshop, to the mighty Lola T70s of the 1960s, the fearsome F5000 cars of the '70s, and the customer Group C and Formula 1 cars of the '70s and '80s, Broadley and his team created some of racing’s most iconic designs.
After an early foray in to grand prix racing with the Reg Parnell-run Bowmaker Lola Mk4 cars in 1962, Broadley presided over a number of F1 projects during the next 35 years, including the first-ever Honda win at Monza in 1967, which used a Lola design, the Graham Hill-fronted Embassy Hill operation in the '70s and the Larousse Lola squad of the late '80s and early '90s.
Each one of these projects had their moments in the sun and Broadley’s team in Huntingdon cemented its reputation as one of the leading customer focused operations in the world.
Lola’s record at Indianapolis was the best of any overseas constructor for decades. Graham Hill became the first English driver to win at the Brickyard in 1966 with the Lola T90 Red Ball Special, while Al Unser Sr took the 500-mile triple crown – Indy, Pocono and Ontario – in a Lola T500 in 1978.
Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr, Cristiano da Matta, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy and Michael Andretti all took CART and ChampCar titles in Lola chassis, while Arie Luyendyk took a third Indy 500 win for the Huntingdon-based constructor in 1990.
Broadley himself was quiet yet confident, but also often displayed an impish sense of humour which endeared the thousands of staff that worked at Lola.
He is what would now be considered an old school engineer, who was never more at home than designing and developing a racing concept. The business element of his vision was usually directed by others, notably Derek Ongaro and Mike Blanchet.
There were some notable engineering names that passed through Lola’s doors originally in Bromley, Slough and then from 1971 to 2012 Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.
Such renowned designers as Tony Southgate, John Barnard, Bob Marston, Patrick Head, Ralph Bellamy, Mark Williams, Ben Bowlby and Julian Sole all worked for Broadley in various stages of their careers.
By 1997 the Lola empire hit trouble after the ill-advised decision to return to F1 with the fateful MasterCard deal, which failed so miserably. With Lola on the verge of collapse, Martin Birrane bought the brand and set about rebuilding and investing in it.
Broadley was involved in various projects after Lola, but largely enjoyed a peaceful retirement at his farmhouse in the village of Broughton close to Huntingdon.
Even after his era had ended at Lola, Broadley would occasionally frequent the workshops and talk to old employees.
In 2008 John Surtees drove a Lola T70 MkIIIB around the streets of Huntingdon with Eric in the ‘passenger seat’. His joy at the occasion was typically reserved but genuine in its delight.
A quiet genius of British racing car engineering is gone, and with him departs a link to the genesis of UK engineering excellence from the 1950s that saw the country become a motorsport Mecca.
Broadley’s achievements as the brains behind Lola are staggering, and it says much for his benign and quirky personality that he was known as the ‘engineer’s engineer’ rather than an effervescent personality such as Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrrell or Ron Dennis.
Like his beautiful creations, such as the Lola Mk6, Lola T70, Lola T212 and Lola T332, Broadley’s actions as an engineer always led by example. There was little, if any significant ego related to his work, but this didn’t mean the man wasn’t fiercely competitive. Indeed, a deep-rooted drive to compete was what set him on a remarkable journey as head of Lola.
The models and projects are too numerous to list, but consider that his company won three Indy 500s, seven CART and ChampCar titles and a number of International Sportscar championships.
In Formula 1 it never quite happened for Lola, yet still some memorable programmes scored respectable results.
As well as the 'Hondola' of 1967, there were the Larousse years, when - particularly in 1990 - Eric Bernard and Aguri Suzuki punched above their collective weights to score a decent haul of points, including a podium at Suzuka.
All this was done too largely before one-make series were even considered. The competition was tough: March, Reynard, Ralt, Brabham, Eagle, Penske, and so on. Lola was always enormously respected by teams, drivers and engineers as a quality competitive constructor.
So how will Eric Broadley be remembered?
Those who knew and worked with him will remember him fondly and with affection. His vision and dedication to Lola deserves the same respect rightly afforded to Chapman, Williams, McLaren, Dennis and Brabham, because the influence he had on the UK motorsport industry was so vital.
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