David Hobbs – Jaguar XJ13’s Test Driver

Hang on – I thought Norman Dewis was the XJ13’s test driver?

Noooo …. a common misconception but, in truth, the legendary Mr Dewis did not participate in all the tests. Contrary to popular belief, there were no “unofficial” tests and the car was driven at all of its outings during active development by David Hobbs. It is believed the car was never taken to Bruntingthorpe or, indeed, any other venues besides MIRA and Silverstone – again, despite claims to the contrary. Hobbs was joined on some of the occasions by Norman Dewis but the latter was entirely absent during the culminating high-speed trials at Silverstone in 1967 where Hobbs was paired with race-driver and former apprentice Richard “Dickie” Attwood.

Four years after the end of the project, the car was driven by Norman Dewis at MIRA to help publicise Jaguar’s forthcoming V12 E-Type but the results of that particular outing are well-documented … here and here

From the outset, Jaguar realised that a car such as the XJ13 called for experienced racing drivers to assist with testing and development. There is evidence that William Heynes (Jaguar’s Chief Engineer) approached Sir Jack Brabham early in 1965 as evidenced by the following letter:

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Letter from Jack Brabham to William Heynes conforming his willingness to assist with “high speed testing” of Jaguar’s new sports car. The “new sports car” in 1965 can only have been the XJ13 on which manufacture was about to commence.

In the end, Jaguar called on the services of former Jaguar apprentices David “Hobbo” Hobbs and Richard “Dickie” Attwood. In Lofty England’s own words (as published in the February 1993 edition of “Jaguar Driver” published by the Jaguar Drivers’ Club):

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“… I strongly doubt if Mike Kimberley who was in charge of the XJ13 project took the car to MIRA for Dewis to test contrary to Sir Williams’ orders, possibly Bill Heynes had not informed Kimberley … we tested the car at MIRA … with David Hobbs driving and then took it to Silverstone where my old friend Jimmy Brown who ran Silverstone ensured there were no watchful eyes. We used David Hobbs for the MIRA tests since he had considerable experience of driving large-engined mid-engined cars in Cam Am races and for the Silverstone tests also used Richard Attwood both ex Jaguar apprentices and very experienced Le Mans Drivers. By the time these tests were made the car was some years old in which time there had been considerable development with tyres, brakes and suspension and to have made the car really competitive a lot of re-design would have been necessary so having learnt a lot the car was “put on ice”.

When we were about to introduce the Series 3 E-Type with V12 engine a short film was being made covering the development of the V12 engine and I was asked by Andrew Whyte to permit the use of the XJ13 to produce the right sort of background noise – that lovely-sounding V12 engine. I agreed on the very clear understanding that no high-speed running would be involved – all that was necessary was to go past the microphone at not more than 100mph using a low gear and high rpm.

I think that Norman Dewis had probably been put out by us using David Hobbs who had gone very quickly at MIRA and decided that he would see how fast he could get round – against my instructions. In doing this he hit one of the posts at the top of the banking which indented the body below the wheel hub line starting at the front of the rear wheel arch and taking a piece out of the rear wheel rim after which the tyre went flat and you know the rest …”

So just who is this David Hobbs?

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David’s Wikipedia entry reads:

“David Wishart Hobbs (born 9 June 1939 in England) is a British former racing driver. Originally employed as a commentator for the “Speed” Channel, he currently works as a commentator for the NBC Sports Network. In 1969 Hobbs was included in the FIA list of graded drivers, an élite group of 27 drivers who by their achievements were rated the best in the world.”

