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Remembering ELVA workhorses and Jim the Snake Charmer ... 
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Post Remembering ELVA workhorses and Jim the Snake Charmer ...
The ELVA team vehicles remembered. (Part One)
Those of you who are enthused by the real life stories behind the headlines will have some knowledge of the people, vehicles and locations that formed an essential but somewhat unrecognised part of how the cars that were to wear the Elva logo badging came to fruition.
I am going to very respectively call all the wonderful gentlemen who formed the talented Elva team the ol' boys, who without exception were exceptionally helpful and generous with their time and recollections from the 1950's and 60's. So many stories, so much enthusiasm together with unlimited pride and complete dedication to their work in the various factory locations.
Must get to share the humorous tales of Elva boomerangs and rocket competitions, the oxyacetylene gas gun, the magnesium illuminations, Roy the works strong man and test driver, and Fred the one legged 'tea-boy'. Then there was the day when Frank confronted the man from the Trade Union, but decided to disappear into a small cupboard when the tax inspector made a visit. Building race cars is a serious business but there was always time for fun when the dedicated workforce truly enjoyed their time together. I will not forget Len Sayers saying on camera how he had often shortening his holiday break to get back to work building the chassis frames for the sports racers. His lovely wife Rosemary was obviously very understanding!
However, the works vehicles and the Elva Engineering Morris Commercial PV and the Ford E83W pickup truck became the focus of my attention some years ago as part of the research for the book, and I contacted the Elva ol' boys who had been at Bexhill from the earliest Elva times for their memories of those old but essential workhorses.

The people pictured in the team photo alongside the Morris Commercial PV (panel van) and the Ford E83W (pickup) with the Ashley Laminates bodyshell on top, are L to R .. Mick Stevens, Charlie Toghill, Len Sayers, Tony Recknall, Mick Moon, Arthur Rothan, Beatrice (Bee) Stringer, 'Pop' Nichols, David Peckham, Frank Nichols, Bob Townsend, Arthur Lee and Jim Hearn.
More about the trucks shortly but by good fortune a rare PV vehicle was found and so began the process of refurbishing the ol' lady to represent the ELVA Engineering van. Meanwhile I circulated a questionnaire to almost all of the team shown in the photo to see what was remembered about the vans and of course I soon received wonderful replies.
Of particular note was a letter from Jim Hearn who had just come out of hospital, which was hand written on large A4 sized pages, and gives a flavour of how much these folk cherished their time working on the cars in Bexhill, for what today would seem very little money and on many occasions involved working very long days. Both Mick and Len were teenagers, taken on as 'boys', to learn their trade from the masters, and there was also a very young Keith Marsden who had joined earlier but left Elva for a few months to help a relative in another garage business. Thankfully he returned in May '57 and the rest is of course is history, with Keith subsequently being described as an 'Unsung Hero' who not only designed race winning cars for Elva, but not surprisingly was later head-hunted by Ford of England.
So Jim wrote towards the end of 2005 ...

Dear Roger
Thank you for your letter and T-shirt .. What a surprise! I am out if hospital now and am trying to find the notes I have made. These are all memories, most of which occurred 40-50 years ago and they are still with me today, although I have no idea what I did yesterday!
I joined Elva probably around 1955. The workshops were in the very large garage behind the York Hotel in London Road, Bexhill. Frank first employed me to 'dolly up' secondhand cars which he then sold. This was in the other premises next to the Fish & Chip shop by the traffic lights, junction London Road North and King Offa Way, which eventually became the home of the Courier. No Couriers were built behind the York where the sports car category of the racing car world was born.
Transport in those days was very primitive, being just a Ford E83W truck body and of course no heater or other luxuries. This, believe it or not, towed a trailer on which sat a racing car. Because I knew my way around London, it was my job once a week, to transport a car to Fulham where it was crated up for America, on to Coventry and Birmingham for engines (Coventry) and prop shafts (Birmingham), back to Greenford for aluminium sheets, Isleworth for steel tubes, Great Portland Street for tyres, then pick up the empty trailer. I started at 3.00am and arrived home at around 3.00am the next day. The next van was the Morris PV. This was a great improvement as you could stop it without throwing out an anchor. It could still tow a trailer and was more comfortable to drive. You mentioned colours .. as I remember the Ford was a grey and the Morris was red. Finally, an Austin 3-way loader was bought, cut in half and lengthened, thus making it capable of carrying one car in the back and one on the trailer.
The sports racing car was being made well before the Couriers were started. Frank had told me that his agent in America, who was importing Elvas for racing, bare of any refinements, had suggested that he made a car for road use to compete with the MG models. Thus the Courier was born, made at the London Road premises and a completely different construction to the racing car. On one of my jaunts to Climax at Coventry, I was asked by Frank to find any information regarding performance. I was given the following .. 1 1/4" tubular exhaust, No.1 and No.4 joining at 13", No.2 and No.3 joining at 13", then the pipes into the single pipe at another 13" and the final pipe at 24". I was given the task but with no pipe bender it was quite a job, even with heat, to get the bends right.
Thus I became the Snake Charmer with my bends all over the place.
I left Elva for about three months and rejoined them on the day they moved to Hastings. My first job was to collect timber from Hastings town, take it to the new factory and make benches .. you had to be adaptable in those days. The next morning I was asked to deliver a Courier to Leicester which involved running in the engine at no more than 30 mph on route, no motorways, no top and along the A5 once through London. Happy days!
Regards, Jim Hearn.

My belief is that this was a special Courier for Chris Meek .. quite a trip back for Jim who probably had to 'thumb' a lift, unless Frank had given him a 'few bob' to risk it via British Rail.
I recall meeting Jim several times, possibly the last time was outside the old original workshop in London Road when he arrived at some speed on an electric pavement car, which was later to be decorated with an Elva badge. Such as nice man and a damn good snake charmer too!

(To be continued ... )


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File comment: Jim is on the far right wearing the smart white overalls
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File comment: Could this be Jim on the left, after some time on the sunny Bexhill beach!
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Wed Oct 31, 2018 11:46 am
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