Caterham has launched a ‘new’ Seven, the ‘Sprint’ with retro ‘swinging sixties’ styling reminiscent of Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven, clamshell wings, steel wheels, chrome hubcaps and all.
The Caterham Seven Sprint is largely based on the entry level Caterham Seven 160, and uses the same little 660cc, 3 cylinder Suzuki engine, albeit with dohc, 4 vales per cylinder, and fitted with a turbocharger to give 80bhp and 79 foot pounds of torque. That’s a lot more power than the 39bhp of the very first Lotus Seven, but in today’s terms, it’s pretty puny. It isn’t a good looking engine bay.
The Seven Sprint is also fitted with a live axle, which is fine in its way, but there is such a thing as taking nostalgia too far. The last Caterham I owned used a very sophisticated de Dion rear end, and even that was very prone to power oversteer. Every live axle car I’ve ever driven has had ‘interesting’ roadholding and handling ~ I’ve no reason to suppose the new Caterham Seven is any different in that respect. Still, it all adds to the terrifying fun.
I have built, owned, and driven a Caterham Seven with clamshell wings, and they are a mixed blessing. On the upside they are so much better looking than cycle wings, on the downside clamshell wings have the aerodynamics of a box-kite. Given a couple of Sevens with otherwise identical specifications, a car with flared clamshell wings will have a lower top speed and much worse acceleration at higher speeds, than a Seven with close-fitting cycle wings.
However, there is no doubt that the new Seven Sprint is a pretty little car in those retro colours, flared wings, and with a brilliant red leather interior. As a driver’s car it will be utterly brilliant too ~ you haven’t driven a sports car until you’ve driven a Seven. But in comparison with other Lotus / Caterham Sevens available, it’s sort of the runt of the litter. Pretty but lacking in spirit.
There is one huge problem with the Caterham Seven Sprint ~ prices start at £27,995, which is a stupid amount of money to pay for this particular little car. Mind you, Caterham Cars aren’t the remotest interested in what I think of the Seven Sprint, the limited production run of 60 cars sold out in a week.
I have a sneaking suspicion that not many of the 60 people signed up to buy a Caterham Seven Sprint will be driving it much, if at all. It seems to me this is a Summer Sunday afternoon car to take for a short drive to the country / beach / pub. Or even worse, a lot of the buyers could be ‘collectors’ who will stick this Seven in their heated Motor House under a dust cover, and mostly leave it there.
Would I recommend a Caterham Seven 160 / Sprint to a friend? No.
the BRG and yellow car is my last Caterham Seven
these opinions are mine and mine alone
When men have a cold it’s like the biggest medical disaster ever inflicted on the human race. Well, today I have a cold, and I’m feeling thoroughly miserable. Autumn’s shadowy fingers are crowding around the garret, the sky is grey, and so is the sea. All I want to do is sleep. I don’t feel quite human, more like a number standing in line waiting for I don’t know quite what.
The hot California desert calls, and so does the open road, and neither of them are going to see me today. Anyhow, there’s no way I’m alert enough to drive a Seven until this cold had gone. When I’m well, do I drive down through France our head West?
Chris Rea ~ Auberge
This music video is as weird as I feel right now. I may have a fever. I have a fever, it’s 101. Man-flu strikes again.
Please listen responsibly.
When driven with real bravery, a Lotus / Caterham 7 is the fastest point-to-point car you can get on English country roads.
English, small, open, two-seater, inexpensive, sports cars… Need one say anything else?
From 1958 to 1979 these little cars appeared in 5 different versions from the nifty Frogeye Sprite to the rather ugly rubber-bumpered MG Midget 1500. For my sins, I have owned, wore out, crashed, rebuilt, and restored a few of these fairly practical little cars ~ and I would rebuild / restore another at the drop of the proverbial hat. Mostly, the whole car comes apart using only a couple of 1/2 inch A/F spanners, (wrenches), and you can’t get much simpler than that.
By modern measure this is not a fast car, especially in any of its standard versions. However, perhaps with the exception of the original mini, (and the Lotus / Caterham 7), there are more spares, tuning parts and options available for the Sprite / Midget than for just about any car you can think of.
