Winning Amount: £ 14,000.00
User ID: M*t
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“There is no doubt that the best way to enjoy the thrill of tremendous speed without endangering your driving licence is to sit in a Seven – they are so close to the road that your impression of speed is nearly doubled! I know for a fact that some potential buyers of glorious supercars have settled for a Seven – it cost ten times less but brings them nearly the same pleasure.” Gerard ‘Jabby’ Crombac. 1995.
Caterham. For some the sleepy Surrey town nestling in a North Downs valley while for others, obviously it is the birthplace of comedic actor Bill Nighy. However, for 95% of the UK population (and 100% of the people reading this), it can only be makers of a basic two seater sports car that is universally accepted as providing more smiles per mile than pretty much anything else; keepers of the flame lit by one Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman and continuing the bloodline of his Lotus Seven that can be clearly traced back to the 1957 original. Though it had bailed Lotus out throughout the 1960s, the Seven was cast aside in 1973 by the relentless Mr Chapman and his desire to up profits by moving the company up-market. Fortunately for the grass roots enthusiast, the whole kit (sorry) and caboodle was gladly picked up by staunch Seven supporter and dealer Graham Nearn, founder of Caterham Cars. After they had produced a few of the less popular Series 4 versions, Caterham reverted back to the classic aluminium bodied Series 3 still recognisable today. Iconic certainly, but consequently tricky to develop without alienating your loyal customer base and Caterham did take a side turning with the 21 though this road turned out to be blocked (ironically) by the Lotus Elise. Just as co niche market roadster manufacturers Morgan found, a process of gentle, steady improvements to both performance and refinement was the answer, though arguably Caterham had less to go at than their Malvern counterparts… As the sports car market evolved, fewer customers used their Sevens as an everyday car and weekend racer rolled into one so having a Focus on the drive means that a focused Seven in the garage makes great sense and sales have remained strong.
As mentioned, the ‘modern’ Caterham is based around a chassis which is much the same as that of a Lotus Seven, with a few more tubes and a considerable improvement in rigidity. One of the more worthwhile improvements to the original Lotus configuration that Caterham made was to rejig (literally) the chassis to allow for more interior space; the so called ‘Long Cockpit’ option at last made the Seven driveable by someone over SCH (Standard Chapman Height, 5’8”) and even altitude greedy six footers fit comfortably.
One might be forgiven for thinking that its superior chassis and a number of additional luxury fripperies such as a fuel gauge has resulted in the Seven putting on a significant amount of weight in the last sixty plus years (many of us have after all) but use of CAD as opposed to a slide rule and a licked pencil limited the increase from the S1’s 500 kg to just a few additional kilos. Power on the other hand has increased either significantly, dramatically or unrecognisably depending on the engine selected and its state of tune; where a 40 BHP Ford side valve lump once sat, today the same manufacturer’s Duratec unit (aided and abetted by a stonking great supercharger) giving nearly eight times the output can be slotted in.
Today Caterham performance is very much a case of ‘how long is piece of string’ and while you can never have too much of a good thing, we feel up to 150/160 BHP is the sweet spot and beyond that it is a case of the law of diminishing returns. With the last of the original Lotus Sevens being powered (a few twin cams aside) by Ford’s venerable Kent engine, it is fitting that this Caterham is also. Hooked up to one of Uncle Henry’s slick and quick changing four speed ‘boxes and a live rear axle, it is physically as well as spiritually a continuation of the Hethel product. A little bit the star of the show, it is worth dwelling on that not so humble Kent engine; its specification is close to the ultimate for the mill so beloved of the tuning industry from the mid-1960s to today. Built by Ford crossflow engine gurus Neil Roper Developments, its super-thick AX block, apparently spawned from South African diesel engines, is as strong as they get and though bored to 1700 cc, it will still have enough meat on it to retain its un-burstable credentials. Paperwork on file attests to forged pistons courtesy of Cosworth atop a lightened and balanced steel bottom end which should be good for some 7,500 RPM without any fear of these expensive components parting company with one another. The big valve head has been accurately matched to both inlet and exhaust manifolds which are hooked up to a pair of 40 DCOE Webers fed by a Facet solid state fuel pump and a big bore 4 into 1 stainless steel side exit exhaust system respectively. A relatively mild ‘234’ camshaft is fitted which is tractable on the road giving great power from as little as 2,000 RPM right through to beyond 7,000 and some 150 BHP. A dry sump system helps with both the Caterham’s modest ground clearance and impressive lateral G capabilities while an oil cooler by Mocal keeps the recommended 10/40 grade at optimum temperature when enjoying all of the car’s impressive performance.
Working back, an aluminium bellhousing is sandwiched between the impressive engine and a Ford Escort ‘Sport’ gearbox which provides the ideal ratios and one of the sweetest changes know to man. Power is then transmitted to an Ital axle, strengthened just as they were back in the day with a steel plate, though in this case it is studiously drilled for lightness. 13” Minilite-style wheels are shod with a set of barely worn Yokohama A539s, an excellent road and track tyre. Staying with the mechanical bits and pieces the front suspension is of the desirable ‘twin wishbone’ configuration currently adjusted to give a little negative camber. Spax shock absorbers with adjustable spring seats and damping rates are fitted all round along with braided brake lines.
