A great deal has been written on the Elna Model 1, which is affectionately called the “Grasshopper”, so instead of repeating a lot, I’ll just add a link to a very well written article:
When the Grasshopper was finally released in 1940, it was the first mass produced portable free arm machine, predating the excellent Bernina 121 by some years… and in my opinion was the superior machine in design. The exemplary rotary hook design of the Grasshopper would be carried forward and further improved in subsequent Elna models which were also ground breaking in their design.
There were quite a few European companies that also made similar machines in the 1940’s like Helvetia and Fridor, Phoenix, as well as Portman in The United States. None of these machines have stood the test of time nearly as well as the Grasshopper, worked as well, or were as successful. Much of that also stems from good company management, distribution, and support which Elna developed.
The Elna Grasshopper stands the test of time and is as beautiful a machine now as it was when it first appeared 80 years ago, most of the machines we see on this side of the pond are post war when Elna distribution expanded beyond their local and European market.
A few of those other machines…
The Fridor 77 was based on a similar Helvetia portable (used the same parts) and is a beautiful machine to look at but from all accounts, not as well made a machine.
The Portman Company in The United States produced just one model of machine and it saw some success, being badged and sold for a number of large chains like the Viking example shown. It has a lot of similarities to a Grasshopper and can’t believe that Portman had not seen one, and been inspired to build a similar machine in the U.S. They do have a rotary hook and a massive 1.5 amp motor and work rather well.
At the end of the day, if you ever get a chance to take the Elna Grasshopper for a test drive you will see rather quickly how well made a machine it is, and understand why they are popular among collectors as well as people who appreciate and like to use a finely built sewing machine. I don’t think many end up as shelf queens but rather, get to travel and get used a good deal.