The 14th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance highlighted the career of racing driver and SPEED TV racing analyst David Hobbs.
Very few drivers possess as varied a resume as Hobbs. In a worldwide career that spanned nearly 30 years, the versatile U.K. native drove in all of the top sports car racing series, including Indy, IMSA, Can-Am, Formula 1, Group C and NASCAR.
Hobbs won the 1971 U.S. Formula 5000 championship and 12 years later added the 1983 Trans-Am championship to his trophy case. A regular competitor at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Hobbs drove in the race 20 times making it to the podium three times – all third place finishes. He drove for a wide variety of manufacturers and teams, including BMW, Lola, McLaren, BRM, and Honda.
Once he retired from the driver’s seat, Hobbs embarked on a career in broadcasting and his quick wit and to-the-point analysis made him an instant favorite with race fans. Along with another SPEED veteran, Bob Varsha, Hobbs has been bringing the excitement and intrigue of Formula One qualifying and racing to the U.S. market for a number of years. His success behind the wheel and in the broadcast booth easily transferred to the business world when he opened David Hobbs Honda in 1986 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he continues today to own and operate the successful dealership.
In honor of Hobbs’ career, an entire class at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance featured the “Cars of David Hobbs.” And to kick-off the Concours, Hobbs drove onto the field in the 1968 Ford GT40 Mk II that he raced at the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hobbs enhanced the process with a Le Mans-style start, i.e. running across the grass and jumping – err, gently climbing – into the GT40.
In order of age, the Cars of David Hobbs that were displayed at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance:
1968 Ford GT40 Mk II (Chassis # 1074)
To construct the first race car to bear the name Mirage and sponsored by Gulf Oil, a standard GT40 chassis frame was drawn from stock. When they finished, only the sill panels remained unchanged from the original. Three such cars, fitted with Ford 302 cubic-inch, 5-liter engines, were ready for the 1967 season. The third M1 Mirage was completed just in time for the car to be taken to the second race of the season where it won, being driven by Jacky Ickx and Dr. Dick Thompson. At Le Mans, the car retired early with the usual Ford engine problem of cylinder head gasket failure. At the next race at Brand Hatch, the Mirage was crashed after about 70 laps. This was followed by two minor races in Sweden where it won the first race driven by Ickx and was second to its sister car. In October, it was taken to Montlhery where Ickx and Aussie Paul Hawkins drove it to another win. This concluded its life as a Mirage since prototype race cars were limited to a 3-liter engine.
Over the winter of 1967-68, the roof was cut-off again and the car reconstructed back into a GT40. As a GT40 in the World Championship series, it was less successful. David Hobbs and Paul Hawkins did win the race at Monza and came in second at Watkins Glen.
The car eventually had the top removed and it was used as a film car for the movie Le Mans starring Steve McQueen.
1968 Ford GT40 Mk II (Chassis # 1076)
David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood drove 1076 to a third place finish at the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans. While the race is better known for the dramatic finish between Jacky Ickx, driving a Ford GT40 Mk II (Chassis # 1075), and Hans Herrmann, driving a Porsche 908, the Hobbs and Hailwood team were leading earlier in the race until mechanical woes slowed them down.
1076 also raced at Le Mans in 1968 where Jackie Oliver and Brian Muir failed to finish, the same result Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver had at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona.
1969 Surtees TS-5
The TS-5 was the first of the successful Surtees Formula 5000 cars. The TS-5 was initially designed by the Leda Racing company, but was later completed and developed by John Surtees. As such, it became the Surtees TS-5.
In early 1969, this car was driven by David Hobbs in the UK. Later in season, the car was shipped to the U.S. and driven by Andrea de Adamich. At the end of the season, this car was sold to Hamilton Vose and raced by him and John Martin. It was later sold to and campaigned by Howie Fairbanks until the late 1970s.
1969 McLaren M-10-B
The McLaren M-10-B was raced by many contenders for the Formula 5000 (sometimes called Formula A in the United States) championship. This 1969 M-10-B is the only car to twice win the Formula 5000 championship, in 1970 and again in 1971. Originally owned by the partnership of Malcolm Starr and Carl Hogan, John Connor was the driver for the 1970 Continental Series and finished first at Riverside, California, Seattle, Road America and the Canadian Ste. Jovite to win the championship.
In 1971, with David Hobbs driving, this car again won at Seattle and Road America, at Laguna Seca, California, at Edmonton, Canada and at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The car is powered by a 500-hp Chevrolet V8, and with its monocoque body weighing only 1500 pounds, the car is capable of reaching speeds of over 200 mph. The original factory price was $22,000.
1971 Sunoco Ferrari 512M
The Penske Racing / Kirk White Sunoco Ferrari 512M was prepared for David Hobbs and Mark Donohue to race in the 1971 long distance events, commencing with the 24 Hours of Daytona. Not satisfied with accepting the Ferrari as delivered, the Penske organization embarked on a revamp of Ferrari’s best endurance racer. The body was replicated by Berry Plastics resulting in a substantial weight savings. The engines were built by Travers and Coon (Traco) and delivered over 600 hp (about a 50 hp increase over the factory built engine). Hobbs and Donohue qualified on the pole at Daytona, beating a host of Porsche 917s and other 512 Ferraris. The car was running in second place in the middle of the night when the Porsche of Jacksonville’s Tom Nehl and Charlie Perry flipped in the banking and struck the flying Ferrari. Many rolls of duct tape, a broom handle, and borrowed (from Luigi Chinetti) suspension pieces later, it was back on the track and finished an incredible third overall. They had gained back 30 of the 54 laps that they had lost due to the collision. Had the collision not occurred, the probability of an overall win was virtually assured.
