• Twitter
  • Facebook

Lola Cars is rescued: new buyer pledges to restore it as leading force in racing

Ten years after Lola Cars was closed, the company is being revived by businessman Till Bechtolsheimer who has bought the name and assets, with a plan to restore the brand "as a leading design and engineering force in modern motorsport"

Lola Cars is back. One of the world’s greatest racing car constructors is set for revival a decade after it closed for business, thanks to a US-based Englishman who has taken ownership of the company, the brand and all its assets.

Till Bechtolsheimer, a businessman, part-time racing driver and enthusiast, has purchased the still-functioning Technical Centre in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, all the designs and IP of every Lola model since its founding in 1958 and full rights to the Lola name, in a deal that was initially triggered by reading about the company’s availability in Motor Sport last year

In an exclusive interview with Motor Sport, Bechtolsheimer, who announced the deal today, has confirmed his intention not only to safeguard Lola’s rich heritage, but to relaunch the company as a design house and constructor in contemporary motor sport.

TIll Bechtolsheimer in Lola LMP1 car

In the driving seat: Bechtolsheimer has plans for immediate upgrades
Johnny Puetz

“Our plan is to re-establish Lola as a leading design and engineering force in modern motor sport,” he said. “I have built a career investing in energy efficiency and see motorsport playing a significant role in the innovation and testing of new solutions. Through Lola, we hope to develop and provide investment for some of these solutions.

“I have a huge amount of respect for the industry and understand that this will be a long process. We have immediate plans for substantial upgrades to the Lola Technical Centre, in particular the wind tunnel, and are actively working towards our first project to put new Lolas back on track.

“I firmly believe that our biggest asset is the Lola name and what it means to so many in the motorsport industry. It will help us to attract great talent and form lasting partnerships.”

The deal marks the start of a third age for Lola, which first went out of business under founder Eric Broadly in 1997. Irishman Martin Birrane successfully picked up the baton and ran the company until 2012 when he chose to close Lola down. Birrane, who died aged 82 in June 2018, strived to sell Lola complete as a going concern, but failed to find a buyer. His family company, London-based property firm Peer Group, reignited the search in 2020, when Motor Sport visited the Huntingdon technical facility to view the assets.

Amanda Birrane, chairman of Peer Group, said: “My family is very pleased that the Lola brand is in the ownership of a businessman and racer who will write the next chapter for this long-established British motor racing icon.  My father would be delighted to see Lola back in competitive motor sport and especially back at Le Mans. We wish Till every success.”

Bechtolsheimer, 40, is the founder of New York-based investment firm Arosa Capital, which specialises in energy, energy efficiency and renewables, including emerging technologies in the transport and automotive worlds. He is also a racer of historic cars and since 2016 has competed regularly in modern sports car and endurance racing in the US. This year he is racing in the WeatherTech Endurance Championship and will be driving this weekend in the next round at Watkins Glen. He has also raced at the Pikes Peak Hill climb in Colorado and last year expanded into off-road competition by taking on the Baja 1000.

“The intention is to bring Lola back to a version of what it was”

Bechtolsheimer explained to what has motivated him to buy Lola. “It’s a combination of things. I actually saw the piece in Motor Sport initially saying that it was up for sale. I don’t know really what it was – curiosity, more than anything, motivated me to send an email to ask what was going on. That curiosity, coupled with the romantic idea of being able to perhaps play a small part in trying to prevent such an iconic brand from being consigned to the history books, was the initial pull.

“What gave me the confidence to actually go through with it was what I found the more time I spent with the idea. Motor sport across the board, from top to bottom, is going through an awful lot of change at the moment. All of the major forms of motor sport are seeing new regulations come in and pretty fundamental questions are being asked on the approach to the next century of racing. That creates an interesting moment in time to try and do this, especially coupled with the automotive industry at large going through probably its biggest change since the Model T.”

Lola T70 in blue with yellow stripe

Bechtolsheimer wants Lola to be a leading force in racing again, as it was in the days of the legendary T70

He references his own business background and the example of Williams Advanced Engineering as influences on how he thinks a relaunched Lola can succeed. “When you look at the success WAE have had, they have demonstrated that the innovation that takes place through racing has a much greater application than just into motor sport, and I think that’s a big part of my interest in Lola as well.”

Lola produced nearly 5000 racing cars across 400 different models across most genres of circuit-based motor sport through a span of seven decades. But while a Lola revival could clearly be good news to owners of historic cars, Bechtolsheimer is adamant the company can still find fertile ground in the modern sport.

