Elva was a sports and racing car manufacturing company based in Bexhill, then Hastings and Rye, East Sussex, United Kingdom. The company was founded in 1955 by Frank G. Nichols. The name comes from the French phrase elle va (“she goes”).
Late Elva Mk IIa (#100/49, 1957), a transition model which shares much of the Mk III’s design
Frank Nichols’s intention was to build a low-cost sports/racing car, and a series of models were produced between 1954 and 1959. The original model, based on the CSM car built nearby in Hastings by Mike Chapman, used Standard Ten front suspension rather than Ford swing axles, and a Ford Anglia rear axle with an overhead-valve-conversion of a Ford 10 engine. About 25 were made. While awaiting delivery of the CSM, Nichols finished second in a handicap race at Goodwood on March 27, 1954, driving a Lotus. “From racing a Ford-engined CSM sports car in 1954, just for fun but nevertheless with great success, Frank Nichols has become a component manufacturer. The intermediate stage was concerned with the design of a special head, tried in the CSM and the introduction of the Elva car which was raced with success in 1955.” The cylinder head for the 1,172 c.c. Ford engine, devised by Malcolm Witts and Harry Weslake, featured overhead inlet valves.
On May 22, 1955 Robbie Mackenzie-Low climbed Prescott in the sports Elva to set the class record at 51.14 sec. Mackenzie-Low also won the Bodiam Hill Climb outright at the end of the season.
The 1956 Elva MK II works prototype, registered KDY 68, was fitted with a Falcon all-enveloping fibreglass bodyshell. Nichols developed the Elva Mk II from lessons learnt in racing the prototype: “That car was driven in 1956 races by Archie Scott Brown, Stuart Lewis-Evans and others.” The Elva Mk II appeared in 1957: “Main differences from the Mark I are in the use of a De Dion rear axle as on the prototype, but with new location, inboard rear brakes, lengthened wheelbase, and lighter chassis frame.” The car was offered as standard with 1,100 c.c. Coventry-Climax engine. This went through various changes up to the Mark IV of 1958.
Elva BMW Mk VIII.
Carl Haas, from Chicago, was Elva agent in the midwest of the United States from the mid-fifties through the nineteen sixties. In 1958 he was invited to England to drive an Elva in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, where he finished twelfth overall. With the Mark IV: “The major change is an all-new independent rear suspension utilizing low-pivot swing axles. The body is entirely new with close attention to aerodynamics and a reduced frontal area.” At the Sebring 12 Hours sports car race in 1959 the #48 Elva Mark IV driven by Frank Baptista, Art Tweedale and Charley Wallace finished first in Class G, and 19th overall.
On June 21, 1959, Arthur Tweedale and Bob Davis won the Marlboro Six Hour Endurance Race in Maryland driving the #37 Elva Mk IV. Arthur Tweedale repeated the win in the Marlboro Six Hours in 1960. Teamed with Ed Costley he covered 337.75 miles in an Elva Mk V sports car. This was the final iteration of the Elva front-engined sports racing car. The last Mk V chassis won a number of important races in the midwest driven by Dick Buedingen, including the 1961 Elkhart Lake 500 teamed with Carl Haas. At this time Elva Cars Limited was operating from premises at Sedlescombe Road North, Hastings, Sussex, England.
Elva FJ 100
Elva FJ 200
Elva produced a single-seater car for Formula Junior events, the FJ 100, initially supplied with a front-mounted B.M.C. ‘A’ series engine in a tubular steel chassis. “ELVA CARS, Ltd., new Formula Junior powered by an untuned BMC ‘A’ Series 948cc engine. Price of this 970 lb. car is $2,725 in England. Wheelbase: 84″, tread: 48″, brake lining area: 163″ sq. The 15″ wheels are cast magnesium. Independent suspension front and rear with transverse wishbones, coil springs, and telescopic shock absorbers. The car is 12 feet, four inches long.” Bill de Selincourt won a race at Cadours, France, in an Elva-B.M.C. FJ on September 6, 1959. Nichols switched to a two-stroke DKW engine supplied by Gerhard Mitter. In 1959 Peter Arundell won the John Davy Trophy at the Boxing Day Brands Hatch meeting driving an Elva-D.K.W. “Orders poured in for the Elva but when the 1960 season commenced Lotus and Cooper had things under control and disillusioned Elva owners watched the rear-engined car disappearing round corners, knowing they had backed the wrong horse.” Sporadic success continued for Elva in the early part of that year, with Jim Hall winning at Sebring and Loyer at Montlhéry.
