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The Caterham 7 (or Caterham Seven) is a super-lightweight sports car produced by Caterham Cars in the United Kingdom. It is based on the Lotus Seven, a lightweight sports car sold in kit and factory-built form by Lotus Cars, from 1957 to 1972.
After Lotus ended production of the Lotus Seven, Caterham bought the rights to the design, and today make both kits and fully assembled cars. The modern Caterham Seven is based on the Series 3 Lotus Seven, though developed to the point that no part is the same as on the original Lotus.
Various other manufacturers offer a sports car in a similar basic configuration, but Caterham owns various legal rights to the Lotus Seven design and name. The company has taken legal action in the past in order to protect those rights, although in South Africa, it lost its case against Birkin on the basis that it never obtained the claimed rights from Lotus.
Colin Chapman had been a Royal Air Force pilot, studied structural engineering and went on to become one of the great innovators in motorsports design and found Lotus Engineering Ltd. His vision of light, powerful cars and performance suspensions guided much of his development work with the basic design philosophy of, "Simplify, then add lightness". His Lotus 7 had its debut at the 1957 Earl's Court Motor Show in London. They were priced at £1,036 including purchase tax but it cost only £536 in kit form as no purchase tax was required. It weighed only 725 lb (329 kg). Fast and responsive, the Lotus 7 was one of Chapman's masterworks, an advanced machine that surpassed the earlier Lotus 6 as a vehicle that could perform well on the track and be driven legally on the road.
In 1973, Lotus decided to shed its kit car image and concentrate on limited series motor racing cars and up-market sports cars. As part of this plan, it sold the rights to the Seven to its only remaining agents, Caterham Cars in England and Steel Brothers Limited in New Zealand. At the time the current production car was the Series 4, but when Caterham ran out of the Lotus Series 4 kits in 1974 they introduced its own version of the Series 3, as the Caterham Seven. The modern day Roadsports and Superlights (in "narrow-bodied chassis" form) are the direct descendants of this car and therefore of the original Lotus 7.
Chassis and suspension
As with the Lotus Six before it, the original Lotus Seven used an extremely light space-frame chassis with stressed aluminium body panels. Although the chassis has had numerous modifications to strengthen it and accommodate the various engine and suspension setups (and to try to find more cockpit space for the occupants), this basic formula has remained essentially the same throughout the Seven's life (with the exception of the Series 4, which used steel for the cockpit and engine bay and glassfibre for the bodywork). Early cars used a live rear axle, initially from various Fords, later from the Morris Ital. De Dion rear suspension was introduced in the mid-1980s and both geometries were on offer until 2002 when the live-axle option was phased out. The modern Superlight employs adjustable double-wishbone suspension with front anti-roll bar and a de-dion rear axle, located by an A-frame and Watt's linkage.
The Caterham 7 range was based exclusively on this Series 3 chassis until 2000, when the SV (Series V, or Special Vehicle) chassis was released, aimed at accommodating the increasing number of prospective buyers who could not fit comfortably in the Series 3 cockpit. The SV chassis offers an extra 110 mm (4.3 in) of width across the cockpit, at a cost of 25 kg (55 lb) of extra weight, and both chassis sizes are available today in Roadsport and Superlight variants. The SV chassis subsequently provided the basic dimensions for the Caterham CSR. The suspension was completely redesigned, bringing the front suspension inboard, using pushrods, and replacing the De-Dion rear axle with a lighter, fully independent, double-wishbone layout with new coil/damper units. Additional chassis modifications resulted in a 25% increase in torsional stiffness. The CSR was released in October 2004, with a Cosworth Duratec engine and is currently available from the factory in either 200 bhp (150 kW) or 260 bhp (194 kW) form.
Early cars used the Lotus TwinCam engine (subsequently manufactured by Vegantune), followed by Ford cross flow engines. The first Cosworth BDR engines appeared around 1983, in 1600 cc 140 bhp (104 kW) form, followed by 1700 cc 150 bhp (112 kW) versions three years later. By 1990 the top of the range engine had become the two litre Vauxhall HPC, as fitted to the Vauxhall Calibra, putting out 165—175 bhp. A few HPC "Evolution" models were built with engines developed by Swindon Race Engines producing between 218 bhp (163 kW) and 235 bhp (175 kW). In 1993 Caterham created the JPE special edition (named for Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer) by using a two-litre Vauxhall Touring Car engine, putting out around 250 bhp (186 kW) and reducing weight to around 530 kg (1,168 lb) by such measures as removing the windscreen in favour of an aeroscreen. The JPE was quoted at 0-60 mph times of around 3.5 seconds and, with Jonathan Palmer at the wheel, set a 0-100 mph-0 record of 12.6 seconds. Around 1997 the cross flow range was replaced by 8v and 16v Vauxhall units which, in various guises lived on until the end of the VX-powered Caterham Classic, in 2002.
