Bill Thumel's Elva Courier Race Car, Number 36Owner: Bill Thumel
City: Virginia Beach, VA
Model: 1961 Elva Courier
Prepared by: Abacus Racing, Virginia Beach VA
History of the Elva Courier
Elva Engineering Company Ltd. started in a small garage in Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
in the early 1950's. The garage's proprietor was an ambitious young entrpreneur named
Frank Nichols, who purchased a C.S.M. race car and was keen to improve and race it.
The garage took whatever jobs they could to fund their racing aspirations. They also
looked for performance products they could manufacture and sell. One of their earliest
and most successful products was an aluminum, overhead-valve cylinder head for the
Ford I.O.E. four cylinder engine family. Elva sold thousands of these cylinder heads.
Elva Engineering was interested in all aspects of race car design and construction, so it was natural they should try their hand at producing cars from scratch. They built two complete race cars of their own design for the start of the 1955 season, and they immediately began taking orders for more. Before long, they were building multiple models including sports racers and formula junior cars, some of which were exported to the United States. No more than several dozen Elva race cars were produced before Elva Engineering began sketching a road going sports car.
The first Elva Courier was built in 1958. It featured a very lightweight "semi-space frame" chassis with 3" round steel tubing for the main rails, combined with smaller tubes. A stylish prototype aluminum body was commissioned from the famous Williams & Pritchard Ltd. coachbuilding company. The aluminum prototype was used as a plug for creating initial molds; all serial production Couriers were built with fiberglass bodies.
Only about fifty Mk1 Couriers were made. Most of them were powered by the early (1489cc) MGA engine. Another distinguishing feature of the Mk1 Courier is its two-piece windshield. The Mk2 Courier convertible was introduced in early 1961, and a coupe version followed soon after. The Mk2's single-pane, curved windshield was an obvious improvement. More important and subtle changes were made to the drivetrain, chassis, and suspension. The newer (1588cc) MGA engine provided more power. A new frame design provided more comfortable and usable room inside the car, and the Mk2 Courier also featured a coil spring rear suspension.
Elva Courier replacement chassis, reinforced for racing, as fabricated by
James Bowler of Weldone Inc. in Richmond Virginia.
Export to the U.S. market would define the beginning and end of Elva Engineering's
production of Couriers. An initial order for thirty cars arrived like a
gift from U.S. importer Walter Dickson. With Dickson as the sole initial "customer",
the young company would be able to secure financing and to work out supply and production
issues. A small factory was built in nearby Hastings, and the company staffed up to an
ultimate high of about 65 employees. Approximately 400 cars later (including kits for
home market customers who wished to avoid Britian's purchase tax on new cars), that
same U.S. importer wrote a bad check and put Elva into liquidation.
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Trojan Limited bought the rights to the Courier in 1962 and moved production to their
own factory. With high hopes for increased sales volume, the Courier chassis design
was changed to utilize box-tubing and Triumph Vitesse front suspension components
including optional disc brakes. Most Mk3 Couriers were powered by the latest (1622cc)
MGA engines. With the Mk4 Courier, introduced in October 1963, even more powerful
(1798cc) MGB engines and independent rear suspensions became standard equipment.
Despite all this development, Courier sales failed to grow, and Trojan's production
of Couriers only came to about 210 cars.
In 1965, ownership and production of the Courier model was again transferred. Customized Sports Car Company (operated by a gentleman named Ken Sheppard) built about forty more Elva Couriers.
No one would claim that the Elva Courier was a commercial success - in total, less than
700 Couriers were ever built - but the model's success as a race car is a different
story. In 1960's sports car racing, Courier's were a favorite alternative for those who
wanted something appreciably lighter than an M.G. or Triumph. Probably the most famous
Courier driver was a young Mark Donahue, who campaigned his Courier quite successfully
throughout the mid-Atlantic states. Couriers were driven to many victories and several
Want to go racing in an Elva Courier today? They're getting pretty scarce. The good news is that the Courier was designed from day one to be produced in low volume and with simple tools, so it's entirely feasible for a skilled fabricator to replicate any Courier-specific part, or even to build a Courier from scratch.
Because a variety of engines and displacements were original to Couriers, these cars can be set up to suit a variety of competition classes. Spares and performance upgrades for the M.G. engines are particularly readily available and inexpensive. Relatively easy to maintain and tune, Couriers can be exceptionally competitive within the classes they fit. The continued popularity of Couriers in vintage racing is guaranteed by all these factors.
Bill Thumel's Elva Courier
Bill Thumel purchased his Elva Courier in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The Maryland title
showed that that the car had been registered as a 1961 model, and the car's chassis plate
was stamped "100-17-L". The SCCA log book showed that it had begun its racing career
in 1962, and that it had mostly competed at local tracks, especially the old Marlboro
Motor Raceway (which closed in 1969, shortly after Summit Point opened).
But the old car was in rough shape. It had been parked a long time, and had sunken into the mud. Parts of the frame were severely rusted, but the car was basically complete, including an MGA 1.5L engine. The frame would need to be replaced. The body would need so many patches that it would have been quite heavy, so molds for a new fiberglass body were made by laying fiberglass over the original body. Original wheel uprights and steering rack were retained. Abacus Racing built up the engine, installed it, and completed all the performance engine and chassis tuning.
Features and Specifications
|Engine:||1798cc BMC B-series with HRG-Derrington 7-port crossflow aluminum cylinder head.
