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Elfin Heritage Centre

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Australia's ELFIN Sports and Racing Cars

Original Elfin Book Cover

The original edition of Australia's ELFIN Sports and Racing Cars by Barry Catford and John Blanden has long been unavailable since its 1997 publishing launch.

This book is occasionally being offered on eBay for 5 times its original retail price.

NOW

Finally there is now available a soft-cover, limited edition reprint of the original book.

ONLY $67.50 if collected personally OR $75 including Post and Packing within Australia.

This offer is exclusive to Elfin Owners and Drivers Club members who order through The Elfin Heritage Centre.
Contact bill@elfinheritage.com.au

PLUS

The original author Barry Catford, has prepared a chapter to cover the period 1997 to 2011.

Chapter Sixteen A Second Life

"Now there is no going back." Bill Hemming

Melbourne businessmen Nick Kovatch and Bill Hemming, who took over Elfin Sports Cars in 1997About the period Elfin Sports Cars was bought for a second time and was moved from South Australia, Garrie's father Cliff quietly said that, "Elfin died when Garrie died." Until that point he had not been very forthcoming anyway - now the subject was closed. Even Garrie's widow, Lorraine, began to show less interest in the possible future of the business she had been a part of for over 20 years. That was until 1997 when Melbourne businessmen Bill Hemming and Nick Kovatch took over Elfin Sports Cars.

Married with four daughters, Bill Hemming had spent 12 years with BMC/British Leyland in Australia and Europe, and has owned a marketing company for the past 20 years. In 2000 Bill acquired the ex Jock O'Brien Elfin Streamliner in which he regularly competes. Likewise Nick Kovatch is also a married man with two daughters and, besides specialising in Aston Martin and Jaguar restorations and being involved in racing car preparation, is a motorcycle fanatic. Nick has run his own companies for over 25 years including Jag Performance and Carbitune.

ElfinIn 1988 Hemming approached Kovatch for the preparation of his Jaguar X150 for Historic racing. Nine years later Nick and Bill saw an opportunity to acquire Elfin Sports Cars from Murray Richards who, for health reasons, had been advised to lessen his workload. The Victorian Historic Racing Register presented Nick with a copy of Australia's Elfin Sports and Racing Cars in appreciation for sponsoring their race meetings. Paul Sabine of AM Distributors was similarly awarded. In an idle moment Bill began thumbing through one of the books and was amazed that such racing and sports car had been designed and built in Australia. It was to be this book that "sparked off his interest in Elfin", according to Bill. "Shortly after, we spoke to Murray Richards about taking over the marque", said Hemming. "Even though Murray was offered a higher price, we managed to convince him that we would do justice to Elfin and he agreed to sell to us in July 1997." At the time, Elfin Sports Cars was a far cry from the company it was in the sixties and early seventies when an average of 12 Elfins a year were produced, peaking at 19 in 1970.

All that remained of Elfin Sports Cars in 1997, when the new owners took possession of the company's assets, was Murray Richards' prototype Clubman based on the original Garrie Cooper design, sundry jigs and fixtures, Garrie's drawings and design notes, and some spares. Most important of all to Bill and Nick though were the rights to the Elfin name.

Elfin Sports CarsRichards' prototype passed to his son Robert who later had Bill and Nick modify the car to comply with road registration. While the prototype was well advanced it required a lot of redevelopment by the new owners of Elfin Sports Cars to bring it to the stage where it could be built for commercial sale. As a result little of the original work has survived in the Hemming/Kovatch Clubman Type 3 Elfin, which began production in 1999. By mid-2004 more than 50 cars had left the Melbourne-based Elfin Sports Car factory.

As one would expect, the Clubman Type 3 offers more performance than the original Elfin Clubman that began life in the 1950s.Elfin Car As well, there are a number of concessions for those who are unable to survive without a modicum of comfort. If they really wanted, Elfin owners can have leather-trim and carpets and full weather kit and even a sound system.

The sporting credentials of the Type 3 car were quickly established. With rounds held at Sandown Park, Phillip Island, Calder and Winton, Elfin technical director Nick Kovatch convincingly won the 2002 Marque Sports Car Championship for sports cars under 2 litres. In doing so, he established new lap records at each of the circuits.

Elfin Type 3The Type 3 was developed with a view to competition, and it was obviously right first time out. In winning the Marque Sports Car title in its first year of competition it had shown itself to be as quick as Porsches and Ferraris, cars many times the Elfin's purchase price. In fact it was so competitive that it could be an outright winner of the Marque Sports competition. The Type 3 has not only been successful on the track, it has also won its class in road rally events, like Targa Tasmania, the Classic Adelaide Rally and Grand Prix Rally. As part of the company's motor sport activity, enthusiastic owners organise and run the Elfin Challenge, a series of events staged exclusively for owners of Elfin type 3 Clubman cars at venues around Victoria.

