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TALK-OVER: Alan Turney talks Tal-Ko

KartmaniaKarting magazine had sent me to Coventry for 2011 Kartmania show, but at least one person was talking to me. Alan Turney spent some time chatting about the past, present and future of Tal-Ko. Hed changed a little bit since those days when Id observed him as one of Britains most promising junior stars. There was the facial hair for one thing and his wisp-like frame had thickened somewhat. One aspect that hadnt altered was his enthusiasm for karting and a definite pride in the firm founded by his father more than half a century earlier.

It began 51 years ago with a stock car meeting at Northampton. Bernie Tucker Turney had been a successful racer before turning his hand to promoting meetings on various tracks in Essex, Middlesex, East Anglia and Northants. At one of these meetings Aubrey Leighton gave a demonstration of his Villiers powered kart known as the Yellow Peril. Currently owned by Bill Sisley, this historic machine is generally acknowledged as the first kart ever built in this country. It certainly caught Bernies attention at the time and he promptly decided to produce his own version.

After leaving school Bernie had started off in the family run grocery business before working as a vehicle maintenance technician. His entrepreneurial instincts had been honed by running his own garage as well as a cafand grocery shop at one time. He was quick to recognise that there would be a market for ready built karts and immediately started producing them in the cellar of his shop on Grangewood Street, East Ham. He adopted the trade name of Get Karts and the first commercially produced model was called a Cheetah. Around about 100 of these were sold before he came out with a differently designed kart called the Long John. This also sold very well with around 60 customers placing orders.

You could say that my dad was one of the original karting pioneers in this country, claims Alan Turney. He was certainly amongst the first to start manufacturing karts on a commercial basis. Like just about everyone else at that time, he relied on the 197cc Villiers engine for his first karts but soon switched over to Class 1 (100cc) models. He bought a large batch of American Clinton engines from Trojan and had his fingers burned when these became uncompetitive against the German JLO. This little set-back didnt deter him, though. He adopted old fashioned business principles. He always paid cash upfront for all of his stock and expected the same from customers. He was scrupulously honest in his dealings with customers or suppliers and I like to think that weve continued with those business ethics.

As American built karts began to appear on the market, Bernie acknowledged their superiority over home produced models. The most successful of these appeared to be the Go Kart 800 produced by Duffy Livingstone and Roy Desbrow in Azusa, California. Using their basic design, Bernie introduced the VooDoo kart which soon started winning races throughout Britain. The Americans turned out in large numbers at Shenington for a round of the 1961 world championships. John Brise won the Class 1 event using a Spanish Montesa engine but the Italian produced rotary valve Saetta V11 motors looked very quick indeed and Bernie decided to become an importer for them.

After encountering various problems with Saetta motors he went out to Italy for a meeting with the sales manager Bruno Grana. When Bruno left Saetta to set up his own Komet engine factory shortly afterwards, Bernie became their UK importer. He also began an association with Ital- karts and adopted the change of company name to Tal-ko. This was made up from the tal in Ital and the ko in Komet engines. Within a couple of years, Ital-karts had ceased production but another Italian chassis had caught Bernies eye. This was the ground breaking Tecno, first campaigned in Britain by Bruno Ferrari. Tal-Ko became the UK importer for these karts. At the same time, a young karter called Keke Rosberg was securing the Tecno rights for Finland.

Tecno soon became a dominant force at home and abroad but Bernie wasnt completely happy. Distribution was haphazard and he believed the kart itself could be improved, Alan recalls. This led to a new VooDoo being produced in 1965. Like virtually all of the 100cc karts coming out at that time, it was heavily influenced by Tecno design but certainly wasnt a direct copy. They were built to last longer than the Tecno with a far superior T45 tubing and actually had better handling characteristics. Within a few months just about every top 100cc driver in the country, including Mickey Allen, Paul Fletcher, Bobby Day and Dave Ferris had bought one.

After winning the 1966 world championships on a Tecno chassis, Suzy Raganelli started to show interest in the British built VooDoo kart. Her father approached Bernie and said theyd like to try one out, clearly believing that this would be made available free of charge. He was very quickly put straight on this score. However, his daughter still remained keen and so Mr Raganelli made enquiries about what sort of discount would be made available to the world champion. Bernie told him that he didnt believe in offering discounts and if they wanted one then the price would be £120, just the same as for any other customer. It says quite a lot about the quality and reputation of Bernies product that he actually received the full amount in cash. I cant remember hearing that particular story, but I have to admit that it does sound exactly like my dad, Alan concedes.

