Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc. with a little help from Bill Hemming.
Elfin Sports Cars was founded in 1957 by South Australian racing car enthusiast, designer, builder and driver Garrie Cooper. For a 25 year period until Cooper’s death in 1982, Elfin produced 250 sports and racing cars, over 27 different models and became Australia’s most prolific and successful racing car manufacturer.
Elfin race cars won 29 championships and major titles, including two Australian Driver Championships, five Australian Sports Car Championships and four Australian Tourist Trophies, took out the Singapore Grand Prix and twice won the Malaysian Grand Prix. Internationally recognised champion drivers who triumphed with Elfin race cars included World Formula One Champion James Hunt, Didier Pironi, Vern Schuppan, Larry Perkins, John Bowe, Frank Matich, Bob Jane, John Harvey, Allan Grice and Peter Manton.
Fibreglass was used for the bodies on Elfins single seater, open wheel ‘Formula Junior’ class race cars as early as 1960 to shed weight and build performance.
Subsequent and later models were also fibreglass centric with carbon fibre elements where it mattered.
Twenty years ago, Elfin formed a collaboration with GM Holden revealing a fibreglass bodied concept MS8 Streamliner and MS8 Clubman at the Melbourne International Motor Show in 2004. Limited production of the two versions of the MS8 began in March 2006. These were retro-inspired low-slung racers aimed at the weekend club racer and historic vehicle enthusiast market and were hand built by Elfin. Performance was guaranteed by Holden’s Gen III V8 engine, six-speed gearbox, limited slip diff, ABS and traction control systems to a lightweight space frame with custom suspension and other specialised racing componentry. Both cars are capable of zero to one hundred in around three and a half seconds.
Elfin Sports Cars is currently owned by the estate of former British racing driver Tom Walkinshaw, through his company Walkinshaw Performance which was famous through its ultra-successful subsidy, Holden Special Vehicles.
Bill Hemming who coupled his love for cars, a career with BMC/British Leyland in Australia and Europe and his own automotive marketing company established the Elfin Heritage Centre as permanent museum for close to 20 Elfin racing and sports cars and related memorabilia in 2007. Stored within the centre, stacked ready for use in restoration projects are the 70 year old fibreglass moulds from the original Adelaide Elfin factory.
The evolution of composites during the 1950’s, especially the relatively inexpensive fibreglass medium, gave Elfin stylists the ability to create beautiful body shapes with sensual compound curves like the 1963 Mallala sports car. One of the favourites sitting in the Elfin Heritage Centre.
Elfin race cars are still competing in historic challenges throughout Australia, New Zealand, Europe, USA and the UK heartily supported by members of the Elfin Owners and Drivers Club and general lovers of historic cars.
For more information, refer to elfinspiritofspeed.com.au
From 1958 to 1963 Formula Junior replaced the motorcycle engined 500 cc F3 cars as the stepping-stone to Formula 1. In its short 6 years, the design span covered the major progression of racing car evolution from ladder frame front-engined cars, through space frame cars with proprietary suspension, rear engined spaceframe’s, to the full monocoque of the Lotus 27. Formula Junior is still a popular historic racing category in Australia, with Formula Junior again having a national series and regularly assembles grid of over 20 cars. Image Courtesy Bill Hemming – The Elfin Heritage Centre.