John Habin

John Habin portrait.jpg (52825 bytes)John Habin was born on 5th April 1915 at Chidham, West Sussex, the eldest of three children of Charles, a farmer and later a grey hound trainer, and Caroline.  His parents named him John Dixon Jellicoe Habin, the Jellioce being named after Admiral John Jellicoe, who was born in Southampton and found fame in World War One as the admiral who led the British Navy at the Battle of Jutland.  He never used this Christian name and most knew him as John Habin or ‘JD’ or ‘Dad’ to his immediate family. He was brought up on his parents’ farm in Chidham and went to school at Hurstpierpoint College, near Hassocks in West Sussex.  He left Hurstpierpoint College at the age of 14 years, amid suggestions from his headmaster, the Reverend H. Bernard Towers, according to his recollection, that he would never amount to anything. His first job was driving lorries dumping earth from the construction of new roads, a lot of which he sold instead of dumping!  Many husbands arrived home to a heap of gravel in their drives and the lorry company always found it rather odd that his tyres seemed to be wearing out more than the others in the fleet. Thankfully, there were no diving tests then.

He then joined Vickers Supermarine in Woolston on a five year toolmakers apprenticeship and qualified as an engineer at a time when the company built several well known flying boats including the Southampton, Seagull, and, probably the best known, the Walrus. In his early twenties, he entered the motor trade, firstly in Warren Street, London, and then in Southampton. In 1934, he started grass track motor cycle racing and won his first novices race on 25th July and went on win the Southern speedway grass track championship. He learnt to fly with the Civil Air Guard in 1937 but, when war broke out, as a reserved occupation, he went back to Vickers and became a highly respected production engineering instructor, spending much of his time at Dibbens steel yard in Northam, the factory at Woolston having been destroyed during heavy bombing raids on 26 September 1940.  He taught those left behind to manufacture parts for aircraft, MTB’s, mortars and Bailey bridges and initiated a network of individuals in southern England to manufacture firing pins.   By the end of the war he was responsible for the quality control and output of five factories. During the war, he also managed to run two taxi or mini cab businesses, one in Southampton and another in Sussex;  both fleets were identical, even down to the number plates!  Most of his taxi drivers were American servicemen.  In 1945 he had to dispose of one so he had to dismantle the Sussex fleet;  he said that was a very sad day! In 1940, at the age of 25 years, he married Dorothy and two years later Michael was born at Netley Marsh, near Cadnam.

John Habin Staride BrandsFollowing the war, he continued in the car trade and also ran the remaining mini cab fleet in Southampton, known as Clifford Cabs.  He also established an aircraft sales business known as Southampton Air Services, operating out of Eastleigh Airport, which bought and sold war surplus aircraft for either scrap or the fuel they had in them.  Some aircraft he also used in the immediate post war years, buying them from such far flung places as Nigeria in Africa; this was his first venture into the aircraft charter business. It was during these ventures that he was asked to supply radiators to the Middle East for the cold nights;  supply was short so he decided to design and make some.  With the backing of an Arab sheikh, whom he only ever referred to as ‘Fred’, and some colleagues, a company that is a household name today was born, Dimplex. He never lost his love of grass track motor racing, obtaining many placings and again winning the novices race on 29th June 1947.

John in the prototype Staride at Brands Hatch, note the distinctive body, more bulbous than the later production cars.

By 1949, John had moved away from grass track racing and decided to race motor cars. He began in a Cooper Mk III and took a fourth place at Silverstone on the 9th July but failed to finish the 100 Mile Race. He had a respectable fifth at Goodwood in September. John took a year out in 1950 but returned in '51 with a new JBS, taking tenth in the Grand Prix in July then travelled to Zandvoort for a third, behind Moss and Leston. On 23rd September 1951, he won the Brands Hatch Open Challenge. On 6th October 1951, at Castle Combe, whilst driving the JBS, he crashed, rolled the car several times, broke his jaw in four places and lost his teeth.

In conjunction with Mike Erskine, who had been successful in speedway and had a factory in Southampton making car radiators and had branched out into making speedway bike frames, he developed the Erskine Staride racing car, which he first drove at Goodwood in April 1952 finishing  a fine fourth. John drove the prototype car throughout 1952 and briefly into 1953 before moving on.

John also drove in Formula Libre, in which he drove the Maserati 4CLT for Fred Tuck and also instigated the Revis 1500 with Reg Bicknell, travelling to Germany to bring back a 1500cc Hansa-Borgward “Renn” race engine. He gained many placings in the English and European circuits and, in a report of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 1952, whilst driving a Leston-Norton, the following appeared:- “By now a very serious dice was taking place between John Habin and Bill Whitehouse for third position, but on the 9th lap, Whitehouse’s car struck Habin’s as he was about to pass him on the incline behind the pits (Habin had missed a gear and the car momentarily slowed) and went nose over tail three times.  The crash looked really serious but Bill was walking about the paddock about an hour later liberally covered with bandages and showing everyone his crash hat (the same one he wore in the Snetterton crash) in which road abrasion had worn a hole! Moss went on to win with Wicken never far behind.  John Habin was third, as last year.  He says he is now known as the ‘Third Man’ in Holland.” All this in the days of such drivers as Stirling Moss, John Cooper, Mike Hawthorn and his very good friend, Peter Collins, who died so young, like so many others in the racing world.

