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A Drag Act?

 


When people talk about the Elva Courier there is a tendency to think of the early tubular framed cars which were aimed at the enthusiast and excelled at providing fun sports motoring although they were not intended to be used as track cars when originally conceived. However, they were of course built by a flourishing company used to designing and building sports racing cars and the handling of the road-going sports car was, not surprisingly, extremely good. Owners were quick to modify their cars for competition use and we know that most ended up as well respected and successful track cars still winning trophies today.

Following the move of Courier production to the Trojan Group and the completion of a number of cars from 'stock' parts, the Mk.III Courier was announced using a square section chassis frame. The decision makers at Trojan decided to make the car rather more 'user friendly' which resulted in a fiasco at the model launch due to unpredictable handling, but that lesson learnt, the car was improved by repositioning the power unit as per the Hastings cars and neutral handling returned. Successful Courier racers in the UK such as Chris Meek, Tony Lanfranchi, Pat Fergusson and Dennis Morgan tried to entice Trojan to build specific race Couriers, but Peter Agg was not enthusiastic, his response being that motor racing 'was too damned expensive'.

However there was close contact between Trojan and nearby Barwell Engineering when special tuned engines were required, with HRG-Derrington also playing a part. Encouraged by promising sales, despite not many owners intending to race the cars, Jeff Smith designed the Mk.IV version which initially had the conventional 'beam' rear axle, before he developed the 'Tru-Track' all independent car. In reality this was now a very comfortable fun car to drive, most using MGB power with just a few fitted with the Ford 1500GT unit and even less having the smaller MGA 1662cc motor.

The Lotus Twin-cam was offered too, as the Mk.IV could now be ordered as a 'lightweight' version, with the top of the range 'Sebring' having even more performance enhancements. Trojan did 'support' two 'team' lightweight/Sebring models but there was little attention from the motoring Press or potential customers as the world had moved on and competition from other manufacturers was strong. There remained interest in the States and Europe and Sales Manager David McMullan had secured an impressively full order book, but difficulties in guaranteeing future BMC engine supplies, the prestigious link with the Bruce McLaren Racing Team and some people describing the latest Courier as an 'MGB in drag' provided Peter Agg with sufficient reasons to pull the plug on the Courier production once Ken Sheppard had been contracted to build the last of the line.

An understandable decision but unfortunate as continued development of the car in conjunction with a reliable engine supplier might have bought about a sustained future for the Elva Courier. I do not think I am being biased in suggesting that the Courier Mk.IV T-Type was, and remains, a fine example of a two-seater sports car of the era.

I was therefore delighted to receive the story below - "Ah, the memories" - from Fred Schuchard of Bridgeton, NJ.
A little research suggests that the cars mentioned in his words are:

Courier Mk.IV in white/black trim is E1101; MGA power 1622cc # 12H638RS21829 LHD; shipped to importer Carl Haas January 1964. Repainted red.

Courier Mk.IV T-Type in silver/special green trim (Show car) is E1127. MBG power # 18 GUH 21667 LHD; shipped to importer Carl Haas January 1964.

Courier Mk.IV T-Type in Forest Green with black trim is E1194. Ford 1500GT power (no number); LHD; shipped to importer Carl Haas December 1964.

Courier Mk.IV T-Type Coupe in silver/grey with tan trim is E1135. MGB power # 18 GUH 23629 LHD; shipped to importer Carl Haas July 1964.

The '1966' Courier Mk.IV T-Type with 'improved finish' would have been one of the cars built by Ken Sheppard and his wife who completed the trim and fittings. Very much hand built and was road tested before returned to Trojan. Definitely best of the bunch! Records suggest this was E1197 which was dispatched to Carl Haas in December 1964.

Where are they now??


Ah, the memories!

I began work at Ed Roth & Son sometime in 1963. Initially, it was a part time job in the sales department - my full time job was at the DuPont Company, specifically the Eastern Laboratory Division, in Gibbstown, NJ.

Ed Roth & Son was a small 'mom & pop' imported car dealer located in Glassboro, NJ, a growing college town in southern New Jersey about an hour's drive from Philadelphia, PA. The founder, Ed Roth, had passed away a few years before I was hired. His son, Val Roth was running the business.

