They make racing cars—Elden

Racing car manufacturers are almost inevitably under-capitalised and, while this is not a great problem when one is building only a handful of cars a year, if business booms and the orders start flowing in that is when the real headaches begin. The Hampsheir brothers, Peter and Brian, have been in the racing car business a good few years now and, until recently, with a marked lack of tangible success but all of a sudden their Elden Formula Ford model has become the car to have. Because they have already fallen into the pitfalls of trying to expand production rapidly without sufficient finance they have engineered a situation which they see as the only solution for the small racing car manufacturer.

Basically they contract out all the work on the car including assembly, thus not requiring any factory facility or labour force. From their various suppliers they assemble all the vital components together—chassis, gearbox, engine, suspension, fabrications and body—then take the kit of parts to one of two or three specialist racing car assemblers they have on their books, for him to build the car for a fixed price. Thus the overheads are extremely low and totally predictable and if there is a glut of orders more assemblers can easily be found, particularly in the busy car building season of the winter when racing mechanics are often slack or out of work. All this leaves the Hampsheirs time to develop a comprehensive stores and the building of prototypes for new models.

Obviously there are pitfalls like maintaining quality and keeping the small one-man assembler to time but, by the very nature of the business, this does not seem to be a real problem as yet.

Thirty-two-year-old Brian Hampsheir has been closely involved with motor racing since he was 18 when he started racing in a Sprite. He says he became “one of the first motor racing bums” as he had no regular job and by 1962 his career had seen him drive an MG-A, Lotus 7, Emeryson and Jaguar 2.4 without ever hitting the headlines. Flat broke and very disillusioned he drifted along for a while in his father’s business but then along came a rather unexpected £1,000 windfall which he was determined to use in motor racing. At that time he, and his brother Peter, who had been his mechanic in racing days, went to a demonstration of a Formula Four car. Both agreed they could build a better car themselves and though Peter had an engineering degree he had never previously taken a great deal of interest in single-seater racing car design. Starting with a clean sheet of paper and fresh ideas, a very advanced mallite & fibreglass monocoque Formula Four was built and exhibited at the 1967 Racing Car Show under the marque name of Briham. A works car was run and driven by a fellow called Peter Orr and it displayed a good deal of promise but suffered badly from unreliability from its motorcycle engine. Later, as the Formula made its faltering way, larger engines were fitted and, by 1968, six replicas had been sold but Briham were flat broke.

Struggling on somehow, a monocoque Group 6 car of very advanced design was projected but never got further than the drawing board and then in 1969, now operating under the name of Elden, a Formula Ford was built. This car featured inboard front suspension (novel in FF) and again a few sales were made to America where an agent had been established. A car was also built for Formula F100 with a pretty body but lack of finance hampered its construction and finally the project was bought out by Clarke Sturgess who re-named the cars which subsequently scored considerable success.

August 1970 was really the turning point in a history which had seen many more downs than ups. Brian Hampsheir was introduced, by his bank manager, to John Brise, a former 500 F3 driver who later turned to Stock Car Racing and became the World Champion. Hampsheir hoped that Brise would put some money into the company, but in fact things did not turn out quite like that but nevertheless John Brise’s son Tony, a leading kart racer, became the owner of the first of a new line of Eldens, the Mk 8 Formula Ford. This was not substantially different from the earlier model although more conventional front suspension had been fitted and the ugly slab-sided body replaced by a much prettier shape. Still the car retained a very forward seating position and, in the car, Brise was an almost immediate success winning his second-ever car race. He went on to another 22 victories in the Mk 8 before handing it over to his younger brother Tim and swopping to a Merlyn for the closing races of the season and finally being snapped up by Brabham as a works F3 driver.

By this time a lot of other Formula Ford drivers had sat up and taken notice and while they appreciated Brise’s talents many thought the car had quite a bit to do with it as well, undoubtedly it seemed superior to anything else in the wet. The seal was really set when a Palliser driver, Mike Catlow, switched to a new Elden and started lapping quicker than ever. By the end of the year four more cars had been delivered, two of them to the Far East and there was a very good order book. At the Motor Racing Showboat Elden produced something of a surprise by displaying a brand new Formula Three car which looked very neat and tidy while they sent a car out to the South African Sunshine Formula Ford series for leading FF light Chris Smith to drive.

At the moment Elden is actually two companies, neither limited. One is called Elden International Racing and is Brian Hampsheir’s firm which handles the assembly of prototypes and the racing team while Peter Hampsheir runs Design Formula which handles the purchasing and supplies and is also a general sales outlet for racing car parts like uprights and other parts that special builders may like to buy. The chassis are now built by Ken Nicholls’ firm at Bideford in Devon, the smart fibreglass bodies come from Marchant & Rose, castings from Kent Alloys, while Rayrace look after the fabrications side. Obviously Hewland gearboxes are fitted and Scholar or Piper Formula Ford engines are the usual motive power.

While Brian Hampsheir now finds he has to spend every working hour administering Elden business, brother Peter still sees his motor racing role as a part-time one. Racing car design is, for him, an interesting sideline and he has no intentions of giving up his job with the Anglo-American Mining Co. Both brothers feel that the success of 1971 has vindicated their efforts in previous years and Brian contends that it is more had luck than anything that success eluded them so long.

Their policy of contracting out all the work seems a good one for the present although no doubt they would like their own premises if sufficient capital can be built up while the Hampsheirs’ story undoubtedly backs up the old adage try, try, try again. Meanwhile expect to see a good number of Eldens up front in Formula Ford racing in 1972 and possibly the Formula Three showing its paces into the bargain.

A. R. M.