He was elected a member of the British Racing Drivers Club during this time, a membership he proudly maintained for over 50 years, always wearing his BRDC lapel badge, and for which he received a commendation from the BRDC just a few years ago. He stopped racing in 1955, partly due to another bad racing accident and partly, no doubt, due to some encouragement on the part of his later wife and life long partner, Peggy, with whom he had had a second son, Geoffrey, on 17th December 1953.  A third son, Simon, followed on 9th September 1957. Throughout this period, he continued to earn his living in the car trade, operating a successful motor sales business known as Clifford Sales in Southampton and also became involved in property development.  He also set up a haulage business running a fleet of refrigerated lorries transporting frozen foods known as Habin (Haulage) Limited. The haulage company was, during the early sixties, also used for transporting fruit machines all over the country for what can only referred to as a ‘certain organisation’, as they were certainly an illegal commodity in those days!  It was not an uncommon event for his garage to be filled with fruit machines and for some ‘interesting’ people to descend upon the family home in Chilworth.

John at Brands Hatch in 1952, note the two very trusting gentlemen by the side of the track. Photo courtesy John Furlong.

John Habin in Staride 1 52.jpg (58607 bytes)

In 1964, whilst he was the director of the Hampshire Aeroplane Club Limited, he was responsible for building several replicas of the First World War Avro Triplane IV, which were flown by the actor, Terry Thomas, in the film “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”.  Three replicas were built at his hanger at Eastleigh Airport with the assistance of Peter Hillwood and design drawings prepared by Ray Hilbourne, and they all flew beautifully.  You may recall that one came to a sad end flying under a bridge in the film.   What in fact happened was that the film crew came into the hanger and hacked the wings off to simulate the crash;  he was there at the time and was furious for days. One surviving replica forms part of the Shuttleworth Collection in England and another, we believe, hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington.  He was also responsible for constructing a replica of the First World War German ‘Pfalz D.III’ aircraft for the film “The Blue Max”, this time with the assistance of Viv Bellamy and again from design drawings prepared by Ray Hilbourne. During 1966, he decided to retire and in 1967 piloted his own plane to Jersey with Peggy, Geoffrey and Simon.  Michael, who had by this time also joined the family car business, stayed in Southampton and managed Clifford Sales. The retirement was, however, short lived – apparently around four days!  At first, he started buying cars and shipping them back to Southampton but, in 1971, the opportunity arose to buy the garage group known as St. Helier Garages, which comprised three garages in Bath Street, Don Road and First Tower in Jersey, a garage in St. Peter Port in Guernsey and a shed selling tractor parts in Sark.  A new era had begun.

Whilst continuing to operate the garage businesses in Bath Street, now with the assistance of Geoffrey, and St. Peter Port, with the assistance of Michael, he acquired the air charter business of Aviation Beauport and undertook various property developments, including Wests Centre. In 1979, at the age of 64 years, the opportunity came to acquire the failing business of Intra Airways and so Jersey European Airways, now known as Flybe, was born. Some time later, he retired as chairman of Jersey European Airways, developed the garage premises at Bath Street into office blocks, now known as ‘Britannia Place’, and moved the garage business in Jersey to alternative premises.

In more recent times, the garage business in Jersey was sold, with Geoffrey now operating a successful motor bike business, and the garage business in Guernsey being sold, with Michael now in semi retirement. He only stopped flying at the age of 77 and became and avid wood worker in his workshop at home.  In 2001, at the age of 86 years, he decided that he would like to go back to boating, which was his love many years previously.  He went on a week’s yachting course out of Southampton.  When told that the yacht would not be using the marinas, he asked the rest of the crew to contribute to the marina fees and then told the skipper that they were going to use the marinas whether he liked it or not!  As ever, he would only do things in a professional manner and passed the Royal Yachting Association navigation exams at the age of 87! He still came into the garage on a daily basis to exercise his true passion in life, which was to sell something to somebody! Throughout his time in Jersey, many people from all walks of life would contact him, seeking advice, which he would freely give, although it was not always what they wanted to hear!

John Habin died on 26th March 2005, whilst on holiday in Fish Hoek, South Africa, with his wife, Peggy, just a few days before his 90th birthday.  He was still as active as he ever was, looking for a new opportunity. Our thanks to John's family for the photos and help with this article.

Some of John's results

 

Cooper Mk III

Silverstone 9th July 1949, 3rd in all-comers, 4th in production cars, DNF in 100 mile race

Blandford 27th August 1949, 4th in heat, DNF in final

Prescott Hill 11th September 1949, 12th

Goodwood 17th September 1949, 5th

Weston-super-Mare 8th October 1949, 18th

JBS

Silverstone 14th July 1951 Grand Prix, 10th

Ibsley 4th August 1951, 2nd in heat

Boreham 11th August 1951, 10th

Silverstone 18th August 1951 Commander Yorke Trophy, DNF

Brands Hatch 9th September 1951, 3rd in open heat, 6th in final, DNF in junior heat

Silverstone 22nd September 1951, 3rd in heat

Brands Hatch 23rd September 1951, 1st in open final, 2nd in junior heat, 3rd in final

Castle Combe 6th October 1951, 4th in heat, DNF in final

Staride

Goodwood 14th April 1952 Earl of March Trophy, 4th Staride

Ibsley 19th April 1952, 2nd in heat, DNF in final

Silverstone 10th May 1952 International Trophy,.17th

Boreham 17th May 1952, 3rd

Brands Hatch 18th May 1952, DNF in senior heat

Snetterton 31st May 1952, 4th in heat, DNF in final

Brands Hatch 4th August 1952, 3rd in sprint heat, 2nd in consolation final

Silverstone 23rd August 1952 Commander Yorke Trophy, 4th in heat, DNF in 100 mile final

Brands Hatch 21st September 1952, 2nd in consolation race

Castle Combe 4th October 1952, 8th in heat

Brands Hatch 12th October 1952, 2nd in senior heat, 5th in final

 

Ibsley 18th April 1953, 3rd in heat, 4th in final

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