While down in remote East Sussex to visit the Bodiam Hill-Climb I took the opportunity of calling on Frank Nichols and the Elva Engineering Co. Ltd. At Bexhill-on-Sea, where Nichols started in the garage business after the war, and built his first ” special,” the C.S.M., he now has three small factories, while in adjoining Hastings he has a fourth, and between them he markets and builds the sports/racing Elva Mk. IV and the sports Elva Courier. The Mk. IV is an out-and-out competition machine, utilising a space-frame of extremely light construction, double-wishbone and coil-spring front suspension, independent rear suspension with the wheels located by a box-section radius arm and a transverse swinging-link mechanism, with coil springs also in use. A very complete aluminium undertray is riveted to the chassis frame, thereby imparting considerable extra strength, and in this chassis an 1,100-c.c. Coventry-Climax engine is mounted, coupled to an M.G. “A” gearbox containing specially made Elva gears giving much closer ratios. Two Hardy-Spicer universal joints mounted back-to-back comprise a coupling from the rear of the long M.G. gearbox to an Elva crown-wheel and pinion housing fixed rigidly to the rear of the chassis frame. Tubular drive shafts take the drive to the rear wheels, no sliding joints being necessary as the geometry of the i.f.s. ensures that they swing about a constant radius. Transversely-finned Alfin drum brakes are used, the rear ones being inboard, and with the engine mounted well back in the frame a rearward weight distribution is obtained in this very light car. An alloy body of all-enveloping type is fitted, there being very little overhang, and penetration is good by reason of a low bonnet line and the minimum of openings at the front. The whole front of the body hinges about the nose, taking with it the curved perspex windscreen, while the tail hinges upwards about the extremity, revealing rear suspension, fuel tank and spare wheel. A second fuel tank is mounted on the right of the scuttle and both have aircraft-type rotary immersion pumps feeding to the two S.U. carburetters, or in the case of the works car, four Amal carburetters. Elektron wheels of Elva design are held on by four nuts apiece.
These competition cars are very popular in America among Club drivers, and by reason of good trading connections with the American importers Nichols sells most of his cars for dollars. In one of the other small buildings in Bexhill a team of keen workers are building glass-fibre bodies for the sports Courier model, these being well-appointed two-seater sports models, for use as everyday cars or for production sports-car racing. In a matter of seven months Nichols and his workers have perfected the manufacture of the complete glass-fibre all-enveloping bodywork, so much so, that specialists in the glass-fibre industry rate the finished product second only to the excellent Jensen 541. It is interesting that Nichols went into this method of body building only because of the prohibitive price of aluminium body building, or pressed steel, and now is more than satisfied with the results, though it caused many headaches in the first month or two. Previously built in two parts, the Courier bodyshell will now be made in one mould, this being in process of being made at the time of my visit. Chassis frames for the Courier, which are of simple large tube ladder-type layout, are built in the third Bexhill factory, and at Hastings bodies are fitted to the chassis, the glass-fibre being liberally wrapped round all frame tubes to form a one-piece unit, and they are then sprayed, trimmed and wired, and M.G. “A” type engines and gearboxes are fitted. Suspension is by double-wishbones and coil springs at the front, derived from the Mk. III sports/racing Elva and rear suspension is by coil springs on to a one-piece rigid axle of proprietary manufacture.
I was impressed with the interior trim of the Courier, having fitted carpets, bucket seats, large door pockets and a very adequate hood and sidesereens. The finish obtained on the glass-fibre body as it left the mould was very good and would have satisfied most people to be left at that, but Nichols prefers to spend a little more time and money on the production and put the complete body through a normal paint spraying process, with the result that the Elva Courier has a high finish in spite of being in small production —some two-and-a-half cars per week. A laminated glass screen of vee formation is used as Nichols found he could “wait forever” for specialist curved-screen manufacturers to supply him with toughened one-piece screens.
It was not possible to try a Courier, though I did drive the Mk. IV sports/racer on the road and found it quite exciting, with a lot of steam, an excellent gearbox, but rather higher-geared steering and quicker reactions than I am accustomed to.—D.S.J.