By on May 28, 2013

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The iconic Caterham Seven is on the cusp of celebrating four decades of uninterrupted production and sales; hard to imagine that one of Colin Chapman’s first attempts at a sports car would outlast everything he produced in the post-F1 era of Lotus – hell, it may even outlast Lotus itself.

Britain’s Autocar magazine managed to procure a brand new Caterham Supersport R, considered to be the top-spec Caterham available, as well as a 1981 model – not quite 40 years old, but basically the same spec as the car that was sold in the early days by Graham Nearn when he purchased the rights to the Seven from Colin Chapman.

Both versions still have the same basic look, a spartan interior and a Ford powertrain. But that’s where the similarities end. The changes made in the last few decades have apparently had subtle but noticeable impacts on the way the later cars behave – though the essence of the lightweight, sporty roadster is still there. In many ways, it’s a familiar story that’s played out with a number of cars available Stateside. The Miata, the Volkswagen GTI and the BMW 3-Series come to mind, though some have strayed farther from the ideal than others.

I’d be happy with any of them. Since I’d never daily drive one, an older version with a carburetted Kent engine and a crude 5-speed gearbox would then allow me to be happy with commuting in one of the $18,000 Dodge Journey Canada Value Packages being advertised in the newspaper right now. Then again, an FM Westfield is a pretty enticing package, and I wouldn’t have to tinker with carbs either.

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8 Comments on “Caterham Seven Turns 40...”


  • avatar
    AFX

    The Caterham is the Cobra kit car for the 4-cylinder crowd.

    A neighbor of mine raced a Lotus 7 in vintage racing, and he drove one on the street occasionaly too when he wasn’t driving his Lotus Esprit. I’d like to have something lightweight and small like that for all the narrow twisty 2-lane country roads that are around where I live. The only problem I see is sitting in one your eye level is about at lugnut level with lifted pickup trucks and semi trucks.

    I like the idea of a small lightweight 4-cylinder car like that, but those things are kind of ugly and have the aerodynamics of a barn door. It’s too bad they don’t make a version with a 1950′s style racing sportscar body on it, sort of what this Ermini looks like: http://www.velocetoday.com/images/may06/55-27.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      They sort of tried, almost 20 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caterham_21

      This story probably should have mentioned that the Lotus 7 went into production 56 years ago, and even the 7 was an updated Lotus MK VI, which went into production 61 years ago.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Right on the money on multiple levels Derek,

    As someone who already drives a $19,999 special zero option Canada Value Dodge Caravan, I affirm your sentiment for something inexpensive and sporty.

    Likewise, the Caterham will definately outlast Lotus itself.

    Where I must disagree is the enticement potential of the FM Westfield. I believe the Westfield Eleven is considerably more enticing, if slightly out of the scope of your post.

    Cheers!

    • 0 avatar

      Doug,

      How do you like it? I cannot believe how cheap they are. In the Toronto Sun, the Journey and Caravan CVPs are going for 17-18k. I’d be hard pressed to not look at a Journey if I needed an affordable new car.

      • 0 avatar
        DougD

        I love it, but for all the wrong reasons.
        Ours is a 2007, which was the last year before the new “Squaravan” came out.
        It’s definately built to a price, and the interior plastics are so hard it’s like sitting in a full size styrene plastic model. I’ve had it Krown rustproofed so it doesn’t have rust like most do by now. It doesn’t even have ABS, which seems inconceivable for 2007.
        Why do I love it? It’s been very reliable and parts are cheap and readily available.
        Also, because I draw a line in my brain between transportation and interesting cars, the fact that I drive cheap transportation frees up funds to spend on interesting cars & motorcycles. I probably couldn’t afford to drive interesting transportation anyway, and the depreciation would kill me.
        I’d look at a Caravan or Journey too if I was buying new.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Derek, if you are truly interested, I can check with an older friend of mine here in Halifax. He has a 67 (I think) with a Lotus twin-cam. As I recall, it’s Right Hand Drive and everything. Already registered in Canada.
    He was in the process of finishing up a dis-assembly and rebuild a year or so ago, but his health won’t allow for him to drive it anymore, so last I heard he was selling it.

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Let me know if you are interested.
    He doesn’t let it slow him down. He had a wheel chair ramp built from his kitchen to his garage.
    Makes me feel like a slacker, actually. I’m 30 years younger, and my race car hasn’t seen the track in a few years as I’ve been trying to get around to fixing it. His 1970 Cortina (his son runs it)was out last weekend, blew a head gasket, and will probably be on the track for next months race.


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