The first Lola in Asia
By Eli Solomon
Chan Lye Choon, on his way to winning the 1961 Johore Grand Prix in his Lola FWE Climax.
Some years ago, I wrote a paper on the various Lolas that raced in Asia, from the Mk1, to the single seater T460s. This article focuses on just one of the cars that raced in Asia – the Mk1 with FWE Coventry Climax motor that arrived in early 1961.
There were two key ingredients that made it possible for the likes of Cooper, Kieft, Lola and Lotus to develop low cost racing cars in the 1950s. One was the burgeoning motoring club scene in the UK; the other was the ready availability of engines from Ford. Everybody wanted to emulate or improve on Colin Chapman’s Lotus in the 1950s, and Eric Broadley and his Lola marque was no different. The British car scene of the 1950s was made up of quick thinking and industrious men, most from the aviation sector, men who were prepared to try out new ideas and push the envelope of development well beyond what their predecessors had accomplished.
FAR EAST LOLA
Out in the content consumer Far Eastern market, a trickle of such “kit” cars made their way over for the various sprints, hill climbs and circuit races. While Lotus already had a popular presence with its Seven, Eleven, 15 and 17 prior to the 1960s, the first Lola, a Mk1 Climax FWE, only arrived in Singapore in early 1961, resplendent in white, with a dark band on the front nose. The Sembawang RASC Nursery Circuit Forces Motoring Club Sprint saw it make an appearance – for testing (on 16 April 1961). Not for the Singapore Grand Prix, because that inaugural event would only be held in September that year, but for the 1961 Johore Grand Prix. Yes, time to upstage those bloody Gwailos and repeat the 1958 Macau Grand Prix winning feat, but this time on home soil (Johore wasn’t quite home soil, but the Grand Prix was organised by the Singapore Motor Club).
Victory straight out of the box – this Lola Mk1 FWE Climax at the 1961 Johore Grand Prix. See JOHORE GRAND PRIX – Part 2: 1960-1963
To win a Grand Prix requires the best possible machine money can buy, as well as the best support, tyres, strategy, and a sprinkling of good fortune. Chan Lye Choon, Singapore’s top racer of the late 1950s and early 1960s, knew that his pair of working Coopers with their JAP V-twins may have been the most potent in straight line sprints, but they would be totally outclassed over a 60-lap Grand Prix. Even his Aston Martin DB3S, so successful at Changi in 1957 and Macau in 1958, was showing its age.
Chan, owner of automobile importer Eastern Auto, was well aware of what the Lotus Eleven Le Mans Climax, that superb sports car in the late 1950s, was capable of, having seen Tony Huggett and Peter Heath in action in Singapore. Chan would also have read about a new outfit set up by Eric Broadley at Bromley in Kent, called Lola Cars. He needed something good to beat the Lotus, fettled for the tropics, of course.
Chan Lye Choon’s $17,000 green with white striped Lola Mk1 FWE Climax streaks off at the start of the 1961 Johore Grand Prix Grid ahead of Peter Cowling’s T51 Cooper Climax (#7). Chan brushed off several wheel-to-wheel battles with Cowling as well as Peter Brown (in a Lotus 17) before emerging winner in the 70-lap race. Story of the Johore Grand Prix in JOHORE GRAND PRIX – Part 2: 1960-1963
The Lola Climax alongside Jan Bussell’s Fribus-Riley heading towards Sultan’s Corner during the 1961 Johore Grand Prix.
The Lola Mk1 Climax had all the right ingredients for the task at hand. It had the requisite low weight, independent suspension, and reliability. Chan immediately ordered one with the larger 1,216cc FWE Coventry Climax single cam engine paying S$17,000 (just over £2,000) complete with transmission. When it arrived in Singapore in April 1961, the local press raved about its Coventry Climax Stage III motor (1216cc), suggesting it already had an FWE installed – possibly a Super 95 running 10.5:1 compression ratio, dual twin-choke Weber 40DCOEs that produced 95bhp at 7000rpm. Yes, these are my own assumptions so if you need cylinder head stamping details and other technical stuff about this car, Singapore’s Lola guru should be able to furnish you with all the particulars of the car. Suffice it to say, the Lola would officially make its debut at the 1961 Johore Grand Prix (24-25 June 1961).
The inaugural race of the Lola Mk1 FWE Climax – victory at the 1961 Johore Grand Prix for Chan Lye Choon.
The 1961 Johore Grand Prix was a 70-lap affair run to Formula Libre rules that featured everything ranging from a bored-out Austin Mini, a single-seater 1.5-litre Cooper Climax FPF T51 Formula 2 car [see COOPERHOLIC COUP], a Cooper Jaguar [see JUNGLE WARRIOR] putting out a reputed 228bhp, an Aston Martin DB3S [see FOR THE PRICE OF A HOUSE], a couple of Lotus Eleven Climaxes, a Lotus 17 Climax, and a Ferrari Monza [see JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TORQUE]. For the history of the Johore Grand Prix (1960-1963) see JOHORE GRAND PRIX – Part 2: 1960-1963
Singapore Motor Club president Freddie Pope alongside the victorious Chan Lye Choon after the 1961 Johore Grand Prix.
