11 Nov Is it a Turner? Is it a Martin? No, it’s a Devil!
Bob Turner arrived on the karting scene in New Zealand in the late 1960’s at the original Hawkes Bay limestone track. With a few friends, relations and acquaintances i.e. Alan McLennan, Chris Turner and Robin Golding, he formed the Napier Rovers Go-Kart Club. Bob owned several karts and leased them out on Hawkes Bay and Waipawa clubday’s which worked well until the karts would breakdown and his paying drivers became disgruntled as they had to share a kart giving them less seat time.
Bob had emigrated from London with his parents when he was 8 years old. After leaving Napier Boys High School and giving up an electrician’s apprenticeship he went to Australia where he sold cars and motorcycles and met his future wife Vona.
They went to the UK in 1962 and then Canada where he worked as a PD Officer. Both he and Vona became involved in karting with Bob winning a Canadian title. After 4 years they returned to New Zealand with their karts and Bob brought the Cosy and the State Billiard salons in Napier and Hastings. This is how the Cosy Cup that is still raced for on Club Championship day in November came about. Bob and Vona had two children Michelle and Michael.
It was rumoured that the Napier Rovers were going to block vote their members onto the Hawkes Bay Committee. This would have effectively meant taking over the club but this was thwarted when the then President Reg Wright shifted the meeting time and the election was over when the Napier Rovers arrived! Bob then joined forces with Brian Lawton of the Waipawa club who had formed a limestone track by the Waipawa river bridge. After a fundraising Go-Kart drive around the North Island the track was sealed. Unfortunately many of the Waipawa members, who had been involved at the previous track adjacent to the Waipawa rubbish dump had high wheeled karts and were subsequently banned from the new track. This caused a rift that saw many influential and financial members break away from the club. They then went on to form the CHB Club and track on Skim Hutt’s Tikokino property beside the Tikokino river bridge. The rift saw two brand new Ohau Dart karts, one a twin, sit unused for over a decade at Harris’s CHB Motors. Ron Gough later brought the twin and after a short time put the motors onto my Mustang (Zip Californian copy) dual sidewinder chassis.
Bob always had a very good kart for himself. After one trip away he arrived back with a genuine Rupp Dart that had a Mac 101 on it. I will always remember the blue “glitter” steering wheel. Bob’s wife Vona was also an accomplished driver and after one of Bob’s auction nights Ren Churcher brought Vona’s MK2 Ohau Dart with a very modified Mac 9 on it for her son Dennis.
The Turners then sold up and moved to Townsville and later Brisbane. They continued to race and also started up new businesses including a Chocolate coated frozen banana company and a “Rent a Dent Car Hire” business.
On their return to New Zealand in the mid 1970’s Bob and Vona settled back in Napier and set up “Karts and Parts” in their home garage in Tamatea. Bob brought back with him a Devil kart with a very fast Komet K88 rotary motor onboard. These karts were produced in France by “Autos Motos Karts Devil” and the French ones had ‘Karts” above the word Devil on the logo. The Kart Bob brought back had “Canam Vibrar” above the word Devil so it could have been a (French) Canadian version.
He started to manufacture his own karts styled on the Devil which had telescopic bumpers, jockey wheels on the back bumper, made from Reynolds 531 seamless tubing and they had quite a bit of chrome. There was a cheaper version with standard bumpers and virtually no chrome originally called the “Sirio”. This was later changed to a “Cobra”. Then a gearbox version was introduced with a 4th rear axle bearing called a “Swiss Hutless”. These were all names of other karts manufactured overseas. Alan McLennan built the karts firstly in an old blacksmiths shop on York Avenue behind the Greenmeadows Hotel where the New World supermarket now is and later in Mersey Street, Pandora. These were the first real production line karts built in New Zealand of any consequence. Bob’s original kart and very fast motor combined with his driving ability saw him travel the countries kart tracks beating all comers and convincing many of them they needed one of his karts (the fact he could sell ice creams to Eskimo’s also helped his sales a lot!)
