Driving the Elva Mk7

For many, the definitive 1960’s sports racing car was the Lotus 23 and 23B. The elegant lines represented everything that was desirable at the time of booming clubman and sports car racing on road circuits and with more than 100 built, it was a popular seller for Colin Chapman.

However, there is a less well know sports racing car that, on it’s day, was every bit as effective as the Lotus and which was considerably less numerous on the historic racing car market. We talk to Ice Driver’s Andy McKenna about driving the Elva Mk7 and take a look at the history of this particular Elva, number 70/003 and the third Mk7 to roll off the production line in March 1963.


Driving the Elva Mk7

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“On it’s day, every bit as quick as a Lotus 23B”, says McKenna.“In the period they raced, the Lotus was probably quicker, but in today’s historic motorsport environment, a well sorted Elva Mk7 can match the Lotus. In the Donnington race last year, where I shared the car with owner Robi Bernberg, our pace wasn’t that far of the Lotus ahead of us and that was with the incorrect gear ratios. We worked out afterwards what gain that change would have meant for us and it showed that we would have been right there, on the ultimate pace.”

Driving the Elva Mk7
Driving the Elva Mk7

“Today, an Elva Mk7 prepared by an experienced historic racing team should be right up there if driven well. I’ve driven several now. They do need setting cup correctly for the owner, but once that’s done, a driver can have a lot of confidence in the chassis and get some good results. For me, the big appeal of an Elva Mk7 is that they are quite rare compared to the Lotus. The name Elva apparently come from the French phrase, Elle Va, which means ‘She Goes’. That works for me.”

Add in the relatively low production figures of just 29 Elva Mk7’s vs more than 100 Lotus 23B and you can see that the rarity and investment appeal of the Elva is very attractive. This particular Mk7 has lived in the USA and UK throughout it’s life and has a long, well documented history of competition.

Hewland Mk8 gearbox probably added later
Hewland Mk8 gearbox probably added later

This car, like most, was originally fitted with a Coventry Climax FWAl 100 engine, Koni dampers , a Hewland Mk4 5 speed gearbox, ducted brakes, optional handbrake and was painted white. It was immediately exported to the USA and sold to Gordon Heald of Babson Park, Mass by official importer Carl Haas. The history is as follows:

From 1963 – 1971 Gordon Heald, Babson Park, Massachusetts The car was probably first raced by Gordon Heald at SCCA National in Virginia on 2J1hA pril 1963 where it finished 8th. Gordon Heald raced the car through to at least 1966, winning the SCCA Northeast Divisional Championship in 1965.

Originally white and with a Climax engine, now with Lotus Twin Cam and stunning yellow
Originally white and with a Climax engine, now with Lotus Twin Cam and stunning yellow

On 28th November 1965 the car finished 2nd in the American Road Race of Champions at Daytona Speedway. On 26th November 1966 the car finished 3rd in the American Road Race of Champions at Riverside International Raceway driven by Gordon Heald with an average speed of over 135 km/hr

1971 – February 1977 Mr S. A. Gilliland, Fairfield, Connecticut Mr Gilliland raced with the SCCA on the East Coast USA. On 30th January 2004 Mr Gilliland’s son told John Golanty that his father had bought the car from a Mr Heald. Mr Gilliland’s SCCA Log Book shows that the car ran in various races between May 1972 and February 1974. During this period it was modified with flared arches and wider wheels and it is likely that a Lotus Twin Cam engine and Hewland Mk8-9 gearbox were fitted at that time.

In February 1977 the car was sold to James Tears while owned the car until 1984. From then, it passed through various owners, 1984 -23rd February1986 owned by Chuck Haines, St. Louis, Missouri then from 23rd February 1984 – 25th September 1995 William ‘Jerry’ Gordon, Chicago, Illinois Jerry Gordon who raced with the VSCDA in the mid -west USA. Jerry had the car professionally maintained by Baurle Autosport and Paradise Motorsport as the invoices totalling approx $92,500 demonstrate.

Silverstone testing for the Elva MK7
Silverstone testing for the Elva MK7

25th September 1995 – 3rd July 1996 Tom Snellback, Lake Bluff, Illinois Tom Snellback historic car racer and proprietor of ‘The Last Detail’ a specialist classic and sports car preparation and repair business in Lake Bluff also raced the car with the VSCDA in the mid-west USA. 3rd July 1996-17 th February 2004 John Golanty, Wilmette, Illinois The car was regularly raced in historic events by John Golanty. Mr Golanty had the car maintained by International Classics and PHP Racengines detailed by the invoices totalling in excess of $40,000. It is believed that at this time the car was modified to run a centrally placed water radiator and the side mounted fuel tanks were replaced with a single centrally mounted item .

The car was re-imported to the UK in February 2004 and entrusted to the professional historic racing team Wren Classics for race preparation. The car was stripped down, checked and then prepared to FIA specification and the FIA HTP papers obtained. Works included new fire extinguisher system, seat belts , wheels , brakes, tyres and gear ratios. The car was raced regularly in the Top Hat pre ’66 sports car series , Sports Racing Challenge and then the Masters series of events for sports racing cars.

In January 2005 the engine was sent to George Wadsworth at Racing Fabrications for a full re-build to characteristics that better suited some of the slow speed corners of European tracks. At the same time a more elegant roll over bar was fitted together with a second fuel tank for longer distance events.

To date, the car has had one outright race win at Mallory Park, three class wins at Donnington, one class win at Castle Combe and was third in class last time out at Dorrington.


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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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