Elva produced a rear-engined FJ car, with B.M.C. engine, at the end of the 1960 season. Chuck Dietrich finished third at Silverstone in the BRDC British Empire Trophy race on October 1. In 1961 “an entirely new and rather experimental Elva-Ford” FJ-car debuted at Goodwood, making fastest lap, driven by Chris Meek.
After financial problems caused by the failure of the US distributor, Frank Nichols started a new company in Rye, Sussex in 1961 to continue building racing cars. The Elva Mk VI rear-engined sports car, with 1,100 c.c. Coventry Climax power, made its competition debut at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day, 1961, driven by Chris Ashmore, finishing second to the 3-litre Ferrari of Graham Hill. The car was designed by Keith Marsden.
On September 8, 1963, Bill Wuesthoff and Augie Pabst won the Road America 500, round 7 of the United States Road Racing Championship, at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin driving an Elva Mk.7-Porsche. “The Elva-Porsche is based on the Mark VII Elva, but redesigned aft of the front section to take the 1,700 c.c. Porsche air-cooled flat-four unit and its horizontal cooling fan.”
Edgar Barth won the opening round of the European Hill Climb Championship on June 7, 1964, at Rossfeld in southern Germany in an Elva-Porsche flat-8 sports car. The cars were placed throughout the seven-round series with Herbert Muller winning at the final round at Sierre Montana Crans in Switzerland on August 30, 1964.
Around 1964-1966 Elva made a very successful series of Mk 8 sports racers mostly with 1.8 litre BMW engines (modified from the 1.6 litre by Nerus) and some with 1.15 litre Holbay-Ford engines. The Mk8 had a longer wheelbase and wider track compared to the Mk7, which was known for difficult handling due to a 70-30 weight bias to the rear. Following the success of the McLaren in sportscar racing, Elva became involved in producing cars for sale to customers:
“Later a tie-up with Elva and the Trojan Group was arranged and they took over the manufacture of the McLaren sports/racer, under the name McLaren-Elva-Oldsmobile.”
At the 1966 Racing Car Show, held in London in January, Elva exhibited two sports racing cars – the McLaren-Elva Mk.II V8 and the Elva-BMW Mk. VIIIS. The McLaren-Elva was offered with the option of Oldsmobile, Chevrolet or Ford V8 engines. The Elva-BMW Mk. VIIIS was fitted with a rear-mounted BMW 2-litre four-cylinder O.H.C. engine.
Luki Botha campaigned an Elva-Porsche in southern Africa from 1966.
The main road car, introduced in 1958, was called the Courier and went through a series of developments throughout the existence of the company. Initially all the cars were exported, home market sales not starting until 1960. Mark Donohue had his first racing successes in an Elva Courier winning the SCCA F Prod Championship in 1960 and the SCCA E Prod Championship in 1961.
The Mk 1 used a 1500 cc MGA or Riley 1.5 litre engine in a ladder chassis with Elva designed independent front suspension. The engine was set well back in the chassis to help weight distribution, which produced good handling but encroached on the cockpit making the car a little cramped. The chassis carried lightweight 2-seater open glassfibre bodywork. It was produced as a complete car for the US and European market and available in kit form for the UK market. After about 50 cars were made it was upgraded to the Mk II which was the same car but fitted with a proprietary curved glass windscreen, replacing the original flat-glass split type, and the larger 1600 cc MGA engine. Approximately 400 of the Mk I and II were made.
The rights to the Elva Courier were acquired by Trojan in 1962, and production moved to the main Trojan factory in Purley Way, Croydon, Surrey. Competition Press announced: “Elva Courier manufacturing rights have been sold to Lambretta-Trojan in England. F-Jr Elva and Mark IV sports cars will continue to be built by Frank Nichols as in the past.”
