Project Elva: Media Blasting Away Years of Paint

When working with a delicate tube frame and badly beaten fiberglass, there’s just one place that we trust to media blast away the old paint while not destroying the car itself: Blast Masters.

The crew knows and loves British cars and also races a Lotus Elan. They know the delicate nature of restoring and maintaining fiberglass cars.

In addition to carefully media blasting the remains of the frame, afterwards they carefully primed everything to prevent rust. However, they carefully left any questionable joints bare so that we could easily make repairs. 

The body, likewise, required a delicate hand and was soda blasted. Like us, the Blast Masters crew relishes learning more about a car’s history. Once they reached the underlying white paint, for example, they stopped and sent us pictures: Yes, one more sign pointed to the fact that this car did in fact run at Sebring. 

We also had Blast Masters crack check our wheels and suspension components through a local, trusted helicopter repair company. While their analysis said that will need some new wheels, our suspension pieces checked out fine.

Now that the body and frame are clean and bare, somehow this project seems a lot more doable. While largely straight and rust-free, the years had been hard on Elva MK VI #60/13.

First, this car had been modified over the years to fit different engines, transmissions and braking systems. The holes cut for vertical velocity stacks strongly suggest that one of those drivetrains featured a flat-four layout, meaning likely a Porsche or VW. The original engine, we knew from the factory records, was a Coventry Climax. 

Like so many others, however, those holes had been badly patched. Evidence suggests that many of the modifications and repairs made to the body were done hastily, probably at events along the way. Virtually every piece of bodywork had been badly modified, butchered and/or damaged. 

Photography Credit: George Phillips

Not all the news was bad, however, as evidence said that, yes, this was the car run by Victor Merino and Rafael Rosales for a Carl Haas-entered factory effort

Finding white paint underneath the weathered red topcoat as well as the remains of headlight buckets told us that the body, despite its condition, was the one run at Sebring. It needed to be saved for an authentic restoration. 

Further proof came when we stripped the body and found holes on the side–holes that were drilled to attach the lights required to illuminate the numbers at night. We checked the period photos and, yes, those holes perfectly lined up with the location of those lights. 

So, all signs say that this was the car–bodywork, frame and all–that carried No. 74 at Sebring and others major endurance events in 1962. 

The body, now threadbare and tattered, definitely had to be saved. 

Thankfully, if you are willing to do the work yourself, fiberglass repair, while messy, is relatively inexpensive and easy to do.

Despite our car’s provenance of running Sebring in 1962, here’s what we faced 58 years later: a broken, beaten yet original 1962 Elva MK VI with a heck of a story. 

As soon as we got the car into the shop, the detective work began. The team Elvas wore white at Sebring. Beneath the red paint, we found white. This became even more obvious as we started to soda blast the body.

After Sebring, the trail grows cold. Crudely concocted patch panels like this one suggest hastily done field repairs. Still, we noted every detail.

Now it was time to turn back the clock as the media blasting process removed the finish layer by layer. The original white gel coat seen at Sebring in 1962 was covered with grey and brown primer as well as the dull red paint worn when we purchased the car.

Blast Master returned a clean Elva with the body unpainted and the frame sprayed with black primer. Now we knew what our mission looked like: The original body was badly damaged, but the frame looked really good in its fresh coat of black primer. We could now see that this car once had headlights for endurance racing, something that most Elvas would not have had. If this Elva only saw duty in SCCA sprint races, headlights wouldn’t have been necessary. Best we can tell, a crash fractured the body up near the cockpit. Fortunately, though, the frame remained straight.

While the frame looked mostly straight, we noticed some modifications. The dash bar had been reworked for a larger driver. Since this was done cleanly, we’re assuming that the factory carried out the job. The bent tubes found towards the rear of the car, however, looked to be done with less care. We figure that was done to accommodate different engines over the years. 

This ground-down tube suggests that the frame bottomed-out onto the track a few times. While we found plenty more dents and bends, fortunately nothing was rusty.

More kludges that we’ll have to fix: random holes drilled into the frame as well as a tube that had been crudely repaired after splitting.

The media blasting also revealed two triangular patches near the tail section. Best we can tell, at one point the rear quarters were split open and widened, presumable to fit larger tires. Again, this is something that we’ll have to remedy.

The media blasting process full revealed this odd hole on just one side of the car. Comparing our body to the Sebring photos confirmed its use: a mounting point for a light to illuminate the number.

We mounted the body and frame to a wooden buck and could, finally, take in the daunting task that awaited. In addition to so many cracks and breaks, we needed to rebuild the nose, recreate the headlight buckets, and return the rear fenders to their original configuration. Plus the body was cracked on the left side, right beneath the door.

The media blasting revealed a second fuel pipe filler–another remnant from the car’s endurance days. That raised a question: Do we spend the time and money to make a second fuel tank, which would have been the hallmark of an endurance racer or keep with a single cell as we don’t plan on entering long-distances contests with this one. Just one more thing to ponder as we move to the next step in the restoration. 

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BBGun New Reader
3/16/20 5:34 p.m.

The picture of the post blast crumbling nose remind me of the National Geographic photos of the missing link skulls Dr. Leakey dug up in Africa. Probably about the time this Elva ran Sebring.


mrichlen New Reader
3/17/20 9:11 a.m.

How far are you going to go with the restoration?  Show quality or good enough for the track.  Any thoughts on licensing for the street.  I am resoring an old aluminium S/R from the early/mid 50's.  No attempt is going to be made to make a show car, the body is just too soft.  I am not going to make myself crazy trying to iron out the body only to have it damaged by just leaning on it or smacking a cone in solo competition.  It has a title, but it has not been on the street in 50 years. 

mrichlen New Reader
3/17/20 9:14 a.m.

My project:

wspohn Dork
3/17/20 1:37 p.m.

I did that sort of job on a Mistral bodied Buckler and on my TRV Grantura race car, and I still itch!  Agree that a blaster that  doesn't understand old lightweight GRP bodies can trash it in a few minutes.

Looks like it has had a typical hard career, but a lot of those 'owies' can be reinforced during restoration.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
3/18/20 2:29 p.m.

BBGun, LOL! Mrichlen, we plan to make the cars concours correct. We feel a significant car like this deserves to be made correct, so it will be welcomed at mosxt any event in the world. The pirce tag for perfection will only add about 20% to the overall cost of restoration.

One exception might be a move to disc brakes. They are so much easier to find and the last of these cars were equipped with disc brakes, so this would be a logical update. And nice project... looks like a Devin.

wspohn, yes, we are already correcting the body's flaws. Might add a few pounds, but worth it.

slowbird Dork
3/18/20 3:45 p.m.

This is a really cool car. I guess in sprint race form these would've raced against Cooper Monacos and the like. Neat to see an endurance version.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
3/23/20 11:40 a.m.

slowbird, I was pretty excited to find out what the car was, and although a bit more complicated of a restoraztion, I am up for the challenge.

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