1956 Elva-Climax Mk I Sports Racer
Chassis no. REB338ECC
The early years following the cessation of World War II hostilities saw the automobile industry rushing to keep up with the suddenly released pent up demand. All civilian production had been put on hold through the war years. The built up demand was fueled by years of overtime pay for war work and the mustering out pay of thousands of servicemen.
Where there are automobiles there also are races and competition, too, was nurtured by the combination of years of deprivation and years of enforced saving. Builders sprang up to meet the burgeoning demand, exercising creativity, enthusiasm and ingenuity to create competitive cars from available components.
Frank Nichols mustered out of the army in Britain having spent several years in the Royal Army Service Corps transportation units. He applied this experience in buying a garage, then expanded to a larger one where some of his customers introduced him to racing. His first strictly competition car was a Lotus Mk IV, followed by a CSM (which stood for Chapman Sports Motor but had nothing at all to do with Lotus founder Colin Chapman.) The racers continuous quest for more speed encouraged Nichols next endeavor, development of a free-breathing overhead valve aluminum cylinder head for the side valve 100E Ford engine with input from Harry Westlake.
It was the start of an enterprise that would eventually become one of Britains most successful racing car constructors. Elvas were frequently the class of the field, particularly the Elva-Porsches which humbled Cobras and large displacement sports-racers, cars which today still figure prominently in historic racing results.
And, of course, it was to Frank Nichols and Elva that Bruce McLaren turned when he decided to build the Oldsmobile aluminum V8 powered McLaren M1A and its earliest successors.
The car that started it all was the Elva Mk I, a front engined, tube framed special. The car started out as a means to promote Nichols Ford ohv cylinder head but it was so successful in its first outing for testing at Brands Hatch that a replica was ordered even before Nichols could enter it into its first race.
The Mk I was based on a multi-tube frame with stressed aluminum floor pan. The crossmember and entire independent double wishbone front suspension of a Standard Ten sedan was grafted to the Elvas frame. The live rear axle came from a Ford but with precise location through trailing arms and a transverse torque reaction arm. Coil springs over tubular shock absorbers are fitted all around. Nichols and his partner, Dr. Bill Murphy, laid out the body shape with small diameter tubing, then sent it to Tyler and Moore to be formed in aluminum.
It was during this process that Dr. Murphys brother Jimmy suggested the name Elva from the French elle va, she goes. And she did.
Only a few Elva Mk Is were built before a revised Mk IB was introduced with a slightly different body design, wider wire wheels and fabricated front suspension wishbones in place of the stock Standard pieces. In addition to the Ford engine with Nichols overhead valve cylinder head Elva Mk Is were built with 1097cc Coventry FWA twin cam engines and even one with a 1.5 liter six-cylinder Maserati. The Tyler and Moore aluminum bodies became more expensive, something that was inconsistent with Frank Nichols belief in building an affordable car that could be assembled, kept up and updated by an owner/driver. A stated goal from the beginning, noted in John Bolsters early tests of the Elva Mk I, was that developments were undertaken, planned and designed to be easily retrofit to earlier Elvas, a policy that endeared Elva to its clients and kept its cars competitive for years.
Which brings up the splendid example which Bonhams is proud to offer here in Greenwich. It is one of the very first Elva Mk Is built and it still has its original (type) Standard front suspension wishbones. Remarkably, it comes with its old style British V5 Registration Book, recording all the registered owners of 130 GVW from 1956 until 1964.
Exactly how early it is remains something of a mystery because it was originally registered in the U.K. as a Rebuilt car with the chassis number REB 338 ECC. Its Elva number has never been discovered. Also intriguing is the notation on its V5 that the Make is Maserati and the displacement 1486cc, strongly suggesting that this is the Maserati-powered Elva mentioned in a Sports Cars Illustrated article in October 1956. Today it is powered by the widely praised and characteristic 1097cc Coventry Climax FWA engine breathing through a pair of 1 1/2 SU carbs and driving through an MG TC 4-speed transmission.
It is fitted with the standard Elva Mk I fiberglass body, has Alfin drum brakes and 4 1/2 wide wire wheels, all of which were available from Elva in the years after it was built.
In addition to the already mentioned V5 Registration Book it comes with a British Historic Sports Car Club Vehicle Identity Form from its last British owner and other historical documentation back to its first day. A letter from the U.S. Elva Register in 1998 who had personally inspected the car attests to its status as one of the probably less than 10 Elva Mk Is built.
Finished in British Racing Green with silver painted wire wheels, the Elva Mk I is righthand drive and has a two point rollbar and wide windscreen in front of the driver. It is fitted with covered headlights, making it appropriate for touring and other long distance events. The Alfin brakes give it stopping power superior to many of its competitors and the wider wheels get more out of the tires. It is ideal for a collector looking for a competitive but not expensive sports racing car of the drum brake/Climax FWA era, having a known and very clearly defined history and attractive bodywork design. The power-obsessed could rely on the documentation in the V5 and Sports Cars Illustrated article and install a specially tuned Maserati 6C engine with frightening horsepower.
In his Elva Mk I test in Autosport John Bolster wrote, The Elva is a notable addition to the ranks of moderately priced competition cars. By the strategic use of quantity-produced components, the makers are able to give an exceptional performance for a moderate outlay.
That is as true and important today as it was in 1956, which relates directly to the value, desirability and attractiveness of this 1956 Elva-Climax Mk I Sports Racer.