For those of a certain age, the name Elvira will bring about fevered memories of favoured mammaries. But for those of you missing context, the ‘Mistress of the Dark’, was the buxom star of a self-titled gothic, horror comedy film from back in the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-timeties. A one hit wonder, a cult star of it’s time, perhaps now we should repurpose the moniker.
For Vitor Saraiva, the name (hopefully) conjures up different thoughts. Whilst ‘the sassy lassy with the classy chassis’ could describe both the eponymous character and this stunning build, to Vitor the name is that of his childhood nanny. And the sheer class of this Triumph Bobber ensures this gal won’t end up doing a sexy song and dance number on a Las Vegas stage any time soon.
It was the classic Triumph bobber style that tickled Vitor’s fancy, and so back in 2012 he was on the lookout for a Meridan Triumph that could be the perfect donor. The search uncovered a 1971 Bonneville T120R up in Oxford and Vitor spent a magnificent summer of 2012 getting to know his new steed. She’d led a travelled life, having been exported to Europe, before coming back to Scotland and then southward bound to where Vitor found her.
Going home to London, Vitor’s home for the last decade, the plan was hatched for yet another big trip for Elvira. But this time, there would be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Arriving at a shed at in Vila do Conde, Portugal, Vitor’s Father Antonio was waiting, spanners in hand.
Enthusiast is not a strong enough word for Antonio Saraiva. Putting aside his own NSU bikes, he applied his talent for metal manipulation and spent 2 and a half years of his spare time creating this piece of art. Vitor had a scrapbook of ideas, collected from countless hours of research and between them, they adapted each component to suit their taste and needs.
It was only upon dissection that Vitor realised his Triumph was an oil-in-frame model. Traditionally considered more of an ugly duckling than the earlier models thanks to the large spine frame, Mr Saraiva relished in the challenge. It certainly makes for a more interesting result than the regular bolt-on bobber frame kits abound, providing a robustness to the silhouette of the bike.
It’s no surprise to learn that more than 1500 hours of work went into the bike. The details are far too numerous and far too rich to mention in this mere article, but the passion and skill Mr Saraiva put into the is clear to see in the photos. From the stance setting hardtail, to the exhaust pipes, handle bars, levers, internal throttle, oil filter mounting, foot-pegs, headlight mounts and countless more, each item was carefully hand crafted.
Though a radical departure from the original bike, Vitor wanted to retain as many of the key components as he could. The original hubs, petrol tank and forks were refurbished and modified to suit. Once polished, Antonio carefully built the wheels back up on the conical hubs. Taken to a mechanic to true, he was suitably impressed at how little work there was to do before fitting the tyres.
With the rear wheel dressed in a 500×16” Firestone Deluxe Champion and the front with a slinkier Avon Speedmaster MKII the bike combines two of the most iconic bobber tyres in one refined package.
Elvira is a home-built project created with a clear love and passion for bikes, obvious in the details captured by Rui Bandeira’s lens. But it’s also a bike to be ridden, a functional piece of art. At it was put to the test in no small way a couple of weeks ago when Vitor rode Elvira all the way back from his Father’s to London.
4000 winding kms back through Spain, past Barcelona and up the east Coast of France to northern Italy. Across the Swiss mountains, over the fast motorways of Germany, along the flat roads of Holland and finally back to France before catching the boat from Calais to the UK. A test for any bike and rider combination, let alone a freshly acquainted man and his new custom.
Both the bike and the trip are an outstanding achievement, proving that it’s the connection between man and machine that counts. And just when you thought you needed a fancy name and a logo to be able to build a bike, the holy trinity of experience, skill and perseverance come back to kick that idea into touch.
Thanks to Vitor and Antonio Saraiva for sharing their story and Rui Bandeira for the great photos.