With the Trojan takeover the Mk III was introduced in 1962 and was sold as a complete car. On the home market a complete car cost £965 or the kit version £716. The chassis was now a box frame moulded into the body. Triumph rack and pinion steering and front suspension was standardised. A closed coupé body was also available with either a reverse slope Ford Anglia-type rear window or a fastback. In autumn 1962: “Elva Courier Mk IV was shown at London Show. New coupe has all-independent suspension, fiberglass body, MG engine. Mk III Couriers were also shown. Though previously equipped with MG-A engines, new versions will be equipped with 1800cc MG-B engine.” Later the Ford Cortina GT unit was available. The final version, the fixed head coupé Mk IV T type used Lotus twin-cam engines with the body modified to give more interior room. It could be had with all independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes. 210 were made.
Ken Sheppard Customised Sports Cars of Shenley, Hertfordshire acquired the Elva Courier from Trojan in 1965 but production ended in 1968.
There was also a GT160 which never got beyond production of three prototypes. It used a BMWdry sump engine of 2 litre capacity with bodywork styled by Englishman Trevor Frost (also known as Trevor Fiore, and who also designed the Trident) and made by Fissore of Turin. It weighed 11 long hundredweight (559 kg) and had 185 bhp (138 kW; 188 PS) so would have had very impressive performance but was deemed too costly to put into series production. The car was shown at the London Motor Show in 1964. One of the cars was purchased by Richard Wrottesley and entered in the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans. Co-driven by Tony Lanfranchi, the car retired early in the race.
The company was founded by Leslie Hayward Hounsfield (1877–1957) who went into business as a general engineer in a small workshop called the Polygon Engineering Works in Clapham, South London. He got the idea to make a simple, economical car that would be easy to drive and started design work in 1910.
In 1913 the prototype was ready. It had a two-stroke engine with four cylinders arranged in pairs, and each pair shared a common combustion chamber – a doubled-up version of what would later be called the “split-single” engine. The pistons in each pair drove the crankshaft together as they were coupled to it by a V-shaped connecting rod. For this arrangement to work, it is necessary for the connecting rod to flex slightly, which goes completely against normal practice. The claim was that each engine had only seven moving parts, four pistons, two connecting rods and a crankshaft. This was connected to a two-speed epicyclic gearbox, to simplify gear changing, and a chain to the rear wheels. Solid tyres were used, even though these were antiquated for car use, to prevent punctures and very long springs used to give some comfort.
1924 Trojan Utility 4-seater Chummy
Before production could start war broke out and from 1914 to 1918, Trojan Ltd, as the company had become in 1914, made production tools and gauges. In 1920 the first series of six cars were made from a works in Croydon and the final production version was shown at the 1922 London Motor Show. An agreement was reached with Leyland Motors to produce the cars at their Kingston upon Thames factory where work on reconditioning former Royal Air Force wartime trucks was running down. This arrangement would continue until 1928 when Leyland wanted factory space for truck production. During the nearly seven years of the agreement 11,000 cars and 6700 vans were made.
Trojan Utility Car
The Trojan Utility Car went onto the market at £230, which was reduced to £125 in 1925, the same as a Model T Ford. Nothing was conventional. Rather than a chassis the car had a puntshaped tray which housed the engine and transmission below the seats. The transmission used a chain to drive the solid tyre shod wheels. The 1527-cc engine to the ingenious Hounsfield design was started by pulling a lever on the right of the driver. To prove how economical the car was to run, the company ran the slogan “Can you afford to walk?” and calculated that over 200 miles (320 km) it would cost more in shoes and socks than to cover the distance by Trojan car.
1925 Trojan sept
A modified car was released in 1920 with a smaller 1488-cc engine to bring it into the sub-1.5-litre class and with pneumatic tyres available as an option. The car was guaranteed for 5,000 miles. A major contract was agreed with Brooke Bond tea for delivery vans making the car familiar all over Britain and with a top speed of 38 mph (61 km/h), not causing too much worry over speeding drivers.