Ed Roth & Son was originally a Packard dealership and had a loyal following of customers throughout the Gloucester County area. Sometime in the early 1950s, Ed Roth was attending the NY Automobile Show and was attracted to the MGTD on exhibit there. He made arrangements to purchase a car and become a franchised dealer (under J. S. Inskip, an east coast distributor headquartered in Manhattan) at his Glassboro location. As a result, he was one of the earliest British car dealers in the country. By the time I started work there in 1963, Ed Roth had died, the Packard cars were out of production, and Ed Roth & Son was a thriving British Motor Corporation (BMC), Alfa Romeo, and SAAB dealership under Val Roth's leadership. Within a few years he also acquired the Morgan, Elva, Lotus, Datsun (Nissan), and Honda motorcycle franchises. We were not a large agency but we sold a wide variety of vehicles!

Now begins my Elva connection. During the summer of 1964 a beautiful silver Mk.IV T-Type Elva Courier pulled into the agency. It was driven by Fred Opert. I was familiar with earlier Elva Couriers from my many weekends spent at area racing circuits attending SCCA races both as a spectator and as pit crew. The famous 'duets' between Mark Donahue and Jay Signore in their Elva Couriers were legendary. Racing at its best.

Fred Opert introduced himself as the area sales representative for Elva cars under the auspices of Carl Haas of Chicago, IL. He was visiting the local imported car dealers hopefully to establish an Elva franchise at one of them. Our entire staff poured out of our showroom and shop to see the car. A lot of us took test drives, including Val Roth. We decided to become a dealer and ordered our first car.

Val picked up the Elva at the docks in NYC. It was a white Mk.IV with a black interior. The top and tonneau cover were black vinyl. This car was not a T-Series like the silver demo driven by Fred Opert. It had a solid rear axle and a 1622cc MGA Mk.2 engine and transmission. After detailing it, we placed it in our showroom.

JM 1965 IV-T-Ford GT Roth display Cherry Hill NJ Steve Roth, Fred Schuchard, unkn, Joe Mar

The word spread fast that we were an Elva dealer. One afternoon a young teen aged boy visited our showroom on his way back from school in Philadelphia to Vineland, NJ, his home town. He was familiar with Elvas and learned through the grapevine that we had one on display. I was on duty that day and answered all of his questions. He said that his sister had owned a Triumph TR-3 in the past and was looking to buy another sports car. She had already test driven a new Triumph Spitfire but he thought the Elva might interest her. He left his telephone number and I called the next day to set up an appointment. This chance encounter became a turning point in my life.

The young boy in question was none other than Joe Marchione. His sister, Connie liked this car and bought it. I also liked her and asked her to go to the NY Automobile Show with me. This we did and the rest, as they say, is history. We have been married 46 years.

JM Fred's-silver-Elva- NY show 1964 Opert 65 Schuchard 66 sold PA

JM Fred's-Silver-Elva-2 NY Auto show Fred Opert coat + tie boy red 1964 IV-T

Fred Opert had a booth at the NY Auto Show that year and was displaying the silver T-Type Courier mentioned above. I had kept a few photos of this unique Elva at the show.

Fred Opert's demo had also been shown at the Turin Auto Show in Italy, the Chicago Automobile Show in the US, and now was in the NY Auto Show. Trojan Elva built this car as a show car so its specs were different than subsequent cars. It had yellowish/green seats, almost chartreuse - very unusual and strangely striking especially at night under bright lighting. It also had chrome wire wheels, Armstrong adjustable shocks, lowered suspension, and a racing clutch. The tires were Pirelli Cinturatos.

The car was a hodgepodge of various off-the-shelf British parts sourced largely from Triumph and BMC. The engine was a 3-main bearing MGB displacing 1800cc; the transmission was a 4-speed MGB; the differential was MGB gearing in a custom housing; the front suspension was Triumph Herald; the rear suspension (independent) looked suspiciously like TVR; the windshield was MGB in a custom frame; the doors including roll-up windows were from a Triumph Spitfire; and hinges, door locks, lights and instruments were from many different British cars from that period. It seems that Trojan-Elva built only the chassis, the body, the interior, the convertible top, but had designed, engineered and assembled the whole shebang.

JM Red Elva 1964

The 1964 Elva that my (now) wife Connie bought was driven as a daily driver. She was a teacher and commuted to her job with the car. Sometime in 1965, Fred Opert called to tell us of a new Mk.IV being shipped from England which was the London Auto Show car. It was finished to a much higher standard than previous Elvas we had sold. It was BRG with a black interior and was equipped with an English Ford 1600cc Cortina GT engine with an all-synchro 4-speed gearbox. It was also an all independent T-Type. My wife Connie got very excited about this car, especially the all-synchro box, and ordered it. Her brother Joe needed a car so he bought his sister's solid-axle car and had it painted red. It now became his daily driver.

