On this day in history : 24th January 1901 – The birth of Edward Turner, the engineer and designer of Triumph motorcycles and the Ariel Square Four and the Daimler V8 engines….

Turner, who as born in Southwark, South London – the third of seven children – had his first ride on a motorcycle in 1915, on a Light Tourist New Imperial…. By 1916 he was serving in the Merchant Navy, under contract from Marconi, as a radio telegraphy officer….

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A 1920 New Imperial Light Tourist 300 cc motorcycle – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles en Classic Motorcycle Archive CC BY-SA 3.0

In the early 1920s he bought Chepstow Motors in Peckham Road, South East London and by 1925 had designed his first motorcycle engine…. Within two years he had completed the motorcycle that became known as the ‘Turner Special’….

In 1928 Turner conceived an idea for an engine that would go on to become the ‘Square Four’…. It was a brand new concept – a 500cc unit with a one piece cylinder block and twin geared crankshafts….

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Close-up of a 1932 Ariel Square Four 4F 600 cc engine – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles CC BY-SA 3.0

BSA were not interested in either the design of the Turner Special or his new engine – but Ariel saw the potential and offered Turner a job…. The Ariel Square Four was first shown at Olympia in 1930….

In 1936 Triumph was bought by Ariel owner Jack Sangster – and its name was changed to Triumph Engineering Co…. Edward Turner, now 35-years-old, was made General Manager and Chief Designer…. Under Turner Triumph’s existing range of motorcycles were redesigned to be more sporty in style…. In 1949 the Triumph Thunderbird was launched and a decade later the Triumph Bonneville….

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1950 Triumph 6T Thunderbird 650 cc motorcycle – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles CC BY-SA 2.5
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Triumph Bonneville T120 on display at the Deutsches Zweirad-und-NSU-Museum – Image credit : Joachim Kohler – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1959 Turner designed the Daimler 2.5 and 4.5 litre V8 engines for the Daimler SP250 sports car and Daimler Majestic Major….

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Daimler SP250 (also known as the Dart) – Image credit : Brian Snelson – via Flickr CC BY 2.0

It was in 1960 that Turner went to Japan for a tour of the Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha motorcycle plants…. He was somewhat shocked to see the extent of production in progress, it was obvious the Japanese were gearing up to take over the Western market…. British motorcycle manufacturers, including BSA (which by now owned Triumph) were totally ill-prepared…. It was inevitable what was to happen – Japanese machines flooded the market….

Turner resigned as Chief Executive of BSA-Triumph in 1963 but kept a directorship…. Although apparently none too happy with the direction the company was taking at the time of his resignation he kept close ties with it until his death in 1973….

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