Approximately 12:1 static compression ratio. Dual Weber 45DCOE carburetors.
ATI Super Damper degreed harmonic balancer. Mallory Unilite distributor.
MSD6AL capacitive discharge ignitiono with Blaster 2 coil and Taylor Spiro Pro
8mm ignition leads. Stock Car Products "Super Flow" oil pump (wet sump) and
stock MGB oil cooler. Accusump oil reservoir.
|Cooling:||Griffin aluminum radiator, with a Spal electric fan.
|Exhaust:||custom 3-into-2-into-1 step-up header.
|Transmission:||Quaife Engineering Ford "Rocket" heavy duty, dog ring, 4-speed gearbox with
alloy maincase. Tilton clutch.
|Rear Axle:||Currie Enterprises Ford 8" rear axle with limited slip differential.
|Front Susp.:||custom independent suspension featuring custom fabricated unequal/unparallel A-arms,
Alford & Alder (Triumph Herald) forged uprights and MG Midget hubs.
Aluminum-bodied QA1 coilover shock absorbers (5" stroke).
Elva proprietory steering rack.
|Rear Susp.:||custom 3-link.
|Brakes:||(master) Tilton pedal assembly with bias bar. Residual pressure valves.
(front) Wilwood calipers and vented rotors. Wilwood blue, 2psi residual pressure valve.
(rear) Ford drum brakes. Wilwood red, 10psi residual pressure valve.
|Wheels/Tires:||Compomotive 6J14 / Hoosier 205/60D14.
|Electrical:||a lightweight, racing alternator has been mounted off the rear axle. Optima battery.
|Instruments:||AutoMeter Sport-Comp tachometer (0-10,000rpm),
oil pressure (0-100psi),
oil temperature (140-280F),
coolant temperature (100-250F),
|Fuel System:||Fuel Safe fuel cell. Holley "Red" fuel pump. Fram HPG1 fuel filter.
Holley fuel pressure regulator.
|Safety Eqmt:||Kirkey 39-series seat. Simpson 5-point harness with Cam Lok closure.
Racetech steering wheel with Allstar Performance quick release hub.
Safecraft fire suppression system.
|Weight:||1523#, measured without fuel or driver. Approximately 51/49 weight distribution.
(Note: class rules require the car weigh at least 1378#, plus a 100# weight penalty
for using a Derrington cylinder head and a 20# weight penalty for removal of
the passenger seat.)
|Racing Class:||SVRA 3CP
Building the Chassis
Note: these construction photos were taken by James Bowler at his shop in Richmond Virginia.
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Suspension and Brakes
Note: these construction photos were taken in February 2009 at Bill's shop: Abacus Racing in Virginia Beach. They actually show a second, sister car that was under construction at that time. There are some variances between the two cars, but generally they're being built to similar specifications.
Elva Courier front suspension. Note: Hank Giffin's 1959 Elva Courier MkII (1.6L) can be seen at right.
Wilwood brake calipers.
Custom suspension featuring unequal/unparallel A-arms, coilover shocks, and Triumph GT6 uprights.
Currie Enterprises Ford 8" rear axle. (Note: rear shock absorbers are mounted differently on this car.)
Three-link rear suspension.
Fuel Safe Systems, Huntington Beach CA.
1798cc BMC B-series with HRG-Derrington 7-port crossflow aluminum cylinder head.
The front of the cylinder head is stamped "CT697, 205/5/59".
Custom 3-into-2-into-1 step-up header.
MSD6AL with Blaster 2 coil and Taylor Spiro Pro 8mm ignition leads.
Quaife Engineering Ford "Rocket" heavy duty, dog ring, 4-speed gearbox with alloy maincase. Tilton clutch.
Foreground: remote starter switch. Background: breather tank.
Tilton pedal assembly with bias bar.
Wilwood residual pressure valves. (Blue/2psi for front disc brakes, red/10psi for rear drum brakes.)
The valve cover is badged "HRG Engineering Co. Ltd., Chessington, Surrey, Lower Hook, 4149".
ATI Super Damper degreed harmonic balancer.
Griffin aluminum radiator, with a Spal electric fan.
Stant 18-22psi pressure cap.
Cold air induction hose.
Stock Car Products "Super Flow" oil pump (wet sump).
Fuel pressure regulator and remote oil filter.
Dual Weber 45DCOE carburetors.
The carburetors are stamped "Made in Italy, Tipo 45DCQE152, Number 1331".
Racetech steering wheel.
AutoMeter Sport-Comp tachometer (0-10,000rpm)...
...oil pressure (0-100psi), oil temperature (140-280F), coolant temperature (100-250F), voltmeter (0-18V).
Kirkey 39-series seat.
Simpson 5-point harness with Cam Lok closure.
Tilton brake pedal assembly with bias bar.
MSD6AL capacitive discharge ignition module.
Bill Thumel's Elva Courier Race Car, Number 36
Watkins Glen: 2008 Zippo SVRA Vintage Grand Prix.
Lucas headlight decal.
Compomotive 6J14 / Hoosier 205/60D14.
All photos shown here are from June 2009, when we viewed the car at The Heacock Classic Gold Cup at
Virginia International Raceway, or from February 2009 when BritishV8 viewed the car at Abacus Racing in
Virginia Beach, Virginia. All photos by Curtis Jacobson for BritishRaceCar.com, copyright 2009.
All rights reserved.
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