Eric Broadley was one of those important people in the background of motorsports. He was better known through the name of his company who constructed more than 2,000 vehicles and won championships and races the world over: Lola.
Broadley was born in southern England on the 22nd September 1928 and trained as an architect after the Second World War – he would have missed conscription by a couple of years. He got a job first as a cabinet maker and then as a quantity surveyor which funded his first forays into motor racing via the 750 Motor Club. This lead him to meet many other engineers and racers who were looking to extract as much speed from their cars and this ultimately lead (like others) to building his own car in 1956. His cousin had encouraged him to design a new car to take on the other “specials” appearing on British circuits.
The Broadley Special was based on an Austin 7 chassis fitted with his own bodywork and powered by an 1100cc Ford sidevalve engine. Success was almost immediate and Broadley won the 1172 championship with the 750 Motor Club which meant people wanted to buy one of his cars to race, so he redeveloped it into the Lola Mark 1 fitted with a 1-litre Coventry Climax engine and based around a space frame chassis. With significant success against Lotus, more and more buyers were coming to the door, so a company was created to supply the ever growing list of customers.
The legend has it that the first car was called Lola after a popular song from the musical “Damn Yankees” and when it was sold to pay for the Mark 1, it was renamed Lolita after a scandalous book of the time! Broadley was very much like Colin Chapman and Jack Brabham a little later, where he would drive his own cars, win races and then sell copies!
By the early 1960s, Broadley was designing single seaters for Formula Junior and even Formula 1 and despite patchy results, Broadley took a step sideways and designed a sports prototype racer for Le Mans using a US sourced Ford V8 and it performed well at the 24 Hour Race until the gearbox failed. Ford saw some potential in the vehicle and essentially acquired it to be the basis of the highly successful Ford GT40.
Broadley worked for Ford for one year until differences in the development of the GT40 meant he walked away to rejuvenate Lola Cars Ltd. This time he concentrated in single seaters for Formula 5000 and the Indy 500 with Graham Hill taking the 1966 race for Mecum Racing in a Lola T-90 and then took on the Can-Am monsters with John Surtees taking the first championship with a T-70 also in 1966.
Broadley also figured out that he could be a contract race car manufacturer and built F1 cars for Honda, Hill, Larrousse, Carl Haas and even Scuderia Italia. The Honda in 1968 was probably the most successful of these teams and Broadley was also contracted to create a Group C racer for Nissan in the late 1980s. After Broadley sold the company, it concentrated on US racing series with even greater success.
One area that Broadley excelled in, was mentoring many of the engineers and car designers that gained success in later decades. Notable people who benefited from being with Broadley include Sir Patrick Head, whose later Williams F1 cars were dominant, John Barnard whose McLaren F1 cars were also significant winners and even Tony Southgate who took Jaguar to Le Mans victory in the 1980s.
His work was only connected with Lola and the nascent GT40 program and unlike other engineers, was also very good at managing the business behind the company. He was married twice and had three children. His son, Andrew, now runs Broadley Automotive focused on keeping all those classic racers in good working order and competitive in historic racing.
Broadley died of a stroke on the 28th May 2017 at the age of 88.
Image sourced from SnapLap.