The RE Trojan and the 1930s
1950s diesel van, with Perkins engine and operated by Perkins themselves
With the ending of the Leyland partnership, Leslie Hounsfield took over production himself back in Croydon but at new premises with Leyland continuing to supply some parts until the early 1930s. In spite of new body styles, sales of the cars were falling and so a new model, the RE, or Rear Engine capable of 45 mph (72 km/h) was announced in 1931. It still did without electric starter and had only rear-wheel braking, and was beginning to look very old fashioned, and although new modern bodies were fitted, only about 250 were sold. A final attempt was the Wayfarer of 1934 with the engine back in the middle, but now with three-speed gearbox and shaft drive, but only three were sold, and the 6-cylinder Mastra did no better, with only two produced. The original van continued to sell well, however, and the Utility car could still be ordered; the last one was delivered in 1937.
Leslie Hounsfield had left the company in 1930 to set up a new enterprise making amongst other things the “Safari” camp bed which would be made in thousands during World War II.
1925 Trojan Utility NP6016
Trojan Ltd continued to make vans until war broke out and during hostilities made bomb racks and parachute containers. With peace, van production restarted still with the original engine until 1952 when it was replaced by a Perkins diesel.
Bubble and sports cars
1963 Trojan 200
In 1959 the company was bought by Peter Agg and from 1960 to 1965 he built under licence Heinkel bubble cars selling them as the Trojan 200, the last vehicle to bear the Trojan name.
The company acquired the rights to build the Elva Courier sports car in 1962, producing 210 cars between 1962 and 1965 when production switched from road cars to the McLaren-Elva racing car.
The company existed as Trojan Limited (Company No 134254 having been incorporated on 27/02/1914) until 19/03/2013, though no longer operating from the Croydon factory which has been sold, on which latter date it was dissolved via “Voluntary Strike-off”.
1961 Trojan Trobike
Trobike was a type of mini-bike. Although preceded by the World War II military Welbike and later Corgi for the civilian market, it was one of the earliest to be sold in kit form to avoid purchase tax. The Trojan Lambretta group was founded in 1959 when Lambretta Concessionaires Ltd took over Trojan Ltd, one of the oldest firms in the British motor industry. At about the time the group owned the Clinton Engine Corporation of Maquoketa, Iowa, USA.
Trobike front mudguard decal
Clinton were world famous for their engines used in lawnmowers and chainsaws. At this time many were supplied for use in portable generators, paint sprayers etc.
During the late 1950s the British public were becoming aware of the craze sweeping teenage America – karting (or go-karting). The sport arrived in Britain with US servicemen bringing outfits over and even making their own.
At first, the most popular engine was the 2.5 hp 95 cc Clinton engine – being both readily available and cheap. By 1959 Trojan began making the Trokart using this engine. It was sold both in both built-up form and as a kit to avoid purchase tax; it sold for only £25. By 1963 it was estimated that 250,000 engines in the US and 10,000 in Britain had been sold, all for karting.
The first printed mention of the Trobike is June 1960 and the first road test published on Thursday 22 December 1960 in Motor Cycling with Scooter Weekly. The price then quoted was £35 in kit form although two adverts in 1962 quoted £29. This may account for the fact that it was made for road use with front and rear brakes, and also for off road use with a rear brake only.
By November 1961 the factory, also producing the Lambretta scooters, had also tooled up to produce the Heinkel three-wheeled bubble car, then known as the Trojan Cabin Cruiser. It seems that the Trobike was a limited success, with perhaps only 500–600 being sold over the two-year period – the last confirmed despatch being 6 March 1962. Known frame numbers range from TB501 to TB1148.
1934 Trojan Senior UOT329
The very last machines were sold to a farmer and known as the Sussex Miniscooter. Later still, a variant known as the Lowline Chimp appeared, using a very similar frame and again a Clinton engine.
1938 Trojan Victory van EXK 621
Originally, machines had black handlebar rubbers but some later models were fitted with buff-coloured rubbers. The twist grip on early machines (as appear on factory literature) was manufactured by Amal with the cable entering parallel to the handlebars. Later bikes had the more typical Amal twist grip with the cable entering from below.