The Rover K-series made its appearance in 1991, initially as the 1.4 litre engine from the Metro GTi. This engine became the backbone of the range for the next 15 years. The 1.6 litre K-series appeared in 1996 and the 1.8 litre a year later. 1996 also saw the addition of the 'Superlight' range, a range that successfully focussed initially on reducing weight and subsequently on bespoke tuning of the K-series to ever-higher outputs. Weight was saved by removing the spare wheel (and carrier), carpets, heater and often the windscreen (replaced with an aeroscreen), hood and doors. Lightweight "Tillet" GRP seats were usually fitted along with carbon-fibre front wings and nosecone (note however that items such as heaters and windscreens could still be specified by the Superlight customer if they so wanted). Wide-track suspension was added to the superlight, increasing the track at the front to match that at the back. The later Superlight-R offered the dry-sumped VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative) variant on the 1.8 litre K-series. Output was now up to around 180 bhp (134 kW), in a car that now weighed as little as 490 kg (1,080 lb). Three years later Caterham took the same concept to a new level and created the iconic Superlight R500, still based on the Rover 1.8 litre K-series but now tuned (by Minister Racing Engines) to around 230 bhp (172 kW) at 8,600 rpm in a car weighing just 460 kg (1,014 lb). The R500 was initially available in kit-form, but quickly became a factory-build only item. Quoted performance figures still make impressive reading; 0-100 mph in 8.2 seconds (although EVO magazine quotes 8.8 seconds). Perhaps unsurprisingly, such a stressed engine required frequent "refreshing" in order to keep it on the road and a series of engine revisions was undertaken throughout the R500's life in order to increase reliability. This culminated in 2004 with perhaps the most extreme production Caterham of all; the R500 EVO was bored out by Minister to 1,998 cc and delivered 250 bhp (186 kW). At £42,000, the R500 EVO sold poorly - it is widely believed that just three examples were sold. It did however succeed in setting a series of performance car benchmarks several of which last to this day; the 0-100 mph-0 record was set at 10.73 seconds (in second place was a Ferrari Enzo costing ten times as much) and, until the end of 2006 it remained the fastest production car timed by EVO magazine around the Bedford Autodrome West Circuit, ahead of a Porsche Carrera GT. Only the Radical SR3 1300 has subsequently posted a faster time than the R500 EVO.
After the demise of Rover and Powertrain, Caterham started the process of phasing out the Rover K-series engine and replacing them with Ford engines; the Sigma engine for Roadsports and the 2.0 litre and 2.3 litre Duratec engines for the more powerful Superlight and CSR ranges. Although Caterham's website suggests that there are a few models (such as the Superlight R300) still available with a K-series engine, this migration is largely complete.
Caterham has had something of a tentative relationship with the installation of motorbike engines into their cars. Since 2000, a Canadian firm has been selling Caterham 7 models using the GSXR1300 engine used in the Suzuki Hayabusa. It reportedly does 0-62 in under 3 seconds. In 2000 the Honda CBR1100 engine was installed into a 430 kg (948 lb) superlight chassis to create the Caterham Blackbird, delivering 170 bhp (127 kW) at 10,750 rpm (although just 92 lb·ft (125 N·m) of maximum torque). The Blackbird offered near R500 performance for rather less money (Top Gear quote 0-60 of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) at a new cost of £25,750). In 2001 a Honda Fireblade engine was offered in a live-axle chassis, via James Whiting of Ashford, Middlesex. Quoted power was 128 bhp (95 kW) at 10,500 rpm. Both of these models have ceased production. There has also been at least one installation of the RST-V8, created by Moto Power; a 2-litre, 40 valve 340 bhp (254 kW) V8 made from a pair of motorcycle engines joined at the crank. An early, pre-production review of the car/engine combination exists on the EVO website. In Feb 2008, the "Caterham 7 Levante" was announced, featuring a supercharged version the RST-V8, offering over 500 bhp (370 kW), installed in a modified Caterham chassis, with bespoke bodywork. Made by RS Performance (described in the press release as "Caterham's new performance arm"), the Levante is intended to be a limited run of 8 cars at a cost of £115,000 each.
