MOTORING SPORTSMEN. Mr. Vernon Balls.
By THE EDITOR.
TT is a well-known fact that the most successful men in the racing world do not hold the monopoly of sportsmanship, though, perhaps, it is only those who come most into the limelight achieve the greatest popularity. Among the less conspicuous of racing men there are many whose exploits are particularly commendable, as showing what can be done by perseverance and individual effort.,
Mr. Vernon Balls, who is so well known in connection with that particularly popular sporting car, the Amilcar, may be described as a thorough sportsman, as will be recognised by those who have met him, either in business or on the track. Mr. Balls comes from real British sporting stock, with the lure of the open road bred in him, his ancestors being a famous coaching family since the reign of George III and holding the record for posting the Royal Mail from London to Brighton during the Regency. His experience of motoring dates back to some twenty-four years ago, and throughout his whole career, the practical side of the business has possessed for him the greatest attraction, the intimate knowledge of car work thus gained having stood him in good stead on many occasions.
Whilst at school at Chatham House College, Ramsgate, Vernon Balls gained several diplomas for engineering, and shortly after leaving Ramsgate, began to take an interest in motoring, such as it was in those days. His first motor was an Arid l tricycle fitted with a De Dion Engine, but, realising some of the drawbacks of a three-wheeler, he converted this machine into a motorcycle with his own design of variable gear. This effort showed that Vernon Balls possessed the ability to apply the mechanical knowledge he had gained at school instead of allowing it to slide uselessly away.
But, as experiments with motor bikes did not offer a very promising career, Vernon Balls was apprenticed to the Streatham Engineering Works, where he went through a good course of machine shop and fitting practice. At the end of his term, he found employment in the L.C.C. Machine shops at Charlton, where he had his first experience of the class of worker now described as “Red.”
Being as ready to express his opinion then, as he is now, Vernon Balls was involved in frequent disagreements with his ” Red ” workmates and, after a few pitched battles, decided that he wanted engineering rather than pugilistic experience so left to seek pastures new. In 1907, Vernon Balls took charge of the repair department of the Motor House, Euston Road, and soon found his practical experience in the shops of the greatest value. About this time he acquired his first car, a 15-h.p. Mors with automatic inlet valves, on which many exciting runs were made, the car being kept on the road by assiduous attention.
But the Mors, while providing plenty of amusement, lacked the chief quality from Vernon Balls’ point of view, namely, speed, and his taste was satisfied to some extent on his becoming the possessor of a 90 h.p. Porthos Racer, which had taken part in the Gordon Bennett race. This car was capable of 65 m.p.h. which, in those days, was considered a respectable achievement. His next car was a 90 h.p. Star, built for the first T.T. race, and was about five miles an hour faster than the Porthos. At this time Vernon Balls was proprietor of Balls Motor Garage, at Streatham, but later on he purchased all the Mors car spares and up till 1923 handled the service and repairs for that firm in London.
Having now established himself in business, Vernon Balls had a little time to devote to the sporting side of his career, and during a business trip to Paris in 1923, bought one of the earliest sports Amilcars, which, to his mind, presented a type of car for which a large public demand existed. The little car showed great promise and, shortly after delivery, it was entered for a race at Brooklands, and won a cup for the Essex Junior Short Handicap. This race caused a good deal of public interest in the car which Vernon Balls had brought into prominence in this country, and in his hands has put up some excellent preformances in the various speed trials and reliability events.
Some comments were aroused by the spectacular cornering of the Amilcar in the first L.C.C. High-Speed Reliability Trial and, though the method adopted was not absolutely essential, Vernon Balls explained that he could not resist the temptation of indulging in his penchant for taking corners on as few wheels as possible.
Furthermore, as, his car on that occasion was suffering from a water circulation defect, he knew it could not finish, so decided to have as much fun as possible before he was compelled to stop. On the morning of the last 200 miles race, the Amilcar refused to start, and during the struggles to get the engine going by pushing it along the Fulham Road, the main gear shaft evidently snapped. However, the defect was not noticed until Cobham was reached at 11.30 a.m., when a change down showed that something serious was amiss. With such a mishap a few hours prior to the great classic race, most competitors would have abandoned hope, but Vernon Balls got on the telephone and, in a
short space of time, his mechanics arrived with a new gear box. Mrs. Balls and one mechanic were busy preparing the new box for fitting up, whilst three other mechanics were crawling under the car to get the damaged one free. The actual time occupied in changing the gear boxes was one hour, fifteen minutes—a tribute to the excellent team work put in by his staff and their keenness—and the car turned up in time to start for the race, though it was impossible to make a sound joint between the engine and the gear box, owing to the undershield, which there was no time to remove. After such a plucky effort Vernon Balls deserved better luck than was his lot in the race, for the six copper
rivets holding the clutch centre sheared and put him hors de combat when he was going remarkably well.
It is interesting to mention that Vernon Balls has done all, his racing without any assistance, financial or otherwise, from the manufacturers but, even though no outstanding successes have been gained, lie looks upon his energies as having been well spent, for as he rightly remarks, “How can a man hope to do business with sporting cars if he doesn’t make himself familiar with all the conditions of the sporting owner ? ” For next season, we may expect to see him at the wheel of a very fast supercharged Amilcar, and we are permitted to state that before long Vernon Balls will produce a
car of his own design, which from particulars available, should be especially attractive to the owner who has serious competition work in view.
In conclusion we may state that Vernon Balls does not confine his attention to selling sports cars, he does more, namely, gives Service of the kind that sporting owners desire and is ever ready to place his experience at the disposal of those who wish to participate in the sport which he himself follows so keenly.
There is no doubt that the sporting camaraderie amongst Amilcar owners in this country is due to the tireless enthusiasm and real service he has rendered on all occasions.