|Turner Sports Cars||Nostalgia Items|
Ken Robbins was a factory apprentice and employee of Turner Sportscars from 1959 - 1966. Ken joined the company from School at 15 around 1958/1959. He was a member of the Air Training Corps based at Pendeford Airport which was still in service at the time and often stopped by Jack Turner's works when passing from the Flying club - club house which was just down the road. (Jack and Molly used this Club house to lunch with special guests apparently).
Ken started as 'Sweeper up' at the factory on Saturdays before being taken on as an apprentice upon leaving school and recalled how the body shells were prepared outside the works so as not to deposit too much fibreglass dust and debris inside the premises.
Tubs & Doors
On joining as an apprentice Ken recalled how he started in the fabrication shop , and how he cut the steel for the inner tubs by hand ! for the first 14 months before Jack invested in a Sheet Steel 'Nibbler' which made life much easier !
He recalled that Steel templates were used as patterns , and the 20 gauge steel was used for the Steel Metalwork, 18 gauge for the Door frames. These were assembled by a gentleman called Ron Oakley throughout production, Ron would earn £8 per tub and would produce around 3 a week , however would push to 4 a week but Jack would request he slowed down as these took up space (and cost Jack more money). On £24 per week in 1960 this was good money.
The employees always referred to Jack Turner as 'Chief', which Jack preferred. Mr. Turner was too formal, and Jack was too informal since he was the boss. The foreman was called Dennis Pardo. Mrs Turner looked after the workshop consumables and accounts ect.
The Doors Skins were made by Sheet metal worker Arthur Wright who was sub contracted by Jack to work on a Saturday. He would start bending the aluminium over a piece of sewerage pipe before using an 'English Wheel' to mould the aluminium to shape.
Arthur would average four doors on a Saturday shift. During the week Arthur worked for local company Thompson Tankers.
Coil Overs & Torsion bars
Coil Overs were a factory option, however rarely taken up. Ken recalls that Jack was keen to dissuade customers from this option as he made more money from the Torsion bar set up (Built in house) and the subsequent supply of replacement bars over time - Ken recalled how he manually cut the bars by hand with a hack saw before they were sent for heat treatment - He recalled Jack was always sending these off as replacements as they did tend to break and Jack did a roaring trade in them. Ken recalled how he must have cut hundreds of these bars !
The Chassis Frames were all assembled in house, and these would be welded up prior to being taken three at a time for shot blasting prior to assembly.
Ken recalls on a Monday some racing cars would be parked outside to have racing repairs done. The championship cars WOF 3 and WOF 4 were often there as were Ken Mackenzie's cars - He particularly recalls the Alexander Coupe being brought up to the Turner workshops - the car Michael Christie of Alexander commissioned Williams & Pritchard to make the special GTbody for - Alexander hoped jack would put this into production , however jack had his own ideas for a GT.
Ken recalls the first GT. The car was rushed to be ready for the 1963 Racing car show, a deadline that must be met in order to show the car to press and trade at the Goodwood Test day the following week.
Ken had to drive the car to London and meet Jack and Forman Dennis at the Hotel prior to the show. Apparently the paint on the car had hardly dried and soon after setting off it was apparent the car had a horrible steering characteristic! So much so that he was late as he was frightened to push the car, to the wrath of Jack and Dennis upon his late arrival. Ken said '' Chief - Den - That car isn't right'' as he nervously handed the keys over! The car had an incorrect castor angle it was later discovered.
Ken recalled there was always good banter between Turner and the ''Alexander Boys'' - after the show one of them shouted over ''Hey Ken - Give you a race back'' - Ken had to decline as he had no desire to attempt a race off in the miss handling GT ! The John Bolster roadtest at Goodwood referred to ''The Turner GT as surprisingly off colour' on the day'' which echoed Ken's feeling about the car.
The first GT was sold to a regular customer Mr. Hussey and was a Pale blue metallic.
