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The Kiwi Connection


Over the years I have found a number of the LRG and ELVA IOE conversions which were an important source of income during the early days of the ELVA Engineering Company Limited. My 1957 ELVA Mk.1B was built with the ELVA-FORD engine and raced successfully before becoming uncompetitive and was gently retired. When I discovered the car, the IOE engine had been replaced by a later OHV 1200cc Ford 109E unit but very recently the correct engine was found in the back of a garage, stored since the mid 1970's. This lucky find was the push towards the completion of the following article that I started several years ago.

The article was not intended to be the definitive parts list, or a highly technical feature about the IOEconversions, but will hopefully be of interest and encourage a response from people who have owned, or perhaps currently use these engines. There are bound to be alternative mechanical parts fitted as replacements for the originals during the past fifty-five years, and as you will discover, improvements found and made, so please let me know if you have any experience with these conversions so that the feature can itself be updated and improved. As the rebuild of my engine progresses I will add these details via postings to the Elva Forum, together with input from two other owners currently undertaking similar rebuilds.

I am indebted to Bruce Sutcliffe, Malcolm Buckler, Kelvin Brown and a number of ex. Elva people for their recollections and input. The words and pictures were a small part of all my research material later used as the basis for the ELVA book.

Roger Dunbar

THE KIWI CONNECTION - The story of the Elva IOE conversions that went around the world

A number of specialist publications provided Ford s/v tuning information
A number of specialist publications
provided Ford s/v tuning information

Times were not easy for most working people who lived in the UK back during the 1950's, and those fortunate enough to have motor transport were generally riding motorcycles or driving pre-war cars, however for the diehard enthusiasts there were the low cost specials usually constructed at home. Many were Austin 7 and Ford based although a few low volume companies such as Buckler offered lightweight tubular chassis frames. The popular Ford 8 or 10 engines did not produce much in the way of grunt, and it was the quest for more power from the little Ford side-valve engines which contributed to the early success of the Elva Engineering Company.

The Inlet Over Exhaust engines were not new in the 1950's, in fact go far back to very early Royce and Rolls Royce cars and were certainly well established within the motor cycle industry by around 1910. The Hudson Essex and Humber models were using IOE engines in the 1920's. Meanwhile, Coventry Climax Engines Ltd., a company evolved from Coventry Simplex Engines Ltd., designed a Climax IOE unit which appeared during the latter part of 1930.

An 1122cc version of this engine was used for the production Morgan 4+4 from 1936. A Triumph IOE engine of 1018cc was also produced although the engine was soon developed as larger capacity versions of that design. The motorcycle engines were produced by Ace, Henderson, Indian and Harley Davidson, and in the UK the Rover P3 car, and later models, again used I.O.E power units.

While Frank Nichols had some crucial input, his association with local mechanic, practical designer and engineer 'Mac' Witts brought about the original rather simple but effective design for the Ford E93A IOE head conversion which repositioned the inlet valves, improved the gas-flow and as a result, quite dramatically increased the power output of the engine. Malcolm 'Mac' Witts had been working on a self employed basis for Joe Davis who was one of the more respectable car dealers based in Bexhill-on-Sea. 'Mac' would have worked on pre-war vehicles which almost certainly these would have included examples of the Rover and perhaps the Climax, Hudson and Triumph IOE engines. Undoubtedly a seed of an idea of how to increase the power of the Ford E93A engine would have been sown, and the E93A engine fitted in the CSM needed more power. Frank would have been aware of the 'RWG', a pretty aluminium bodied competition car having been built to a most impressive standard by an extremely talented panel beater Roy Watling-Greenwood. The Ford power unit used featured possibly a forerunner of the LRG IOE conversion although with a single SU carburettor mounted at the front of the cylinder head. Frank Nichols was racing the CSM with some success but needed help and approached 'Mac' with the view to retaining him as his mechanic. A similar approach was made to Arthur Lee who was well known as an experienced welder and paint sprayer, and as a result both 'Mac' and Arthur became involved in helping to run and maintain the CSM.

One of the first IOE heads on E93A with 4xAmal carbs
One of the first IOE heads on E93A
with 4xAmal carbs

'Mac' continually talked about his plans to make an overhead inlet valve head for the E93A Ford 10 engine and Nichols and his supporters Doc and Jimmy Murphy took the idea on board, enthusing about developing the cylinder head together with the intention of designing a new chassis as an improved version of the CSM. The new chassis was put together on the garage floor by 'Mac', Arthur and an enthusiastic young Keith Marsden.

