Turner Sports Cars   Articles

Sport & GT Market magazine
March 1987, pages 18, 19, and 23

Courtesy of Ken Young

[The article was re-created by re-typing to make down loading time quicker.]

Probably no group of motorists since the very early days of the automobile have ad a wider selection marques to choose from than the British did in the 1950s and 1960s.  Thers was a proliferation of cars being made, many by small independent car makers who made at most a few hundred cars a year.  Most of these were "specialist" sports cars that used components from mass-produced cars from Austin, Ford, MG, Triumph, and so forth.

Usually the specialist car builder added a body of his own design and tweaked the engine to improve performance.  One of the more successful of thest specialist cars was the Turner.  And while no more than 1,000 Turners were built between 1954 and 1966, the name is familiar to American sports car enthusiasts not only because of their performance - handling was their biggest claim to fame - but also because a goodly portion of the cars produced were exported to the U.S.

The Turner was produced by John (Jack) Turner, an experienced race car driver and builder.  The first model, the Turner 803, appeared in late 1954.  The 803 designation came from the fact that the fiberglass bodied car was powered by the same 803cc engine used in the comtemporary Austin A30 passenger cars.  The suspension was also borrowed from the A30, but the tubular frame chassis care from Turner's racing car experience.  The chassis design, consisting of a ladder frame with two main tubes joined by cross members front and rear, would remain just about the same throughout the production life of the Turner.

The Turner 803 was an open sports care with suicide doors and a minimum of creature comforts.  Weighing in at about 1,000 pounds, the 803 was able to get an honest 80 mph from its 30 horsepower engine.  The fuel economy was excellent, around 45 mpg.

To put the Turners in their proper perspective, they were basically the same size as the Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget, and Triumph Spitfire.  Besides having their own distinctive fiberglass bodies, they were much lighter in weight and had more spirted performance.  However, unlike many others which were street cares that could be converted for weekend racing, the Turner was a racer that could be driven on the street.

Turner followed up the 803 two years later with the Turner 950.  The main changes came in the peformance department with the 948cc engine from the Austine A35 being the standard powerplant.  It came in two stages of tune: with a single Zenith carburetor it put out 34 horsepower, and with a single SU power went up to 40.  Top speed was boosted by about 10 mph.  Styling at this time included the then current "in" feature, with fins topping the rear finders.

In 1959, the Turner received a major redesign with the introduction of the Turner 950 Sports Mark I.  For starters, it had a much sleeker and wider appearing body.  The doors were now conventionally hung and the small tail fins were gone.  The front coil suspension was still from the Austin A 35.  The rear suspension consisted of two radius arms and Panhard rods that supported the live rear axle.  Springing was via torsion bars.  The metal floorpan and fiberglass body were attached to a tubular frame.  The entire assembly weighed only about 1,200 pounds.

Buyers of this new model had several engines to choose from.  The standard engine was the 948cc, 43 hoursepower unit used in the Austin-Healey Sprite.  Optional engines included the 1097cc Coventry Climax FWA and the 1216cc Climax FWE.  The latter engine was the same one found in the Lotus Elite, and dependingon the state of tune, produced from 77 to 105 horsepower.  The Climax powered cars, usually referred to as Turner Climaxex, could run circles around cars like the Austin-Healey Sprite and had a top speed of 100 plus mph.  About 90 percent of the cars went to two markets, the U.S. and South Africa.  Most Turners could be purchased either in kit form or completely assembled.  In Britian, kit cars meant car buyers did not have to pay the steep purchase taxes.

In late 1960, the Turner Sports Mark II appeared with its more luxurious interior and a restyled hood highlighted by a large air scoop.  While better than the earlier, more spartan interiors and instrumentation, Turners would never be known for their interior design, nor their fit and finish.

The list of optional engines grew to include two powerplants from Ford, the 997cc 105E and 1340cc 109E units.  With the Ford engines you got a coil spring and wishbone front suspension borrowed fron the Triumph Herald.  By late 1963, a twin-carburetor Ford 1500cc engine producing 80 horsepower could also be specified.

The next Turner to appear was the Turner GT, the rarest of the Turner series with only nine produced between 1962 and 1964.  The GT, as fitting the name, was a coupe with 2+2 seating.  Of all the Turners, the GT was the most refined model.  Besides the entirely new body, there was a revised chassis that resembled a box-section arrangment with a steel floorpan welded on.  The front suspension was fron Triumph and coil springs, trailing arms, Panhard rods, and telescopic shocks wereon the rear.  Disc brakes and wire wheels were standard.  While also designed to use the 1340cc Ford or 1216cc Coventry Climax engines, most, it not all, of the GTs were fitted with the 1500cc Ford engine, which gave good acceleration and a 110 mph top speed.

The final Turner to be produced was the Turner Sports GT Mark III that appeared in late 1963.  The Mark III received minor facelifting including a revised hood and rear.  The car was equipped with the Ford 1500cc engine and wire wheels, which had been optional, became standard.

The last year for Turner was 1966.  The company was having financial difficulty, competition in this market was becoming more fierce, and Jack Turner's health was suffering.  However, even in the complany's last days, new Turner models were in the wings.  There was, for example, a rear-engined coupe that was to have used the engine from the Hillman Imp.

Even Turners were not specialized enough for some buyers.  Alexander Engineering, a Turner distributor, made some modifications of their own, namely fitting Mark Is and IIs with disc brakes, close ratio gearboxes, and an Austin-Healey Sprite engine with their own crossflow cylinder heads.  The Alexander modified cars were real screamers, able to top 100 mph and turn in a 0 to 60 mph time of 13 seconds.

While the Turners were good road cars, theywere in their element on the race track.  In 1958, Austen Nourse and John Baldam sook first and second in the Autosport Championship, and Bob Gerard took first place honors the following year, all in Turners.  One of the most famous of the racers was the 'Tatte Turner' with its Coventry Climax FWA engine.  In 1961, the car placed 23 times out of 27 starts, including 14 firsts and six seconds.  It finished the season with the Autosport Championship for cars 1300cc and under.  By 1963 'Tatty Turner' had been fitted with a modified Climax FWA powerplant and went to some 13 firsts, two seconds, and three thirds during this season.

Turners saw first line duty on the race circuit well into the 1070s, and even thday they are seen participating in vintage sports car events doing what they do best - winning.

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