The 34th article in the “Veteran Types” series was published in Motor Sport last December and dealt with the 1908 Grand Prix Austin, now in the care of the Austin Motor Co., Ltd., which was written-up for us by A. S. Heal and Kent Karslake.
This has given rise to one of those valuable and remarkably interesting contacts with one who was present at the race in question — none other than Harvey Lamballe, who was Dario Resta’s mechanic on one of these Austins. It is always a pleasure to hear from personalities from the past, especially when they are fit and active — as Mr. Lamballe appears to be, for he says he saw the article on arriving at his home in Middlesbrough after a 15-months’ voyage as second engineer on an 8,000-ton twin-screw diesel tanker, and that he is just off to sea again. His two sons compete in local trials, and it was they who saved this “Veteran Types” article for their father.
Mr. Lamballe was with the Beeston-Humber Company at Nottingham until 1908, and he rode as mechanic to G. P. Mills when he won the 1907 Heavy T.T. at 37.5 m.p.h. In April, 1908, Mr. Lamballe went to the Austin Company and remained with them until September, 1922. With an interesting account of his experiences as mechanic to Resta and the Austin in the 1908 Grand Prix, which we publish below, Mr. Lamballe encloses some truly historic postcards, depicting, amongst others, Resta’s chain-drive Austin, Lautenschlager’s Mercédès, Szisz’s Renault, Nazzaro and Lancia in the F.I.A.T., Laxen’s Weigel, and Heath’s Panhard-Levassor, which took part in the races at Dieppe. He also encosed his French Certificat de Capacite, dated June 15th, 1908, issued on the occasion when he took Resta’s car to Dieppe. It is a credit to Heal and Karslake that Mr. Lamballe’s account tallies so exactly with the one they wrote for Motor Sport forty years after the event. It is significant, too, that it identifies the car now at Austin’s as the one Warwick Wright drove and Resta’s car as having been sold to Jack Johnson. Mr. Lamballe’s valued account reads: —
“Shortly after joining the Austin Company I was appointed Resta’s mechanic, and worked under his instructions tuning up, etc., and taking the car to Brooklands for speed and endurance tests. The four cars had a race to themselves on the Whit Monday with a tyre change exhibition halfway, which was really a try out and let the motoring world see the cars which were representing England.
“I took the car from the works to Folkestone on June 14th, shipped her across, and made my way to Eu where the company made their depot. Resta came with his Mercédès, and we used to go 100 miles out and back early each day on the Austin and in the afternoon toured round the circuit in his car, to learn the route, corners, etc., thoroughly.
“The Wednesday before the race, avoiding people talking in the road round a bend, we had to take to the bank and overturned; this damaged the engine and frame, and after being towed back, welders were brought from Paris and repairs hurriedly made, and completed in time to weigh-in on the Sunday.
“The morning following the accident (Thursday) we took the spare car (live-axle type) driven by Syd Hands, works head driver and reserve driver for the race, for our usual test run, but again had the misfortune to hit a tree trunk with the extending rear hub cap (avoiding a cart at a cross road) whilst going at about 70 m.p.h., and this broke away the rear axle and springs and actually pulled the third motion shaft clean out of the gearbox, and as far as I can remember this car was shipped back to the works and never rebuilt.
“After two days’ rest, and bailed out of police hands, our car (the chain-drive), was ready and we took her to Dieppe on the Sunday to weigh-in and make finaL adjustments. This car on Brooklands actually got up to 98 m.p.h.; we tried hard to top 100 m.p.h., but never did. After the accident, however, the frame and rear axle were slightly out of line and over 80 m.p.h. the car was very bad to. steer, and in the race rarely exceeded that speed, a handicap to poor old Resta, hence his lower speed in the race.
“Early next morning I was pulled out of bed and instructed to get the car on to the boat at Dieppe and get away before the police came, and I was in London. with the car that evening.
“The other live-axle car was driven by Warwick Wright and must be the one now at the works, and the other chain-driven type was driven by Moore Brabazon.
“Resta’s car was sold to Jack Johnson, world’s boxing champion at that time; I took him a trial run on it at the works and he took it away whilst touring Europe.
“The only difference from your article is that the rear tyres were 880 by 120, but the front were 875 by 135, necessitating carrying four spare rims. There was definitely a foot accelerator and only one carburetter; Nos. 1 and 6. cylinders used to starve until heated up. With the exception of increased bore the cars were practically standard models and even then made a great show against the cracks of the Continent.”