The McLaren Elva is the ultimate McLaren roadster

13th November 2019
Bob Murray

A British sports car name from the past comes roaring back today in the uncompromising form of McLaren’s new Ultimate Series roadster – the McLaren Elva.

The Woking firm’s highest performing road car yet – faster from 0-124mph than even the McLaren Senna – the McLaren Elva is to be made in a run of 399 cars, each with a starting price of £1,245,000 and with first deliveries promised for the end of 2020.


With no windows, no roof, no windscreen and no fripperies like radio or carpets, the open-cockpit Elva is back to sports-car basics in the most spectacular and innovative way. The pictures released today show it to be a dramatic looking carbon-fibre bodied two-seater, fully road legal, that combines light weight, high strength, advanced aero and more than 800 horsepower to meet its brief of what McLaren boss Mike Flewitt says will be unparalleled open-top driving exhilaration.

But why name it Elva? What’s the connection with a small sports and race car manufacturer from Bexhill in East Sussex that was named after the French for “she goes” (elle va) and which built its last car in 1968? Few might remember Elva today but in its heyday in the 1960s the cars conceived by Elva founder Frank Nichols were something of giant-killers, as proven often in period in races like the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood.


Elva cars took their inspiration, and their engines, from many places but its most inspired models were the replicas of the Bruce McLaren-designed McLaren M1A the firm agreed to produce for McLaren from 1964. The Oldsmobile V8 powered racer’s light and strong construction and advanced suspension had made it a force to be reckoned with but McLaren couldn’t meet demand from privateer customers so decided to outsource production. The result was the McLaren-Elva M1A and versions of it were made until 1967.

McLaren’s rationale behind getting the rights to use the Elva name is to link the new roadster with the early days of McLaren success and the form-following-function ethos behind it, as Mike Flewitt explains:

“The M1A and its successors are in many ways the true spiritual forerunners of today’s McLarens – superlight, mid-engined cars with the highest levels of performance and dynamic excellence. It’s fitting that the new McLaren Ultimate Series roadster acknowledges our rich heritage with the Elva name.”

While Elva’s original ambition to produce low-cost sports cars may have gone out the window with the million-pound-plus McLaren Elva, in other ways it stays true to Bruce McLaren form. McLaren says it is the lightest car it’s ever made; although there is no figure as yet, we presume it will come in under the 1,188kg of the Senna GTR. Bespoke carbon tub, all carbon body, carbon seats and no heavy glass must all help.


The Senna provides the motive power in the form of a version of McLaren’s twin-turbo V8 in 4.0-litre capacity, here delivering 815PS (804bhp) backed up by 800Nm (592lb ft) of torque. As well as lightweight camshafts, con rods and pistons, the flat-plane crank V8 has been fitted with a new lightweight titanium and Inconel exhaust, complete with 3D printed exhaust trims, that not only reduces back pressure but, says McLaren, adds a crisp new soundtrack to the immersive experience of driving the Elva.

Sportscar basics mean no electric motors or hybrid gubbins here and plain old rear-wheel-drive, via a seven-speed seamless-shift gearbox. Use launch control and you can expect to hit 62mph from standstill in under three seconds and 124mph (200km/h) in 6.7 seconds – a Senna does it in 6.8. Power-weight ratio is likely to exceed 700bhp per tonne. There’s a new drift function for those without a care for the price of Pirelli P Zeroes, too.

You do not have to drive this car to appreciate that power like that, combined with McLaren’s latest word in active suspension, feel-full electro-hydraulic steering and sintered carbon ceramic brakes, is going to be awesome – especially in a machine with no windscreen roof or windows. McLaren says you can wear a helmet – or, in some markets, opt for a fixed windscreen – but there’s no great need because of the active aero built into the car, what McLaren is calling Active Air Management System (AAMS).

A system of channels, vents and vanes directs air flow over the cabin for what McLaren says is a “bubble of calm”. Central to the system is a carbon-fibre deflector at the leading edge of the bonnet outlet that raises automatically as speeds increase, rising 150mm into the airstream to create a low-pressure zone and protect the cabin from buffeting.

It is all part of what McLaren says is a holistic aero approach on the Elva that also sees complex arrangements for channelling cooling air into both the low- and high-temperature radiators, as well as an active full-width rear wing aft of the distinctive twin speedster-style buttresses on the rear bodywork. There is a deployable roll-over protection system.


“Our mission with the McLaren Elva was to create an open-cockpit, two-seat roadster that delivers the most elemental of driving experiences,” McLaren design chief Rob Melville tells us. He says by blurring the design boundaries the Elva brings the outside in, enhancing driver engagement. An example is the top of the carbon-fibre dihedral doors which

curve over and flow down into the cabin. Similarly the dashboard seamlessly flows from bonnet into the cabin with only the instrument cluster standing proud. Melville says the view forward from the Elva is unprecedented.

You do get some cabin storage – enough for two helmets under the rear tonneau cover – but forget now thoughts of a hood. Caught in a rain shower? Never fear, a new technical material for the seats called Ultrafabric is moisture resistant. The floor is just exposed carbon.

Other points of interest inside include handier located controls for the dynamics settings – still not on the steering wheel but closer to it on either side of the instrument binnacle by the gearshift paddles. A centrally-mounted 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen is the hub for all the vehicle’s functions like satellite navigation, track telemetry, rear-view camera and climate control. And a sound system? Not as standard but you can ask for one and McLaren won’t charge you any more for it. Other no-cost options include a vehicle lift system.


Options you will pay for include the full suite of McLaren Special Ops bespoking treatments, up to a full gloss visual carbon-fibre body, plus 18ct white gold or platinum badges featuring thing-ply technology (TPT) carbon inlays, as already seen on the Elva’s Ultimate Series sister, the McLaren Speedtail. A 24ct gold engine bay heat shield is available too. In these respects the Elva is very much an Ultimate Series car and that £1.245m price tag is very much just a starting point.

The ultimate roadster? It’s difficult to think of rivals, or indeed of anything that could be more McLaren. Or, probably, more fun. As Andy Palmer, the man whose job it is to get all 399 Elvas made, says, “the Elva exists purely for the pleasure of driving, to deliver an enthralling and immersive experience born from the ultimate connection between the car, the driver and the elements.”

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