But there is a bit more to it than that …

David Hobbs’ career began with the Jaguar XK140 Drophead Coupé which was his father’s road car which had been fitted with the “Hobbs Automatic Transmission” – a transmission designed by his father who was a gifted engineer. Hobbs had already raced a Morris Oxford which had also been fitted with the Hobbs Transmission but had his heart set on racing his father’s Jaguar – although, in Hobbs’ own words, .. I can’t say it was a particularly mutual feeling between father and I …“! He did race his father’s XK140 at the Oulton Park Spring Meeting in 1960 where he managed to turn it over on the last lap! Much to David’s chagrin, many people still remember that incident and associate it with their memories of him. David survived unscathed although there was some damage to his dad’s car – which I imagine didn’t go down too well …

imageDavid Hobbs’ Jaguar XK140 which was rebodied after its accident by Freddie Owen and sprinted by Owen and Dick Tindell

To make matters worse, when David drove the rather battle-worn car home that day, the bonnet flew open and inflicted further damage to the car destroying what was left of the windscreen. David recounts, ” … after that, Dad was a bit upset and said – well, you shagged it you may as well fix it!”. Hobbs had the car rebuilt and painted in a matt finish. He had, by now, joined Jaguar as an apprentice and so had the contacts and wherewithall to uprate it for racing – starting with some decent racing tyres. He reported that heborrowedsome disc brakes and, .. borrowed a couple of other things … and ultimately that car was quite quick”.

He said, I ended up with the ‘gold-top’ head with triple carburettor set-up and had some decent wire wheels. I put some anti-tramp rods on the back-axle, took all the interior out (or what was left of it) and got its weight down a bit”. Hobbs goes on to say, I raced like that in 1960 and ended up with four wins of one sort or another. One was a handicap race at Goodwood and other wins at Oulton and Silverstone.”  David had his heart set on the Clubman’s Championship at Silverstone which would give him the chance to drive the big circuit.

In 1961 Hobbs raced a Lotus Elite and he recalls that although I was still working as an apprentice at Jaguar, I took a lot of time off to race much to the disgust of my Supervisor“. He nearly got to drive a Jaguar again at the end of 1961 because he had a call from Mr England who asked if I would like to go to Oulton Park to drive John Coomb’s E-Type. So I rushed up to Oulton and, with a typical Hobbs piece of luck, of all people, Jack Sear’s Ferrari fell off the trailer whilst getting ready for the same race which was a support race for the Grand Prix. So Jack Sears ended up driving the E-Type instead of me – being a close friend of John Coombs and all. They let me drive in practice a bit which went very well – I was very impressed with it.”

David says, “Shortly after that I tested at Silverstone with Mike Parr  and Mike McDowell who was Competition Manager at Jaguar then. I tested Cunningham’s E-Type. Cunningham had a rather special E-Type with a flared tail like a D-Type. It was one of his Le Mans cars. Parr tested it and I tested it. That was really the first time I had driven a powerful car. I had a lurid slide going through Abbey. I slid this car from just past the apex – a great long slide with all four wheels locked – ending up at the feet of Mike Parr and Mike McDowell”. Hobbs grinned and said, “Good Afternoon gentlemen.” Unfortunately, Hobbs’ slide flat-spotted all four tyres and they didn’t have any spares. The car was loaded onto a trailer and took it back to Coventry. That was the first time David Hobbs had driven a Jaguar other than a 140 – not the best of starts!

Hobbs married at the end of 1961 and left Jaguar because his apprenticeship had finished. He says, Lofty England put in a good word for me with Peter Berry and I drove his E-Type in 1962 as well as his 3.8 saloon. I drove the saloon in the British Saloon Car Championship as well as a number of GT races”. David goes on to say that Pete Berry’s cars were never the best – “always a day late and a dollar short. We were always a couple of steps behind the competition. The Ferrari GTOs were around then. There’s no doubt about it – the Coombs car and Tommy Sopwith’s car were quicker vehicles and I didn’t have any success in Peter Berry’s car. In fact, in about June he gave up racing and took up flying instead. So that was a bit of a short season!”. 

