The phone rang……and it rang, and rang.
Eventually, Eric Broadley, fresh from the Fabrication shop and dusting off metal residue from his suit, picked it up. It was late on a Friday evening and Eric was getting ‘hands on’ with a T490 Sports 2000 tweak.
“Huntingdon 351401. Lola Cars, how may we help you,” said Broadley in his quiet and clipped engineers tone.
“Hello Eric, its Alan McKecknie here,” the voice spluttered excitedly. “We have found the next British World Champion. His name is Nigel Mansell and you need to get him in to one your cars…….and quickly!”
The following Monday, chief designer Bob Marston was seconded to Snetterton where he and experienced Lola spanner-wizard, Neil Marshall (pictured with Bob above) joined McKecknie in hurriedly applying ‘Nigel Mansell’ name decals to the side of a T570 test car, transported straight from Huntingdon that morning.
“He was quicker in 3 laps without us changing a thing than Mike Blanchet had ever been in that car,” remembers Marston. “Mike had been doing all the development driving so was very familiar with the car and the circuit, apart from which he was a very, very good driver himself. We all thought at the time that this lad Mansell was a bit special. I remember phoning Eric from the circuit afterwards and telling him. I also told him not to change the car in any way during the winter of 77/78 but needless to say he did change it quite a bit, but that was fairly typical of Eric.”
“We did a race at Silverstone with Nigel at the end of 77,” recalls Marston. “This engine was fitted with carbs not fuel injection and since part of the regs were that the induction system had to maintain a vacuum for a set length of time. When you were using carburettors you had a problem – it was almost impossible to stop leakage around throttle spindles etc. so I devised a cunning plan!”
“At scrutineering there was this really pedantic guy called Cecil. I decided to stand behind Cecil and when he stuck his bung up the intake to create the vacuum, I took hold of the pipe to the suction-pump and kinked it over to stop any flow either way.”
Such schemes were fairly regular fair in F3 during the 70s and indeed during Lola’s return to the category during the last decade, similar practices were also employed, much to the astonishment of to the naive Sniffer Media.
Marston continues: “This little plan worked a treat for the whole length of the test which was something like 30-seconds, whereupon I then released the kink and all was fine. Cecil was amazed that a carburettor set-up could maintain such a vacuum and he gasped in niaeve wonder. What I didn’t know was that Cecil’s sidekick was stood just behind me and had watched the whole charade.”
Momentarily wrong footed, Marston’s brain grabbed for explanations but in the spirit of creative engineering, a nod and a wink from the eagle eyed ‘deputy-Scrute’ sufficed! “This witness had a very knowing smile on his face but didn’t utter a word,” says an amused Marston.
Mansell finished 4th in the Silverstone race, did another at Thruxton, before climbing up the ranks to F1, after forming a bond with Colin Chapman in 1979, making his F1 debut at Österreichring a year later. A tumultuous career peaked with a tenacious F1 world title in 1992. Bob Marston left Lola in 1980 and worked for Royale before joining British Aerospace. He now lives in St Ives, Cambridgeshire and still has links to Lola via the Lola Heritage branch of the constructor.