Elfin ClubmanIn 2001 an enthusiast by the name of Mike Simcoe arrived at the Elfin factory in his 1956 Lancia Aurelia shopping for a clubman, but he left with an idea to create an entirely new car that embodied the minimalism of the original clubman, but updated to fit the modern male. At 187 cm tall Holden's head designer found he couldn't comfortably fit into the traditional clubman cockpit, and realised that there were lots of other aspiring owners in a similar predicament. "There are people out there, perhaps having a mid-life crisis, but with money to spend on a toy," Simcoe said. "Like me they might be tall, or they might have an expansive girth that means the traditional clubman is out of the question. "Those people could comfortably be accommodated in a new car developed with them in mind."

Elfin Clubman SketchesSo began a quest for a modern clubman that took the original concept and brought it into line with the needs and wants of today's buyer. The germ of Simcoe's idea came on the first of many visits he was to make to the Elfin factory, at first as an anonymous shopper, and then after he'd introduced himself as Holden's head designer, as an enthusiast who wanted to help take Elfin to a new level the Elfin partners could previously only dream about.

Hemming and Kovatch had their own plans to build a new generation of Elfins, but Simcoe's arrival opened their eyes to new and even more exciting possibilities. At first they simply wanted Simcoe to facilitate access to Holden's twin-cam four-cylinder engine that was fitted to the imported Astra. This he did, but in considering the packaging of the Holden four it was realised the Elfin frame would accept the company's 3.8-litre V6. Simcoe knew, but couldn't let on, that the V6 was about to be replaced and wasn't an option. He also knew that if the V6 would fit, it wouldn't be a huge stretch to make the 5.7-litre Gen III V8 fit as well. "I couldn't tell them that theV6 was dead," he said, "but I encouraged them to think of the V8, which was the same weight and had loads more performance, and even greater performance potential." While some people might think the clubman had been fully defined in the 1950s, Simcoe saw that with some refinement and modern aesthetics the Elfin could stand out from the others.

"It was going to be a fairly simple redesign initially," Simcoe says, "In the end it became something that expresses the heritage of the clubman as it was in the 1940s and '50s, but also expresses something about the power train as well.Elfin Streamliner Sketches "It's more solid, more massive, although it's true to the heritage. "It's a more modern car in its interpretation."

The Streamliner, for that was what the design evolved into, came from an observation Simcoe made that, while everyone wanting to buy a clubman wanted a weekend escape vehicle, not everyone wanted a track car. He created the Streamliner to answer that need. It delivers the exhilaration of the clubman, but with the added refinement and comfort of a modern road-going sports car. To create the Streamliner, Simcoe simply applied the common automotive industry practice of building numerous models on a common platform. In the case of the Streamliner the platform was the Clubman space frame, with outriggers to mount the fully enveloping body. Having created the new generation Elfin, Simcoe was expected to join the ranks of Elfin owners. Which would he choose? "Probably one of each," he said.

New Elfin factory in Braeside, MelbourneFour years after re-establishing Elfin within Nick Kovatch's existing factory at Murrumbeena, the rapid growth of the business through the demand for the Type 3 Clubman and the new MS8 Clubman and Streamliner necessitated a move to a new, larger factory. Mezzanine floors had been built, areas cordoned off, every nook and cranny possible had been used up in the Murrumbeena factory. To accommodate the production facility needed for the MS8 and the Type 3 Clubman, with room for a dedicated development area, engine testing dynamometers, and an area reserved for the preservation of classic Elfins, the entire Elfin operation was moved to a new 2000 square metre factory in the nearby Melbourne suburb of Braeside. With almost four times the floor space of the Murrumbeena factory, this would allow for a modern efficient production line for both models, enhancing both the build quality of the cars and reliability of delivery timetables.New Elfin factory in Braeside, Melbourne As well as the new production line there are plans for dedicated development area for the current as well as future models, a far cry from the tiny corner divided off from the rest of the Murrumbeena factory in which the MS8 development took place. There will also be space for a showroom, spare parts sales area, full administration office, two dynamometers for testing and engine development, as well as a specific area for servicing the needs of owners of classic and historic Elfins. The move to the new factory was completed by the end of August 2004, with production of the MS8 gearing up to achieve delivery of the first Clubman cars in December 2004.

Elfin MS8 design and development processHolden management saw the promotional value in the company's involvement and it became an official Holden project. They always had a special car for the Motor Show and although the Elfin project wouldn't be Holden products, there would be enough of the company's input and influence in the cars to not only draw the crowds to their stand but also to display the skills of a Holden design team. With CEO approval in place around the beginning of 2004, in the following two months the combined Elfin work force of nine and Holden design team produced the pair of MS8 Elfin Sports Cars in time for the 2004 Melbourne Motor Show.