Lola produced nearly 5000 racing cars across 400 different models across most genres of circuit-based motor sport through a span of seven decades. But while a Lola revival could clearly be good news to owners of historic cars, Bechtolsheimer is adamant the company can still find fertile ground in the modern sport.

“The intention is to bring Lola back to a version of what it was,” he says. “To me, it was always at the forefront of motor sport and whenever there was a new evolution of motor sport Lola was always there trying to put its mark on that. Its DNA was always the customer offering, and secondly, partnerships with automotive OEMs (manufacturers). That is ultimately what I’d like to get Lola back to.

“I’m deeply aware that’s a bold statement and it’s not an underestimation of the motor sport industry. I have a huge amount of respect for the industry and it’s going to take a lot of time to get there. But it’s something to build towards.”

TIll Bechtolsheimer with Lola Mk1

Bechtolsheimer with the Lola Mk1
Johnny Puetz

Conversations have already begun on potential arenas and projects for Lola to commit to, including in IMSA – although Bechtolsheimer refused to be drawn further on details. What he won’t be considering, however, is a Lola entry into Formula 1, the form of motor sport that caused both Broadley and Birrane a deal of pain during their Lola eras.

“I use Eric Broadley and Martin Birrane as a north star and in this case, to probably learn from their mistakes,” says Bechtolsheimer. “Formula 1, especially nowadays, has moved into another dimension and I think the prospects of getting burnt in F1 don’t really appeal to me too much! F1 is not something that is a focus for Lola, it would be an unrealistic goal for us. I’d like to think we are moving into an era where there is enough oxygen available to other forms of motor sport. When you look at the new sports car regulations next year in the World Endurance Championship and IMSA, it’s really exciting and we are going to see another golden age of sports car racing. And with Penske taking over IndyCar, it’s probably the healthiest it’s been in decades. You are starting to see all these other forms of motor sport get a new lease of life, while in the case of things like Formula E there’s a form that is building out its own important segment. I’m more interested in trying to bring Lola back to all those other forms of motor sport where it’s always played a really important part.”

From the archive

Bechtolsheimer grew up as a fan, is a long-time subscriber to Motor Sport and raced karts during his childhood. “When I was 10 years old I made a deal with my dad that if I agreed never to ride motorcycles on the road he would get me a go-kart, and I’ve kept to my end of the bargain to this day,” he says. His success in business allowed him to indulge his passion for historic racing and led him to the modern endurance arena, but he stresses and accepts that he has no direct experience of running a company in motor sport.

“I’m an enthusiast, I’m not from the industry and I’m very conscious of that. My intention is not to run Lola, it’s to try and create a platform for industry people to come in. I want to put it into the hands of the right people who actually know what they are doing, to allow them to make strides. I don’t have all the answers.”

The first priority is to upgrade the wind tunnel, which has remained as a functioning business since 2012 under the company name of Wind Tunnel Developments. Long-time Lola employee Chris Saunders, who has maintained the business, remains on board and Bechtolsheimer has already made other hirings, mostly on a consultancy basis so far, to kickstart the revival.

“We’re actively looking for what will be the first project that will bring Lola Cars and Lola-designs back on track,” he says. “We’re in discussions with a number of different firms in a number of different forms of motor sport. None of them are ready for public consumption, but my hope is that in the not-too-distant future we can make an announcement.”

Lola LMP1 and LMP2 cars

A return to IMSA and WEC is strongly hinted

Although his ownership is only just being announced today, Bechtolsheimer has been hard at work behind the scenes all year on Lola’s future and has been encouraged by the response he has experienced within the industry.

“I’ve been amazed at the doors that have opened to me because of the Lola name,” he says. “There’s a warm reception I’m getting from so many people in the industry, from top brass who at some point did a stint at Lola and have fond memories. It has an endearing quality to it, even from potential future competitors who have been eager to help and point me in the right direction.

“There’s a unique aspect to the Lola brand that is not lost on me. If you build a Lola car people are interested – it’s got real pedigree because it’s a Lola. But it works just as well in partnership with an automotive brand, and it’s done that throughout its history.”

In our report last year, we cast doubt on whether there was any hope for Lola to find another Broadley or Birrane to take it on. Turns out in Till Bechtolsheimer it might just have found that figure. The third age of Lola has begun.

Original content