Hobson Special

Motor racing can be a fickle sport and there are at least as many tales of woe as there are stories of triumph. For Stuart Hobson in Tasmania is was a matter of poor timing – completing his purpose-built racecar just before the category it was designed for was cancelled.

The Hobson Special was aimed at Division B of Sportscar racing, where lightweight and aerodynamic cars with small capacity engines could still be very competitive. Unfortunately, Tasmania’s small population, and therefore fewer entries in all racing classes, meant there weren’t a great many competitors in sportscar racing at all, and by the early 1970s the two divisions had been amalgamated as one.

Stuart takes up the story. “In our racing scene here in Tassie at that time, the Sportscar races were divided into Division A and Division B. I thought the Hobson Special would run really well in Division B, which if I remember rightly, at Symmons Plains 1 min 18s was the cut-off point. If you broke the 1m 18s you of course went into Division A.”

“That was my plan. First time out I think I did 1m 20s, and that was really good. I thought I was going to be a winner in Division B every time we raced. But then they just wiped the Division B about a month later and all the sportscars ended up in Division A. So, a little Mini special was running against the big Repco-McLarens, Elfins and others. It was a bit disappointing.”

The car did have its moments of competitive flare, though, especially in the wet. “One of my best memories was when we practiced in the rain and I got pole position at Symmons Plains. People were coming up to me and saying, ‘now Stewie get off the line fast because we’re all behind you’. The car did always get off the line really well and, as I remember it, they all stayed behind me until the first hairpin, then rolled over me down the straight of course. But, it was a great moment.”

Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves, though, as the Hobson special really had its genesis in an unlikely form, when Stuart built his first special – a Goggomobil Dart with a Mini engine.

“I had a Goggo Dart, and it was a gutless, useless thing”, Stuart recalls. “So, I got the idea I might put a decent motor in it, so I grafted an 850 Mini engine on the back of the Goggo. It took me a while, because I had no mechanical or engineering background.”

“I eventually took it for its first competition outing at the Penguin Hillclimb, on the north-west coast here in Tassie. That was good, and I met a guy there by the name of Peter Turnbull, who in Tassie was making a name for himself by racing and building Clubman-type sportscars called Turnhams.”

“Peter and I had a chat at that hillclimb and he said I’d never do any good with the Goggo, because it would just be too heavy. I listened to him, but didn’t do a great deal about it at that time. I ended up teaching in Wynyard about a year later, which is where Peter was living and had a workshop there. Peter and I became good friends and he suggested that I should build something better than the Mini-Goggo.”

“The Mini Goggo went to Guy Carey, who lived in Burnie, and I never heard of it again. I think he wanted to register it as a fun road car but that was probably not possible.”

With inspiration from the book High Speed Low Cost by Alan Staniforth, guidance from Turnbull and some design hints from Lotus, the Hobson special began to come together in 1973, as Stuart continues.

“Peter encouraged me and having him as a sort of backup gave me the courage to go ahead and do it. I asked him how do I start and he said go out and buy the tube and start building a spaceframe.”

“I looked around to see if there were any models around to copy, but didn’t find much, until the day he had a Lotus 23B in his workshop. We looked at that, measured it up and started chatting. We thought, well, we could do this.”

“I cobbled together a bit of a shed from recycled flat iron, and put a piece of particle-board with a line down the centre for a platform, got the hacksaw out and got started.”

“Not long after that I got hold of the High Speed Low Cost book, and that of course was my main bible to build the Hobson Special. Especially when it came to things like the roll centres, the camber, all the suspension geometry and those sorts of things.”

“I did all the work I possibly could on it. The really hard parts, like welding up the rear uprights that are based on the Mini uprights, Peter Turnbull was able to do for me. Francis Ransley in Wynyard machined the front hubs and cut out the backing plates for the drum brakes. She was all put together there in Wynyard, in the old shed, with Peter’s help and a few other guys around.”

“Basically I built it as a Clubman-type car, with the open guards and the headlights hanging out there in the wind, which seemed to be the simplest way to go. I’m small and I built it more or less to my dimensions.”

“I was a primary school teacher and I didn’t have the facilities that a lot of people had at garages and workshops, no tech department to rely on, and Wynyard is on the northwest cost of Tassie, a long way from anywhere. Then I got posted to Smithton, which is even further, so I was a long way from the track.”

Stuart ran the car at Symmons, Baskerville and numerous hilllclimbs, and reports that it was very competitive against the smaller cars, and even held its own against the bigger boys. “When it was at its best, we were down to 1m 7s (at Symmons) and we had the lap record for under-1300cc sportscars at the end of my career there. That was the sort of development that took place over the four or five years of running around.”

The body changed from the Clubman style to a conventional sportscar style about a year to eighteen months after its debut, due mainly to the quest for remaining competitive in the single division racing series.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 27 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>47</plumshop> <plumshop>48</plumshop>

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