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  "ELVA Jottings" (May 2006)

Victory Lane - vintage and historic facing news magazine
(recently published in Victory Lane magazine)

In putting together the latest updates to the Elva website, the enthusiasm that tumbles from the mass of correspondence I receive made me think back over umpteen years, an huge list of wonderful friends, some extremely funny moments and a few sad times too.

Just recently there have been some stunning restorations including the Elva-Porsche sports racers of Bobby Rahal and Ray Morgan and often these rebuilds start with a basket case or a barn-find car which needs to be rescued.

Way back when I had a lot more hair, the 'Fearsome Four' travelled across the pond to take part in various Elva celebrations, the four being 'Father' Frank, John Playfoot, Allan Miles and myself. We were always extremely well cared for and were desperately sorry to have to return to the homeland, but it was John that bubbled with huge enthusiasm for the restored Couriers, sports racers and Formula Juniors having been in charge of the Elva machine shop and being around the production of these cars from the earliest days.

He was still running his own busy machine shop and it needed some persuading to get him away, but the looks of amazement and joy on his face at the various Elva celebrations made that initial effort worthwhile. The Elva bug had bitten him again and having bought the first of the production Couriers with chassis # 2 he couldn't wait to add to the collection.

Over a period of time we set off to pick up a number of tired Couriers and each outing was an adventure. Now folk this is going to need some imagination, but one such collection I will never forget ... I set off very early to meet John who was waiting in his very new Volvo estate with trailer attached at his East Sussex home, and we duly headed north towards the Pennines. Okay these rugged hills are not exactly Mount Everest, but steep they certainly are. Look locally and you will find Standedge the longest, highest and deepest inland waterway tunnel in Britain at over three miles long.

A Courier owner had tired of trying to restore his car in less than ideal conditions and was happy to sell. John and I eventually found his home, the frontage towering above us and I huffed and puffed my way up endless steps to reach the front door. Welcome said the owner ... the car is round the back, and he pointed to a very narrow and steep lane which climbed and took a right-angle turn before climbing even more steeply to the rear of the property. How do we get a trailer up there?

Okay said John, I will back up as far as possible and we will bring the car down ... Bob's yer uncle! Trailer backed up, we all huffed and puffed again to reach the rear of the house and there stood a very sad and stripped out car. No problem commented the ever optimistic John ... has it any brakes? Yes said the owner, meaning no, but he would sit in and gently take it down the hill. John and I exchanged quizzical glances but we were busy gathering together all the various Courier parts piled around the garden ... hang on we will give you a hand.

Too late ... picture this poor Courier heading over the top of a roller coaster ride ... the difference being that the driver had no belts and if I remember correctly not even a seat. Within seconds the car was going faster that it probably had done in the previous twenty years and I can still picture the owner clutching the steering wheel, his head bobbing wildly as he headed at break neck speed for the ninety degree turn.

Somehow he managed to career around the bend which was extremely fortunate for him as a very steep and rugged ravine was awaiting him, but there was still a hazard ahead, Johns' new Volvo and the trailer ramps set up as a launch pad! As the car and driver disappeared from view we both started to run down the steep lane but within moments there was a crash and silence.

We had exhausted all huff and puff as we came across a scene of havoc, being the jack-knifed Volvo and trailer jammed between an earth bank and stone wall, and the crunched Courier overlooking the lot! Thankfully the owner did not set the car up for the trailer ramps otherwise he would have gone into orbit, but despite the high speed impact he was not badly hurt and even the Volvo suffered barely a scratch.

The Courier and trailer were not so lucky. After much head scratching and grunting, a local with a Land Rover managed to drag the 'Volvo/trailer/Courier pile' free and we eventually got almost everything on the trailer to work, loaded on the even more battered Courier, waved the nervous wreck of an ex owner goodbye and headed back south.

It did not quite finish there as a few miles down the motorway we were stopped by the traffic police as the trailer lights had given up which was no surprise after what they had gone through, but rather more surprising was the comment from the cop ... is that an Elva Spyder? Well no but close ... oh that's okay ... no ticket as I know you Elva race mechanics will soon have it fixed. You can meet Elva enthusiasts in the most unexpected places!

Sadly John is no longer with us but his son Jonathan continues to run the machine shop and campaigns the Courier whenever time permits. The various other rescued Couriers await attention which includes yet another Pennines find, when we arrived at an isolated farm way up in the hills to find the car sitting high on a massive pile of railway sleepers. Getting that back on the ground was another story! And there are lots of those to tell.

Roger Dunbar

The Fearsome Four plus One at Cleveland with the Beatrice team ... L - R ... Lee Brennieson, Allan, John & Me; seated 'Father' Frank   The John Playfoot Historic Racing Team with many awards, Courier #2 (VGN 111) and driver Allan Miles

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