Aesthetically the blue paint nicely applied to the aluminium bodywork has a few chips but it is smooth with a good shine and more importantly there is no evidence of any underlying corrosion. The yellow fibreglass wings and nose are in similarly good but well used shape with minimal crazing and just one or two honourable chips.
Inside (though on a Caterham that is a bit of an oxymoron) it is simplicity personified with just three elements; black vinyl seats which are virtually unmarked with no splits or unravelling stitching, ‘lamiplate’ side panels and dashboard which are again in excellent if a little grubby shape and finally a single piece of slightly scruffy around the edges carpet covering the transmission tunnel which would benefit from some simple re-fixing. A bit of elbow grease and possibly a pair of foot-well carpets (even if just to tuck the tunnel carpet under) and the Caterham’s interior would be pretty much back to its factory finish. A compact Moto-Lita leather rimmed steering wheel fronts the dashboard sporting a full set of VDO gauges and though the rocker switches have gone a little grey over the years these can apparently be bought back to black with the application of a little brake fluid via a soft cloth; another quick, cheap win. A larger oil pressure warning light, ignition switch label and battery cut-off switch are all useful remnants of the Caterham’s race heritage (more of which later) as is the fire extinguisher pull hooked up to a Lifeline Firemarshal bottle and nozzle in the engine bay. Caterham branded FIA four point harnesses made by Luke are provided for driver and passenger though these are now out of date for competition use. A very full set of weather gear is present consisting of extra elbowroom side screens, a three piece tonneau/boot cover and hood with frame, though it is not clear if this is compatible with the Seven’s higher ‘FIA-type’ roll bar which is complete with a Petty strut.
Underneath the aluminium floor is a little bit battered in places but the Seven appears really solid and sound. The exposed chassis tubes and suspension components are well protected by a moisture repellent spray coating and look to be in very good condition with their paint finish largely intact with just some localised chipping to their finish. In the engine bay, while the engine block has a little surface rust on it everything is well laid out, tidy and purposeful, not least the capacious oil tank for the dry sump system.
Not having been started for a few days, from stone cold the engine took just a little coaxing into life. A generous compression ratio challenged the starter motor initially but it soon kicked over and fired. After a couple a failed attempts to catch it, it soon warmed to its task and settled down to a commendably smooth idle at just 600 RPM, at which point it was still showing around seven bar oil pressure. With a little temperature in the fluids, blipping the throttle proved totally addictive with the lightened and balanced flywheel enabling the engine to gain and loose revs. with alacrity, sounding crisper than a Walkers factory. Despite the best efforts of the K&N air filters, the induction roar was most impressive and the rasp emanating from the exhaust just added to the sensory overload. With no current MOT certificate at the time of our inspection (though a first time pass has since been acheived with no advisories) and no desire to argue that a blast on the public roads constitutes a necessary journey, we were limited to a short run on a private drive where the Caterham performed as you would expect – taught and alive, cycle wings bobbing up and down with the wheels, chromed headlight buckets reflecting passing scenery like some sort of manic video game in reverse.
Road registered on 12th March 1991, the Seven was initially used as a highly successful race car with its first owner Neville Smith winning Class B of the Caterham Championship in both 1991 and 1992 – note the BRSCC badge in place on the grill. At this point it was stripped and placed in dry storage until 2001 when it was rebuilt and used on the road, chiropractor approved springs being one of the few modifications required from its ‘races for road cars’ specification. Having covered just 5,250 miles, the Caterham was sold to its 4th owner on 21st June 2008, though unfortunately a month later it was driven into while stationary and lightly damaged. Despite the unfortunate owner being able to drive the car home an overly cautious insurance company decided not to repair the car and it was classified as Category D on the insurance register. The most recent and hence fifth private owner purchased the Seven in June 2009, checked its geometry and finding it to be straight and true carried out some simple light repairs. With just over 1,200 miles covered in the last 12 years, clearly the decision to pass the car on to someone who will exercise it more frequently is an understandable one.
The Caterham’s history file contains the current V5 Registration Document along with a couple of earlier versions and a small selection of bills from the likes of Redline, Burton Power and Caterham. A number of MOT certificates track the Seven’s minimal mileage and notes regarding ownership history, specification and set up details are also present. As well as the aforementioned weather gear and Petty strut, a spare windscreen is included with the car.
What more can we say other than amen to Jabby; thrills on the road without the need to resort to ridiculous speeds. Not only that but the increasingly popular world of track days or even a competitive return to the circuits (CSCC’s Magnificent Sevens springs to mind) are all at the lucky new owner’s disposal. The icing on the cake is a reserve which means this could be the cheapest Caterham Seven on the market today by some considerable margin and it offers the sort of value that is unlikely to be repeated in even a few months’ time.