Production could not keep up with the orders and the indented Reynolds 531 tubing ran out so many karts were just made out of exhaust tubing to simply meet the demand! The late Alan Pithie grew his part time business into a full time operation based in Orchard Road, Hastings making the “Kougar” range of wheels, hubs, brakes, and sprocket carriers to supply Bob’s demands. Many titles were won with his range of karts and for along time people like Roly Parsons, George Freemantle and Brian Pascoe were unbeatable in his 125cc gearbox chassis’.
Most of the local 250 Class IV field was dominated by the Swiss Hutless chassis, people like Ian Glenny, Murray Lookman, myself and others. In 1988 Murray Church won the 125cc heavy class and I won the 250cc class at the New Zealand Sprint Championships in Invercargil in Bob’s karts. Murray still has his kart hanging in the roof at his business in Napier.
Whether by design of accident Bob met Neil Martin of L.V. Martin and Sons in Wellington and Neil soon became the Karts and Parts factory driver with the genuine kart and the rapid K88 motor. Bob later convinced Neil and his father Alan that they should buy his kart business. They did this, renamed it “Martin Karts” and shifted it to Wellington. While the basic chassis remained unchanged the karts were now called the Martin De-Luxe, Martin Sprint and Martin Gearbox. There were changes made to the brakes and the one piece rear wheel/hub design to take advantage of the newer wider tyres.
The Martins also started an ambitious project to manufacture the first purpose built New Zealand kart motor called the PLM (Perry, Lister, Martin) in both 100cc and 135cc versions. Commerce Commission funding was gained with the idea of building a New Zealand designed and built 2 stroke engine that would be used in many varied applications reducing import costs.
Honk Perry spent approximately two years on this project with Colin Lister doing the machining. Two of the 100cc reed engines were completed and Honk gained a 10th place at the 1978 Nationals with one of them that he still owns. Frank Davidson has acquired the remnants of the 135cc engine and is determined to have two Martin Karts in the WOW Museum in Nelson with PLM motors on them. These would be the only genuine New Zealand built karts and motors in existence.
The Martin’s goals of selling karts like kitchen appliances did not work out. I suspect the market had been so well saturated that nearly everyone who wanted or could afford a new kart at that time already had one thanks to Bob’s salesmanship skills.
Bob and Vona were again long gone and as we moved into the early 1980’s kart manufacture fell to Ray Hart and Roger Bishop of Palmerston North. Roger building karts for Ray and also starting his own line-up named the “Bishop Clubman”’ and the “Bishop Eagle”. This business later became Kiwi Karts as Graeme Voss combined the Ray Hart and Roger Bishop brands.
Bob and Vona were overseas again but in the late 1980’s Bob returned to New Zealand. He brought shares and then purchased Hawkes Bay Laser Drainage. This business used a ‘Ditch-Witch” to lay stormwater pipes in orchards and on agricultural land in Hawkes Bay and the Waikato. This work proved to be to hard and Bob sold up and went to the United States where he became a professional gambler and a “Bob-a-Job” man, although he paid others to do the work for him! He met Elva and returned to New Zealand building a small cottage on a property in Tokoroa with money he had won in a poker game.
Bob died in 2008 after opting not to undergo dialysis. The diet of Coke and ice-cream caught up with him in the end. He passed peacefully in his chair wearing his trademark jeans, T-Shirt and sneakers with that big irresistible smile on his face…
Bob was a major player in the commercial side of karting in New Zealand. Whilst his frequent “disappearing acts” were rumoured to be “just ahead of the taxman” one thing that never changed was his irresistible smile and his natural ability to make a sale. Another unforgettable Bob Turner moment for me was when Ken Tulloch chased him out of the old pits at Hawkes Bay brandishing a very large crescent. Bob kept his helmet on for protection and Ken later vowed and declared he chased him with his fists as he would never have needed a spanner to have resolved the problem. Certainly one of our sports characters and perhaps best described as a “likeable rogue”.
Bob Turner and his copied karts are part of our history.
(Story compiled by Mark Jenkinson).