Another photo of the Lola in action at the 1961 Johore Grand Prix.
The lone figure of the Lola exiting Zoo Corner, 1961 Johore Grand Prix.
Chan made the cover of the Singapore Motor Club’s Gazette in June 1961.
Chan’s Lola dominated from the onset and won. Peter Cowling may have set a new lap record in his fragile Formula 2 T51 Cooper, but the single-seater crashed into the sandbags early on, putting out of contention. The Lola won straight out of the box and Chan bagged his third circuit win after Changi in 1957 [see LANDING AT CHANGI IN 1957] and Macau in 1958. Chan’s hopes of a Grand Prix double were dashed in Singapore in September 1961 when a fan belt burst before half distance. The Lola would still emerge as the fastest car on the track that day setting a 2:47 sec. on lap 14. Oh, there was one other bit of information about this car – it had special long-range tanks installed for the 60 lap Grand Prix in Singapore.
A Lola Mk1 FWE Climax arrived at the scene in 1961, specifically imported by Eastern Auto’s Chan Lye Choon to race in Johore and Singapore. Chan’s hopes of a double were dashed in Singapore before half distance when the fan belt burst. The Lola would still emerge as the fastest car on the track that day setting fastest lap at 2:47 sec. on lap 14. The Lola also had special long-range tanks for the 60 lap Grand Prix.
Another Climax FWE and transmission was ordered post Singapore Grand Prix and installed for the for the October 1961 Gap Hill Climb (held on 22 October 1961). Here Chan resumed his winning ways, this time with a class record at the Gap (46.95 sec).
The Lola was loaded aboard the Flying Enterprise II for Hong Kong on 7 November 1961, target Macau Grand Prix. Chan and his crew flew to Hong Kong on the 11th. The car faced a slew of issues during scrutineering, failing due to a ride height that was too low. Peter Heath (now with a Lotus 15, the Lotus Eleven having been sold to Malaysian Saw Kim Thiat), also failed. There was some promise that the Lola would deliver during the race as it had set a practice lap of 3m 19.2, the fastest car out on the track. Heath, in the 15, only managed 3m 29.3. Martin Redfern’s Jaguar XKSS only managed 3m 38, though Redfern withdrew the car, having sold it to an American. Macau’s previous record, set in 1960 by Grant Wolfkill in a Porsche RS Spyder, was 3m 17.2 sec.
This writer is just a novice when it comes to Singapore’s racing history. Is this the start of the Gap Hill Climb in Singapore? The Lola Climax about to start its run.
In the end, the organisers let both the Lola and Lotus 15 onto the grid with Chan on Pole, Alistair Stewart (Lotus 18) in second and Okinawa-based Bill Baxter in third (Jaguar E-Type). Heath was in fourth. It wasn’t to be Chan’s weekend as he crashed the Lola on lap 48 while overtaking Ron Hardwick’s Austin Healey. Chan was then in second place, behind eventual winner Peter Heath. The cars touched and the Healey’s wheel spinner tore into the cockpit of the driver side of the Lola. Both cars continued, though the Lola eventually blew a head gasket.
Jimmy Milne occasionally raced Chan Lye Choon’s Lola and V-Twin Cooper at events in Singapore and Johore in the early 1960s.
Jimmy Milne spent part of 1963 back in Singapore working for George Lee Motors. He raced Chan Lye Choon’s Lola Mk1 at the 1963 Grand Prix. The Jaguar alongside is the Leonard Eric Jansz1 car that finished second in the 1962 Grand Prix in Singapore.
Jimmy Milne and the Chan Lola Mk1 alongside what was listed as the Nothing Special (probably the BB Special – see BAMBOO & BUCKLER) during the 1963 Grand Prix in Singapore.
The Lola was replaced by a Lotus 20B for the 1962 season and was occasionally lent to Chan’s friend Jimmy Milne[end_note] James Alexander Milne, or Jimmy Milne to his friends, was born in Penang in 1910 to Capt. James Adam Milne (of Dysart, Fife, Scotland) and Lilian Grace Holmberg. Jimmy’s racing interests date back to the late 1920s at the Singapore Volunteer Corps/Straits Settlements Volunteer Force Gap Hill Climb. He continued to play an active part in Malayan/Singapore motor sports, racing in the 1940 Johore War Effort Grand Prix [see GENESIS & THE WINDS OF WAR]. Milne worked for Universal Cars and then in the Singapore civil service, leaving to rejoin Universal Cars. In 1960 he became the first Malayan-born manager of the company. In March 1962 Jimmy and his family moved to Shanklin in the Isle of Wright, ending what the local media called “the long and colourful career of one of Malaya’s most popular motor-racing personalities.” Things didn’t go according to plan and finding a job in the UK was difficult. Jimmy returned to Singapore in March 1963 to join George Lee Motors as its Assistant General Manager. One of his roles was helping in the preparation and entry of the recently announced race-tuned Ford Cortinas in local racing events. That year he raced in the Grand Prix in Singapore. He returned to the UK later in the year. Milne passed away 19 February 1998 at the age of 87. [/efn_note]. Milne raced it at the 1963 Singapore Grand Prix.