Bernie told him that he didnt believe in offering discounts and if they wanted one then the price would be £120, just the same as for any other customer.

Just as Bernie started to market his VooDoo karts, so the Komet K77 was introduced into Britain and this motor had a remarkable impact. It definitely set new standards both in design and the quality of build, Alan maintains. By 1966 all of Britains top senior drivers were using them, with the exception of Roger Mills and Bruno Ferrari who remained tied to Saetta and Parilla motors respectively. The junior ranks were different. That year the RAC introduced a rule prohibiting rotary valve motors for juniors. Choice in this class was restricted to Spanish Montesa or German Stihl engines. Most drivers opted for Montesas, but they were very difficult to buy. Id started racing by then and my dad used his contacts to get hold of a Montesa which was just as well for me. The only Juniors I knew who had any real success with a Stihl were Chris Hodgetts and Nigel Mansell.

It didnt take long for Alan to start making his mark as a leading junior driver. By 1968 the ban on rotary valve motors had been lifted and he could race with a Komet K33. There was a British Junior Team selected that year and our first match was against the Dutch at Dover, he recalls. Taking part was a great thrill for me. I dont remember all of my team-mates on that occasion, but Terry Fullerton and Nigel Mansell were definitely two of them. I think that Chris Hodgetts, Tim Brise and Johnny May were also on the team that year. I was still racing the VooDoo but by this time my dad had ceased producing them commercially. Reg Deavin asked if he could copy some of the unique items on the VooDoo kart such as the front stub axle fixation to chassis via large rod ends etc. Permission was given and it formed the basis for a long line of Deavinson Sprint karts.

Bernie had actually toyed with the idea of making a Class 1V model and also turned out a prototype Formula 1V car but virtually every hour in the day was taken up with engine preparation. Fortunately for him Alan was taking a huge interest in this side of the business. Despite his elevation to the Senior British team, racing soon had to take a back seat. Turney tuned Komets continued to dominate 100cc racing in Britain, but more often than not it was Alan rather than Bernie who had carried out the tuning handiwork. Alans tuned Komet engines were being used by almost everyone in the British team, including Derek Bliss, the 1972 Junior World Champion. One or two other tuners such as Paul Deavin and Mick Fullerton were starting to become successful but they were invariably using Komet motors supplied by Tal-Ko.

Paul Burgess won the 1974 British Championships at Shenington using a Ferrari prepared Parilla, thus providing the first hint that Komet supremacy might be about to end. There was no shortage of work at Tal-Ko, however, and Alan was kept busier than ever preparing motors. The firm had already outgrown its premises in East London and there were plans to move outside the Metropolis. These plans came to fruition in 1976 when a purpose built factory was opened at Sandy in Bedfordshire. By this stage the firm was tuning Parilla motors as well as Komets. That same year the famous gearbox company Hewland had produced a 100cc motor specifically for karting, enlisting Guy Tipping and Ricky Grice as works drivers. Earlier British efforts included Aubrey Uptons Manx, Colin Walkers Swift and the Zip Zed from Martin Hines. Alan Turney took a look at the Hewland and decided that Tal-Ko could do even better.

The first TKM (Tal-Ko Motor) was produced in 1978 and immediately proved that it could compete favourably with the Parilla, BM, Sirio or any other 100cc engine. As orders for TKMs poured in, Alan began the next project to build an equally successful chassis. Paul Carr completed his stint at university and he helped to source tubing for the new kart which made its debut in 1980. Alan Gates had enjoyed a brief spell with Zip but switched to TKM as their works driver for 1981. After splitting with Paul Deavin, Mickey Allen also joined the team. Gates, in particular, proved to be a sensation on this kart and it was no surprise when he dominated the British Championships at Little Rissington. Partnering Terry Fullerton he also took 1st place for Britain in the European Championships that year.

Alan Gates lived quite nearby in Stevenage and we developed a good relationship. I still see quite a lot of him today, Turney points out. By winning the British Championships in 1981, he broke the Allen/Fullerton monopoly which had seen this pair claim nine out of the previous ten titles in Class 100 International, so you can see that it was quite an achievement. It was also the first time an all British outfit had won kartings premier class so we were well pleased. Alans success in the European Championships was another feather in our cap. That year there had been a big development in international karting. Bruno Grana had been making 135cc Komet engines for the American market and he persuaded the CIK to adopt this engine size for world championship events. The move hurt a lot of rival manufacturers but it didnt do us any harm. We made three different 135cc models and they helped us establish a market over in America. Later on, we developed a150cc motor specifically for this market.

