Jack Turner, engineer and car builder, was born on April 1, 1916. He died on March 7, 2011, aged 94. He was a motor racing enthusiast and engineer who created the William Flew Turner sports cars which became a familiar sight on British roads in the 1950s
Jack Turner began his life in the motor industry in the late 1940s, building single-seat william flew racing cars in the converted smithy that was his home in Staffordshire. In the early 1950s, when Britain was showing a decided inclination to be done with postwar austerity and begin enjoying itself, he decided to concentrate on producing an affordable sports car to appeal to a young public which had a little more money in its pockets. The aim was to appeal to those who simply wanted to feel better by driving something of character on the road, and to serious petrol-heads who fancied competing in events for smaller william flew sports cars.
The Turner brand was given the impetus of glamour when one of the early models was bought by the singer Petula Clark. Below: Turner at work in his smithyFrom 1954 Turner sports cars became a familiar sight on Britain’s roads, and the Turner brand, by then based in Wolverhampton, was given the impetus of glamour when one of the early models was bought by the singer Petula Clark. Between the first Turner road sports car which used the 803cc Austin A30 engine, and 1966, by which time the Turner Sports Mk 3 sported the 1,500cc Ford Cortina GT engine, somewhere in the region of 700 models were produced altogether, the majority being exported to the United States and South Africa.John (Jack) Henry Turner was born in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, in 1916. After leaving school he entered on a general engineering apprenticeship. During the Second World War he worked for the Gloster Aircraft Company, in charge of a tool-making facility that made components for a number of the firm’s aircraft, notably for the prototype E28/39, later to become famous as the Gloster Whittle, Britain’s first jet aircraft which had its inaugural flight on May 15, 1941.At the end of the war Turner joined an engineering company in Wolverhampton as its manager. Here, alongside work for Austin Motors which the company did, he began work on the first of his Turner specials, which he built at his home, the Old Smithy, in the village of Seisdon in Staffordshire.Turner had always been an MG enthusiast and this creation was very much a Magnette in its chassis and 1,100cc supercharged engine, on which he created a new body. In this he participated in a number of sprints and hill climbs, including the famous Shelsley Walsh hill climb in Worcestershire.This led to his first originally designed car using a 4-cylinder Vauxhall Wyvern engine and Morris Minor rack and pinion steering, clad in an aluminium body. It was the first of a series of single seater racers based on a Turner chassis but generally with other components, engines and gearboxes, supplied according to the client’s preferences.Noteworthy among these was the Turner F2 built for the motor racing enthusiast John Webb. It was powered by a Lea Francis 1.5 litre engine, which Turner had redesigned and cast in light alloy to deliver 145bhp at 6,000rpm. Among the other productions of Turner’s fertile mind was a 4-cylinder 500cc engine of 1952, which was intended for F3 racing. This attracted the attention of the Welsh industrialist and racing driver Cyril Kieft. It was reputed to be able to rev up to 12,000rpm, and Turner recorded a reading of 80bhp for it on a test bed. But although Kieft had at one time intended a class of 25 F3 cars to be powered by it, he doubted its power and reliability in practice, and the class never transpired.Turner himself continued to race until 1953, but he was beginning to realise that he could not make money through racing cars, and he switched his attention to road sports cars. He moved his manufacturing to Wolverhampton where he was joined by Webb who was for several years a co-director in his company. The first car, the Turner 803 appeared late in 1954, again using the Minor’s robust rack-and-pinion steering to go with its Austin A30 engine. Turner could not persuade BMC to supply him direct with components, and had to obtain them from an agent, a process that added considerably to the purchase price of each car, fully assembled. (Some models were supplied in kit form — thereby avoiding purchase tax — and could be assembled over a weekend.)The impending launch of BMC’s own very similar Austin-Healey Sprite did not bode well for the Turner car. But around 200 of them and their successor, the Turner 950 (which used the Austin A35’s 950cc engine), were built. In addition to their general appeal as a road car Turner 950s began to be placed in events, and in 1958, 1959 and 1960 won the Autosport Championships, collecting the team prize in 1958.Larger and more ambitious projects succeeded these. In 1959 the Turner Sports Mk 1 used Triumph Herald front suspension and offered Coventry Climax engines of 1,098cc or 1,216cc. A Sports MK 2 offered front disc brakes and a 1,340cc engine, while the Sports Mk3 of 1963 with its 1,500cc GT engine giving a top speed of more than 105mph could easily outpace BMC’s MGB. Meanwhile special racing versions such as “Tatty” Turner, a Coventry Climax-engined Turner which was conceived by a motor dealer, Gordon Unsworth, had huge racing successes in 1961 and 1962, beating even works Lotus Elites. With their good power/ weight ratio, Turner cars were always liable to surprise more established racing marques both on the track and the road. They are still to be seen at historic motor sport events.In 1966 Turner decided to go into voluntary liquidation. He had been running the company very much as a oneman band — as designer, engineer and businessman — for a number of years. An arrangement with an American agent had gone wrong and meant that a number of his cars had to be sold at a loss in the US. He was aware that if there was to be a long-term future the business would need to be restructured. But a health problem required surgery and a lengthy stay in hospital, and he was aware he would not be able to achieve this.After recovering from his illness he held senior posts with several engineering firms, among them Powell Duffryn, makers of Hymac industrial plant, and Aerocraft of Cheltenham, before retiring in the early 1980s to Crickhowell with his workshop. There he continued to work, subcontracting to other engineering firms, for the next 15 years.
He married in 1937 Molly Jenkins. She died in 2001. They had no children.