THERE SHE GOES AGAIN

By Stuart Grant with photos by Oliver Hirtenfelder

Elva Porsche (10)

Lotus, Cooper and Lola might immediately spring to mind when thinking 1950s and ʼ60s race cars, but have you ever heard of Elva? Elva is a play on the French phrase elle va, which translates as ‘she goes’. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool South African race fanatic you’ll remember the exploits of Dr Dawie Gouws and his various winning Porsches. Scroll deeper into your mind and you’ll remember he transplanted his four-cam Porsche motor into a brand spanking new Elva. This is that car. The paper trail is extensive and current owner/driver Clive Winterstein even has letters dated March 1965 from Elva Cars in England confirming the specification and shipping arrangements.

These arrangements saw the vehicle leaving the factory on 3 May 1965 and heading for Southampton port where it boarded the Edinburgh Castle. On 21 May Dr Gouws, who had made the trip from his hometown of Springs, collected his new race car from Cape Town harbour. In line with the correspondence with Elva Cars it arrived sans engine but engineering provisions had already been made for units Dr Gouws planned on using, the most obvious modification being the high rear engine cover section. This was a necessity as the four-cam engine Gouws had for the job featured a vertical cooling fan that protruded upwards.

Initially the MkVII chassis was designed to house the Coventry Climax and Ford 1100cc four-cylinder engines, but the Ford Lotus Twin-Cam raised its head at the time and fitted well. It is believed around 29 original MkVIIs were produced to start with, but as demand for more powerful engines increased so Elva updated the chassis to take Lotus Twin-Cam, Porsche and BMW engines of 2-litre capacity – the firm referred to these later cars as the MkVII S. Total MkVII production is estimated between 69 and 72 units, with 19 being Porsche-powered and 15 BMW. Of the 19 Porsche cars only two – this one and another – used vertical cooling fans instead of the horizontal system.

Elva Porsche (5) Elva Porsche (6)

Back at the Cape Town docks, invoices showed the total cost to Gouws at that point came in at £1 200, which included the dark-green-with-yellow-stripe paint finish that represented the South African racing colours. Loaded up, the car headed north to Edenvale where Porsche and racing preparation expert Al Gibson fitted Gouws’s Porsche RSK four-cam engine and 718 gearbox. Dr Gouws debuted the Elva MkVII at Kyalami on 5 June 1965 and then sold it on to Luki Botha when he decided to hang up his helmet. In true racer fashion, he didn’t fully retire from the sport and often shared the Elva with Botha in endurance events.

The pair’s most notable performance in the car took place in December 1965 at the Angola Grand Prix. In an awesome show of versatility, the Elva carved through the streets of Luanda climbing from 10th on the grid to finish 5th with only four Ferraris in ahead. Incredibly, the latest Porsche 904 offerings finished lower than the Elva. Gouws and the Elva Porsche swansong took place on 5 November when, again with Botha as a co-pilot, the Elva took on the 9 Hour. Three hours in, the car held 5th place overall, but a terminal gearbox problem sidelined the attempt.

In 1967 another legend came to the Elva Porsche party with Koos Swanepoel taking ownership. Unfortunately, during his ownership the Elva lost its ‘Porscheness’ when a 2.7-litre Climax engine and Hewland gearbox were installed. Luki Botha appears to have used the car again in 1968, perhaps on loan from Swanepoel, as an advert from Car magazine shows that Koos sold the car in 1970. Pietermaritzburg resident John Truter bought the car and circa 1973 transplanted a Lotus twin-cam engine into it. He also fitted a Lola T212 body style (moulded off Andre Verwey’s Lola) and renamed the car a JTS, standing for John Truter Special.

From Truter the car went to Hagen Wulff of East London and then, if the grapevine is to be believed, Boet Pelser, Martin Jacobs and Dennis Geyer. Along this route a Mazda Rotary engine found a home. Geyer apparently moved to Cape Town and wasn’t allowed to race it there, so he took it drag racing. When the flywheel self-destructed, it damaged the back end of the chassis extensively (the repairs became a key to identifying the car later). Geyer is said to have sold it to someone in the Free State. Don van Staden of Chartwell, north of Johannesburg, followed as the next owner; he in turn moved it on to a Mr Mitri in Natal and then well-known engine builder Pat Duckham, also in KZN. Van Staden then got the now rather ropey Mazda engine/Lola-bodied car back and stored it until 2001.

Elva Porsche (2)

Motor racing history buff Howard Robinson saw the car, and through hours of research was able to identify the car as an Elva MkVII. Robinson did the deal and made plans to rebuild the car back to its original condition and spec. The years of racing had not been kind, though, and it became apparent that this would be a mammoth task. Robinson’s time was being spread thin with other historic projects, but he continued researching the Elva. It was at a meeting where Dr Dawie Gouws was guest speaker that Clive Winterstein (a confirmed classic Porsche nutter with a 356 four-cam and 356A race car) overheard Robinson talking to Gouws about his Elva. Without even seeing the car, Winterstein made an offer. Robinson declined. But four years later, an email arrived in Winterstein’s inbox – the car was for sale. And the deal was done.

A real basket case arrived. Robinson introduced Winterstein to guru race car builder Andrew Thompson. Thompson has an insane resume when it comes to building the ‘right’ cars, including Lotus, Brabham and Chevrons. Thompson was ruthless, cutting out the rotten and incorrect tubing, re-engineering back to original and chasing Winterstein to find the correct gearbox, body and four-cam Porsche lump. A body, with correct high rear engine cover, engine and box duly made their way down to sunny South Africa and two years after commencement, the Elva was back to period correct and once again could carry the Porsche badge.

In 2012 I witnessed the first test session for the better-than-new Elva Porsche at Midvaal Raceway. It was a special day, with Winterstein, Thompson and Bernard Tilanus (the recruited test driver) all beaming. Without so much as a cough, the Elva fired up and reversed off the trailer. Thompson checked the vitals before Winterstein took it on its first exploratory laps in thirty or so years. It was almost faultless with only the rev counter lying like a cheap watch.

With Winterstein smiling from ear to ear he pulled in for another vitals check (the four-cam engine is not the type of engine you want to have to rebuild very often!) All was good so Tilanus took it out to do some set-up. Although not a full race-spec engine and still under ‘running-in’ restrictions, the flat-four pulled well with loads of torque. Understeer was a problem so Thompson tweaked the anti-roll bar. The gear linkage proved a bit of a hassle but that had to wait for a rethink back at the workshop. A newly crafted Thompson linkage system is now in place.

Elva Porsche (19) Elva Porsche (18) Elva Porsche (17) Elva Porsche (16) Elva Porsche (15)

A brilliant day for the Elva and even more exciting for South African historic racing – after all, the point of historic racing is the preservation of our racing heritage. And of course, no car should ever be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ – except for an Elva. And boy, does she go!

Elva Porsche (14) Elva Porsche (1) Elva Porsche (11)
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