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by Jay Traugott
One of the first roadsters to feature an all fiberglass body.
I've been a fan of small British roadsters ever since I was a kid. My dad owned a late seventies MGB for a short time and I have clear memories riding around town in it when I was barely three years old. Good times indeed, but the era in which the UK built those small and fun roadsters is now behind us. Fun as they were, the cars' build quality was lackluster as well as their questionable safety. Fortunately we have the Mazda MX-5 today, but many enthusiasts (my dad included) still prefer the UK originals.
While names such as MG, Triumph and Austin-Healey usually spring to mind immediately upon mention of small British roadsters, there was another company that also built them as well as race cars which earned a solid reputation on the track. Elva was founded in 1955 by a guy named Frank G. Nichols who wanted to build inexpensive sports and racing cars. He set up shop originally in Bexhill before eventually moving his company to Rye, East Sussex. The company's name comes from the French phrase "elle va", meaning "she goes." His first race car was produced in 1954 and was powered by a Ford 10 engine.
By the end of the fifties, Elva had quickly become a successful racing car company after competing in events such as Goodwood and 12 Hours of Sebring. Due to this success and the good reputation Elva was gaining in Europe, an American importer had the idea to expand the small company's business by building a street legal sports car. In 1958 they introduced this car, called the Courier. The Courier Mk I was powered by a 1.5-liter 1500 cc MGA engine and had an Elva designed independent front suspension. Interestingly, all of the first models were exported and UK sales didn't begin until 1960.
Like the MGs and Triumphs, the Elva was a two-seater open top car and it even had a lightweight fiberglass body, which was something quite revolutionary at the time. It actually weighed about 300 lbs. less than an MGA while still using the same engine. All told, just 50 units of the first generation were built before the introduction of the Mk II. This improved version featured a larger and more powerful engine as well as a curved front glass windscreen that replaced the old flat split unit. Altogether, about 400 Mk I and II's were built. In 1962 just as the Mark III was being introduced, Nichols sold the manufacturing rights to the Elva Courier to a company called Lambretta-Trojan.
They then moved the car's production to another factory. Nichols, however, still retained the rights to build the race cars. Unlike the Mark II, the Courier Mark III had a box frame and a coupe version was offered. The Courier Mk IV had an all-independent suspension and an 1800 cc MG engine. In 1965 Trojan sold the Elva Courier rights and in 1968 production on the road cars finally ended, but not before the Mk IV T type was launched. It was powered by a Lotus twin-cam engine and had various other improvements like four wheel disc brakes. But what remained constant throughout its entire lifetime was the Elva's fiberglass body.
Nichols, meanwhile, continued to build his race cars and even formed partnerships with the likes of McLaren. This ultra-rare 1959 Elva Courier Mk I, currently up for grabs on eBay, was recently found languishing in a private garage. Previously unknown to other collectors, this example was used mostly as a daily driver by its previous owners instead of track car duties. Because of this, it's still in relatively good shape and comes with a slew of documents such as its California pink slip, past registrations and even several service and parts receipts. In fact, its original owner had the car for four decades.
The car was originally painted a light blue color but was repainted red in 1977 and the seller claims its body is also in decent shape. The original 1600 cc MGA engine was also swapped out somewhere along the way and replaced with an 1800 cc unit from an MGB. The car has had some recent work done in order to make it roadworthy, but the seller recommends there's still some needed brake work. Most importantly, the Courier needs some cosmetic work both inside and out to get it back into pristine shape. It has just over 74,000 miles on the odometer and a current bid of $5,750 as of this writing.