Australian Muscle Car - - Modern Muscle -

h, Al’s out on his boat,” came the dis­em­bod­ied fe­male Amer­i­can voice some 15,000km away on the other end of the phone line. “You can call him on his cell phone.” Pic­tur­ing a neat lit­tle half-cabin moored along­side a jetty some­where – it was about 9pm Flor­ida time – I di­alled the num­ber, only to find that ‘Al’ wasn’t sit­ting com­fort­ably at a wharf pot­ter­ing around with some mi­nor mat­ter, but in­stead was aboard his 44ft, twin-diesel Pow­er­cat cata­ma­ran that was sit­ting awk­wardly on a large lump of co­ral.

This, clearly, was not a man who sat around tak­ing life as it came; he went out and grabbed hold of it in big chunks.

Al Turner would later ask us not to men­tion too much about the boat: “I had some­one else on the helm that evening and he didn’t lis­ten to my in­struc­tions about the chan­nel and put us up on the co­ral. We floated it off a lit­tle later. I hardly even use the boat any­more; it’s up for sale now. I’d rather talk about my new en­gine.”

We con­vinced him his on­go­ing en­gine work and his boat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties were both im­por­tant as­pects of this story, out­lin­ing the is­sue’s ‘Where Are They Now’ theme. AMC read­ers, we ex­plained to him, would be in­ter­ested to learn that the Amer­i­can who lobbed dow­nun­der 50 years ago to head-up Ford Aus­tralia’s rac­ing depart­ment was still en­joy­ing an amaz­ingly ac­tive life­style, aged 85.

This was the dy­namo who, un­der the lead­er­ship of Bill Bourke, re­vived Ford Aus­tralia and its per­for­mance im­age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The then 30-some­thing who set up the Lot 6 skunk works, re­de­fined the GT and re­fined the GT-HO Fal­con, in­vented the shaker scoop and the front and rear spoil­ers as run on the Fal­cons and left a last­ing legacy which still pre­cedes him to­day.

Wait­ing for the tide to come in aboard the (iron­i­cally named) Sea Rose, meant Turner had plenty of time to back­ground us on his pro­fes­sional life, which con­tin­ues to roll on to­day.

We be­gan our more for­mal in­ter­view at a later date by ask­ing him about his back­ground with Ford when he first came to Aus­tralia in late 1968 – ex­actly half-a-cen­tury ago.

I was the man­ager of Youth and Per­for­mance Prod­uct Plan­ning and Mar­ket­ing at Lin­coln-Mer­cury Divi­sion.

And you were in­volved with a lot of mo­tor rac­ing in the United States?

I’ve been in ev­ery­thing. When I came to Aus­tralia it was out of the Lin­coln-Mer­cury Drag Rac­ing Pro­gram, but I was a gear­head when I was born. At 16 years old I took a flat­head V8 apart and re­built it even though I had no idea what an en­gine was about.

In the mil­i­tary I raced dirt track, and af­ter that I started to drag race. I also worked on road race and Le Mans cars. My back­ground’s pretty di­verse in mo­tor­sports.

In the drag rac­ing world you’d prob­a­bly be best known for your work with Fran Her­nan­dez in de­vel­op­ing what to­day we know as Funny Cars.

Fran was a great boss, as the man­ager of the group. When I started there he wanted some­body to do a drag rac­ing pro­gram, and in 1959 I had won the open­ing event at De­troit Bot­tom: The Amer­i­can who lobbed in Aus­tralia 50 years ago and cre­ated the fac­tory Ford team is still en­joy­ing an amaz­ingly ac­tive life to­day, aged 85. Drag­way with my drag­ster – we ran a 9.55 at 146mph with a 283 Chevy with a 4-71 GMC su­per­charger in a lit­tle rail. Once Fran knew what I was ca­pa­ble of he said, “I don’t need to tell you what to do, just keep me up to date on what’s hap­pen­ing.” So I just did whatever I wanted.

You were the one who in 1966 came up with the idea of putting a one-piece flip-up body on what was then called a Fac­tory Ex­per­i­men­tal car which made it into the mod­ern con­cept of a Funny Car. You es­sen­tially in­vented the Funny Car. How did that come about?

It came from a racer named Gene Mooney­ham who had a [1934 Ford] coupe. He had moved the en­gine back and had run 160-some­thing mph, in the nines or some­thing; I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly what its elapsed times were, but the car ran ex­tremely well. We were sit­ting in Jack Chris­man’s [one of Mer­cury’s

Al Turner and Fran Her­nan­dez

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