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Elva – Will She Ever Go Again


Formula Junior restoration - FJHRA Newsletter #174 (Spring 2017)


The FJHRA represents a very special, dedicated and friendly group of Historic/Vintage racers and it was therefore a massive shock to learn that Andrew Spence had been involved in such an awful accident back in 2005. This is the story of the restoration of the car involved, but most importantly the courage and determination shown by the two people most affected by events on that day.

The article first appeared in the excellent FJHRA Newsletter #174 (Spring 2017) and is reproduced thanks to Andrew and Sue Spence, and Sarah Mitrike (FJHRA Comp. Sec.) who does such a wonderful job of organising the FJHRA office from her home in Lithuania.

Intro by Crispian Besley

Whilst writing the article on Chris Alford’s career for the last magazine which concluded with his successful return to HFJ in the Elva 200 that he acquired from Andrew and Sue Spence, it occurred to me that the story of that car’s restoration to health after Andrew’s life changing accident at Spa should be told. By any standards, it is one of astonishing achievement by both Andrew as project manager and especially Sue, who in the process, learnt an enormous number of new skills that most of us could only dream of, under instruction from various people including Andrew and Stuart Rolt. All this whilst chasing and liaising with myriad sub-contractors and suppliers, sourcing parts and of course motivating and managing Andrew in the long, arduous and ongoing recovery using her professional skills as an occupational therapist, a job which she continued to hold down at the same time. Of course, all the blood sweat and tears was nothing in comparison to what they have both had to endure with Andrew’s rehabilitation but it is nonetheless a similarly remarkable feat which culminated in Sue competing at the 2007 Goodwood Revival after 2 years.

This is the story of the rebuild and restoration from the ground up, back to health of Elva 200/10 in Sue’s own words. No doubt prompted by Andrew..!

Elva – Will She Ever Go Again

After Andrew’s dreadful accident at Spa in September 2005 when a steering arm broke pitching him into the path of another car, all attention had focussed on getting him back home via Air Ambulance and a spell in Addenbrooke’s and his recovery from the significant injuries he received. Neither of us had seen the car since that fateful day when a team of FJ drivers manhandled her into our trailer. Head of Ops Denis Welch did a fine job as the car wasn’t exactly mobile. The car didn’t have an untouched part on it and to this day I still wonder how Andrew survived the crash.

Iain Rowley had hooked our trailer onto the back of his truck and very kindly brought it back to the UK, housing it until we felt able to give it some attention. After he’d delivered it back to us in December and helped put it all in the garage, I had a peek but was so daunted by the scale of the operation that I shut the door and went back to Andrew’s rehabilitation; as complex a job but at least one I knew well as an Occupational Therapist. Slowly but surely a plot was hatched to get the car out of the trailer, which required man (and girl) power. A bunch of friends, Norman, Candace, Nancy, Denis (Coulson), Phil and Maxine were all bribed into an activity weekend in May 2006, with booze and grub on offer once the car was out of the trailer and on the ramp in the workshop. Denis, had thoughtfully arrived in a tractor with a bale spike on the front; little did we know how useful that was going to be. It took a lot of heaving and pulling before the car was in a position to get it onto the spike but then we all stood back as the Elva finally emerged into full view, poor old thing! Denis was the man of the moment even if it did pull a huge branch off my precious Paulownia tomentosa tree (– all is forgiven!).

I was then able to start the depressing process of taking the car to bits and spent any moments that I could grab, between other essential tasks, to slip out to the workshop and take another bit off her, slowly working back to a bare and very bent chassis so the rebuild and sourcing of parts could now begin. Throughout this time, members of the FJ family kept in touch to see how we were getting on with Andrew and the car. Doug Martin rang one day and by the end of the conversation had donated 2 body sides and Peter Denty provided a full set of wishbones and was a huge help in sorting out steering arms which wouldn’t break again.

If ever there was incentive to get Andrew fit to go and the car rebuilt, it was when the entry for the Goodwood Revival dropped through the letter box in 2007..