At Sebring, the team of Hobbs and Donohue, once again, qualified on the pole and led the race. In the 4th hour of the 12 hour enduro, Donohue was struck repeatedly by Pedro Rodriguez in the Gulf 917 Porsche in an on-track confrontation, damaging the left rear corner and the fuel fillers. They soldiered on to finish 6th overall (the highest finishing Ferrari). Later in the year at Le Mans, it qualified fourth but lasted only four hours, dropping out with gearbox failure. Its last race was at Watkins Glen, New York, in July of 1971, where it qualified on the pole, but did not finish due to suspension and steering failure.
1972 Lola T310
Eric Broadley and his design team (which included a very young Patrick Head and John Barnard of Williams and Ferrari F1 fame) created the ultimate weapon for the 1972 season – the Lola T310. It was to be the longest, lowest, and widest Can-Am car of all time. Powered by a big block Chevrolet V8 mated to a Hewland gearbox, it was driven by then-reigning F5000 champion David Hobbs in the 1972 Can-Am series. It was entered by Lola importer Carl Haas and was sponsored by Steed and Goodyear. Just two T310s were constructed, but only this car (chassis HU-01) was ever raced in period.
The Lola T310 was the last original Can-Am series car built by Lola. Since restoration, it has been a multiple participant at the Goodwood Festival, Monterey Historics, Elkhart Lake Can-Am Reunion and other vintage events. Most recently, Bobby Rahal piloted the Lola to victory in the Group 7A Historic Can-Am race at the 2008 Monterey Historics, coming from back of the grid to win in dramatic fashion on the final straightaway.
1975 BMW 3.0 CSL
The 3.0 CSL race cars were the first cars to be developed under the new BMW subsidiary, established in 1972 – BMW Motorsport GmbH. They were also the first to sport the newly designated official colors of BMW Motorsport – red, blue, and purple.
Based on the 3.0 CS coupe production cars, the CSL (the “L” is for lightweight, referring to the aluminum doors and hood) began an assault on European touring car racing that would make it one of the most successful production racers of all time. In fact, CSLs continued to win races into the late 70s, even though production ended in 1975.
Throughout its span of development, the BMW six-cylinder engine, a 3.0 liter unit in the production car, grew from 3.2 to 3.5 liters, increasing in horsepower from 340 to 450, thanks to development of a four-valve cylinder head.
This 3.0 CSL was one of a team of five cars campaigned by BMW of North America in 1975 and ’76, enjoying considerable success, winning IMSA races at Sebring, Laguna Seca, Riverside, Daytona, Lime Rock, and Talladega. Several drivers were involved including Hans Stuck, Sam Posey, Brian Redman, Ronnie Peterson, Dieter Quester, Benny Parsons, Peter Gregg and David Hobbs.
1977 BMW 320 Turbo
The 320 became BMW’s next weapon in the European racing scene after the exit of the highly successful 3.0 CSL. Both non-turbo and turbocharged versions of the highly successful Formula 2 “M12” engine powered these racecars. The BMW Junior Team, whose up and coming drivers Eddie Cheever, Marc Surer and Manfred Winkelhock, drove to eight victories and made the non-turbo versions famous in the 1977 German Racing Championship.
The turbo versions of these cars were raced in both Europe and the U.S. The European turbo cars had 1.5 liter engines while the U.S. version had 2.0 liter engines. The BMW-owned U.S. version of the 320 turbo you see here was campaigned by Team McLaren and driven by David Hobbs to 7 wins in the IMSA Camel GT series in 1977 and 1978. American Jim Busby also campaigned a sister car in the 1979 IMSA Camel GT series.
Significantly, the 320 turbo engine was the test bed for the BMW Brabham BT52 that took Nelson Piquet to the 1983 Formula 1 World Championship. This 1,936 pound car is powered by a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine, developing 650 horsepower.
1981 BMW M1 Group 4
As racing regulations evolved in the mid 70s, BMW Motorsport saw an opportunity to beat arch-rival, Porsche, in a new racing series by designing and manufacturing a purpose-built racing car and offering it for sale to the public as stipulated by the rules.
The BMW M1, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and powered by a Paul Rosche-designed 3.5-liter, twin cam 6-cylinder engine, mounted amid-ships, debuted at the 1978 Paris Auto Show to the admiration of the world’s motoring press. The only problem was that delays with outside contractors caused its appearance to coincide with the demise of the racing category for which it was built. The quick thinking solution was the fast and furious ProCar Series which preceded European Formula One races, pitting the top-five qualifying Grand Prix starters against 15 talented local drivers in identically prepared M1s. The ProCar Series ran in 1979 and 1980 with championships by Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet, respectively.
This M1 Group 4 racer was campaigned in the 1981 IMSA GTO Series, seeing action at the 24 Hours of Daytona, Watkins Glen and Mosport. Drivers included David Hobbs, Mark Surer, and Dieter Quester. M1 ProCars are now prized collector items and can be seen on vintage race tracks around the world.
1986 BMW March GTP
BMW of North America entered the IMSA GTP series in 1985 with a prototype car utilizing a 2.0-liter version of the 1983 World Championship winning BMW Formula 1 turbo engine. This prototype was the basis for the 1986 BMW March GTP car you see here.
Using a new generation turbocharged 2.0-liter power plant, the cars were capable of more than 200 mph. The two-car team of David Hobbs/John Watson and Davy Jones/John Andretti always qualified well, but the program’s only win came from Jones and Andretti at Watkins Glen in 1986. The duo won from the pole position and set a race record around the famous 3.7-mile upstate New York circuit. The story of these cars is not what they were, but what they could have been. After only two seasons and the historic win at the Glen, the cars saw only two more races as the very expensive program was discontinued by BMW.