As a wrench turning gear head you take pride in your knowledge of all things automotive, even popular British race cars from the 1950s. Cars such as . . . the Elva Courier? Okay, so Elva isn’t a well known name among racing circles today but the company actually did command some respect in the late 50s and early 60s and a number of its cars even made it to the U.S.
Club racing was a popular sport in England following World War II and after his discharge from the British Army, Frank Nichols set up shop in a garage in Bexhill, where one of the world’s first road races was held. After cutting his teeth on a CSM race car, Nichols started building his own chassis and called his company Elva for “elle va” or “she goes”.
Initially Nichols produced formula junior race cars but he was later persuaded to build a version for use on both road and track and the Elva Courier was born. The Courier was designed with U.S. distribution in mind and had to be both competitive and easy for owners to fix themselves as Elva didn’t foresee selling enough to set up anything like a dealer network.
The initial run of cars were powered by 1500cc, 72 horsepower, 4-cylinder engines and measured 154 inches long with a 90 inch wheelbase. The fiberglass body sat on a tubular steel frame and unequal length double wishbone front suspension and live rear axle. Running changes were made along the way including the switch from a flat-paned, split windshield to a single piece of curved glass, changing the tubular frame to box section and using progressively larger engines.
To give the Courier good front-to-rear balance, the engine was mounted low and further back on the chassis, intruding uncomfortably on passenger space. Note in the photo of the interior that the base of the shifter is mounted far back on the tunnel with the lever jutting forward to put the shift knob in the driver’s hand. (Also note Frank Nichols’ autograph on the dashboard.)
Though the Courier was designed for use on the road as well as the track, almost all of them were raced at one time or another and they often did quite well. In fact, Mark Donahue won SCCA national championship races in 1960 and 1961 at the wheel of an Elva Courier.
This near-perfect example was on display at the Survivor Car Show in St. Charles, Ill., last summer.