Jimmy Milne rounding Sembawang Circus in the Lola during the 1963 Grand Prix in Singapore.
Out of Range Hairpin and onto Thomson Mile during the 1963 Grand Prix in Singapore. The #91 Lola about to pass the Peter Leonard’s very quick stripped-out road registered Lotus Super Seven.
A second row start for Chan Lye Choon (#19 Lola Mk1 Climax) in the 1963 Johore Grand Prix, a race he DNF. At the sharp end are L to R: Yong Nam Kee (Jaguar D-Type); John Kirk – making his debut in Malaysia (Lotus 18); and Saw Kim Thiat (Lotus 15). See JOHORE GRAND PRIX – Part 2: 1960-1963
That wasn’t the end of Chan’s association with the little Lola. It won the Under 1,300cc Sports & GT Cars support race at the November 1963 Diplomatic Enclave races2 in Kuala Lumpur.
The Mk1 was offered for sale in the Singapore papers on 16 and 23 December 1963 while it was maintained at Chan’s Eastern Auto workshop at 317C River Valley Road.
Brian Stock in the Lola in Selangor. Note Singapore road registration ST6209. Pardon the un-colour-corrected image. Should have be an olive green.
It then passed to Brian Stock, who raced it at the Malaysia Grand Prix in Singapore in 1965. Stock offered it for sale in the Forces Driving Club Magazine in November 1966, listing the car as a 1961 Lola Climax with 1216cc motor, “Many awards obtained in Grand Prix. Offered at S$4,650. Brian Stock c/o Malayan Motors.” Stock raced it in the 1967 Singapore Grand Prix (the very weekend Chan’s son Colin was making his debut in circuit racing with a 1275 Mini in the Saloons race). It must have been difficult to flog old racing cars in Singapore because it was offered for sale in the Singapore Straits Times of 15 December 1967, listed with twin Webers and asking S$4,000. Now what could you buy for Four-grand in 1967? Not even an entry level single-SU carb Austin or Morris Mini.
The Lola in the hands of Harry Tan, Singapore Grand Prix.
The little local finally went to motorcycle man Harry Tan, who raced it in the 1968 Selangor, Singapore and Johore Grand Prix races, before Ken Evans got his hands on the car in the early 1970s and raced it in a support race of the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix. Unfortunately this writer has not put in the necessary time and energy to document every race of the Lola post Chan Lye Choon ownership. We know that the car later found its way to Australia. There is was restored and campaigned (as it is till this day).
A gaggle of sports cars round Circus Hairpin in the 1968 Singapore Grand Prix with Richard Wong Wai Hong’s very rapid Porsche 906 leading Denis Geary’s Lola T70 Spyder into The Snakes. Behind the Lola T70 is No. 61 Lotus Super 7 of Lou de Marco. Allen Heywood, in another Lotus 7, fends off Harry Tan’s Lola Mk1 Climax, while Jim Watkins follows in the No. 20 Cooper Jaguar (aka Warrior Bristol).
Parked at Woodleigh “Garages”, home of the Evans Clan in the early 1970s. Sonny Rajah’s Lotus Europa together with the Lola and a rather forlorn looking Cooper Jaguar (the old Warrior Bristol).
The ex-Chan Lola Mk1 Climax at Eastern Creek for the first Tasman Revival weekend in November 2006. The Brabham in the Penrite tent is the ex-Jan Bussell car that won the 1968 Macau Grand Prix.
Seen again by the writer at the Phillip Island Historics in March 2023.
Disclaimer: This writer is not a Lola expert, has never owned a Lola, much less sat in one (actually, that’s not quite true). The car featured here is extremely well known in Singapore racing circles and has been well documented by the local experts on social media platforms such as Facebook. What the writer has is a bunch of old photos and tatty race programs to help corroborate the material presented in this article. Should the reader wish to discover the finer points of this Lola’s history – such as casting numbers, import documentation from 1961, Weber jetting information, tyre pressures used by Chan in 1961, full race results and lap times, best to reach out to the owners and record keepers of Eastern Auto and local racing gurus.
- Leonard Eric Jansz (b. 1923) was Headmaster of the National-Type School at Lenggeng in Seremban. He had previously been a teacher of the King George V School.
- The Diplomatic Enclave Grands Prix only ran between 1961 and 1963, the latter two years as a mass-start circuit race. In 1964, the Federation International Automobile (FIA) sanctioned motorcycle racing for the MMSC’s third TAR Circuit Race which was set for 4-5 July 1964, but at new 2.7-mile venue in Petaling Jaya which had celebrated its tenth birthday in Feb 1963 as Malaysia’s first ‘new town’. For more on the history of racing in the Federal Capital, see RACING IN THE FEDERAL CAPITAL.