With Cooper's basics in place, Hemming and Kovatch, with the help of Holden's talented design team, brought the Clubman into the 21st century without diminishing what made it special in the first place. The Elfin Clubman might have been conceived 40 years ago, but the basics are just as right today as they were when Garrie Cooper built the first one in 1962. The Clubman Type 3 was first launched in 1999. Elfin Cars It was always a minimalist machine, lots of thrills with few frills, and the MS8 is true to its roots. It remains a minimalist missile with power to spare from a clean and efficient modern motor, a rigid chassis that affords its occupants the crash protection modern law mandates and all clothed in a choice of bodies that evoke a golden past.

Like the original Elfin Clubman, the MS8 is built around a multi-tube steel space frame, configured to fit the modern man, and rigid enough to provide the stable platform needed for the sharp and responsive handling expected of a modern sporting car. Independent suspension is employed front and rear. It uses unique Elfin designed alloy uprights, with rose joints, and full adjustment so it can be tuned to road or race use. Elfin MS8 design and developmentAt the front are unequal length upper and lower wishbones, the wishbones fabricated from aerofoil shaped steel tubing for smooth airflow, along with Koni coil-over spring/shock units, which can be adjusted for bump, rebound, and ride height. Unequal length wishbones are also employed at the rear, with Koni coil-over shocks. Rack and pinion steering is used, with an adjustable steering column, and there is a fully adjustable pedal box with brake bias adjustment. Large slotted and ventilated discs at each corner handle braking. The front brake rotors measure 343 x 32 mm, with Elfin aluminium billet machined six-piston calipers, the rear are 315 x 18 mm with similar four-piston calipers. ABS adds an extra dimension of safety to the braking equation. Holden delivers the MS8 drive line, beginning with the 5.7-litre Gen III all-alloy V8, which is tuned to give 245 kW with Elfin's own cold air intake and unique exhaust system, but can be tuned to produce even more power if customers need it. Backing up to the Holden V8 is a Holden six-speed manual gearbox, while further down the line lies a Holden limited-slip differential.

Elfin MS8 interiorHolden alloy wheels are used along with 235 x 40 sports tyres. Modern electronics, in the form of traction control and ABS, help keep the rubber connected to the roadway, while cruise control makes light work of highway cruising. Keeping it all tidy are bodies shaped by Holden's design team led by head designer, Mike Simcoe. Holden's Max Wolff refined the Clubman body and it calls to mind the original Elfin Clubman, with its distinctive nose and scuttle, and cutaway doors. The MS8 Streamliner body, refined by Holden's Peter Hughes, is fitted to the same chassis as the Clubman through outrigger mounting brackets, and also evokes memories of Elfin's golden past with its proportions, sweeping profile, radiator opening and side cutaways. The contemporary modular interior was the work of Warrack Leach. Both models have full sports instrumentation with prominent tachometer and speedometer, black leather sports seats and four-point racing harnesses. Like its famous predecessor the MS8 proves less is better.

Lorraine (Garrie's widow) and Cliff Cooper (Garrie's father) with the new Elfin MS8 models in 2007.
Cliff was 100 years old in this photo. He passed away in 2009.

Elfin expected the production would be evenly split between the Clubman and the Streamliner, however 60 per cent of the initial orders were for the Streamliner. Experience so far showed that the MS8 was attracting a new buyer to the Elfin brand. Only about 20 per cent of inquiries were from traditional Elfin clubman people. In addition to the local interest, there had been a lot of inquiries from overseas from places like Dubai, France, Belgium, the USA, Canada and New Zealand. It was the major news item in Internet chat rooms in the UK for about three months. Car magazines from all over the world were clamouring to be the first to run features on it. The MS8 took interest in Elfin to an entirely new and unprecedented level. The interest is something way beyond what would have been the wildest dreams of Elfin's founder Garrie Cooper, but Bill Hemming feels Cooper would approve of what he and Nick Kovatch had done with his brand. The Elfin founder was also looking to the future before his untimely death, with plans to build Elfin road cars himself, so Hemming and Kovatch were comfortable with their plans to advance the Elfin brand through new and exciting models like the MS8. In 2004 Holden assigned the design rights of both Elfin MS8 models to Elfin Sports Cars.

Spare Elfin partsWhile the Elfin factory was focused on getting the MS8 into production, the past wasn't being ignored. Each week Elfin aficionado Pete Ffrench came in for two days to service the needs of those enthusiasts who were helping keep the Elfin heritage alive and on the road or racetrack. In a dedicated area of the Elfin factory were all the jigs, fixtures, moulds and other pieces of equipment Garrie Cooper used to make the sports and racing cars that created the Elfin legend in the past. "The Elfin factory can supply just about every component needed to keep the old cars running. That even includes new chassis to replace those that have been damaged in competition," Pete said.