For a road trip, with a cute girl, these cars are utterly brilliant. On a really good road trip the destination and how fast you can get there is not the point. To me, the whole ethos of a road trip is enjoying the journey.
The Sprite / Midget is of unitary / monocoque steel construction, with the main strength being in the box-section sills, the facia / windscreen hoop, and the whole of the back end. Of course, these areas are where you’re likely to see rust appearing, or bodged repairs.
The doors and front end all bolt onto the facia / windscreen hoop. And, if you’ve ever owned one of these things you can first tell what kind of condition it’s in by the unmistakable clunk the doors make when you close them hard.
Engines are the venerable A-Series 3 bearing straight four ranging in size from 948cc in the Frogeye to 1275cc in the last of the good-looking cars. In the Midget 1500, the 1493cc engine was lifted from the Triumph Spitfire. (In all honesty, the 1500 isn’t the world’s best engine.) Twin SU carburettors are the usual fitment, and what you want. A better exhaust than the clunky cast iron manifold will pay a lot of dividends.
As standard, none of the engines used in the Sprite / Midget was in a very high state of tune, which is maybe just as well as the gearbox isn’t the strongest unit in the world, (no synchromesh on first gear either). The gearbox used in the Midget 1500 is better.
Suspension is by semi-elliptical at the rear, and lever arm shock absorbers and lower wishbones at the front. Amazingly, it works brilliantly.
You would be crazy to pay more than £5,000 for one of these cars, but people are crazy at times. Personally I would buy a wreck and rebuild it the way I wanted it. Face it, it’s just a pile of tin held together by a few 1/2 inch bolts.
As a gentle touring sportscar, the Sprite / Miget has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive, reliable, has good roadholding and great handling. There’s a decent amount of room in the cockpit, (as compared with a Lotus 7 that is), the hood is easy to operate on the later versions, (terrible on the earlier cars like the Frogeye, which also don’t have wind-up windows), the luggage space isn’t so bad, and the things are just so much damn fun.
Although it is usually good advice to lose one’s angst before getting behind the wheel of a Lotus 7. Remember, you are not a number on a road trip. Just shut up and drive.
On very rare occasions, one drives and wants to talk a little, although the more miles one has on the odemeter the less a real man is likely to want to talk.
And, there is idle chit-chat, and then there is conversation. Real conversation may drift from the athstetics of differing cloud formations to the underlying energies of the cosmos.
Whatever, if one is taking a road trip, the woman in the passenger seat has to be just that. Face it, a guy who hasn’t got a female friend willing to discover the world at the end of the rainbow, needs to have a long, solitary, road trip to ‘find himself’.
A man on a road trip with another man along for company is as one-dimensional as a foggy day. But, every now and then a man needs to be trans-dimensional, and take a long solitary drive to nowhere.
Guys, (and ladies), your road trip companionship is best coming from a woman. This despite the constant complaining about everything… (Not every girl complains all the time, and some women will share expenses, sometimes)
It’s not a sports car.
Real sports cars don’t have wooly power steering, air conditioning, four seats and a decent boot, (trunk). However, all 3 versions of the Mustang come with more than 300 bhp, and reasonable independent suspension. The downside is there almost two tonnes to lug around, (3705 lbs), most of which is sitting over the front wheels.
In comparison a Porsche 911 has around 400 bhp and weighs around 3,300 lbs, (still a porker, still with all of the weight behind the rear wheels).
The six speed auto-box is slick, but don’t bother with the ‘sport’ setting.
A Porsche will set one back around $84,000. You can buy a Mustang for $33,000. Men would buy a Mustang. Wankers buy a Porsche. Only real men would buy a 7.
esprit universel, amant, combattant, écrivian
Lotus 7 meets Beach Buggy
The Lotus 7 Series 4 is sufficiently unlike other Sevens as to deserve an article all its own.
