The ex-Roger Penske, Mark Donohue Can-Am Lightweight
1969 Lola T163 Sports Racer
Chassis no. SL 163/17
Lolas Eric Broadley was a prolific designer and constructor of racing cars. Unusually for the time he pursued a business plan that relied on customers exclusively, with no factory or even factory-backed team to carry the flag in competition. Lolas cars had to be right, because essentially all the development was carried out by clients teams who were not, as fierce competitors, likely to share their setup sheets with other Lola teams.
As the proliferation of highly successful multi-car teams in all forms of motorsports today show, that was an inherent challenge. It was as well a different era commercially where purses of a few thousand dollars were sufficient to attract teams and drivers from all over the world to travel across America in the annual late-season romp called the Canadian-American Challenge Cup series, the Can-Am. It was, however, huge money at the time, with purses in the series first three years amounting to just over a million dollars plus sponsor and contingency money.
Roger Penske and Mark Donohue were early participants in the Can-Am, finishing second in the series first year, 1966, and tying for third in 1967, both years driving Lola T70s. The team won the 1967 U.S. Road Racing Championship, taking six of the seven races. In 1968 as the teams activities expanded they made a change to the dominant McLaren chassis but running a customer car against the factory McLaren team was inconsistent with the Penske/Donohue objective of always having the best machinery obtainable. For 1969 Penske made a deal with Lola to use its chassis for both oval track and road racing. Broadley and Lola had worked their way through several iterations of the basic T70 and now created a new and improved car, the T163.
1969 was to be a seriously ambitious year for Penske and Donohue encompassing the Trans Am Camaro, Lola T152 and T150 for the USAC oval races, a new T70 MkIII for endurance races and the improved open T163 for Can-Am. Penske wanted even more than the standard T163 and asked Lola to build a special extra lightweight version just for them, as Mark Donohue notes in his book The Unfair Advantage, He could use titanium, or whatever was more expensive, for just this one car. Donohue noted that Broadley wasnt enthusiastic about the idea, but complied, creating a unique lightweight tub with multiple reinforcements to make up for the light gauge aluminum used.
Other commitments kept the Penske team from readying the lightweight T163 in time to compete in the first Can-Am races and, even though it still had little preparation and testing, it wasnt until Mid-Ohio in August that both car and team showed up for their first Can-Am. The T163 handled, by Penske/Donohue standards, badly then broke a half shaft in practice and another in qualifying but not before Mark qualified as the best of the rest in third place, 3.6 seconds behind Denny Hulme, 3.3 seconds behind Bruce McLaren and a half second in front of Chuck Parsons in a standard Lola T163. Not surprisingly nine laps into the race a half shaft failed. The broken shaft tore up rear of the chassis, which wasnt helped by running into an embankment.
Penske recognized the futility of continuing to try to develop the lightweight T163 for Can-Am along with the teams other, more successful and commercially more important, race series and withdrew from the remainder of the Can-Am races in order to concentrate on what was important, lucrative and capable of being won.
The Lightweight Lola T163 was eventually sold to the present owner who was racing another Lola T163. The damaged car rested in his garage and never raced again. About fifteen years ago he began a restoration which first entailed re-skinning the tub with thicker aluminum than Lola had used in the search for an unfair advantage for Penske and Donohue.
A variety of reasons were proposed in the past for the half shaft failures. Donohue thought it was due to removing the suspension bump stops which moved the half shafts beyond the useful range of their universal joints. Others have speculated that it might have been the result of lowering the engine and transaxle to get the center of gravity as low as possible. The owner/restorer thinks it was simply that the lightweight tub, even with its intricate riveted-in stiffeners and reinforcements, was flexing, which is why he re-skinned it, increasing the sheet metal gauge from the sparse 20 gauge Lola employed to keep the weight down to 16 and 18 gauge employed in other Lola T163 monocoque tubs.
The restoration was completed about three years ago and other than some shakedown laps at Lime Rock has zero time on it since it was done. Many of the characteristic details of the lightweight tub were retained or replicated in the restoration including re-creating the triangular panel insert below the drivers knees where an auxiliary fuel cell was placed in the original and several characteristic mounting and placement details. The original lightweight monocoque panels were retained for reference and are available to the buyer.
A correct T163 body taken off the original molds was obtained from Waterman in England. The engine is a GM big block 510 with Lucas/Kinsler fuel injection good for at least 750 brake horsepower. The transaxle is a Lucas LG600. The wheels have been upgraded to stronger modern BBS alloys and the brakes similarly are upgraded to Wilwood discs.
During restoration care was taken to re-create the configuration and appearance of the Penske/Donohue Sunoco sponsored Lola T163 as it was raced in its only appearance at Mid Ohio on August 17, 1969 including the Sunoco Blue paint, bright yellow Sunoco brand identification and white numerals. The unusual rear spoiler developed by Mark Donohue is also duplicated.
A graphic reminder of the attention to detail for which Roger Penskes teams were becoming known even in the late 60s comes with the car, its original fitted fabric car cover in Sunoco Blue to match the car.
Completely fresh and ready to be shaken down for historic racing, this is a rare and exceptional opportunity to acquire a documented Penske/Donohue sports racing car from only its second owner. It has an intriguing history and has been restored by its owner who prepared and raced a similar car in the early Seventies. The authenticity of its configuration, ownership and race history is thus assured, the kind of provenance, history and restoration accuracy that is exceedingly rare for sports racing cars of this period, much less a Penske/Donohue car.
A significant piece of the Penske/Donohue unfair advantage history, the 1969 Lola T163 was the essential precursor to the Penske/Donohue/Follmer Porsche 917 Panzerwagen juggernaut that completely dominated the Can-Am in 1972 and 1973. The Penske/Donohue Sunoco cars have a following and instant recognition around the world. Participation by the special lightweight Penske/Donohue Lola T163 in races and events in the U.S. and in Europe will be eagerly sought by organizers where it will not only be competitive on the track but also a major spectator draw.