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Can-Am Champions, 1966: John Surtees and the Lola T70

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Dan Gurney (#30) and John Surtees (#3) in Lola T70s at Bridgehampton in 1966. Photos courtesy Ford Motorsports, unless otherwise noted.

Can-Am evolved as a series that saw one dominating car and driver combination each year. And 1966, that first year, was no different as John Surtees and the Lola T70 took home the inaugural Can-Am trophy.

More than 50 years on since earning the distinction, John Surtees remains the only man to win top-level world championships on both two wheels and four. The 500cc motorcycle Grand Prix champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960, Surtees claimed the Formula 1 title in 1964 for Ferrari by the slimmest of margins, besting Graham Hill by a single point. Surtees also can claim the dual distinction of being the first person to win a Can-Am race and a Can-Am season championship, which he did in 1966 behind the wheel of the innovative Lola T70.

Eric Broadley

Eric Broadley, circa 1967.

Eric Broadley had already established his bona fides as a successful race car designer and constructor by 1965. His early sports racing cars made trouble for Lotus and his Formula Junior and other lesser formula cars led to the Mark IV, his first effort at Formula 1. Though the rear-engine car did not win any points-paying races, it did score a pole position in its first championship race at the Dutch Grand Prix with Surtees at the wheel.

But it was the Ford V-8-powered Lola Mark VI sports racing car that really put Broadley on the map. Faster than more expensive European contemporaries, despite its Ford small-block V-8 under the rear hatch, the Mark VI captured Ford’s attention and the Blue Oval hired Broadley, who essentially updated his design and construction techniques for the car that ultimately became the world-beating GT40.

John Surtees 2011

John Surtees at Goodwood in 2011, driving a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow. Photos courtesy Daimler AG.

Not being a fan of Ford’s corporate environment, Broadley left and returned to Lola Cars. One of his first projects became the T70, a mid-engined sports racer that was successful almost right out of the box. Designed to compete in the European sports car races, the T70 was later modified to Can-Am specs, with both Ford and Chevy power. Considered the Mark II version for 1966, the second-year T70 weighed less, owing to more efficient bonded and riveted, versus welded, construction of the monocoque, along with the jettisoning of the no-longer-required spare tire.

With a dry weight of 1,600 pounds (or 1,499 pounds according to different sources) and a Chevrolet small-block V-8 making approximately 490 hp with a four-Weber two-barrel setup, performance was exhilarating even with its two fuel tanks filled with a combined 60 gallons of fuel. Surtees won three of the Can-Am races that year at the opener at St. Jovite, Riverside and Las Vegas. Mark Donohue also drove the same combination to take the win Mosport.

Dan Gurney

Dan Gurney on his way to a win in the Lola T70 at Brideghampton, 1966.

Dan Gurney, always one to do things his own way, drove a Ford small-block-powered T70 to the race win at Laguna Seca. And by doing things his own way, that meant he used Gurney-Weslake cylinder heads on the engine to allegedly produce even more power than the Chevy brigade. Only Phil Hill in the Chevy-powered Chaparral 2E kept the Lola T70 from running the tables in Can-Am in 1966.

Surtees and Lola racing together in Can-Am were practically a natural combination as Surtees’ own organization served as what was essentially the factory team. He had helped Broadley develop the car while racing it in the U.K. and North America in 1965. In fact, during that T70’s initial season in 1965 (before the Can-Am), Surtees suffered from a life-threatening accident that occurred while testing at Mosport. Surtees missed the final races of the ’65 F1 season before triumphing in his return to the sport in 1966 and later earning that coveted first Can-Am title.

Though Lola was later trumped by the McLaren and Porsche operations in subsequent Can-Am seasons, that first season proved exemplary. Surtees returned to the series in 1969, behind the wheel of the Chaparral 2H, one of Jim Hall’s incredibly innovative, and yet, unsuccessful Can-Am cars.