During the last few weeks with the CRX, I was becoming increasingly aware of the cost of the project and how long it was taking. At the same time, I was lucky enough to sample a friends Caterham 7, and that was that - I had to have one. The Caterham was so much more of an experience, so much more exciting and demanding. It also had a big financial advantage; Caterhams are one of the best cars to buy for depreciation which is a stark contrast to building a race car and doing a season, which is more like flushing money down the toilet.
So that was that, I needed a Caterham. I toyed with the idea of building a Westfield or a Caterham but it would have been too expensive to build the kind of car I wanted. The best option would be a used car that had been loved and upgraded appropriately over its life. So I sold the CRX and all the parts I'd accumulated and managed to get a long way towards funding the next car. A nice chap near Birmingham had his car for sale and we quickly arrived at a deal that found me 'investing' in a pristine, cherished 7, with almost all of the important extras already fitted.
Just like when I first started driving the CRX, the Caterham was a shock to the system. The most obvious trick up its sleeve is the acceleration. Then come the brakes, shortly followed by the cornering poise and grip. It's not even remotely comparable to the already impressive CRX - it's an entirely different league of performance. It's the kind of car where you just have to 'think' and it will respond. Everything is basic and simple which means there is a cable clutch, cable throttle, unassisted brakes free from a vague servo or ABS, no power steering, not even a radio. Colin Chapman's ethos of 'added lightness' is in full effect in a car that has remained essentially the same for 50 years.
So far I've managed to keep the 'upgraditus' relatively under control; I've ditched the full windscreen and doors for a carbon fibre wind deflector (aeroscreen) and a pair of carbon fibre half doors, and the heater leaked so that came out and saved several kilos. The only other thing I've added is a limited slip differential which helps with getting the power down coming out of corners on track. It's also good for power-slides and donuts.
It hasn't been all fun and games though. I've had to replace the radiator and some of the ignition system, as well as deal with other more serious problems. After a trip to watch the F1 boys at Silverstone, the gearbox seized. It was a very worthwhile learning experience removing the engine and gearbox and finding out what had broken, but I could have done without the large bill for the rebuild. I'm now aware that a gearbox that's used on track needs to be serviced every year, which will save me from any big surprises (and bills) in the future.
The great thing about the Caterham is that it really is a kit car. There's a lot of emphasis on doing work at home and most things are quite easy to do. The car is well laid out and generally speaking everything is easy to get at. Perfect for the enthusiast, particularly with the support available from Caterham and the Lotus 7 Club.
At the time of writing I've had the car for 14 months and covered 13,500 miles (well over twice the distance I had anticipated - it's just that much fun) and I'm looking forward to enjoying the car for a good while to come.
|Engine:||1588cc fuel injected|
|0-60mph:||4.5 seconds est.|
|0-100mph:||12 seconds est.|