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57 Years Later, Lola Comes Home to Bridgehampton

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 10:50

Historically significant car will be on public display

Phillip Miller, right, with his son Timothy, admired the vintage Lola T70 race car that will be on display this weekend in Bridgehampton. Mr. Miller, a construction contractor, is its presenting sponsor at Sunday’s Cars and Coffee.
Durell Godfrey

When it arrives at the Bridgehampton Museum on Sunday for display, one particular car, a Lola T70 Eagle, will have come full circle, as race cars tend to do.

Fifty-seven years ago, the legendary driver Dan Gurney drove it to win the 1966 Can Am race in Bridgehampton. On Sunday, the historically significant car will be on view for the public for two hours only — 9 to 11 a.m. — during the museum’s annual Cars and Coffee event. Lola will have spent the previous day among all sorts of high-end cars at the invitation-only Bridge Gala.

It got its start with Carroll Shelby, the noted auto engineer and driver, and Gurney, who had raced a Shelby Cobra to a Bridgehampton Double 500 course record of 1 hour and 49 minutes in 1963 and later went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967. With connections to Ford, they had an engine developed for the car’s entry into the All American Racing series. That engine, called the Gurney Weslake engine, is still in good working order today; spectators would be lucky to get an under-the-hood glimpse of it this weekend.

The car saw action on the vintage racing scene after it was taken off the pro tracks in 1974, putting in laps at race tracks like Goodwood in West Sussex, England; Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.; Road America in Plymouth, Wis., and Daytona Beach, Fla. These days, though, the Lola doesn’t get much play. It was last driven in late January 2018, when it paced the field for the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in honor of Gurney, who had died earlier that month.

“It is painful to see the car just sitting there doing nothing,” Johan Woerheide, the Lola’s owner, wrote in an email to The Star last week. “It really needed to go back to its roots and visit Bridgehampton. It is a two-seater and we do drive it to dinner occasionally, but valets no longer know how to drive a clutch.”

The Lola’s caretaker here is Phillip Miller of East Hampton, a construction contractor, who has been a racing enthusiast since the 1960s. He recalled watching the Bridgehampton races with his father; racing ceased there in 1999. The last generation of fans to witness them is “still alive and kicking,” Miller said. “There are a lot of people who loved that track.”

That’s why he stepped up as “presenting sponsor” when Woerheide, who retired from vintage racing in 2018, realized he couldn’t make the trip up here from his home in Georgia.

“I wanted to get on a track,” Miller said, “but my life has gone a different route. I’ve got a great family, a wife. We’re around the water, we surf, we sail, we do a lot of fun stuff. . . . I dropped thinking about cars for many years. But I went to the gala last year, and it brought me back.”

He recently had a chance to try sitting in the driver’s seat of Woerheide’s Lola, an experience both uncomfortable and thrilling at the same time. “I can’t understand how they drove these things,” Miller said. “First of all, the guy who drove it was very thin and a lot younger than me right now. . . . It’s not a very easy car to drive, either, from what I understand. You have to have a knack for it.”

This particular Lola model is a gem, he and Woerheide assert, because so few of them were ever made, and because it’s in great shape.

“These cars were the cutting-edge sports cars of the time,” Miller said. “It was the very first mid-engine sports car in the world. Everything else was second — the McLarens and Bugattis, and even Ferrari didn’t have a mid-engine car in the early ‘60s.”

Woerheide said he is thinking about selling the Lola, which was recently appraised at $2.9 million. Could its future collector be among the visitors to the Bridge Gala or Cars and Coffee? Inquiries can be sent to [email protected].

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