One of the most famous of all the racing mechanics of the old school has died in hospital, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Leo Villa. Villa worked before the First World War for Guilio Foresti, having as a youth gained experience of cars from ownership of a Bedelia cyclecar. He served with the RFC during the war and then rejoined Foresti at his garage in Bryanston Square, London. Villa got into racing by riding with Foresti in his big pre-war Austro- Daimler at Brooklands in 1920. He continued as riding-mechanic with Foresti, in the 1921 Targa Florio in an Itala, for which Foresti was the English agent, and in a 2-litre Ballot in the 1922 Targa Florio, with which Foresti finished third, behind Count Masetti’s Mercedes and Jules Goux’s Ballot. This led to a job at Ballot’s Paris factory but in 1922 Villa was engaged by Capt. (later Sir) Malcolm Campbell as his mechanic, for 70/- a week, at his private workshop at his house at Povey Cross near Horley in Surrey. He began on Campbell’s Brooklands cars, such as the pre-war GP Peugeot and different Italas, etc., riding as Campbell’s passenger, but was soon put in charge of the 350 h.p. V12 Sunbeam single-seater which Campbell had purchased from Louis Coatalen with the express intention of capturing the World’s Land Speed Record.
Villa saw this aged car through all its vicissitudes, until it had set the record at over 150 m.p.h. on Nadine Sands in 1925 and he stayed with Campbell ever after, and, indeed, was the engineer in charge of all Campbell’s many onslaughts on the LSR, until he had it at over 300 m.p.h. by 1935. Villa also worked on Campbell’s record-breaking boats, Campbell’s knighthood stemming from these high-speed activities. Villa refused to age and when Donald Campbell decided after the Second World War to continue his famous father’s pursuit, Villa looked after the car, called “Bluebird” like the others, and the boat which eventually killed Donald Campbell. He became nearly as well known as the Campbells and was responsible for seeing Campbell-the-son through a difficult period of despair and at first indecision. The last time I saw Villa was at the Castrol Olympia racing-car exhibition, where he was searching for “my old Sunbeam”. Few men have had such an intimate association with very fast cars and boats as Leo Villa and few can have held as much responsibility as he did, when races and record bids were under way. We shall not see his like again. – W. B.
The death has occurred of Mr. Dalby, the well-known supplier of spares for pre-war Austin 7s, of Kirby Wiske in Yorkshire. From Mr. David Bayliss of Singapore we have received the following appreciation: –
There are probably more pre-war Austin 7s surviving than any other single make. This is due in no small part to the unequalled spares service provided over the years by Austin Seven Spares Service of Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire. For over 30 years Mr. Dalby ran this business, mailing the most obscure odds and ends all over the world, even to places as remote as Singapore. Speaking from experience I can say his was almost a “Chinese business” and everyone who has tracked down that collection of ancient cottages around the post office in Kirby Wiske will know what I mean. On a visit two years ago, a tour of the buildings revealed room after room stacked to the roof with gearboxes (“I like to keep at least 30 of your early 3-speed type in stock at any one time”, he said), doors, radiators, cylinder blocks, etc. No doubt every building in Kirby Wiske contained something Austin 7. In the midst of all this confusion, in a space in which you couldn’t swing a cat, the direct mailing service was carried out. At least finding a willing post office was no problem, because Mrs. Dalby ran one in one of those cottages. Then recently whilst in England for a short business trip I ‘phoned Kirby Wiske to order a 1926 timing case and cover for “Jane”, Ted Baillie-Reynold’s everyday and only-Singapore transport, and learned to my deep regret that the Austin 7’s best friend had suddenly passed away, only the week before. With his passing goes a great slice of Austin 7 folklore and we are all the poorer.
My 1926 bits duly arrived a week later, however, thanks to Dalby Junior, on whose young shoulders now falls the responsibility for maintaining a 30-year tradition.