The Lotus Seven is probably the second most fun thing you can buy. It was never as much fun as that for Lotus. They lost money on every one they sold, which was fairly typical for Lotus. The most expensive piece of any Lotus / Caterham Seven Series 3 is the chassis frame, a complex collection of steel tubes welded together by hand.
If Lotus were going to make money from the Seven they needed something less expensive to make. A little more comfort and better weather-proofing wouldn’t be a bad idea. Something that looked, well, more 1970’s as opposed to 1950’s wouldn’t go amiss either.
The 1970’s was the era of peace and love in California, and the beach buggy. So, although the Lotus type 60, a.k.a. Lotus Seven S4, was unmistakably a 7, it borrowed some echoes of a beach buggy in both its styling and construction. The S4 was longer and wider than its illustrious predecessors, was built on a much simpler spaceframe with spot-welded flat steel sides to the cockpit, and had a glassfibre body that was bolted to the chassis for extra strength.
The body / cockpit was a single piece glassfibre bathtub, which was self coloured and came complete except for the bolted-on front wings and single piece, front tilting bonnet. Even the scuttle and facia were part of the cockpit moulding.
Mechanically the 7 S4 was similar to earlier sevens, using mainly mass produced Ford parts, from the Escort rear axle to 1,300cc and 1,600 cc Ford crossflow engines. Snag with the 1,300 cc engine was that it didn’t fit the chassis. This problem was solved in typical Lotus fashion by cutting out an offending chassis tube. Luckily not many 1,300 cc engined S4’s were made.
Amazingly, the Seven S4 even made a profit for Lotus on each unit sold. (However, the development was way over budget, and who knows if the project was ever profitable over all.)
The Ford engines were also available with Holbay tuning modifications, and at the top of the range was the Lotus-Holbay Twin Cam. These more powerful engines are not a brilliant idea in an original specification S4. The little car just cannot put that much power on the road. Flooring the throttle at the peak of the rev. range will give you savage axle tramping.
The rear suspension in a S4 is a pair of fore and aft Watts links, mounted on big rubber bushes, with a transverse arm for lateral location. At the front are double pressed steel wishbones, (borrowed from the Lotus Europa), fitted without an anti-roll bar. Coil spring / dampers are fitted at all four corners.
Handling and road holding in an S4 is, skittish. But the same can be said for other sevens. What is slightly less acceptable is that a Series 4 will lift its inside rear wheel off the ground under hard cornering. I have had a massive spin in an S4, in the wet, at fairly low speed, so I can say that slow-in and fast-out of corners is possibly the driving style to adopt.
Inside an S4 is a fairly nice place to sit, there is plenty of room for taller drivers, and you can fit adjustable seats. The S4 doesn’t seem to be as draughty as other sevens with the top up, nor does it leak much in the rain. However, like almost all open cars, the Lotus 7 S4 rattles, groans, and bangs unless the road is billiard-table smooth. Unlike some open cars, there is absolutely no scuttle shake.
Only around 600 Series 4’s were built, and if you can find one, it will be expensive. Like all Seven’s the asking price will depend on specification and condition, but you can expect to pay anything from £10,000 upwards. Which begs the question, why choose a Lotus 7 Series 4? Well, they are rare, which carries a little cachet. They are fairly practical, but not a great deal more so than any other Seven. The performance is very similar to any Lotus Seven that has the same mechanical specification as the S4 in question ~ meaning that it will accelerate with primeval savagery up to around 80 mph, when the box-kite aerodynamics take over. Anything over 100 mph is fairly unlikely.
An S4 will not be as fast as a cycle-winged Caterham 7 with a similar engine. Nor will it put down its power as well, or cope with the twisty bits as well as a De-Dion Caterham.
Alternatives to the S4 include another Lotus / Caterham 7, or any other Lotus, or Morgan, MGB, Triumph TR6, TVR, and among newer cars the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota MR2. Personally, if I wanted a rare fibreglass sports car I might look for a Clan Crusader or even a Ginetta G15.
YOU’RE NOT A NUMBER
The second most fun you can have.
A Caterham or Lotus 7 is one of the most insane cars you can drive. Only real men need apply
words and pictures by jack collier