Anyone interested in sports racing cars is likely to be aware of Lotus, Cooper and perhaps Lola, but may be less certain at the mention of ‘Elva‘.
Club racing in the early fifties was cheap and cheerful, with many ‘specials’ constructed by innovative enthusiasts looking for maximum performance at minimum cost. One such enthusiast was Frank G. Nichols. Having left the Army with a gratuity and some mechanical skills, he bought a small garage business at Westham in 1947. This was successful and he moved to another bigger garage in London Road, Bexhill where there was a good local following for motor sport. Bexhill (Sussex, England) was the town responsible for the very first road race on a public highway.
After gaining experience in a Lotus VI, he ordered a ‘CSM’ from a Mike Chapman (no relation to Colin), achieved some notable successes particularly at Goodwood, and attracted attention from like-minded enthusiasts. He was shrewd enough to realise that this potent little car could be further improved and marketed, and very soon he was able to produce a similar chassis.
Elva BMW Mk VIII.
Frank Nichols’s intention was to build a low-cost sports/racing car, and a series of models were produced between 1954 and 1959. The original model was based on the CSM car built in nearby Hastings by Mike Chapman but used Standard Ten front suspension rather than Ford swing axles and a Ford Anglia rear axle with an overhead valve conversion of a Ford 10 engine. About 25 were made. This went through various changes up to the 1958 Mark IV with 1100 cc Coventry Climax engine and independent rear suspension with inboard brakes. The Mark V was designed for Formula Junior events and had a DKW engine in a tubular steel chassis. It was very successful until the Formula was taken over by rear engined cars in 1960. Over 150 engines were made.
Around 1965-1966 Elva made a very successful series of Mk 8 sports racers mostly with 1.8 litre BMW engines (modified from the 1.6 litre by John Nerus) and some with 1.15 litre Holbay-Ford engines.
The main road car, introduced in 1958, was called the Courier and went through a series of developments throughout the existence of the company. Initially all the cars were exported, home market sales not starting until 1960.Mark Donohue had his first racing successes in an Elva Courier winning the SCCA F Prod Championship in 1960 and the SCCA E Prod Championship in 1961.
The Mk 1 used a 1500 cc MGA or Riley 1.5 litre engine in a ladder chassis with Elva designed independent front suspension. The engine was set well back in the chassis to help weight distribution which produced good handling but encroached on the cockpit making the car a liitle cramped.The chassis carried lightweight 2 seater open glass fibre bodywork. It was produced in kit form. After about 50 cars were made it was upgraded to the Mk II which was the same car but a proprietary curved glass windscreen, replacing the original flat glass V-shaped one and the larger 1600 cc MGA engine. Approximately 400 of the Mk I and II were made.
With the Trojan takeover the Mk III was introduced in 1962 and was sold as a complete car. On the home market a complete car cost £965 or the kit version £716. The chassis was now a box frame moulded into the body. Triumph rack and pinion steering and front suspension was standardised. A closed coupé body was also available with either a reverse slope Ford Anglia type rear window or a fastback. The MGA engine was used at first to be followed by the MGB version and later the Ford Cortina GT unit was available. The final version, the fixed head coupé Mk IV T type used Lotus twin cam engines with the body modified to give more interior room. It could be had with all independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes. 210 were made.
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