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Skoda Special Saloon star John Turner dies aged 81

John Turner, who has died aged 81, was a highly skilled driver who starred in Special Saloon racing at its hallowed 1970s peak, notably aboard the fabulous five-litre Skoda-Chevrolet S110R.

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Turner became synonymous with the Skoda across a Herculean 23-event season, including in the mighty Super Saloon category, in 1974.

The Dorset timber merchant’s quiet understated character was diametrically-opposed to the steely determination with which he drove his cars.

As lynchpin of a strong band of friends who burned much midnight oil building a stream of winners in a workshop in the wood yard, Turner’s results speak for themselves.

He started racing a 1000cc Hillman Imp in the late 1960s and by 1970 was a difficult man to beat in a hugely competitive class. That year he won both the British Automobile Racing Club’s Osram-GEC and Brands Hatch-based Atlantic Petroleum championships.

In 1971, with preparation support from local motor engineer Richard Guy of Marnhull, Turner graduated to the British Saloon Car Championship with a Group 2 Sunbeam Imp.

While Bill McGovern dominated the 1000cc division, defending his overall crown in George Bevan’s superbly developed Imp, Turner was one of two drivers to snatch a round win, at Silverstone where the Irishman tripped up.

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Having notched up more Special Saloon victories at Thruxton and Castle Combe, Turner then changed horses to Ford.

After a season in the ex-John Macdonald Anglia with its screaming 1000cc BRM Formula 2 engine, continued sponsorship from the Insurance Advisory Service enabled his team – with brilliant engineer Ted Howard a trump card – to build an Escort with a two-litre Tasman V8 unit sourced from Sid Latter at BRM for 1973. It too won races, but sadly was wrecked at Silverstone late in the year.

A bigger and quicker ‘hybrid’ was required for the birth of the Super Saloon movement – promoted by Capri V8 legend Mick Hill and intrepid DAF V8 creator Tony Hazlewood – in 1974.

The indomitable Turner and his crew put their fertile minds together and, having identified the only rear-engined production car with a workable wheelbase, set to work.

Marrying a steel Skoda shell with the mechanical underpinnings of a F5000 Leda was a stroke of genius. The first of a kind, with its curvaceous wheel arches adding to the stunning visual effect, the ‘Yellow Peril’ was an instant crowd favourite.

Debuted at Snetterton, where it non-started, and Mallory Park over an April weekend, it took a bit of sorting but, once niggles were resolved, it was truly a ‘Skod Missile’.

Following a breakthrough win fifth time out at Castle Combe in July, more followed at Oulton Park, Kirkistown, Knutstorp (Sweden), Brands Hatch, Thruxton and Mallory Park.

Nine outright victories, wet and dry, and a class win delighted Skoda GB and were backed up with a string of lap records, Oulton’s at 98.61mph and Combe’s at 102.22mph.

Newly retired F1 and double Can-Am champion Denny Hulme even drove the Skoda at Brands and was impressed.

But running costs did not stack up against the prize money, thus Turner bought the two-year-old F5000 Lola T330 that Lella Lombardi had raced throughout 1974 for what proved his last season. A best finish of fifth, in the category’s European swansong at Brands, was his best result.

Earlier in the season, though, Turner had achieved an ambition to race on the terrifyingly fast old Francorchamps circuit. Sharing Pete ‘Rhubarb’ Smith’s Chevron B23, they finished a class-winning 10th in the World Sportscar Championship round – a magnificent achievement for privateers.

Turner is survived by son Richard and daughter Penny – younger son Peter died in 2008 – second wife Sue and families, to whom Autosport extends sincere condolences.

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