In the meantime, Fred Opert offered his silver demo to me at a wholesale price. It had around 6000 miles on it if I remember correctly and it was time for him to replace it. After buying it, this car became my daily driver and I drove it everywhere including to the US Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, NY.

The next Elva we received at Ed Roth's after Connie's white car was a blue solid-axle car. That sold quickly to a middle age couple who lived about 10 miles from the agency. It must have been trouble free because I don't ever remember it coming to our shop for service but I would see the owners driving it frequently.

I also remember Ed Roth's getting in a T-Series coupe, a rare car. It was silver with a tan interior. This car was purchased by a naval officer from the US Navy base in Philadelphia. He was a dentist in the Navy and was close to the end of his tour. After servicing the car only once, he drove it home to Kentucky and we never saw him again. Connie loved this car and ordered one in BRG but the order was never filled for some reason.

JM Green ELVA-Millville

We then got a 1966 blue T-Series roadster in - this was a later car with much improved fiberglass work compared to earlier cars (except for Connie's London Auto Show car). It sat in the showroom for quite a while with no takers. I had an offer on my silver car and sold it. The buyer of that car moved to Pennsylvania and competed in Hillclimbs there. I decided to buy the blue Elva but did not like the color so I had it painted BRG. Shortly after buying it, Connie and I got married. Connie was a teacher so we took a belated honeymoon in this Elva in June of 1966. We drove to Montreal, Quebec, to Maine, and back home. A totally trouble-free trip, mostly with the top down.

One night returning from a trip to State College, PA, Connie and I hit a deer with this Elva. The car did well and was still drivable. The repairs were around $500. A good friend of mine, Dr. Bob Solomon, who was a college professor in State College and who we were visiting on that trip, later bought this car from me. It was his daily driver until, one icy winter day he slid down a hill and struck another car. Again the car was still drivable. He called Ed Roth's and told us that the Elva was not suited for driving in his area where the snow accumulates all winter. He traded it on a new (much warmer) MGB-GT and we put the Elva in 'Granny' Roth's (Ed Roth's widow) garage in Pitman, NJ until our body shop could get to it.

I'm confused as to what year the following happened - I think 1967 or 1968. One Saturday a customer of mine came in to the agency. I had sold him a 'project' MGA a year back and he fully restored it. He was now looking for another project. His name was George Lustig from Newfield, NJ. I mentioned the damaged Elva and he was interested. I took him to Pitman to see the car. We got it running, he liked it and bought it.

After George Lustig repaired the Elva, he drove it for years as his daily driver. I lost track of him when I left Ed Roth's in 1971 to return to college. In 1974, I was hired to teach photography at Vineland High School and what should I see driving into the school parking lot ...? My old Elva! Only the driver was someone else, not George Lustig. Within a day or two I met the new owner of my Elva, Lew Prycl, the biology teacher at the high school. It seems that George traded the Elva on a Volvo P1800 at a nearby foreign car garage. Lew spotted the car on his way to work and bought it. It was now his daily driver.

Lew and I became good friends and shared many other interests besides sports cars. Lew and his brother later did and extensive restoration of the fiberglass body and painted the car silver. It looked beautiful. I can't remember when and why Lew eventually stopped using the car but he kept it in storage for many years.

George Lustig was quite old by now and his son George Jr. (Skip) bought the Elva from Lew and completely restored it and gave it to his father to drive once again. He restored it back to its second color, BRG. Skip's father passed away a few years ago and the Courier is back in Skip's hands. It has been in a lot of local car shows and attracts a lot of attention. I had a chance to drive it a couple of years ago. Ah, the memories!

This is my account of my experiences with the Elva Courier marque. I loved the cars from the first and, as I stated earlier in this piece, my involvement with them was a major turning point in my life. I am now 75 years old and an avid Morgan owner. I own a 1963 Morgan Plus 4 Drop Head Coupe which I am presently restoring, and a 1971 Morgan Plus 8 Roadster which I take to many Morgan events during each season. My daily driver sports car is currently a 2008 Porsche Boxster.

Fred Schuchard of Bridgeton, NJ - 1st Feb 2012

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