Caterham Cars Genesis – Caterham 7
The definition of a sportscar is a vehicle which predominantly has a very responsive chassis, is lightweight and powerful. Today the definition has been rather diluted, with the development of microprocessors and sensors, many manufacturers try and disguise heavy, less sorted chassis into the sportscar category by using clever technology and assistance provided by computers.
Well this is something which will not be instantly evident to a common consumer but for every enthusiast like you and me who know more than a thing or two about traction control, stability control and active yaw control, it’s a glaring proof on an unsorted chassis. So the disguise of using clever computers has never been something we enthusiasts have come to appreciate but with growing advancement in technology this is becoming more apparent among manufacturers. It’s easier to have the computers sort out chassis and mechanical imperfections rather than incurring costs of going back to the drawing boards and redesigning the chassis.
In the current technology age (not necessarily the greatest for pure driving enthusiasts) where the cars tells you how to drive, it’s like a fresh breath of air to have cars that are all about mechanical balance and chassis engineering, and most importantly sans any electronic aids. Very few such cars and manufacturers remain, off which Caterham Cars is one who hasn’t fallen prey to peer pressure of building their cars around electronics. The British company pioneers at building cars with mechanical precision unaided by electronics, another company which follows the similar ethos in building cars is Lotus. The mention of Caterham is incomplete without the mention of Lotus, as Caterham has been building on one of Lotus’s most commendable designs and the Lotus DNA has remained inseparable from Caterham cars ever since.
Also read: Caterham Seven Sprint
Caterham Cars came to life in 1973 in Crawley, Sussex England. Before they could be known as the carmakers who they are today, Caterham were one of Lotus’s main dealers in Sussex and was essentially instrumental in selling a number of Lotus 7 cars in the 1960’s. Colin Chapman who is the founder of the Lotus car company, launched the Series 1 Lotus 7 which was inspired by Chapman’s fascination of trailing. Trailing was essentially a sport which involved driving the car through a terrain scaling forest filled with mushy traction limiting conditions. The series 1 of lotus 7 was born in 1957, built keeping affordability and light weight in mind.
The Lotus 7 series had a great reception among enthusiasts, the well-engineered chassis made it a real handler and the simplistic design meant that owners could easily work on their cars. The light weight of the Lotus 7 meant that the engine could be a low-cost simplistic one, but the performance was on par with more powerful competitors as the Lotus 7 weighed much lesser. The Lotus 7 was further developed by Chapman to bring forth the series 2, 3 and 4. The changes among the different series were merely evolutionary and not revolutionary, but that’s the advantage of getting the engineering right the first time around.
In the year 1970 when Chapman found that the Lotus 7 had reached its saturation in terms of sales, he decided to discontinue the model. At this time Graham Nearn, who owned Caterham, which was a Lotus dealership in Sussex, saw potential in the Lotus 7 and decided to buy the manufacturing rights for the same from Lotus. Graham Nearn started questioning his decision as Caterham restarted the production of Series 4 Lotus 7 which had lacklustre demand, he then switched to producing the Series 3 and fitted them with the sporty Ford Lotus twin cam engine. The Lotus 7 has been in production for almost 60-years now which goes to show its bulletproof engineering and is still regarded as one of the best sports car of the 20th century.
This meant the 21st century owners of Caterham 7’s essentially use their cars as weekend track day tools. There is also an interesting story of how the UK offered tax exemptions to the extent of 30% on kit cars and the entrepreneur in Chapman had him selling the Lotus 7’s as a kit car, making it available to his customers at an even more attractive price. The kit car business model continues to date and the Caterham 7 is sold to customers as a kit for them to assemble it in their own garages much like a project car, probably another reason why their owners cherish their Caterham 7’s as much.
In 1994 Caterham tried their hand at developing a totally new car based on the 7’s chassis. The result was the Caterham 21, the space frame chassis from the 7 was stiffened and a lightweight fibreglass body was attached to the chassis. Caterham took a lot longer to finish the 21 and this led to customers deflecting towards the Lotus Elise which was based on a similar concept. The Caterham 21 sold a total of just 48 cars. Caterham offers a wide range of engines today on the various forms of its 7. It ranges from the standard 1.4-litre engine producing 105bhp, to the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engines producing 150 and 175hp respectively. There is also the Caterham R500 Superlight which produces 268hp from a supercharged 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, making a supercar challenging power to weight ratio of 520bhp per tonne which is absolutely bonkers for a 60-year old chassis.
Caterham being a performance oriented sports car maker, it has stayed true to its roots in participating in various Formula Racing Championships, like the pinnacle of Motorsports in the form of Formula 1 and the GP2 feeder series. The company took over the Lotus Formula 1 team in the year 2012 and continued in the same Lotus Livery of Yellow and Green when they raced in 2012 as the Caterham Formula 1 team. The team’s no.1 driver that season was in the form of the vastly talented Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen. Although company failed to see any success in the Formula 1 scene and had to discontinue their participation after competing in 56 races and not scoring any point. Since 2012 Caterham has also been participating in GP2 series as a talent feeder for their Formula 1 team.
The experience of driving the iconic Caterham 7 is nothing short of uniqueness. The rawness of the car, the wind in your face and the feel of every single horsepower just inches off the ground can get very very addictive. The testament to Caterham 7’s success has to be its incredible record of being in production for over 60 years, which no other manufacturer can boast of. The company, therefore, is overflowing with heritage and there is no better example for the “Spirit of Racing” like the Caterham 7.