In the meantime, 'Mac' worked on the design of the head conversion although he had no training as a draughtsman and, in fact, had never seen the inside of a drawing office! In his own words, he 'butchered' some half inch oak plank to the rough shape of the proposed cylinder head, internally and externally so that the first casting moulds could be made. He had previously considered producing the heads by laminating half inch aluminium plates.

Frank then involved Peter Coleman and the Rother Iron Works and some local trial castings were produced with much of the early development work undertaken close to the Bexhill workshops, with some of the early machining undertaken by Charlie Toghill. There is a story, apparently later denied by 'Mac', that when the first casting was delivered to the works, 'Mac' set about it with a hacksaw in order to check the ports and dimensions, nearly causing Frank Nichols to have a 'fit' on the spot as it was already sold!

After a number of 'Heath Robinson' tweaks, Frank encouraged Birmingham Aluminium to take an interest and they put one of their pattern makers on the job. Birmingham Aluminium knew a thing or two about water jackets etc., having produced a lot of aircraft quality castings including for the Merlin engine. They also specified an aluminium alloy that would not distort in use. Frank was a master at getting the right people involved in his projects, and input from legendary people such as Harry Weslake ensured that the results would live up to expectations and the early conversions became a good source of income for the embryo Elva Engineering Company. Elva Engineering Limited remained under the umbrella of the London Road Garage Ltd., the original business name for Frank and his very small work force that had traded in second-hand cars from the early 1950's. The L.R.G. people were FGN, Charlie Toghill, his 'boy' Len Sayers with occasional input from John Nichols and now supplemented by 'Mac', Arthur and Keith. The L.R.G. heads proved to be a success and demand increased as glowing reports were received from satisfied customers.

Frank was quick to use these accolades to help promote further sales and soon more engineers were required. The new faces were David Peckham (ex RAF engineer), Mick Stevens, Tony 'Ant' Recknall, Jim Hearn and Bob Townsend, who was with the Royal Marines as engineer. Bob was welcomed into the Elva team to help finish the heads with a flexible swan-necked drive to shape and polish the ports, using a 'florin' (two 'bob' or two shilling coin) to measure the ports size! 'Pop' Nichols helped when required to keep the work load at a reasonable pace, and Beatrice 'Bee' Stringer kept the boys in order from the small office. There were now two workshops in London Road Bexhill, the original London Road Garage and the old Drill Hall situated behind the York Hotel some 500 yards away.

A feature article appeared in 'Motor Racing' dated March 1955 showing pictures of the LRG head fitted to the CSM and the 1100cc engine produced enough power (during 1954) to finish well ahead of some 1500cc ohv cars on several occasions. Initially the engine ran with four Amal carburettors later replaced with twin SU carburettors in anticipation of achieving 65bhp. The light-alloy LRG head used 1 3/8 inch overhead inlet valves and gave a 9.5:1 compression ration. Fitting required a simple machining operation, with the engine block remaining in the car, to allow the fitment of the blanking discs into the old valve seats. These inserts were then drilled to allow the pushrod to pass through. A special head gasket was required. The success of the early heads meant that they were being sold for use on Ford s/v engines fitted to a range of cars, and speedboats, to included road and race cars from Lotus, Morgan, Dellow and Buckler.

During these early days for the dedicated Elva team, the company were offering "sports car chassis and components" together with the L.R.G. cylinder head, and it was early in 1956 that contact was made with the other side of the world via Buckler Cars. In March 1956, Frank Nichols responded to a letter from Kelvin Brown in Auckland regarding the conversion recommending the use of four Amal Carburettors on the L.R.G. head with a compression ratio of 9.5:1. That initial contact bought a response later in the year from Buckler (N.Z.) Ltd., which was under the ownership of Arthur Harris, in which an agreement was established that Bucklers (N.Z.) were to become distributors of Elva products in New Zealand, which interestingly included the Rights to manufacture the cylinder heads if required. It seems that that Right was never found to be necessary and a series of advertisements proclaimed that Buckler N.Z. were the official distributors for both 'Elva' and 'Coventry Climax Engines Ltd'. The first conversions were produced to fit the E93A blocks as fitted to the 'sit-up-and-beg' Ford Popular, Prefect, Anglia etc., but soon a new version to fit the 100E engine was needed, this engine being fitted to the new look Prefect and Anglia and even the Ford Thames van.