Elfin carsLooking around the storage area, history virtually unfolded before your eyes. There was the nose cone from Garrie Cooper's MR8 Formula 5000 open wheeler, a chassis from an Elfin Catalina Formula 2 racer, a windscreen for an MS7 sports car and moulds to make body components for Elfin Formula Vees and Formula Fords. Locked away in drawers were other sketches and drawings Cooper used to make not only the parts for the cars, but also the jigs, fixtures and tooling he used to manufacture them. "Although we don't want to be a company that builds replicas, we do want to help maintain the authentic past models," Ffrench said. "The history is important because it gives us the credibility to move on to a new and exciting future for Elfin." Pete Ffrench also takes good care of the ex Jock O'Brien Streamliner Bill acquired in 2000 and races regularly.

Elfin Road CarAs an indication to the nostalgic link Bill Hemming has with the Elfin marque, when in 2001 an historic car auction that included several Elfin cars and one replica was held in Adelaide, Bill was present and anxious to return to Melbourne with all of them. He only missed out on the prototype Formula Junior when Mark Poole outbid him. In Hemming's possession were a New Generation Formula Vee and the Formula Vee based unfinished Elfin road car both previously owned by Keith Poole and one of Geoff Gransden's Elfin Clubman replicas. Bill also acquired an Elfin Clubman from John Blanden, which is mostly used for track days and when reconditioned the NG Vee will join the 1961 Streamliner in Historic events. The ex Vern Schuppan MR8A-C was a later acquisition. In the words of Bill Hemming, "Now there is no going back."

By 2006 when noted Scottish motor racing identity Tom Walkinshaw jetted into the Holden Special Vehicles Dealer Team, Bill And Nick were more than interested in his offer to also take control of Elfin Sports Cars. The situation at the Elfin factory had become hectic to say the least. However Hemming and Kovatch laid down stipulations to the proposal before the sale could proceed.

They were that Elfin Sports Cars remain in Australia, the Elfin Sports Car factory to continue operating out of Melbourne; Elfin Sports Cars to remain completely separate from Holden Special Vehicles and the Garrie Cooper era of Elfin (historic Elfin cars) to be kept separate from Elfin-Walkinshaw. The arrangement would also include Nick remaining at the Elfin factory as engineering director for at least 12 months.

Elfin Heritage Centre in MoorabinAlmost a year after Tom Walkinshaw's first visit to Elfin Sports Cars the transaction took place. Rather than abandoning the path he had chosen from which he said at the time "Now there was no going back," Bill had reached a fork in the road and took the one that would enable him to pursue his original passion for historic competition cars, albeit the focus would now be on the Elfin marques. The result is the Elfin Heritage Centre in Moorabin, just a few minutes drive from Walkinshaw Elfin.

Fast forward to 2011 and Tom Walkinshaw has succumbed to cancer leaving an Elfin-Walkinshaw legacy of the Type 5 Clubman and two supercharged versions of the Kovatch/Hemming MS8 Streamliner and Clubman.

Elfin Type 5While the Kovatch/Hemming Type3 Elfin Clubman is powered by a Toyota 44-GE 4 cylinder 1600cc engine the Walkinshaw-Elfin Type 5 Clubman is fitted with an all alloy Gen II Ecotec 1998cc 4 cylinder unit with direct injection, variable valve timing and twin-scroll turbo running 1.4 bar boost with air-to-air intercooler. Power is 194 kW. Weight 760kg compared with the type 3 at 600kg.

The price of the Type 3 in 2004 was $44,970 and for the Type 5 in 2008 $75,000. Unlike the Walkinshaw Clubman the type 3 could be purchased in kit form or as a rolling chassis resulting in a bigger savings over the more powerful Type 5.

Elfin Heritage CentreMeanwhile Bill Hemming had been active during those four and a bit years collecting a further eight Elfins (Type 300 ex South Africa, ex Bob Jane 400 Repco Brabham, ex Larry Perkins F Vee 500, Formula Junior, 1982 prototype VW road car, 2004 prototype MS8 Clubman, new MS8 Clubman and MS8 Streamliner) to add to the six (1961 Streamliner, 1961 Clubman, ex John Bowe 600FF, Formula Vee NG, ex Vern Schuppan MR8 and 1999 C3 Clubman) he had already acquired as well as adorning his Heritage Centre with appropriate memorabilia of the marque. The Centre also boasts an ever-changing display of other significant Elfins on loan from Elfin Owners and Drivers Club members.

If he could afford it and with much persuasion for the owners to sell, Bill would ideally like to have one each of the 27 models Garrie Cooper designed and produced.

At the time of writing, The Elfin Heritage Centre is going from strength to strength. Not so the Elfin Sports Car company, where the enthusiasm for the mark seemed to have died along with Tom, production and marketing have been put on the backburner and the Walkinshaw company is quietly seeking a buyer for the Elfin marque.

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