Lola Heritage


Before any viewers rush to check their MSV calendar the event in question was fifty years ago on the 27th December 1959. Having enjoyed whirlwind success with his Mkl sportscar design Lola boss Eric Broadley almost had a fairytale Christmas at the then traditional Boxing Day race meeting at Brands Hatch.

The Mkll Lola was designed and built for the burgeoning Formula Junior class although Broadley’s front engine design would soon be considered ‘historic’. Nonetheless Peter Ashdown was determined to show just how competitive the new Lola FJ prototype was. Facing strong opposition from Elva and Lotus cars from Gemini and Cooper also took part in the ten lap race "John Davy Trophy". Uniquely the Elvas of Peter Arundell and Chris Threlfall were using Auto Union 2 stroke engines, the rest of the field split evenly between the more usual Ford and BMC one litre units.

At the drop of the Union flag Mike McKee in a Cooper led as far as Paddock Bend but was overhauled by several Elvas on the way to Druids. Leading down the hill Bill de Selincourt blotted his record at Bottom Bend spinning in front of the entire field. Miraculously the pack passed without contact and at the end of the first lap the order was Arundell, Threlfall, and McKee. The track was in particularly difficult condition following rain during practice with some extremely slippery areas catching the drivers out. Ian Burgess lost a couple of places with an off-road excursion at Bottom Bend and Ian Stacey dropped to the back of the field following a rotation at Druids.

Almost unnoticed Peter Ashdown was making progress and by lap three had passed Burgess and deposed Lawrence and McKee the following tour. By the sixth lap Ashdown was on Threlfall’s tail and making life most uncomfortable for the Elva driver. Time and again Ashdown would pull alongside Threlfall but the Auto Union motor seemed to have the edge as the Elva maintained its position.
Despite the ferocity of their scrap the battling duo caught the leading Lotus of Arundell and commencing the final lap Ashdown determined to make a move. For the fourth lap running he squeezed alongside Threlfall along Bottom Straight but on this occasion managed to hold the Elva on acceleration and having the inside line for Kidney made the pass stick. Now immediately behind Arundel it was a drag race to the line. Coming on to the start finish straight Ashdown pulled out of Arundel’s slipstream to pass but the straining Ford engine could not overcome the loss of slipstream and the Elva Auto-Union claimed victory.

Threlfall held on to third and some way down the field one Jim Clark managed eighth in his Gemini. Quite a different scenario to just a few seasons later when the Clark-Arundell duo would rule the junior formulae in their Lotus’.
Eminent race reporter John Bolster summed up the event as follows;
“After the Elva victory rumours began to circulate about the fabulous power output of the two-stroke Auto Union engines; up to 90 hp was being suggested, but when Frank Nichols put Arundel and Threlfall’s engines on the brake a few days later, they returned a figure of only 68bhp! It so happened that the Lola’s Ford engine had been down on power too and the fact that those three cars had been able to pull away from the remainder of the runners can be attributed to the greasy nature of the half dry track and the superior handling of the more highly developed ‘works’ cars."

A good day for Lola became an excellent day when Alan Rees won the unlimited Sports Car race in his Mk1 Lola. No doubt there was a suitable celebration in the ‘Old Clubhouse’ afterwards. Anyone like me who can remember the sort of parties that took place there will be laughing their heads off!
Chris Threlfall’s career was sadly cut short on the 22nd May the following year at the Aix les Bains Formula Junior event. A temporary bridge intended only for officials to use for crossing the track was hijacked by spectators with disastrous results. The bridge collapsed under the weight of people just as Threlfall was approaching.

The drivers had covered only three laps of the Formula Junior race on the street course, when Trevor Taylor who led the race in a Lotus - Ford, and Dutch Lex Beels, second in a Cooper - DKW flashed under the bridge. Suddenly the wooden structure buckled and plunged to the roadway in front of the third car, driven by Threlfall. Arriving at about 140 km/h.his head smashed against the dashboard as he vainly tried to brake and avoid hitting the timbers and people sprawled on the road. The other drivers behind him swerved and braked frantically, most managed to stop in time although four of them did plough into the wreckage. Threlfall and four spectators were killed instantly. Two other spectators died in hospital shortly before midnight, twenty of the about 50 injured were hospitalized. The American driver Carrol Smith, who followed Threlfall, was slightly injured.