1970 Lola T153 'Sunoco Special'
$500,000 - $700,000
RM | Sotheby's - MONTEREY 24 - 25 AUGUST 2018
- Offered on Saturday
- The only T153 built; purchased new by Roger Penske
- A two-time Indianapolis 500 competitor; 2nd overall in 1970 with Mark Donohue
- Raced at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2004 and 2015
- Presented in 1970 Sunoco Special livery
Please note that this lot is being offered with a reserve.
Coming off a 7th-place finish at the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and being named “Rookie of the Year,” it was clear that Mark Donohue, and Roger Penske, had their sights set on 1970 being an exciting race. Looking for a podium finish, if not an outright win, both team and driver would need a new car to make that a reality. Happy with Lola’s performance over the previous season, the team simply sent back their existing T152 and making a few requests for their new chassis for the 1970 season, giving birth to the T153.
Correspondence in the car’s history file from Lola Heritage shows that chassis no. SL 153/6 was invoiced to Roger Penske on 2 April 1970, sans engine and gearbox. Lola carried on chassis numbers through previous type numbers, hence the T153’s designation as “chassis 6,” yet it would be the only T153 produced. This car differed from the preceding T152 namely for being fitted with a turbocharged Ford V-8 in place of the Offenhauser four-cylinder and with two-wheel drive rather than four-wheel drive. Because of the change in engine, the T153 was fitted with a slightly larger fuel tank and revised suspension geometry, amongst other differences. Following testing at the newly constructed Ontario Motor Speedway in early 1970, its debut would be at Indianapolis.
Donohue’s T153 festooned in Sunoco livery was identified as a favorite early on and did not disappoint. Donohue led into the race and while Al Unser proceeded to walk away from the field on the first lap, leading all but 10 laps in total, Donohue never quite lost contact. With luck, he avoided mechanical issues and accidents, landing himself a 2nd-place finish at the Brickyard. September of that year brought about the inaugural California 500 at Ontario and with the T153 entered, the team discovered in pre-race testing that the car was overheating and could not cool itself down. These issues persisted into the race and the engine failed after the opening laps, forcing the Lola and Donohue to withdraw.
The first USAC race of the 1971 season was at Phoenix, where Donahue and the T153 qualified 9th and finished 6th. The next race was at Trenton, where unfortunately the transmission failed. At Indianapolis, Roger Penske gave David Hobbs the Lola who ran into a problem when a transmission gear broke on the fourth turn of the circuit during the 111th lap. Slowing at an alarming rate, Rick Muther tried to avoid him and lost control, slamming into the wall before bouncing back across the track and hitting the Lola, pushing it into the wall.
Luckily, Hobbs emerged without injury, and despite the scale of the crash at Indianapolis in 1971, the Lola emerged largely unscathed. It was subsequently repaired by Penske and then sold to Leonard Fass, along with another Lola one year older. Both were entered to race at Ontario and Phoenix in 1971, yet neither took to the track.
The T153 remained in Fass’ care until his passing in 1995, when ownership was assumed by his son and, later, by Chuck Haines of Manchester, Missouri. Haines planned on restoring the car but instead it remained in storage until it was purchased in June of 2003 by John Darlington of Carmel, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis.
An article written by Darlington about the car sheds some light on its condition as purchased: “The car had fared well over the last 33 years, remaining pretty much intact with a different nose cone, no engine or transmission, a few minor parts missing, some body work issues, a fresh paint job, and a good cleaning being the main issues.”
Due for the restoration it deserved, the car was shipped to Walter Goodwin’s Race Car Restorations in Indianapolis. Shown on display mid-restoration at the Mark Donohue Reunion at Watkins Glen in September 2003 prior to being finished, the T-153 participated in the 2004 Goodwood Festival of speed where it secured two very interesting drivers: Mark Donohue’s son David and Chad McQueen. Following its acquisition by the current collector, the car was raced up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed once more in 2015 by Richard Hamlin.
Accompanied by a comprehensive history file, the T153 is a fascinating machine with a wonderful result at the Indianapolis 500 and potential for inclusion in future historic racing events.