David remembers his first race in 1962 with Pete Berry’s E-Type as follows:

Our first race was the inaugral Daytona 3-hour. The fore-runner of the 24-hour … That was interesting –  I had never been to America before (certainly places like Daytona were real ‘red-neck’ country)…. Jimmy Clark was there racing for Colin Chapman. Chapman rang up and asked if Clark could drive my Lotus Elise in the same race because it was about the best that was going at the time. So Jimmy and I shared a room – he drove my Elise and I drove Pete Berry’s E-Type … he did very well but I only managed five laps before the fuel pump packed up. Jimmy was leading the class by a minute, minute-and-a-half. He came in for a pit-stop and the bloody thing wouldn’t start. After that, he and I both tested a Ford Galaxy for the Daytona 500.” Hobbs laughs and modestly says that Peter Berry had really built him up – saying he was Saloon Car Champion and all sorts of incredible stories – all of which they took in. We both tested for a Galaxy run by Holman & Moody. We both went quite quick and both turned in laps of about 155 which, at that stage, was the fastest I had ever been in a straight line let alone around a racetrack!”. Hobbs recalls, Pole that year was ‘Fireball Roberts’ in a Pontiac at 159. In the end they seemed to have decided that us two limeys weren’t big enough or strong enough to drive their stock-cars”.

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Fast-Forward to 1967 and Hobbs’ Encounter with the XJ13

Hobbs competed in a variety of races in the US and the UK before he was summoned by Lofty England of Jaguar in 1967. The following transcript was taken from when Hobbs was interviewed by Philip Turner (former UK “Motor” Sports Editor). This is a previously unknown interview and is published here for the first time.

Hobbs The next time I drove a Jag was some years later … 67. Got a call from Lofty again. Would I like to come to MIRA? About 6 o’clock on Sunday morning. That was the XJ13. The original V12.

Turner Was it a surprise? Did you know about it already?

Hobbs Well I knew about it inasmuch basically they had started it before I left Jaguar in 1962. I mean the thing had been kicking around since then. In fact, when I tested in 1967, I’m not exactly sure of dates and things here, but I got a feeling it had been “under wraps” at that date for about two years.

Turner Kept under a dust-sheet in Experimental. When I went to ….

Hobbs When they finally decided to run it, it had already been built for some time. At least a year or two and they started to build it when I left in 62. And, I think, wotsisname, Norman Dewis wanted to … but they decided that, to test it, they really outta get a racing driver. Although going round MIRA, really, was particularly tame for a racing driver of course. And we went there four or five days actually. And, the lad in charge, of course was Mike Kimberley. And now your actual Managing Director of Lotus. He was just a lad then. Old Mike. Always tapping his teeth with the end of his pencil and saying, “what is it doing going over the bumps? .. would you say it wants more in or more out?”. And it was pretty basic. I mean it had the Dunlop Racing tyres of five years previously and the old Dunlop disc brakes. Pressed steel D-Type wheels. It had E-Type front suspension – rubber-mounted – polybushes – and it had the E-Type rear suspension.

Beautiful-looking thing. And a helluva engine of course cos that was a four-cam. It really gave a lot of horsepower. It gave about 500 … 525?

Turner About 500.

Hobbs Yeah. It gave quite a lot of horsepower. It went extremely fast. We went to MIRA about four or five times. Sir William came once .. Mr Heynes used to watch it. Then they made the decision to drive it at Silverstone so they decided to get two drivers – me and Richard Attwood, another Jaguar apprentice. So off we go to Silverstone and I can’t remember the exact times but I think we did round about a 1:36 – 1:35 – 1:36. The lap record at the time was help by Paul Hawkins in his red GT40 – about 32 or 33. So we weren’t all that far off the pace. If you consider it had these old pads, old wheels, old brakes. The suspension flexed far too much of course. And of course it had no attempt at any sort of spoilers on it. Very sleek. It was incredibly quick of course down the straights.

Richard and I gave a job list of things to do. We wanted wider tyres – we wanted modern wide wheels for a start and modern racing tyres. I think those two alone would have seen us down to the lap record. And another … I seem to remember the bias front to rear brakes was poor. It wanted a lot of, you know, a good tidying up. We reckoned it would have been quick.

They went back to the factory and, at that time, the take-over … and that was the beginning of the decline of Jaguar Cars. Really sad. Along with the whole of Leyland. The whole place just ground down. They had no idea of the innovations – they were all just numbers-men – counters. As far as making cars that people wanted they just didn’t have a clue.

