The Hoffman Prototype
By Wayne Batty
Regardless of how well you know the world of motoring, the sheer diversity of passion of its devotees means the opportunity to be surprised by a car you never knew existed is seldom far off. Whether it be a concept car abandoned prior to its unveiling, a perfectly developed prototype hidden away for decades, or an all-new race car shelved due to a regulation change, you can be sure that at every moment over the last 125 years, somebody somewhere has been building a car in secret. You can be equally sure that someone will eventually discover these automotive treasures and put them on public display for all to enjoy.
As enthusiasts, we’re so pleased that the sad demise of traditional motor shows has at least been offset by a plethora of ‘disruptive’ new motoring experiences and a far broader appreciation for the concours. Without these events, along with the ‘surprises’ they often reveal and the associated media coverage they garner, our cerebral automotive databases would be notably poorer.
One such car is the 1935 Hoffman X-8 prototype. This innovative car had its first grand public outing at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours after being hidden in a private collection for decades. It was built by Detroit-based engineer and inventor Roscoe C. Hoffman for the Fishers – two brothers who apparently had designs on purchasing the Hudson Motor Company.
The Fishers failed in that bid, which is more than likely why the project never progressed beyond an unusually well finished prototype that remained in Hoffman’s possession until 1961. He had certainly met the brief which was to create something ground-breaking and truly unique.
Above: Faired-in headlights, streamlined style, B-pillar-hinged doors, mid-mounted engine and steel unibody construction – innovative stuff for 1935.
Hoffman’s design, developed in secret, is a streamlined steel unibody tapered towards the rear – quite futuristic for a car conceived in the early 1930s. Details such as shield-shaped grille and headlights add unusual Art Deco appeal.
Things get even more interesting beneath the body panels. Mounted behind the second row of seats, but ahead of the rear axle, sits a completely bespoke eight-cylinder X-configuration engine featuring overhead cams and water cooling. This one-off motor – Henry Ford also toyed with an X-8 layout but his were mostly air-cooled L-heads – drives the rear wheels via a three-speed gearbox.
Above: Striking shield-like grille and headlamp shapes more than hint at an Art Deco influence.
After several appearances at North American events, the Hoffman X-8 will make its European début at the 2023 Concours of Elegance which takes place from Friday 1 to Sunday 3 September at Hampton Court Palace. If you have a penchant for the rare and unusual, this eight’s for you.
Image credits: Bary Sheldon and Marcus Long via Newspress.co.uk
Above: X-configuration eight-cylinder mounted just behind the passenger compartment but ahead of the rear axle. Vented panels suggest air-cooling but Hoffman’s X-8 was in fact water-cooled.
Other articles by Wayne Batty