ONE of Huntingdonshire s highest-profile manufacturing companies – the nation s longest-established surviving manufacturer of racing cars – is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008. In common with the engineering details of any new chassis,

The first Lola 50 years ago

ONE of Huntingdonshire's highest-profile manufacturing companies - the nation's longest-established surviving manufacturer of racing cars - is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008.

In common with the engineering details of any new chassis, the precise details of the celebrations remain - for the time being - a closely guarded secret.

But Lola Cars Limited, which has been in Glebe Road, off St Peter's Road, Huntingdon, since 1970, is determined to share its celebrations with the people of Huntingdonshire, a spokesman told The Hunts Post.

During the past 50 years, Lola has manufactured almost 4,000 competitive cars, recording more race and championship wins than any other racing car manufacturer in the world.

In 2004, when Skeikh Maktoum of Dubai announced plans to introduce A1 GP, the new one-make 'World Cup of Motorsport', Lola was the only partner who could deliver the technical brief in the short time-frame required.

The seeds of Lola's remarkable success story were sown in 1957, when quantity surveyor Eric Broadley built the 'Broadley Special'. A year later, using his £2,000 savings, Eric formed Lola Cars Ltd, setting up a modest work shop in the south-east London suburb of Bromley. The first-ever Lola car, the Mk 1, was an immediate success, becoming the first ever sports car of any size to lap Brands Hatch in under one minute.

Since then, the list of Lola drivers reads like a roll of motorsport honours - including Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Al Unser Senior.

In 1966 Graham Hill became the first Englishman to win the Indianapolis 500, driving the Mecom Lola. However, it was his team-mate Jackie Stewart who stole the show, winning 'Rookie of the Year' honours after comfortably leading the race by almost two laps before having to retire.

Lola's love-affair with the Indy 500 continued through to 2006, enjoying numerous race and championship wins with drivers such as Andretti, Unser Sr, Mark Donohue, AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Nigel Mansell.

Lola's position has been consolidated since 1997, under new ownership of executive chairman, Martin Birrane, who has kept the firm at the forefront of motor sport. A titanic battle for supremacy in the US-based Champ Car series in the early part of this decade resulted in Lola's winning the title every year from 2002 until 2006.

Former F1 world champion Stewart said: "It is terrific Lola are still making racing cars and Martin Birrane must take a whole lot of credit for ensuring it does so."

Birrane's vision has made Lola into a worldwide contender in many aspects of design and technology.

It often seems a well-kept secret that the company's winning technology also expands across the automotive, aerospace, defence, communications and marine sectors, particularly composites development and manufacture.