Denis agreed to help me build the chassis, he is a fabricator and welder which I’m not, but I knew I would be a good prepper for Den, which would keep our costs down. Andrew was on the case but unsuccessful in finding a dimensioned drawing for the chassis, so undeterred the decision was made to try and straighten the chassis so we could get some base line measurements from it. Den is really good at tweaking metal back into shape and using a selection of metal bars, plus his son Sam, for extra muscle, he ended up with something we could use to construct a jig (still in our garage if anyone needs it). Steel quantities calculated, an order was placed for the tube and a girder to make the jig. It took Den and I all our strength to get it into the workshop by which time spinach and shredded wheat 3 x daily had been added to my diet! Den then constructed the jig and we felt like we were ready to go.

Tube cutting was sorted as Andrew thoughtfully ordered me a power band saw ( the next best pressie, after diamonds..!). Back in the US, Norman had been scratching his head about how we could profile all the tubes without a profiling machine but he sourced a milling bit, sent it over and with a fixture made to hold it in the lathe, Den and I were able to profile the tube ends beautifully. Closer inspection of the original chassis enabled us to cut out to reuse some of the original pieces including dash hoop and roll bar.

In good distraction therapy for him, Andrew had put together a job sheet so we knew what was needed and when. The gearbox had gone off for repair and rebuild and with the chassis now nearing completion, we needed to sort out powder coating. Nancy found a company in Bury St Edmunds and tested them out by sending them her garden table and chairs for painting. The work was of very good quality so the chassis and wheels were trundled off and returned 2 weeks later looking splendid. Next was to clad the chassis with aluminium which took Den and I so long that I never want to look at another rivet again!

Reflection on the accident and Andrew’s injuries prompted looking at the car through new safety conscious eyes and was the only reason we modified the original layout. We moved the fuel tank, which flew off in the accident, to behind the seat in its own compartment, Den skilfully fabricating a new tank. The seat had also broken free from its mountings allowing both it and Andrew to impact with the extinguisher so we moved that to the front where the fuel tank had been. The seat was then mounted in its own frame which it was bonded to and fixed to the chassis with expandable foam padding filling the gap behind it to act as shock absorption.

Now it was me in the driving seat but with still so much to do but only when time and other pressures allowed. The engine was next; it was on the stand and fortunately appeared to have suffered only minimal damage so I set about doing a standard pre season rebuild. Andrew sitting alongside in his wheelchair giving me guidance, support and instructions.

It must have been very frustrating for him watching me trying to turn my clumsy paws into proper spanner hands but I did eventually. Oh and getting me through the cam timing – I know why you do it, I know how you do it but once the timing disc goes on my brain flat lines with all this 20° before top dead centre and 20° after top dead centre. This is one (rare) time I did as I am told! Talk about multi tasking, housekeeper, therapist, chauffeur, cook and mechanic. Who’d want to be bored?

I also spent a lot of time trotting around our local area finding electrical gizmos and specialist pipes, meeting lots of interesting folks tucked down farm tracks. After what seemed to be no progress at all, I noticed that there were fewer parts on the shelves and our efforts were starting to produce a race car. Wiring and plumbing complete, new harness and seat fitted and tested for size.

We ordered a set of body panels, minus sides, using Stuart Rolt’s moulds and Andrew’s first trip out in the car (other than for physio) was to see Stuart and collect them. He managed but it took a lot out of him, and it was still a long way for him to go to be able to make Goodwood.

Fitting the body was very testing and really needed two people but us being us just had to get on with it and were both frustrated by the stopping and starting to allow Andrew rest periods. I can’t cope with angle grinders or power sanders, with me in charge they take off parts you didn’t want to reach, so Andrew had to do the bulk of the tweaking, all of which I kept telling him was good rehab for sitting tolerance, trunk mobility and stamina.. A good friend from our Formula Vee days, Mick Pritchett offered to paint the body for us and it soon returned looking lovely, red and shiny. With that fitted, the Elva was back!