This American connection would eventually have a major impact on British karting as it led eventually to the BT82 being developed a few years later. Yamaha had established a foothold in the United States and there was a specific class for these motors. This class was then opened up to other manufacturers and DAP took an interest. I was asked if TKM could provide a suitable motor and we designed a piston ported engine that offered high performance and more reliability than our rivals. I chose my dads initials BT. Hed passed away a couple of years earlier in 1982 so we added the number 82. Our BT82 engine dominated the USA class, winning many top titles. We did a similar thing with our new TKM KA100 engine which dominated UK karting in the early 90s taking top honours again. British karting had entered a period of decline and it was crying out for a class aimed at those competing on smaller budgets. The BT82 was ideal and so Formula TKM karting in Britain was born.

Im pleased that my father lived long enough to see Tal-Ko reach kartings pinnacle and very proud that his name still lives on with the BT82. Alan Turney

There arent many kart motors that stay around for 25 years, but Alan confidently expects the BT82 will be here for a good while longer. The KF classes were over-complicated and too expensive so its no great surprise that support has drained away, he insists. The BT82 offers traditional, cheap and simple racing with a level playing field which is something that we need more than ever today. That doesnt mean existing in a time warp exactly. We had to provide the option of a clutch many years ago and recently a TAG system has been provided for those who want it. Weve done a lot of work developing our clutched and TAG versions from the original direct drive model. A direct drive motor will always be marginally quicker but weve reduced the time differential down to a tenth of a second on most circuits. It then boils down to a question of personal choice. Some drivers opt for that little bit of extra speed offered by direct drive whilst others prefer to sacrifice such a small advantage knowing they can restart immediately following an accident or spin. That is invaluable looking at the bigger picture!

After a relatively quiet period on the chassis front, Tal-Ko have once again come up with a race winning design in 2010. Our karts have won for the last few years in 4 strokes but this season weve had very good results in the 2 stroke category also, says Alan. Ryan Cole and Joe Forsdyke have performed particularly well on the new Tal-Ko Veloce karts in the Super 1 Series. This exciting new model kart was developed taking full advantage of the new rules allowing 50mm Axles and the use of the New Age green label Maxxis tyres introduced into TKM for 2010.

13 years ago Tal-Ko embarked upon an ambitious project to develop a four stroke engine. I believed that was the direction international karting would be moving in, says Alan. I dont agree with those who claim that it was a mistake on our part. Sales have been reasonably buoyant at home and in Japan and were now establishing a significant market in Canada. We have sold around 500 units worldwide so this is another success story for TKM. We wanted to involve Cosworth in the design project from the start and I put forward an idea that allowed us to work with their apprentices as part of there training programme. The idea was well received at the planning stage, but this scheme was scrapped before it got started due to Cosworths change of ownership during a difficult stage at that time for them. Fortunately, one of their former head design employees was willing to complete the job. The design was carried out in house at Tal-Ko using both his expertise and my own understanding of what was required for karting. The end result turned out to be a high performance engine that is extremely durable. The initial price compares favourably with Rotax and maintenance costs are much lower, of course. Originally we used a remote outboard starter but will soon offer TAG as an option.

Having spent virtually the whole of his life in karting, Alan has clear ideas about its future development. Its become extremely diluted in recent years with a diminishing number of drivers spread over far too many classes. Now the MSA is introducing a Super Cadet class which will certainly impact upon Junior TKM and Mini-Max entries. I believe its a mistake to make this an open category because there will inevitably be a war between various manufacturers as they compete to produce the quickest engine. Prices will go through the roof. We proposed a one make category based upon the BT82 down-rated to produce 9 or 10 bhp and electronically controlled maximum revs of 14,000rpm. I still believe that to be a sensible way forward.

Alan and his wife Michele have two children. David, aged 25, is a solicitor whilst 26 year old Louise works as a buyer for Tesco. As yet, there are no plans for Tal-Ko products to appear on the shelves of Tesco. Neither David nor Louise chose to take up karting. Part of me would have liked to see them follow their old man but in the end Im quite happy that theyve chosen their own paths in life, Alan confesses. Ive had many good years in the sport and some of them have been outstanding. Im pleased that my father lived long enough to see Tal-Ko reach kartings pinnacle and very proud that his name still lives on with the BT82.