Ken would take the van down to a Lincoln dealership on the Great Western Road near London to pick these units up. They came as boxed and assembled engine and transmission assemblies and Ken could fit three at a time in the Van.
He recalled that things were often on a knife edge financially. For example, Jack would send Ken off to Birmingham (Lucas) to pick up parts, however would be turned down as Turner were on stop for being behind on payment. Ken would end up on the phone to Jack for him to negotiate release of the parts.
At the height of the company production Ken recalls around 20 Employees at the works. Ken at this time had to collect the cups and make the coffee for them all. Not his favourite job ! but the job of the apprentice.
Mick Clark (Passed away in 2002) was the paint sprayer. Ken and I identified the ID of Mick's car which he bought new. The car has been featured in many publicity articles including the RAC Turner Homologation papers - MKII MBF 888 was in fact 61/449 (Missing) and was fitted with a BMC , Single Webber, Bullet type rear lights (This was because the Hillman type lights needed the body and lamp to be filed out from the mould and Mick preferred the easier fitting option of these bullet style lights). We assumed this car to be the demonstrator listed on Jack's records as 61/490, however we know the demonstrator now was a MKII which was made for show purposes with Clear perspex Bonnet - Bootlid and doors for shows !!
As MBF 888 was always on site this is why it was always availible for publicity photos and demonstrations to customers.
Other employees included Allan Scott (Body Shop), Derek Judson, Ray Cooper (Ken's Cousin), Ernie Sergeant (Slick Welder), Barry Evans, Dave Payne (Part Time Employee), and a chap called 'Chetter' who worked with Jack at the Smithy. Sadly most he has lost touch or have passed away.
One of Ken's tasks was to drive cars from late 1960 on to the docks for export. Mainly to Liverpool for export to Tri City Sports Cars or later Fergus Automotive. The priority was to get the cars to dock ASAP and gain a signature - this way the funds were relesed to the company immediately by the board of trade. Ken would remove the Screen , tape up the lights and place all items in the boot upon arrival and the cars would be lifted on a harness onto the ships.
These were operated by Cunard and the ships called possibly Media and Brestia. Two cars dropped from the harnesses smashing into a million pieces of glass fibre! Apparently a few were lost including one car that was stolen from the Royal Liverpool dock.
Ken recalls driving a GT to London Royal Victoria Dock for export - This would have been GT10 now in Florida USA , but exported to Clois Duffiie in the Panama Canal zone.- He thinks the car was a Maroon Metallic.
Ken has great stories about his trips to the docks where he made good friends , and would hitch hike , or catch a train home to Wolverhampton.
Later the logistics were taken on by a transportation firm to Ken's sadness as he really enjoyed his trip to the docks.
Half & Half Cars (MKI rear end 950 Front)
Ken can not recall these cars - However has seen the pictures and agrees they are there for the eye to see.
He can only assume they were made to order or prototype but has no recollection of them - He said this would have been very early in his career with Turner.
Ken has many fond memories such as the car Jack built with a fibre glass monocoque and fitted with Jacks BMC A Twin Cam - the car scared the driver to death as it was so quick and powerful - but flexed like a jelly !! - Ken and the others used to look on with exitement when Jack had the twin cam revving on the dyno in testing and always wanted to assist !
Also Jacks 'Gull Wing Turner concept ' which was half finished at factory closure.
Ken's first car was an Austin A40 fitted with twin SU carbs, which he bought from Jack Turner. Ken said if the company had survived he has no doubt he would have stayed there for life. He recalls his time working with Jack with great affection and also sadness that it all ended when it did. - He in time is going to provide the club with a drawing of the Pendeford Airport works as he can recall it as if it were yesterday !
Ken now 61 is a lecturer in Motor vehicle Studies at the City of Wolverhampton collage and will be joining us at Crickhowell in July at the FSCC Turner Rally and is looking forward to meeting owners, and old friends - and to seeing the cars that are such a huge part of his early life.
Other photos provided by Ken.
May 31, 2004