Now it was time to run the engine up for the first time. Had I got it right?? With all prestart checks done and double checked, we cranked her to get the oil round. But there was no oil pressure. We are both freaky about cranking a newly build engine without oil pressure and thought of all sorts of things until we gave up and rang Stuart Rolt. With Andrew on the phone relaying instructions from Stuart and me in charge of doing them, the engine and oil pressure finally came to life which sounded so good after nearly 2 years of silence.

With Goodwood looming,we’d booked a test session at Snetterton just before the August bank holiday. All there was to do was the final set up of ride heights, caster, camber and corner weights. Nancy had come over to help, cooking us meals while we pushed on with the car. Sometimes it is frustrating to be female and underpowered, one of the radius arms only needed to be pushed back a fraction for the bolt to engage but I just couldn’t do it. Nancy was despatched to our steel tube rack to get a pole we could use as a lever in the hope that if she did the levering I’d be able to push the radius arm onto the bolt but with time against us and gone 11.00 pm things were becoming tense. Andrew showed Nancy where to put the pole and how to push it but unknowingly she had chosen the softest piece of tube in the rack and as she heaved it bent, like something out of a Popeye cartoon which broke the mood with us all collapsed in laughter ! At her insistence we called it a day and would have to find somewhere else to test.

Time was running short but fortunately we discovered Brands Hatch had a session on the bank holiday weekend before Goodwood which would give us a precious few more days to get ready and a couple afterwards for last minute fixing for the race if there were problems so Andrew, Nancy and I arrived at Brands bright and early on the Saturday morning to find that all the other single seaters were Formula Fords - what? All I could think of was my lovely shiny red paintwork but undeterred I put on my race suit and helmet and set off. All the suspension settings were as before the accident which seemed like a good place to start.. I soon discovered that FF drivers see a testing session as a race but decided to ignore their antics and shake down the car; it was horrible, like driving on ice. Left to my own devices, as Andrew had stayed in the car in the paddock, I spent a lap wondering what could be wrong. Then I thought back to a meeting at Silverstone, it was Andrews turn to drive and he’d come back complaining the car was very skittish when Norman sidled up and asked if we had changed setting since I drove her last pointing out, in a very gentlemanly way, that as I was heavier than Andrew the car would perform differently with my settings and him on board. With that knowledge in mind I stopped in the pit lane, much to the amusement of the FF pit crews, leapt out and softened the dampers fully off all round. Back in the car, belted up I set off again to a much better handling car. I managed to do 3 sessions but in the 4th another car got far too close to me and touched wheels. That was it for me but at least we felt that I’d done enough to know the wheels weren’t going to drop off so we went home to prepare for Goodwood.

Having given them the heads up on our situation, the organisers were so helpful and gave us tickets for me, my team of mechanics and Andrew and his medical team including Physio, Occupational therapist and Nurse who were all there to look after him so I was able to focus on the car. Andrew Hibberd told me that bets were on about whether or not we would make it but we did, with both the car and Andrew having completed a major stage of their rehabilitation and weren’t we all pleased. Andrew and some of the team watched from the Richmond lawn enclosure where there is a good wheelchair view. The Elva was fine but I really needed more time to get the hang of things after a two and a half year lay off and everything that had happened since Spa. The Goodwood staff were superb and very helpful; wheelchair travel was never a problem and we were transported by Lexus as though we were V.I.P.’s. Andrew even managed a ‘dance’ with me at the dinner, although it was more of a clinch, and not particularly passionate!

Throughout both Andrew and the car’s rehab we have been helped along the way by so many people, the support and encouragement from family and friends both inside and outside the racing world was and continues to be overwhelming. Wherever we go we are greeted with such warmth and open arms. It is wonderful to know that although not at the coal face,a wonderful band of fans give continuing support.

As you know the Elva in now in the expert hands of Chris Alford. We are delighted she has gone to a good home and are very pleased he is having as much fun with her ( barring accident of course!) as we did. Our memory banks will be forever full of great times, home and away with Formula Junior.

El(le)va.. She goes