A second article in 'Motor Racing' and dated April 1956 reported the production of a new IOE conversion this time to fit the new Ford 100E engine. Similar in appearance to the LRG head, the new Elva head was cast by the Enterprise Foundry in Greenwich and again there had been much design input by 'Mac' and Harry Weslake. When compared to the earlier LRG design, the Elva head has more valve area, different porting and a carefully designed transfer passage situated between the inlet valve seat and the combustion space. The performance figures are quoted at 65bhp at 5700rpm with twin 1.5' SU carbs., with 8.9:1 compression ratio using a sports camshaft. There was a much improved installation process as no machining was required with fitting time given as two to three hours. A dynometer sheet issued by Weslake and dated 27th February 1956 shows 73bhp at 5700rpm.

The endorsement letter from Neville Bradpiece
The endorsement letter from
Neville Bradpiece (click to enlarge)

The heads were offered to owners of Ford powered road going cars for those looking for extra performance, and the demand was steady.

A letter from Neville Bradpiece was used as an endorsement for the IOE conversion and he later told of one of his visits to Bexhill where Frank and Mac Witts were much intrigued and rather impressed by the much improved throttle actuation that Neville had redesigned.

His best performance in the Elva-Anglia was to leave Paignton in Devon at midnight to be in central London at 5.00am, a distance of 275 miles at average speed of 55mph.

The Elva IOE converted Ford Anglia .. She Goes!
The Elva IOE converted Ford Anglia .. She Goes!
(click to enlarge)

An increasing number of early sports racers used the Elva IOE engines including the Elva Mk.1 and Mk.1B and also the prototype Mk.II tested by Robbie Mackenzie-Low before being rebodied and fitted with a Climax FWA. Peter Gammon had success in the Elva-Ford powered Thames van, which caused much concern amongst fellow racers, however the Climax FWA unit was soon to dominate the race circuits. The later Elva (100E) head proved to be more reliable in part due to the fact that the head bolts were larger at 14 7/16" against the old 13 3/8", the valve area was greater, with improved porting with an unusual shaped but effective transfer passage between the inlet valve and combustion space, over the exhaust valve. The earlier rather porous heads were replaced by a much improved alloy now available in either high or low compression versions. The Elva conversion was thought to be the best conversion then available for tuning the Ford 100E engine. The head used larger than standard inlet valves, was cast in the special alloy, incorporated Rover 12 rockers and modified Triumph motorcycle pushrods. There was a significant increase in power, almost doubled, as the original siamesed and restricted inlet valve ports were removed.

Various carburettor combinations were tried but most often twin 1.25" or 1.5" S.U. carburettors were fitted together with a free-flow exhaust system. In more recent times twin Weber DCOE have been used, and it was some while before the 105E and even the larger capacity Cortina units out paced a good Elva converted engine. The conversion was sold as a self fit kit and the advertised cost was £58.10.0d. The kits remained available well into the 1960's although production slowed in 1959 due to the demand for the early Formula Juniors. The kit composed of the cast alloy head, valve gear, rocker covers (with the word ELVA on the two castings), water and heater take-offs, oil pipe, gaskets, head studs, 10mm spark plugs, amended throttle linkage, radiator hose, petrol pipe, plus full fitting instructions. The new light alloy inlet manifolds were available to accept either twin Solex or twin S.U. carburettors with the single extra Solex available to order if required, as was a special exhaust manifold. The final temptation was a chromed sports camshaft supplied by Bill Last at the Grove Works Bypass Garage in Woodbridge Suffolk, but the exhaust manifold and the chromed camshaft were only thought to be necessary for the ultimate tune up. The 'standard' twin Solex set-up gave a respectable 50% increase in power or it could be further boosted by ordering larger inlet valves, inserts and double valve-springs at an extra £5.10.0.

There were, of course, a number of other Companies now offering parts to increase the performance of the Ford side-valve engines including Aquaplane, Speedex, Willment (Powermaster) and V.W. Derrington together with various other enterprising garage owners and local engineers providing 'go-faster' modifications. I think it fair to suggest that the ELVA conversions were thought to be the best on offer at the time, not least due to the fact that Frank Nichols did insist on giving quality at a reasonable price.

Over the years I found 6 or 7 of the Elva heads and like everything 'Elva' they vary, certainly in condition, as the alloy is rather porous and prone to corrosion. I have two LRG heads fitted to the 100E block which must have been produced before the fully revamped castings were produced for that engine, the casting showing LRG and BA 7657 (Birmingham Aluminium). The later Elva head does not appear to have any identity although I have seen serial numbers hand stamped on at least one example. During a trip to New Zealand some years ago I was fortunate enough to have a memorable meeting with Tony Ellis and Bruce Sutcliffe conveniently in a micro brewery! I had discovered that Bruce has spent many years perfecting the Elva converted engines to the point that he expects to get in excess of 90bhp from his engines which safely rev up to 7500rpm. You will recall that the Weslake figures were 73bhp at 5700rpm.

