Elva and the Courier
Now in Germany and nicely restored by Hans-Hermann Christensen
| Anyone interested
in sports racing cars is likely to be aware of Lotus, Cooper and perhaps
Lola, but may be less certain at the mention of 'Elva'.
Club racing in the early fifties was cheap and cheerful, with many 'specials' constructed by innovative enthusiasts looking for maximum performance at minimum cost. One such enthusiast was Frank G. Nichols. Having left the Army with a gratuity and some mechanical skills, he bought a small garage business at Westham in 1947. This was successful and he moved to another bigger garage in London Road, Bexhill where there was a good local following for motor sport. Bexhill (Sussex, England) was the town responsible for the very first road race on a public highway.
After gaining experience in a Lotus VI, he ordered a 'CSM' from a Mike
Chapman (no relation to Colin), achieved some notable successes particularly
at Goodwood, and attracted attention from like-minded enthusiasts. He
was shrewd enough to realise that this potent little car could be further
improved and marketed, and very soon he was able to produce a similar
The name is a corruption of 'elle va' meaning 'she goes' and, from this very humble start, 'Elva' was later to be seen on nearly one thousand racing, sports racing and road going cars. Engine ranged from the Elva modified Ford side valve, through Climax, Ford DOHC, BMC, DKW, MGA, Porsche, and BMW, to the big V8 McLaren-Elva cars in just ten years.
Having produced a series of sports racers and formula junior cars, many of which were extremely successful in the States, it was suggested that Elva Engineering should produce a road-going 'sports racer' and the prototype Elva Courier was built in early 1958.
Archie Scott-Brown had introduced Frank Nichols to a young ex-graduate called Peter Nott and, with the financial support of a distributor from the States, Frank and Peter designed the Courier with a ladder frame type chassis. It had to be a sports car that was relatively simple to manufacture, be competitive on the track, and easy to maintain or repair. The pretty prototype aluminium bodywork was built around the chassis by Williams & Pritchard, but production cars used 'grp' bodywork moulded from the original. John Bolster road-tested an early example, visited the factory to see nearly twenty cars close to completion, and was impressed with the build quality of these hand- built cars.
Factory - Courier Mk.II
Much of the car was produced in-house by Elva - the power unit being the MGA 1500cc unit with matching gearbox. Three early cars were raced with considerable verve in club races in the UK, while most went to satisfy orders from eager customers in the States. The standard car was quoted at just under 14cwt with a 0-60 time of 11.2 seconds and a top speed of 100mph.
With an increase in demand, a new factory was built in Hastings and soon the improved Mk.II Courier appeared - together with the racing version named the Courier Spyder. There were many detail changes as production continued and providing the Courier in 'kit' form, avoiding purchase tax, satisfied the home market. The car was supplied fully trimmed and wired, and required just eighteen hours to complete.
By this time the Courier was being built by a staff of over sixty and produced at around three per week, the total number built in the Hastings area being approximately four hundred.
However, there were problems ahead when the expected Draft for the latest cars shipped to the US failed to materialise. It appeared that the distributor had financial difficulties and cars were both on route and awaiting delivery on the dockside in New York.
Despite desperate attempts to recover the situation, Elva Cars was forced into voluntary liquidation and as a result Trojan Limited bought the Rights to the Courier in 1961 and took over production.
At this time, Carl Haas became closely involved with Elva in helping to sell cars already in the States, and re-establishing Frank Nichols (and a much reduced staff at a factory in Rye) to continue producing the sports racing and formula junior models.
While some Couriers were finished at the Hastings factory, Lambretta-Trojan had massive facilities in Croydon and happened to be looking to expand at the time that misfortune had overtaken Elva. They saw the opportunity to mass-produce this pretty little sports car and soon had a revised chassis planned and a production line set up at their Purley Way works.
Whereas the original Courier had a tubular chassis with the 'grp' bodywork bonded into place, Trojan decided to use a stiffer square section frame and try to make the car a little more practical. As they wanted to build the Courier in big numbers (at least five hundred per year), they decided to use Triumph front suspension with disc brakes and the later MGA 1622cc power unit. However, there was not all the race expertise that had existed at Hastings and handling suffered when they tried to reposition the engine further forward in the chassis to provide more cockpit room.
Lessons were soon learnt and, having built a few of the tubular cars from stock parts, the Mk.III Courier and Mk.IV coupe prototypes were shown to the Press at the RAC Country Club, Epsom in September 1962. The Press release stated "young people were looking for a car with known engine quality, with coach built sports body giving a maximum power to weight ratio and a top speed equal to cars costing perhaps three times the price and, on that basis, the Elva Courier is a car with a future".
- Courier Mk.IV roadster
By April 1963, there were eighty cars on the order books, and it was not long before the Mk.IV roadster was on the drawing board.
This new car, with new chassis, different body styling and the option of 'Tru-Track' all-independent suspension, was offered with either the MGB 1798cc or the Ford 1500GT units. In October 1963, this car was announced as the first 100mph plus sports car with four wheel independent suspension at under £1000 including tax.
Records show that Trojan built 210 Couriers, including four 'Sebring' race versions of the Mk.IV 'T' Type. There were 175 roadsters, just 35 coupes, and 152 were LHD.
The high ideals of Lambretta-Trojan for the Courier were not achieved, but by 1965 they had taken over the Elva sports racing car production and Frank Nichols was gradually to sever his connections with Elva. He had produced a large number of very potent and successful sports racers in Rye - particularly the ELVA Mk.VI, Mk.VII and the last in line the Mk.VIII. After being involved with projects with Len Terry and Carrol Shelby, he went on to produce superb working boats and the Brede Class lifeboats for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution).
Elva will surely be remembered for the beautiful ELVA-BMW GT160 coupes, of which just three were built, but were certainly the 'stars of the show' at both the '64 Earls Court and Turin motor shows. Trojan had now turned its attention to Bruce McLaren, and a deal had been struck for Elva to build the first production McLaren cars. But over the next year, the 'Elva' name was gently dropped as Trojan looked towards building their own F1 cars.
However, the Courier had not died. Ken Sheppard took on the production of the final thirty-eight cars, and these were probably the very best of the Mk.IV irs cars built. It is perhaps ironic that at last the car was once more being put together by someone who understood motor racing, in very much a hand-built fashion - and the results showed. Parts and servicing was undertaken by Tony Ellis in Eaton Wick and he worked hard to produce his 'ultimate' Courier - the Cougar, powered by a tuned Ford V6. It was extremely quick and stable at speed, but finance was not forthcoming and this proved to be the last Courier built in the sixties.
Goes ... AHEAD !
Now Elva cars are cherished in Europe and in the United States, where a 40 year Elva Reunion took place in September 1995. This major event was at Road America, Elkhart Lake, the track at which the Elva-Porsche beat all the opposition including Ferrari and Cobra to receive much acclaim in 1963.
As for the future, these pretty and race proven cars will continue to feature strongly in historic racing, and it is not impossible that one day we just might see a totally new sports car proudly wearing the 'Elva' badge ... "she goes - AHEAD !".
Now in Germany and nicely restored by Hans-Hermann Christensen
LHD interior/dash and MGA 1600cc (1588cc) restored engine bay