It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of John Turpin. A regular competitor in the past at all of our local Speed events, Jonathan Williamson wrote the article below for Torbay Motor Club, and has kindly sent it to us for publication as well.
The sport of Speed Hillclimbing seems to attract an amazing number of wonderful eccentric characters. It is one of the delights of the sport, and John was definitely included in that number! There can’t ever have been many quiet, classical music-loving, orchid growing, wine-producing Hillclimb competitors before or since.
John was born in London in 1922, and studied for a degree in chemistry before the war. He enrolled in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and until recently his family had no idea that he had served in Africa, Burma and Malaysia in bomb disposal, finishing the war as an acting Major in charge of a group of Japanese PoW’s in Kuala Lumpur clearing the Batu caves of Japanese bombs and ammunition. That probably explains how he could remain so unflappable through the relatively minor tribulations of motor sport! In the early 1950’s he went to Brazil as a chemist, married Dea and lived there until the political situation worsened, and they thought it best to return to the UK.
John had always been a petrol-head, buying high performance cars in Rio and when he arrived in Devon he became fascinated with competitive hill climbing. It wasn’t long before he was entering competitions and doing well, winning many trophies as his trophy cabinet today bears witness.
John drove various cars in his Hillclimb career. He shared a Mallock with Mike Welch, then the proprietor of the Gearbox, and later, when I first knew him had a beautiful, and very quick Reliant Scimitar. However, he is probably best remembered in his beloved Porsche 911 Carrera 3.0
In standard form, as he bought it, it was a very fast road car, but after a few years John decided that he needed more power, so a visit to Josh Sadler at Autofarm in Oxfordshire resulted in a new (to him) mechanically injected 3 litre RS spec engine. This proved to be powerful enough for John to be booked at well in excess of the speed limit on his way back down the motorway to Bovey Tracey! He subsequently uprated it again to 3.2 litres for yet more power.
John would rarely eat anything during a day’s Hillclimb competition. We think he was vegetarian, but since we never saw him eat , we never knew for sure.
However, in the morning, usually after our first practice run, we usually had bacon butties on the go, and John would appear, sniffing the air, and saying how good they smelt. He never had one, but obviously enjoyed the aroma.
John put a great amount of trust in his Porsche’s rather basic rev limiter…….. At several venues his car could be heard stuttering against the rev limiter to save a gear change before the next corner.
On one occasion, he returned to the paddock after a practice run, complaining that after all the years that he had been competing there, he wasn’t able to go any faster. Trying to be helpful, I suggested that if he changed up a gear on the straight, he would go faster.
John duly tried this on the next run, approached the next corner much faster than he had ever done before, and hit the bank quite hard.
My name was mud!
John had quite a hard contact with one of the banks at Finlake Hillclimb at one point in his later years of competition. When the rescue team and doctor arrived they were quite concerned that he seemed a bit confused and disorientated. The motorsport doctor said that he should not compete again until he had been checked over by his own GP and passed fit.
John duly made the appointment and saw his GP. The conversation went something like –
“So, tell me exactly what happened?”
“Well, you see, I was competing at a Hillclimb, and I came into the corner quite fast, it was more slippery than I thought, and the car skidded and hit the bank”
“What sort of speed were you doing?”
“Oh, about 60 or 70 miles an hour”
“So, you were driving your Porsche in a competition, and hit a solid bank at 60 or 70 miles an hour, and the event Doctor thought you seemed disoriented and confused?”
“Well, I think if I hit a bank in my car at 60 or 70 miles an hour, I would be disoriented and confused as well. I don’t see any problem with you continuing to compete!”
John continued to compete until he was 78. He was a great enthusiast. He would travel to many different venues, down to Tregrehan in Cornwall, Wiscombe Park, Gurston Down, and nearer home Oddicombe and Finlake. He presented Torbay Motor Club with a trophy for each of the Spring and Autumn Oddicombe meetings for the best time in a road-going sports car, which he won several times himself.
John was an Honorary Life Member of Torbay Motor Club, and they held a special day for him in February 2016 that he really enjoyed. We looked through old photos, and he instantly knew where they were taken, whose the cars were, and the names off all the people in them.
Rest in Peace John, it was a delight to have known you.