They put it under a dust sheet and it stayed there. Until Norman Dewis took it to MIRA. He’d always been a little bit piqued that he hadn’t been allowed to drive the car in the first place. Of course he rolled it into a little ball. The one that you see now, of course, is a complete rebuild.

But the car, and there’s no doubt about it, but Jaguar were beset with the same problems – mental problems – then, as they have now. They can’t go to Le Mans unless they could guarantee winning and everybody said so. Clearly, you can never guarantee winning the race. The only way you can get close to it is to go! You can test, and test and test until you are black in the face but you really aren’t going to know just how the car is going to perform You are just going to have to go. To win the race you are going to have to go.

But I really think the car would have been an absolute wow. I mean, at Le Mans, the thing would have had it. Because the GT40 in those days was an iron-block Ford that was only giving about 300 brake horsepower. I mean, this thing gave nearly 200 horsepower more than the GT40. There’s no doubt about it, it wouldn’t have been as quick as the Mark 2s, which of course raced in ’67. But it would have been very fast and, just by updating it, cos I’m sure it had been sitting in the shop for a couple of years – just by updating it.

But they had a problem. You’ve got to use Firestone or Goodyear racing tyres for example … Dunlop weren’t making good racing tyres then … for that type of stuff …

Turner You did 160? It’s still the record isn’t it?

Hobbs It is. Yes.

Turner Did it feel incredibly quick?

Hobbs It seemed pretty quick. Smoother.

Turner Acceleration along the straights then braking for the bends? Braking quite hard? Or?

Hobbs Not really, no.

Turner Was it enough to lift off?

Hobbs It was quite quick.

Turner I’ve been around at 120 but not much more and even that felt fairly fast.

Hobbs Yes – very narrow isn’t it? ….

Turner So – what did going down the straights feel like?

Hobbs At the straight at Silverstone I would bet we were doing about 150. And, of course, lap speeds of 1:36 is very quick. I don’t know what it is, 1:36? Have to look at a lap chart. A Group C now does about 1:15 .. so … 36 is quite a lot slower.

I think, the way it went, and the way that lap record stood at the time , I think with some mods and if we sat down and made a racing car I think we would have just about cracked 1:30 – probably high 1:20s …

Turner What was it like aerodynamically?

Hobbs Very fast but no downforce of course. No downforce at all.

Turner Was it lifting at all?

Hobbs Well it probably was but it behaved like a normal racing car of the time. But, there again, the GT40s did have some downforce. They started to have downforce. Well, that was just about the time when people were just starting to tweak downforce. It grew spoilers on the back and stuff like that. The Jaguar was as clean as a whistle. You’d have probably found if you’d put some little Lola-type front spoilers on it and one on the back it would have been absolutely quick around the circuit. To be sure. Malcolm Sayer was the stylist who designed it of course and things like that would have been an anathema to him. The clean bullet-shape was the shape that racing cars were supposed to be and he might have taken a bit of persuading to get any sort of spoiler. Which, in those days, although the word wasn’t applied, was a spoiler…. See the Lola, T70, by then had the big spoiler on the back and a little spoiler on the front…. So I’m sure a little spoiler would have given a big advantage. And they hadn’t even started …

So – it seems this Hobbs is quite a special driver?

Undoubtedly so. Hobbs’ modesty shines through in his interviews but, to find the true story of his many successes, we have to look no further than his career racing history:

FORMULA ONE 

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24 HOURS OF LE MANS 

INDY 500

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What is David Hobbs up to Nowadays?

Hobbs provides commentary for Formula One and GP2 races (alongside Leigh Diffey and former Benetton mechanic Steve Matchett), the SCCA Valvoline runoffs, and parts of the 24 Hours of Daytona. He has also worked for CBS on its Daytona 500 coverage, working as both a color commentator and a feature/pit reporter from 1979 until 1995, and then moved to Speed in 1996 working as a color commentator and then moved to NBC Sports Network in 2013.

David Hobbs appeared in the 1983 comedy film Stroker Ace, playing a TV race announcer. Hobbs appeared in the Cars 2 movie, which premiered in June 2011, as announcer “David Hobbscap”, a 1963 Jaguar from Hobbs’ real life hometown in England.

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