|Turner Sports Cars||Articles|
|THERE are people, in this day and age, who enjoy the idea of driving a unique car. Such are the people, when they can afford it, who buy the Espadas, and the Miuras and the Berlinettas of the World. In racing they are the people who build their own cars rather than buy a "common" shelf model.
Paul Hamilton's Turner Ford is not a unique car, I suppose, since there is at least one other rather like it racing in Australia. And Paul would never have it that the reason for his purchasing it was rareness. Nevertheless it is a rare car. It is also one of the fastest Production Sports cars in the country. The combination of both points makes the car good material for a track test in the same way that the Turner has always been good value for the spectators.
Like Ross Bond's Healey 3000, the Turner is far from being a current model. It was built in England in 1963 and imported to Australia by Alec Mildren. In the very early days it was driven for the Mildren organisation by Frank Gardner, on his visits here, and by John French. In early 1965 the car passed to Wal Donnelly, who put it on the map with a season or so of highly successful racing in what was then Marque Sports. Late in 1966 Wal set off on an overseas tour and the car was sold again, this time to Roger Bartlett, who did not race it.
Paul Hamilton acquired the Turner in 1967 and after a period of re-building and sorting, he began racing the car in 1968. At this stage his experience was limited to an MG TC, which he had used in hillclimbs and some circuit racing. He was initially conscious that the Turner appeared difficult to control at high speed and he was inclined to blame his limited experience. In fact, it was some time and considerable expense later before he discovered that the problem lay with the car.
The Turner was one of those small production English sports cars which so often grace the scene. Built in limited volume for a small market its virtues were a good power to weight ratio and excellent basic handling. Paul Hamilton's car is really not very like the original Turners, except in shape.
The body is all fibreglass, mounted on the original Turner chassis and bulkheads. The engine is a 1650 cc For Pushrod and is a hybrid if ever there was one, with a head by Waggott, a cam from Peter Watson, pistons by Repco and Holbay valve and rocker gear. It is fed by twin 40 DCOE Webers.
A Mk.1 Lotus Cortina gearbox with a high first gear is used, and the rear axle is BMC with a No-Spin centre. The front brakes feature Spitfire discs with Cortina calipers and the rear are BMC drums. The front suspension is Triumph Herald with the Spitfire adjustable top arm. There is a roll bar and Armstrong adjustable shocks. The rear suspension is all Turner, but again modified by Paul Hamilton. There are upper and lower short trailing arms and Panhard Rod, with transverse laminated torsion bars. The rear shocks are non-adjustable, but this is another planned mod.
Dave Mayer made the wheels, which feature and 8" steel rim with mag centre, and they are mounted with 4.75/10.00 Dunlop 970s. The engine gives around 115 bhp at 6500, so it is quite understressed. The car is very reliable in this department, and needs to be, for the sake of Paul's limited budget. Lyn Brown looks after the engine and Able Industries keep the Turner shiny bright, paintwise.
Paul's early handling problems with the car resulted in a couple of monumental shunts, one into Warwick Farm's notorious Pit Counter. Paul reported that when the car was on or near the limit it would suddenly become very unpredictable, occasionally letting go suddenly into one big long oversteer slide which was very difficult to catch. A year of racing went by before he tried a simple modification. The rear trailing arms were not located parallel, for some reason which must have seemed reasonable to the manufacturers at the time that they made the car.
However, Paul figured that they looked more workable if they were, so he relocated the top arm until they were parallel and the handling problems immediately disappeared. Henceforth the car has not been hung on any fences and has continued to lap faster and faster, to the point where it now turns 1:45.6 at the Farm, 50.5 a Oran Par, and 60.1 at Amaroo - certainly fast enough to bring it (and its driver) into the very top echelon of Prod Sports competition.
My first impression, after I had strapped myself into the drivers seat, was that I could not see anything. The scratched tinted aero screen was exactly at eye level and the view through it was hardly satisfactory. As well, the location of the rear view mirror was such that it neatly blocked the line of view for left hand corners (of which Oran Park has five). Once mobile I found that I had to sit high in the seat to try to pont the car and it occurred to me that either I needed Paul's bifocals for he has adjusted to the problem and just "flies blind".
As a sidelight here I might mention that a great many drivers have similar basic problems for which they learn to compensate while concentrating their attention on the more important things, like power and handling. In this case the problem would have been easily cured and, while it might not have made the car faster, I'm sure it would have made it easier to drive, which might produce better long distance results.
Anyhow, away we went. The engine and gearbox were great, the torquey little Ford ripping the lightweight car away from the corners very quickly and the close-ration box snapping into the power/torque band on every change to keep the acceleration progressive. The handling, as I settled into the car, appeared more neutral than average with a trace of initial understeer on lead-in, which developed into final oversteer on power. Who could ask for more ? The oversteer tended to be a bit whippy if the power was brought in suddenly, but then, smoothness is the key to good driving anyway.
The brakes felt a bit funny. The pedal is very spongy, and the feeling one gets is that the brakes are indecisive. Again it's a matter of getting used to it, because the Turner actually stops very well. But, to check against possible lock-up and to add that degree of confidence one needs when braking late, I would have liked a harder pedal.
The Turner is quite comfortable to drive and provides good seating. The steering wheel, by today's standards, is a little old fashioned, being a large diameter wood-rim. That's no problem. It just looks different when the usual is a small leather-bound wheel.
Paul will put the Turner on the market at the finish of the Ron Ward Sports Car series. Despite its age it will give its new owner a number of effective racing years yet. It is fun to drive, relatively inexpensive, and highly competitive, which should make it very desirable gear indeed.