AL Turner, the father of the Ford Falcon GT-HO and drag racing’s iconic Funny Cars, has passed away age 89 at his home in Florida.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1932, the American played a key part in the history of Australian touring car racing through his appointment in 1968 as the new boss of Ford Australia’s new Special Vehicles Operation.
Turner’s previous post within Ford’s global operations had been in the drag racing program for the Lincoln-Mercury brand where, in 1966, he was credited with developing drag racing’s first true Funny Car: a spaceframe chassis fitted with a lightweight fibreglass Mercury Comet body, hinged at the rear.
His extensive drag racing experience was put to good use at his new post down under, and it needed to be: the 36-year-old was effectively filling the shoes of the iconic Harry Firth, who had spearheaded Ford’s highly-successful competition efforts in rallying and circuit racing throughout much of the decade.
The most high-profile product of Turner’s department was the legendary GT-HO variant of Ford’s hero sedan, the ‘blue oval’s contender for Series Production races such as the Bathurst 500.
Spanning three iterations across the XW and XY models, the GT-HO Falcon had been developed to win Bathurst in an era where a win on Sunday meant sales on Monday.
Ford’s factory racing efforts fell under the auspices of Turner, who set up the legendary Lot 6, Mahoneys Road workshop where the company’s touring car racing challengers were built.
Factory GT-HOs achieved the company’s goal twice, winning the ‘Great Race’ in 1970 and ‘71 as Allan Moffat earnt his first two Bathurst triumphs aboard the rapid V8-engined machines.
Only three versions of the GT-HO saw front-line competition, with the XA-based Phase IV model cancelled amid the ‘160mph Supercars Scare’ of June 1972.
Despite this, the XA Falcon went on to win the 1973 ‘Great Race’, the first run to a 1000-kilometre race distance and the first under bespoke ‘Group C’ technical regulations that no longer required race cars to be identical to the road cars being sold in showrooms.
Turner moved on to Ford of England in 1974 and remained with the company until he crossed the floor to Chrysler in 1983, working in assorted projects – including the creation of the Dodge Viper – until his retirement in 1996.