1948 Trojan 15 Van
Later models were fitted with a bashplate between the lower frame downtubes (by frame number TB879). The bashplate was dual purpose: to stop dirt entering the air filter, and also to protect the carburettor from damage. Even later models (by frame number TB1029) were fitted with a further small light steel plate shielding the carburettorfloat bowl and fitted under the heads of the front two engine mounting bolts.
Braking distance: 28 ft (8.5 m) @ 30 mph (48 km/h)
Frame. The frame is manufactured from high-quality steel tube which is electrically welded to resist shock and impact. The steering head is mounted on ball bearings to provide ease and smoothness of movement. The front mudguard and the integral rear chain and mudguard are built of resin reinforced glass fibre and finished in red to contrast with the white enamel finish of the frame assembly.
Engine. The Clinton A490 Panther 2-stroke engine is centrally mounted to ensure perfect balance at all speeds. The engine position is adjustable to suit chain tension. The starting is by recoil starter, power being delivered to the rear wheel through an automatic centrifugal clutch which comes into effect upon opening of the throttle.
1952 TROJAN 13 SEATER BUS
Models. Two models – the Garden Model and Road Model – are basically similar, with the difference that the Garden Model does not include number plates, front wheel brake and brake lever, hooter or tax disc. Trobikes have an eye-catching colour scheme – white frames, forks, handlebars, and wheels – yellow engines – red chain/mudguards. A foam rubbersaddle covered with black plastic leather cloth is fitted to each machine.
1953 Trojan Van
Wheels. Wheels are made from extremely strong pressed steel and are of the split rim type for easy tyre removal. Both front and rear wheels run on opposed high-grade taper roller bearingson an alloy steel spindle, which is designed for easy wheel removal. Highly efficient car type internal expanding brakes are used.
Strachans, at one time known as Strachan and Brown, was a significant supplier of bus and coach bodies from the ‘Twenties through to the late ‘Sixties. After that they appear to have quit the PSV market but continued to trade as a supplier to the Ministry of Defense. Based for many years in North Acton, London they moved to premises on Hamble Airfield in Hampshire around 1960. The last date I have where any activity is recorded is 1984.
Their products were particularly prominent before WW2 with many London operators using them, while during the War they were a supplier of “Utility” bodywork. Post-War they were particularly associated with Aldershot and District, but seemed to go into a decline in the late ‘Fifties. The ‘Sixties saw a minor resurgence when they bodied a number of rear-engined single decker chassis including the London Transport XMS class, and provided the coachwork on the only five Dodge chassis sold in the UK.
Surprisingly I have been unable to trace more than passing references to this company anywhere on the web, so a group to record its existence seems appropriate.
1865 Birth of James Marshall Strachan [pronounced Strawn] at Medians, near Aberdeen, Scotland.
1867 Birth of Walter Ernest Brown.
1881 W E Brown is apprenticed to coachbuilders Laurie and Marner (Oxford Street, London).
1894 W E Brown starts his own business at Shepherds Bush.
1896 W E Brown partners with S A Hughes [full name and dates?] as Brown and Hughes (Kensington).
1907 J M Strachan joins the partnership: Brown, Hughes and Strachan, with a large factory at Park Royal.
1915 J M Strachan and W E Brown establish a new partnership as Strachan and Brown Ltd, based at the former Brown and Hughes premises (Holland Gate Garage, High Street, Kensington).
1921 Strachan and Brown move to Wales Farm Road, Acton.
1928 Strachan and Brown partnership dissolved; J M Strachan continues as Strachans Ltd; W E Brown and sons Dennis and Reginald become directors of Duple Bodies and Motors; the rest is WKC history.
1929 Death of J M Strachan; Strachans is renamed Strachans (Acton) Ltd.
1934 Strachans (Acton) is renamed Strachans Successors Ltd.
1944 Death of W E Brown.
1962 Strachans Successors is sold to Giltspur but continues to operate as Strachans (Coachbuilders) Ltd based at Hamble-le-Rice, Hampshire.
1976 Strachans (Coachbuilders) ceases production.
* This info comes from Mrs Jacky Mackenzie, great grand daughter of Walter Ernest Brown