DO NOT BE JUST A NUMBER, BE A FREE MAN
If you haven’t ridden a fast motorcycle or driven a racing car, then you are in for an almighty shock if you ever get behind the wheel of a Seven. Try to drive it hard, on British ‘B’ roads, and if you don’t die of visceral fright, you will soon have a huge grin on your face. All true petrol-heads should have owned; an elderly English sports car, an Alfa Romeo and a Seven before they’re too old to have any fun. A Lotus / Caterham Seven isn’t a car it’s a lifestyle choice, a statement of intent that you are not going to be just a number. You need to be fairly nimble, fairly skilled and fairly brave to own a Seven, any Seven. The meek need not apply.
All Sevens, (the Series IV is a slight exception), consist of a steel spaceframe, clad in aluminium, (fibreglass / carbon fibre), with an engine at the front, axle and differential at the rear, with a gearbox and two seats in the middle. There are no doors, weather protection is minimal, instruments and switchgear simple to the point of absurdity, the steering wheel and gear-stick are tiny, seats surprisingly comfortable, and the whole thing weighs about a half a ton, so power to wight ratios are usually impressive. The new Caterham Seven 160 has about 160 bhp per ton.
The Caterham Seven 160 is the new entry-level car from the much copied car-maker. You can start to buy a Caterham Seven 160 for a fiver under £15,000, (in kit form). The 160 is radically different from all previous Sevens, (other than home-built specials), because it has a tiny, (660 cc), three-cylinder turbo-charged engine, that really belongs in a motorcycle or Japanese city car, (Kei). It also harks back to the Seven’s early days because it has a live axle at the back. Live axles aren’t necessarily a good thing. OK, the D-Type Jaguar won the Le Mans 24 hour with a live axle, but that was in 1955, 1956 and 1957. Caterham long since switched to a de Dion set-up for its more powerful cars. I’ve driven, (and built / rebuilt), de Dion and live axle Sevens, and there’s no doubt the de Dion set-up is a superior bit of kit.
Live axle Sevens can suffer from all kinds of handling issues unless everything is kept spot-on, you’re judicious with the throttle, and you don’t try to put too much power through very fat rear tyres.
As far as the Seven 160 goes, for £14,995 you will get an unpainted body / chassis with a 660 cc turbocharged engine sourced from Suzuki, coupled to a 5 speed gearbox and that live axle. You’ll also get cloth seats, (adjustable), but no weather equipment except a wind deflector. And, you really do need a windscreen and sidescreens, (tiny doors), to dive a Seven over 40 mph, especially in the rain. The basic kit is shod with fairly narrow tyres, (Avon 155), on 14 inch steel wheels ~ and there’s nothing wrong with that.
A Seven 160 gets 80 bhp and 79 foot pounds out of its 660 cc turbocharged Suzuki motor, which revs to over 7000 rpm. A finished car, (and driver), is going to weigh in at just about half a ton, giving a very impressive 0 ~ 60 time of 6.5 seconds, and an alleged top speed of 100 mph. Sevens have the aerodynamic profile of a box-kite, so acceleration falls off after that 0 ~ 60 sprint. You are supposed to get well over 50 mpg out of one of these things, but who is going to care?
If you want a factory built Seven 160, with weather equipment, tonneau cover, heater, carpets, painted in a basic colour, then it will set you back some £21,000. That’s not including a spare wheel, which I wouldn’t bother with on a Seven anyhow. Without trying hard I could spend £20,000 on a kit built Seven 160 with individual paint and a warranty package. But, and in my opinion, you would have to be out of your tiny mind to choose this particular breed of Seven. (The picture is one of my cars, with the hood up, sidescreens in place, and with spare wheel.)
For example; the tried and tested Caterham Seven Roadsport range starts at £19,995 in kit form with a 1.6 Ford Sigma engine giving 125 bhp and 125 lbs ft of torque. Crucially the Roadsport comes with de Dion rear suspension. Admittedly, I could easily spend £35,000 building a 7 Roadsport, and if you really tried hard you could practically double that for a very high specification road car.
However, these days I don’t think I’d buy a new Seven at all. The car is designed to be put together with a few spanners, (wrenches), by someone with only slightly better than average mechanical engineering skills. Therefore I would spend some time looking for an older Lotus / Caterham Seven I liked, take it all apart, and then rebuild / refurbish the thing the way I wanted it. Ideally I would look at a total budget of just over £20,000. There is a 2 litre Vauhall engined car I’ve seen at £15,000…
My opinion is; The Lotus / Caterham Seven really is the ultimate driver’s car. Choose wisely and you could drive it down to Tuscany, (I’ve gone further than that, touring in a Seven). The Caterham Seven 160 is not a car I would consider buying because; it’s too expensive for what it is, the live axle isn’t as good as it could be, the 660 cc turbocharged engine is just not powerful enough by today’s standards. (Caterham once said they didn’t think a turbo engine would ever suit a Seven.) These days I would buy an older Seven and rebuild it to the way I really wanted it. (These days I’d be tempted to buy a new Heritage bodyshell and build myself a Mini-Cooper S for about £10,000.)