A talented JCB engineer who amassed a multi-million pound fortune thanks to his interest in cars has made a life-changing bequest to a Staffordshire school dedicated to nurturing the engineers of the future.
Bill Turnbull spent almost a decade working at digger maker JCB as Chief Engineer helping to develop the company’s first ever mini excavators. He retired in 1995 at the age of 65.
When he died in 2019 aged 88, he left more than £4.2 million in his will thanks to an investment he made more than 50 years earlier in a rare 1937 Bugatti Type 57S – paying just £1,500 for the car. He had been lovingly restoring the prized vehicle in secret in the workshop of his home in Tean, near Cheadle, Staffordshire ever since. Only 42 of the cars were ever produced at the factory in Molsheim, France.
The native of New Zealand and adopted son of Staffordshire left instructions to his executors John Seddon and Clive Rollinson to make discretionary bequests from his huge estate. Now, in a nod to his life-long interest in engineering, the JCB Academy in Rocester, Staffordshire, has been given a total of £125,000 towards the construction of automation and robotics centre. The new facility will be called the Bill Turnbull Suite in memory of the benefactor.
“Bill was a very humble man and also an extraordinary engineer, who never forgot his links to JCB and the friends he made while working there”, said Executor John Seddon. “He would be absolutely thrilled to think that a bequest had been made to the JCB Academy and will be used to develop the next generation of engineers in the UK.”
JCB Chairman Lord Bamford said: “Bill was a remarkable and talented engineer. This is a very fitting tribute to his lifelong devotion to engineering and will ensure his memory is kept alive for future generations following in his footsteps.”
JCB Academy Principal Jenny McGuirk said: “This bequest really does put the JCB Academy in the premier league for the teaching of engineering. Robotics and automation are critical to the future and this generous bequest gives us the most technologically advanced equipment to deliver the curriculum.”
Born in 1930, Bill came to live and work in the UK in 1960. He and his twin brother Bob were life-long classic car enthusiasts and in May 1969, Bill bought the Bugatti Type 57S, complete with black paintwork and cream interior. He still owned it on his death and in February this year, it sold at auction in London for more than £4 million. At its launch, the Bugatti was the fastest road car of its time. On his death, Bill’s labour of love to restore the car was almost complete, with only some final re-assembly required.
The JCB Academy was the brainchild of Lord Bamford, who in his 46 years as Chairman of JCB, has championed the cause of British manufacturing. In the years before the Academy opened, he voiced fears over the decline in manufacturing and the shortage of young people with engineering skills emerging from the education system.
The JCB Academy was the first school of its kind in the UK for the education of 13 to 19-year-olds with a core focus on engineering. It was equipped with more than £1 million worth of modern engineering equipment to help pupils turn their design ideas into reality. It included the only plasma cutter – a machine tool commonly used in industry – to be based in a UK school. The engineering tasks completed by pupils are set by The JCB Academy’s partners who include JCB, Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Network Rail, Bentley and National Grid.
As well as educating around 2,500 students, the JCB Academy has expanded to provide training for around 600 apprentices since 2013.