Elva (the name comes from the French 'Elle Va', or 'She Goes') was first set up by ex-used-car salesman and passionate racing driver Frank G Nichols, who started racing with first a Lotus V1 and then a light cycle car called a CSM. He soon realised that there was a market for racing/sports cars that could be sold at a reasonably low price, and so Elva came into being in 1955.
His first car featured a tubular space frame; this was considered by Colin Chapman of Lotus to be a little bit too similar to his own design and he threatened to sue, but Nichols was never a man to be pushed around so this got nowhere. Chapman was, in any case, no stranger to borrowing the ideas of others!
Business was good but the company was better known in America than it was in Europe. This was because Nichols was a pretty good businessman. He realise that racing was an expensive hobby and so he didn't have a works racing team in the UK. His cars were instead raced by enthusiastic amateurs. They had the huge disadvantage of having to compete with works teams, which had far better facilities. In America, however, the Sports Car Club of America ran events for both professional and amateur drivers. This created a much more level playing field and his cars very quickly caught the imagination of the racing fraternity.
By the end of the 1950s the company was so successful that it was able to match the much more well-established Lotus as a manufacturer of sports/racing cars in volume.
The MK7 was introduced in 1963. It featured a lightweight but very robust spaceframe chassis; wishbone suspension all round and a very attractive aerodynamic body. The engine, initially provided by BMW, sat amidships and drove the rear wheels through a Hewland gearbox.
With the help of a US concessionaire named Carl Haas, and a German Porsche distributor named Ollie Schmidt, Nichols pulled off a huge coup; he persuaded Porsche to supply him with their 1700 cc quad cam Carrera engine! This came up against a great deal of opposition from senior managers in Porsche, particularly those in their racing team. No other car manufacturer had been supplied with Porsche engines before, although many had asked for them. Nevertheless the deal went through.
The first Porsche engined MK7, now rebadged the MK7S, was presented to the public at the 1963 Road America 500 race, where it won easily. 15 firm orders came in immediately.
There was still considerable resentment within Porsche towards Elva but despite this the German manufacturer bought two Elvas, but one of their own flat eight 771 engines in one of them, and entered it for the 1964 European Hill Climb Championship. The driver of the Elva,Edgar Barth, won the first round; a works Porsche 718 could only come second. Point proved.
During the 1960s competition from companies such as Lotus and Cooper bit into Nichols' market but the final blow came when his American importer was sent to jail for fraud. Elva, a small company surrounded by much larger ones, was financially wiped out.
Nichols settled in business again, producing more sports/racing cars, often in conjunction with Porsche, but production ended in 1968.
He himself died in 1997, and apart from surviving enthusiasts there are few people in Britain that even remember the name Elva.