In 2013 the 620R had installed a Ford Duratec direct injection 1,999 cc (2.0 L; 122.0 cu in) supercharged Inline-four engine rated at 315 PS (311 bhp; 232 kW) @ 7700 rpm and 297 N·m (219 lb·ft) @ 7350 rpm of torque.
The Lotus 7 was conceived by Chapman as a car to be raced. Whilst still a prototype, in September 1957, it was raced at the Brighton Speed Trials and by the end of 1958 Graham Hill was winning races with the Coventry Climax-engined 'Super Seven'. The car has had a strong racing history throughout its life under both Lotus and Caterham stewardship. Amongst the marque's more famous races was victory in the Nelson Ledges 24-hour race in Ohio when, against a field including works teams from Honda and Mazda, a four-man team from Caterham (including both Jez Coates and Robert Nearn) won by seven laps (after 990 laps) in a modified Vauxhall HPC.
After dominating open class races for decades, Caterham Super 7 Racing, a one-make championship for Caterhams, began in 1986. Caterham 7 races have since expanded to include club and competitive races in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Canada, the United States and Asia. In 1995 the Caterham Academy, a novices-only format, was introduced in the UK. For £17,995 (2009 price), entrants get a modified Roadsport kit (although a factory-built option is available for extra cost) with a sealed 120 bhp (89 kW) engine and 5-speed gearbox. Having completed the ARDS license qualification, the season then consists of four sprints followed by four circuit races. The Academy is designed as the first step in a well-established chain of Caterham race formats, such as the Caterham Motorsport Ladder which consists of Roadsports B then Roadsports A, R300, Superlight and Eurocup, or the Caterham Graduates Racing Club.
The car was banned from racing in the US in the 1960s, as being "Too fast to race" and again in the UK in the 1970s for the same reasons, which prompted Caterham Cars boss Graham Nearn to produce 'T' shirts with "Caterham Seven, the car that's Too Fast to Race...". Both bans were later lifted. In 2002 an R400 won its class (and came 11th overall out of 200 starters) at the Nürburgring 24-hour race by 10 laps, ahead of competition that included Porsche and BMW racecars, leading, once again, to a ban on entry in subsequent years.
The existing range provided by Caterham Cars comprises a mixture of chassis types (the traditional narrow-bodied 'Series 3' chassis, the wider SV chassis and the CSR chassis), engines (Ford Duratec engines for the more powerful variants, Ford Sigma engines for the lower-powered models) and models (Roadsport, Superlight, CSR, in ascending order of price). All are available either factory-built or as a self-build kit.
Until mid-2013 the factory had offered options around the Rover K-series engine, including the entry level "Classic" with a 1.4 litre, capable of 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph (180 km/h). But with the cessation of the engines production and new EU emissions regulations, the end of the engines production also removed the "Classic" from the company's model line-up. As of 2017, the company maintains two separate ranges for mainland Europe (Euro 6 compliant) and the United Kingdom, reflecting the different legislative systems.
As of 2015, the range was simplified and is now simply a number, reflecting the horsepower per tonne, with "R" and with "S" or "R" packages for either street or track use. Most versions (not the 160/165) are available on the standard S3 or on the wider SV chassis. The European models end with the number "5" while the UK models end in a "0". The range consists of the Seven 165, 275, 355, and 485. The smallest model has Suzuki power, while the more powerful variants have Ford engines. The UK range is 160, 270, 310, 360, 420, and 620.
