|Meanwhile, back at Mike Lee’s workshop in Howley, near Chard, Somerset, the remains of the Bodyshop Lola were being dismantled. Like most racing cars, the T492 had been designed for a maximum active life of two or three seasons at the most. As a result, by the mid 1990s when I bought the car as a box of bits, it was pretty battle worn and carried the scars of assorted accidents.
The car was designed with a central monocoque tub to which a rear sub-frame carrying the engine, gearbox and rear suspension was attached. At some point a sheet of plywood had been added to the underside of the tub which, according to Mike, saved my life in the Spa accident by preventing the tub from disintegrating around me.
The tub was, we decided, a throw away job and Mike set about fabricating a new monocoque from scratch, using Lola’s original designs but upgrading material specs to improve stiffness and durability.
At the front, the T492’s brake and clutch assemblies had to be replaced as the originals had been destroyed. Lolas of the period were renowned for their relative lack of protection for the feet, ‘Lola limp’ being an occupational hazard for drivers. In view of this, Mike incorporated additional foot protection whilst remaining true to the original design concept. The rear sub-frame, too, had taken a considerable battering and this was refabricated, as was the rollcage.
The car’s Hewland Mk9 gearbox had survived undamaged although the engine – the initial cause of the accident – had been totally destroyed. A replacement engine was sourced, newly rebuilt by Phil Williams Racing Services.
As well as the main rebuild work, there was a host of other minor jobs to be carried out. The suspension parts were checked, replaced where necessary and nickel plated. The mandatory fire extinguisher system was plumbed in, complete with sensors. The driver’s seat (comprising a contoured glass fibre moulding) had been damaged at Spa and this, too, had to be made good by Mike prior to being upholstered.
KN Wheels Ltd of Telford in Shropshire, the manufacturers of the original Revolution wheels fitted to the car, came to the rescue with a new set of wheels whilst Yokohama, official tyre suppliers of today’s Sports 2000 Series, provided tyres. Mike Wilds supplied a set of body panels and the bodywork went to R-M Automotive Refinish, who had sponsored the car since my original purchase, for refurbishment and repainting.
The car’s first outing was, appropriately enough, at Silverstone for an R-M customer track day. A nightmare time trying to fit up the rear body section meant that the car was not completed until midnight of the day before. A further problem was then encountered at Silverstone when the new wheels were discovered to foul the front brake calipers. Fortunately, an engineering company operating in the Silverstone Industrial Park was able to machine away the offending metal – literally as we waited – and the newly rebuilt car proceeded to run like clockwork, looking resplendent in its new red and yellow livery, completing 65 trouble free laps of the Silverstone Historic Grand Prix Circuit.
Pressure of work – and family commitments – meant that it was another two years before the Bodyshop Lola was to turn a wheel again, this time at the VSCC’s flagship ‘British Empire Trophy’ meeting at Donington Park in June 2002.
One of the meeting’s feature races was a ‘Lola only’ race for Lola sports cars built between 1963 and 1979, designed to launch Lola Heritage – a newly formed club set up by Lola to celebrate its near 50 year history as a race car manufacturer. The race was primarily designed to attract the ‘big banger’ Lola coupes and Can-am cars of the 1960s and 1970s, and indeed more than half the field was made up of these intimidating machines. Other entries included Lola owner Martin Birrane’s own T212 and the Bodyshop Lola T492, driven by Anthony Wilds, this being the sole Sports 2000 entry.
The bad news was that, in view of the lack of entries for the Lola race, it was to be combined with the half hour ‘headline’ race for ‘Group C’ Le Mans type endurance racers of the 1980s and 90s – cars such as the Le Mans winning XJR Type Jaguars.
Anthony appeared relaxed and set off for the half-hour practise session, only to disappear round Donington’s Redgate corner, eventually reappearing on the end of a tow rope after the end of the session.
‘The car just died,’ said Anthony. Much head scratching ensued. Eventually, ace mechanic Craig Chapman discovered a minor fuel problem, which was soon fixed, and Anthony went out in a later session to complete the necessary laps to start the race, albeit at the back of the rolling-start grid.
Half an hour before the start, the heavens opened so ‘wets’ were fitted. The track conditions were atrocious and when the green light came on for the start, the noise and spray thrown up by the 30 odd sports cars on the track was truly spectacular.
At the end of the first lap, Anthony had made up three or four places and by lap two he was alongside Martin Birrane in his quick but ill handling Lola 212 – the latter subsequently retiring.
Out front, Nathan Kinch (Jaguar XJR16), Justin Law (Jaguar XJR10) and Gary Pearson (Jaguar XJR11) battled for the lead, Kinch eventually winning. Anthony, meantime, was tooling along in the Bodyshop Lola, the conditions making the car’s lack of power much less of a disadvantage. One by one he picked off the other cars and ended up surprise winner of the Lola Heritage Race. Lola founder Eric Broadley presented the winner’s trophy.
It was a bit like a Minardi winning a wet Grand Prix and credit must go to Anthony for a superb drive. Credit also to Mike Lee for the rebuild.
I am sure it was the first time a Sports 2000 has competed in a ‘Group C’ Endurance Sportscar Race and certainly the first time that a Sports 2000 has trounced a field of ‘big banger’ and Group six Lola sports cars.
My thanks to all who made it possible: Mike Lee of One-Off Engineering,
Paul Buckingham of R-M Automotive Refinish, Warren McKiernan of KN Wheels, Tom Whittaker of Yokohama Tyres, Craig Chapman and, of course, Anthony Wilds.
Christopher MannThis article originally appeared in Bodyshop Magazine, October 2002.