You may have never heard of the Caterham Seven, the featherweight British roadster with insane handling and performance. Here in the States, though it’s perfectly road legal when sold as a kit car, seeing one is still a rare occurrence. It’s very likely, too, that Sevens have driven by you many times, but you’ve missed them while blinking, because they’re just bloody fast. Here’s why you want one.
And to start, who didn’t want one – Lotus. The Caterham Seven started, in fact, as the Lotus Seven, way back in 1957. By 1972, Lotus, under their chief Colin Chapman, had built more than 2,500 Sevens and were ready to move on to other pursuits, including an F1 team and a new generation of mid-engine sports cars.
Yet their fan base wouldn’t let them get away with this, and Graham Nearn, owner of a dealership called Caterham Cars, knew it. He couldn’t keep a Seven on his showroom floor long enough to cast a shadow. So instead of cajoling and begging Colin Chapman to reconsider the discontinuation, he simply bought everything- the rights and the molds- and started building them himself. Caterham cars is still churning out examples today.
Nor have they deviated from the original formula. Not much at once, anyway. They’ve switched from a live rear axle to a de Dion system, and they’ve ditched the huge, swoopy fenders, which never aged well, for some modern, wheel-hugging floaters. But the spirit of the Seven is still reflective of Chapman’s original mantra of “Simplify and add lightness.” They’ve added more power, too, but not as much as they could have, and that’s a good thing.
Because lightness is everything, the very mortar that keeps a Seven a Seven. Caterham’s latest version, the Supersport R, only weights 1,200 lbs with a full tank. That means a brilliant 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds. It will pull more than 1.2 G on the skidpad. The Seven’s handling is almost as forgiving as Jesus. Even without the aid of traction control, you’ll have trouble losing it in the corners. It grabs the road like we all grab the samples at Costco. And there’s a top speed of 130 mph. Other versions, such as the (frankly more expensive) Superlight R500, can accelerate better than the world’s top hypercars.
Speaking of the price, if you want a brand new, complete Supersport R here in the states- well, too bad, because EPA and NHTSA regulations require them to sell it without an engine, though they can put you in contact with a Ford dealer who can sell you the Seven’s 180 hp 2.0 Duratec for about $3,000. You can also just find a used one from a wrecked Focus for about $700. Your choice. But with everything, sans engine, you can get a new Seven for under 40 grand.
Besides the engine, that doesn’t include any of the following: A/C, stereo, power steering, ABS, nav, cruise, or any of the other luxuries you’d expect from a $40k sports car. You do get a trunk big enough for a carton of eggs, and it’s covered by a tonneau, so this could technically be a pickup truck. Oh! And a roof! You get a roof and doors, which are easily removable.
But we’re only pricing new, here. Lurk around the Caterham forums and you can find a used example, complete with engine, for about $25k. And it gets better. Due to their licensing arrangement with Lotus, Caterham has allowed other companies, such as Westfield and Locost, to sell replica Sevens. These vary in build quality and aesthetics, but at the bottom line, you can get into a used Locost, tuned nicely to around 250 hp, (good for the aforementioned 3-second 0-60) for about $10,000. And that is impressive.
If you do go the new-and-official route, you can order yours (mostly) assembled; or as a kit, and assemble the whole thing, no welding required, in your garage for a few thousand less. This, frankly, sounds like an absolute blast in itself, especially with the detailed instructions they include.
And when I said you want one, I meant I want one. So very badly.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.