By on December 30, 2016


Postwar British nostalgia and racing heritage is nice, but there’s no denying the kick an automaker can get from launching a wholly new vehicle.

That’s the situation Caterham finds itself in. After dutifully cranking out continuously updated examples of the original Lotus Seven since 1973, the company now wants to court drivers who have never seen the opening titles of The Prisoner. While the British company has a pretty good idea of the car it wants to build, it first needs to find a partner.

According to Autocar, the failed 2014 partnership with the resurrected Alpine brand lit a fire under the company. Open-top, doorless niche roadsters patterned after a 1957 vehicle may represent the ultimate in motoring purity, but they don’t do much to attract new, comfort-loving buyers to the Caterham brand.

A modern, enclosed vehicle would be just the tonic, but the company simply doesn’t have the capacity to pull it off on its own. A past attempt — the Caterham 21 of the late 1990s — saw just 48 units built. That lesson taught the company not to spread itself too thin. While Caterham has no plans to stop production of the famed Seven, the company’s CEO feels a second model is needed more than ever.

Graham MacDonald claims the company is in talks with other automakers for a potential joint venture.

“The Seven is 60 years old next year,” MacDonald told Autocar. “While we love and cherish that, we have to think about the future. It’s important to get the right engine and product for our customers. It has to have Caterham DNA.”

Caterham has tapped Ford as a possible source of engines for the not-yet-realized model, though it doesn’t want to go the EcoBoost route.

“While the 620 is supercharged, we like naturally aspirated engines,” said MacDonald.

The desire to create a new Caterham model goes beyond simple boredom. Because of its size and proportions, MacDonald claims that consumers in emerging markets don’t see the Seven as much of a “car.”

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

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28 Comments on “60-year-old Cars Are Great, but Caterham Desperately Wants Something New...”

  • avatar

    The Caterham 21….now there’s a car I’ve forgotten all about. The only reason I knew it existed in the first place was because it was featured as a drivable car on Test Drive 5. Amazing how video games can introduce you to new cars you’ve never would have seen otherwise due to being on the other side of the world (and here’s looking at you, Skyline GT-R).

  • avatar

    They have to make concessions to the 20th century and general liveability (yes I realise that we are in the 21st, that’s the point).

    Also I feel that the balance as far as ‘ownability’ isnt there…. here’s a car that is more expensive that something like a Miata and yet comes with all the minuses AND the issues with authorities in as far as registration regulations and insurance.

    They kind of work in the UK where you have made them as cheap as you can anywhere in the world and the registration process and insurance is done in a way that it tries to protect the kit car industry.

    In many jurisdictions, kit cars are looked at by the authorities as a nuisance.

    I cannot imagine such a car would be looked up well by the Communist State of California. Typically such a car is subject to painful emissions and other eligibility standards thats makes the ownership process onerous.

    I also find it funny how Caterham want to partner with other companies.

    I think Lotus has already done that.

    • 0 avatar

      The CSC has a process for registering your kit car, sonny. Doesn’t appear too painful. The car ends up emissions exempt. Here’s some info for ya:

  • avatar

    The Caterham SUV cannot be far behind…

    • 0 avatar

      It would look a lot like a Wranger…

    • 0 avatar

      Sad to say, but you’re probably correct. That is, if Caterham is after volume sales. And I hope not.
      I’ve always lusted for a Caterham 7, but then I think about how dangerous it would be driving around in one these days with all the SUVs, CUVs, or whatever you want to call them, towering above and their side view mirrors not even registering your proximity. I think you’d have to live far from urban areas to enjoy one.

      • 0 avatar

        Honestly, a Caterham take on an SUV would be interesting. The Lotus Seven actually evolved from a form of off-road racer, for one, and also Caterham could target niches closer to, say, the Suzuki Samurai, that are massively underserved in 2017.

  • avatar

    Factory Five saw the same writing on a wall on this side of the pond and started working on the 818 project a few years ago.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Seems like the modern Seven is the Ariel Atom.

  • avatar

    One of these would rock for rural mail delivery, already RHD!

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Caterham products are not cheap. I think Caterham has hit a wall with the simple fact that not a lot of people have the dough for what is essentially a glorified toy / track car. The niche of people who are willing to spend what equates to $30K for the cheapest model is quite small, not to mention the “Locost” (Low Cost) community that manages to replicate the basic formula of the original Lotus 7 for pennies on the dollar.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I agree. They’re in a world of track day only, fun car competitors who are faster and much more advanced. They’re in the wooden boat with Morgan, praying the old dudes don’t die.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s a venn diagram of people slash tragics who buy these things and those that have the money and fortitude to afford it.

        If you want to go to the nth degree, there’s people who own track only Formula Fords or Radical SR3s/SR8s etc.

        Then there’s Lotus 7 owners.

        Then there’s Corvette and other 2 seat car owners.

        There there’s 2+2 coupe owners.

        Then there’s sedan owners.

        Then there’s the CUV/SUV/4 seat pickup owners.

        Lastly there’s minivan owners who have clearly given up on life (I kid).

        I got as far as 2+2 coupes and these are cars with minimal trunk space but had the ability to cart 2 people in comfort and 2 in relative discomfort.

        I have a sedan and a CUV now.

        The full sized sedan isnt even that practical to many people.

    • 0 avatar

      Ariel Atoms start at about $50k, I’m having a tough time deciding which way I would go as compared to the Seven 360 or Roadsport 120.

  • avatar

    Meh. If I was going to go all tube-framey track toy, it would be an Exocet.

  • avatar

    There are three paths for a modern Caterham Seven:

    1. Fully compliant modern light minimalist cars, e.g. the Mazda Miata, Alfa Romeo 4C, Lotus Evora – Not really fully in the spirit of the Seven, and not really accomplishable with Caterham’s resources.

    2. More modern mid-engine kit designs like the Factory Five 818 and Ariel Atom.

    3. Sit-down reverse-trike “motorcycles” (for compliance purposes) like the the Polaris Slingshot (which I have seen on the street at least five separate times in five separate versions) and the Morgan 3 Wheeler (which I have never seen on the road despite its higher profile among bloggers).

    • 0 avatar

      #2 seems to be a good fit for Caterham.

      As some who tracks their car every few months I can tell you that most track day toys are not Ariel Atoms. In fact you rarely see those, instead its all Miatas, Porsches (of all kinds), M Coupes, ‘Vettes then a mix of exotics along with more normal cars (GTI, Focus, Mustang, etc). I can count the number of Caterhams and Atoms I’ve seen on one hand. In comparison I’ve seen multiple GTRs and AMGs at a single event.

  • avatar

    I saw something like a new looking Cateram built around the old platform. Truthfully I think all they need to do is optimize the original platform and come up with a new body shell. The formula is about as foolproof as the volume knob or the wheel…. no real need for a revamp or rethink.

  • avatar

    Just get a Donkervoort already

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