Not a one-off
The first time Stefan Wiesen heard about an Elva Courier Coupe, he figured it was a joke.
“I knew of the Elva Courier – I’d seen them on the racetrack – but I had no idea they made coupes,” the Caledon, Ontario resident explains. “I said, ‘You must be kidding, Elva Couriers were all roadsters.’”
It was 1999, a few years after Wiesen moved from his native Germany to Canada, and he wanted to resume the vintage auto racing he’d done there by getting into a light MG-powered track car, preferably a TVR Grantura.
John Greenwood, an exec with VARAC (the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada), instead offered him the rare basket-case 1963 Elva coupe sitting in a heap in his garage.
The 1.8-litre Trojan MGB in Wiesen’s Elva Courier Coupe.
Wiesen says his reaction then isn’t far from the reactions he gets now. “People are astounded. Nobody knows that Elva ever made the coupe—they think it’s a one-off special,” he says.
They should be excused for the error; the Elva Courier Coupe is, after all, a unicorn, a rarity in an already small class of fibreglass British sports cars racing in Canada.
The Elva: oh, yeah, she goes
Frank Nichols founded Elva Engineering in the U.K. in 1955 with the aim of building a low-volume, low-cost Ford-engined race car. The company started turning out the road-legal Courier in 1958, to help fund their racing budget.
Elva – from the French elle va, literally “she goes” – fitted the first-gen MK I car with a 1.5-litre four, typically an MGA engine, on top of a ladder frame surrounded by a simple-but-good-looking fibreglass sports car body.
“It’s not very practical because it’s very small inside, and it sold much better as a roadster than as a coupe.”
The powerplant was set well back to even out weight distribution, which left the cabin a little cramped. You wouldn’t want to road-trip it, but the resulting superb handling did secure the Courier plenty of racing victories. Trans Am/Indy legend Mark Donohue nailed his first win in an Elva Courier, in fact, in 1961.
Elva came out with a MK II soon after, and in 1962 sold production rights to Trojan, a U.K. company that turned out Italian Lambretta scooters under licence.
Trojan was hoping to use the Courier to segue into racing, and debuted a MK III variant with a 1.8-litre MGB engine shortly after their takeover.
They came up with a coupe around the same time, but made no more than a couple dozen, plus a few fastback cars. Elva Courier production ended in 1969; fewer than 600 had been sold total, and Wiesen says his is one of four coupes he knows of in North America—and the only one racing.
Having fun with fibreglass
The Courier was one of several lightweight sports cars/track toys churned out by British pop-ups in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Their shared formula involved taking a mishmash of engines and mechanicals from popular small cars like Fords, Minis and even sporty MGs or Triumphs, shrouding them in sleek fibreglass bodies, and selling them as owner-assembled kits or finished cars.
Many took advantage of the abundance of donor parts (those above-mentioned compacts had good powertrains but had bodies prone to rust, it’s reported) but folded when mainstream British automakers improved their cars’ longevity and supply dried up.
Higher-volume sports car makers TVR and Lotus also hit a rocky patch but stayed afloat; you’ll see them most often representing British ’glass in VARAC production class competition now, Wiesen says.
A 1958 Elva Courier roadster racing at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix’s Schenley Park (via RMG on YouTube)
The case of the curious Courier
Wiesen had gone hunting for an MG-powered car because he could “take those engines apart blindfolded.” He’d started racing motorcycles as a teen in Germany but moved on to an MGA (his wedding car), an MGTC, and then an MGB, each of which saw time on tracks like Circuit de Spa and the Nürburgring.
The Courier Coupe, however, was completely in pieces, with a rusted-out frame and a body in bad shape. So Wiesen commissioned Tractech Enterprises in Stouffville, Ontario to do a ground-up restoration-and-track-prep job on the car. (He spent racing seasons 2000 through 2003 in an MGA and an original BMW TI/SA he’d bought instead.)
By the 2004 racing season, the Elva Courier Coupe was ready to make its trackside debut. The 1,600-lb car was nearly perfectly balanced and sported a 150-horsepower 1.8-litre Trojan MGB four-cylinder with twin Weber carbs.
It set a new class lap record its first weekend at Wiesen’s favourite track, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix’s Schenley Park, and then went on to blitz through courses all over the east and mid-west, from Mont Tremblant to Sebring.
Wiesen is now selling the odd-looking coupe, and looking at racing bikes again. He’s also got Tractech finishing up an Austin-Healey 100 with a 6.0-litre Chevrolet V8 swap good for a power-to-weight ratio of two kilograms-per-horse (4.4 lbs-per-horsepower).
It goes without saying but, oh, yeah, she goes.