I think you need to understand about Bruce, the following words having been added by Malcolm Buckler to describe a truly great character and wonderful practical engineer...

"As you have met Bruce, you will know he is a larger than life person both in size and personality. He certainly gets things done. I remember that as soon as he heard that there was a Buckler Register in the UK he virtually got on the next plane to be at our next meeting. I had just bought another old Buckler and it needed paint badly and Bruce went in my brother in law's shed, found various tins of Dulux, mixed almost a perfect match, found 5 brushes, gave one to all present and said "get painting". It dried without a brush stroke and years later still looked like a spray finish. At the same time before that meeting, there was a chap with a Buckler DD2 who could not drive it because he had not been able to mate the engine with the gearbox. “Bruce will get you there sonny" said Bruce. Bruce then single handed lifted up the entire car at the front and shouted, get that spline meshed bloody quick boy, I can't stand here all day." It was like a scene from the Strongest Man in Britain show and the chap underneath was surely the bravest. With Bruce's instructions, he got the spline to mesh in no time although he had been trying for ever.

Almost the worst moment of my life was when I told Bruce that I had to get an MOT and tax before I could road test my new Buckler acquisition. "No you don't" he said. "Come with me". We were at my mothers in Axminster and Bruce was wearing a sky blue tee shirt and bright orange shorts (all 26 stone of him). He marched me to the local Police station and said to the constable behind the desk "I am just telling you that we have a car we are going to test on the road. It has not got an MOT or tax but don't worry as it is all legit. We are just testing it so we can adjust it ready for an MOT. So if you see a blue sports racing car in the town, you don't worry yourself about it because it is local and ours". The Constable was speechless and purple as I beat a hasty retreat."

Many similar stories exist about Roy Veness who was the Elva strongest man. However, it was Bruce who contributed to the success of Buckler in New Zealand and the Elva IOE conversion. He thinks that thirteen heads were sent from the UK and he has owned eleven of them, six of which are on racing engines he has rebuilt, two of which were destined for Australia where there may be another four in use. Bruce recalls that a complete racing engine was shipped to NZ to be used in an Albatross speedboat, and is thought to be the only complete IOE engine built by Elva other than for the 'works' cars. However, the engine remained in the shipping crate until discovered many years later and fitted by Bruce into a Buckler. Bruce has had many years experience developing these converted engines and has produced a special camshaft, sprocket, lightweight pistons, valve chest cover (alloy), and a front chain cover. He has also made head gaskets which after many problems these now seem to be 100%. He also manufactured new rocker posts and shafts which makes the engines virtually bullet proof. I repeat that they rev to 7500rpm and will produce over 90bhp (wow!).

The two remaining weak areas are the ex.Rover 12 rockers, which Bruce builds up to strengthen and then hardens the faces, plus the Triumph motorcycle type pushrods which can bend. The originals were in fact two types of pushrod which had been cut and welded together to give the required ends and length. Bruce fits (1958) Humber 80 or Hillman valves, keepers etc, and Hillman (Terry's) double valve springs (1955-1967) although for more gentle use I understand Mini springs are an option. He adds his own hardened steel plate under and over the rocker posts and aluminium bronze valve guides. The heads have good reliability and torque using 2 x 1.5" SU carburettors on inlet based on the Climax design although some engines are fitted with 2 x 35mm DCOE Weber carburettors. I have seen references to Singer Vogue/Rapier keepers/collets. Bruce reproduced the side cover plate (finned), the front chain plate with 'ELVA' in casting. However, Bruce has unfortunately had health and family commitments and decided that he had little choice but to reduce his long involvement with the LRG/ELVA converted engines. He sold most of the special parts to fellow enthusiasts in NZ, however I am keeping in contact with the current keepers of these parts and I feel sure that more information will be available soon. The passion and knowledge that Bruce harboured is second to none and it was a privilege to meet him, and to spend some time sharing his immense enthusiasm and wonderful humour. The good news is that he is now back on track and getting involved again.

And 'Mac' Witts? He was a talented hands-on designer and engineer who had strong opinions which were often rather different to the approach of the 'boss' Frank Nichols. It was therefore inevitable that they would part company and in December 1956 he left the Elva team. He had received little recognition or recompense for his input into the original development of the successful IOE conversions which did really race worldwide. He would have been delighted, certainly amazed, to have known of the dedication and engineering expertise shown by Bruce Sutcliffe who continued to develop these incredible power units from such an unassuming beginning.

Bruce prepared full race IOE engine in a Buckler
Bruce prepared full race IOE engine in a Buckler

I hope that this feature will encourage feedback and debate and you can become involved via the Elva Forum