160 / 165
The 160 and 165 are the current entry level offering from Caterham; the 160 is for the United Kingdom while the 165 is intended for sale in the European Union. It is only available with the S3 chassis, doors and windscreen as standard. There is a list of optional extras such as carpets, spare wheel, weather package and heater. It is powered by a turbocharged Suzuki 660 cc kei car K6A engine producing 80 horsepower. Price starts at £14,999 in semi-kit form. This model, with its skinnier tyres and Suzuki driveshafts, is actually compact enough to be classified as a kei car in Japan, except for its power which is above the 64 PS limit enforced for the class. The car's gearbox and live rear axle is also supplied by Suzuki; this is the first Caterham with a live rear axle since the supply of Morris Marina rears dried up after the Seven Beaulieu ended production in 2003. The car received a large amount of publicity for a low-powered entry-level model, with an appearance on Top Gear, and Suzuki displaying it at the 2014 Frankfurt Motor Show. Production had to be adjusted upwards by 50%, with a third of the first year's production of 150 cars shipped to Japan.
The Roadsport is now the second-level offering from Caterham. It is available in both S3 and SV chassis sizes, and is more or less the former Classic with a more powerful engine and a few more extras as standard: heater; hood; spare wheel/carrier; carpets. The engine options are based around the Ford Sigma 1.6 (125 bhp, 140 bhp) and the Ford Duratec 2.0 (175 bhp). Suspension is double-wishbone and anti-roll bar at the front; de dion axle located by an A-frame at the rear, where the old Classic specification had a live-axle set-up.
The Superlight is available in both S3 and SV chassis sizes. The list of standard equipment reflects the Superlight's bias to track work: wide-track front suspension, 6 speed gearbox, carbon fibre dashboard and front wings, GRP aeroscreen and seats, racing harness, removable steering wheel. Quoted weight for the Superlight is about 50 kg (110 lb) less than the Roadsport, due in part to the lack of a spare wheel and carrier. All Superlight cars use the 2 litre Ford Duratec engine in differing states of tune; the R400 with 210 bhp (160 kW) and R500 with 263 bhp (196 kW). Caterham used to manufacture an R300 using the same engine at 175 bhp, but this car has effectively now become the Supersport R. With the launch of the R500 (April 2008), Caterham made available the options of a sequential gearbox and launch control. Quoted performance for the R500 is 0-60 in 2.88 seconds and a top speed of 150 mph (240 km/h). In October 2012 a supercharged model 'R600' for a race-series above the R300-class was released, including slick tyres and a sequential gearbox. The weight of the R600 was 1139 lbs or 517 kg.
At the beginning of December 2008, Top Gear made the R500 its '2008 Car of the Year'.
50th Anniversary editions
Caterham celebrated the 50th year of Seven production with a couple of special edition "50th Anniversary" paint options. In addition, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations in early June 2007, they showcased the X330 concept car. Based on the CSR, the X330 employs a supercharged version of the Duratec engine to produce 330 bhp (246 kW). The use of lighter-gauge steel and of carbon fibre instead of GRP further improves the power-to-weight ratio. Caterham say that they have no plans to put this car into production.
The CSR represents the top of the range and in some respects can be considered a separate model. It has its own chassis, suspension and interior and is available with either 2 litre (200 bhp) or 2.3 litre (260 bhp) Ford Cosworth Duratec engines. Quoted performance for the CSR260 is 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h). There is no home-build option; the factory supplies the finished car.
In 2006, Caterham introduced the CSR Superlight. Based on the CSR260, this model adds a ‘Superlight’ lightweight specification to the CSR, further extending the CSR260's already epic performance envelope. The 2.3 litre Cosworth-powered Caterham CSR260 Superlight brings all the performance credentials associated with its stablemate; performance is quoted as a 0-60 mph time of 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h). The Superlight swaps the windscreen, carpet, heater and weather gear on the standard car for a limited slip differential and a quicker steering rack. There is a 25 kilo weight reduction over the standard CSR260, this model variant also adds distinctive Superlight styling to the exterior, including a wind deflector, a carbon fibre dashboard and wings, a black powder coated cockpit and a quick-release MOMO steering wheel. Of particular note are ‘Dynamic Suspensions’ Damper units developed by specialist Multimatic for the car. The damper units lend the already capable CSR a further edge in terms of handling and cornering performance. It features the same 2.3 litre (260 bhp) engine as the CSR260, but weighs only 550 kg (1,213 lb) and has a power-to-weight ratio of 472 bhp (352 kW)-per-tonne.
Caterham has a number of popular model lines—such as the Roadsport, Supersport, and Superlight—that are occasionally re-introduced with chassis upgrades or changes in the engine options available.
Caterham 7 literature
The Caterham 7 has spawned many books, test reports and articles, many of which are still in print.
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