Update (November 22, 2014): Shortly after publishing, I noticed a few odd sentences and referred to Lola as six years younger—not older—than Lotus. Those corrections have been made.
I've written about the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti before—two of the more likeable things about him is that he pretty much never stopped doing what he loved to do and that he was always up for a challenge. The Meadows Friskysport, DAF Kini beach car for the Dutch royal family, the beautiful Matra Laser, and the featured-in-the-first-week-of-#bcotd Ferrari 365 GTC/4 beach car are all striking designs…even though the underlying concepts may have been a bit daft.
I haven't, though, written about UK racing and sports car car constructor Lola. Established in 1958, the company is a mere six years older than Lotus Cars—but without a lot of the investor baby mama drama or whatever it is that Lotus has sadly been struggling with for the last 30 years.
The UK is a nation of race car builders, and Lola has been around for years, focused almost exclusively on making cars that win races. If you wanted to go racing, you bought a Lola chassis, threw in an engine, made bodywork changes if needed, and showed up at the track on Saturday. While initially focused on smaller, Lotus 11-sized cars, they branched out into Formula cars and were instrumental in the creation of the Ford GT40.
Their next big design, the Lola T70, was the American sports racing car that helped to retire the increasingly uncompetitive GT40, and was even put into service for Can-Am. (Movie buffs will also know that the T70 was in two huge films: most of the cars wrecked in Le Mans were T70s dressed up to look like Porsches and Ferraris; and George Lucas' first feature film, THX 1138. For the even nerdier, Lucas' short film 1:42.08, which he completed while still in college, featured a Lotus 23 driven by Pete Brock.)
By the late 1970s, both Lola and Michelotti found themselves with a bit of free time. While very busy in the 1960s, as mass production started to infiltrate automakers (who also increasingly brought car design in-house), a coachbuilder like Michelotti was left with fewer and fewer contracts. Similarly Lola, who'd dominated the short-lived Formula 5000 and was subject to a decline in auto racing as manufacturer support waned in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis.
Apparently commissioned by a wealthy Canadian client, the Ultimo is based on the Lola T70 fitted with an 8.2-litre Chevrolet V8 engine. Sources peg its output at 625 horsepower, with a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) sprint in about three seconds. Top speed was a conservative 320 km/h (200 mph) The bodywork was aluminum und shteel, with the front and rear sections made with reinforced fibreglass.
In terms of pecking order, the Lola Ultimo would have unquestionably been the fastest road car in the world at the time. Consider the competition: Ferrari's Berlinetta Boxer had as much power as a chipped Subaru WRX, Porsche was busy mucking around with the 928, and the Lamborghini Countach was a better poster than performance car. The Ultimo's engine was supreme—just don't forget its race- and championship-winning chassis.
That's before I get to the styling—glass buttresses behind the cabin!
Sadly, Michelotti died early in 1980 at the age of just 59—he never stopped working.
The Ultimo wouldn't be shown until the 1981 Geneva Motor Show, a posthumous gift that laid the template for every supercar since.