Caterham 7 – Build Diary

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Introduction

Designed originally in 1957 as the Lotus 7, Colin Chapman’s ‘racing car for the road’ has been manufactured by Caterham Cars since 1973.

Available in kit form or ready built, the Seven has seen may guises during its 45-year history. Power plants and running gear have included BMC, Ford, Vauxhall, Rover & Honda.

Today the Seven is still going strong despite Brussels and the SVA Test! With Caterham continuing to develop the car into the 21st century.

With a wide variety of configurations and options, no two Sevens are alike. This site will give you the opportunity to see inside mine.

“I want a Seven…..”

I can’t recall the first time I saw a Seven, but growing up close to Caterham, I guess I must have been very young. Its unique styling, minimalist features and racing car image, made it shine out from all the other cars on the road.

I can remember hanging around the old Caterham showroom in my late teens, longing to own one of these wonderful machines. Things didn’t get any better when I met my future Wife and the route between our houses took me straight pass the garage.

Each time I passed one it was always the same old sigh “One day…..”

Over the years the Caterham brochures from various Motor Shows stacked up in the spare room. Every now and then they would be dusted down, the pages poured over, specifications worked out, costings done and then put away again.

Finally in 1998 a friend of mine purchased an Audi Cabriolet. As we were sitting in a pub garden discussing his new toy the subject of my pipe dream came up.

At this point my Wife made her fatal error: “If you don’t do it now, you never will” She blurted out.

From that moment on there was no turning back and my future Mistress was there on the horizon.

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“You want to spend how much!”

Ahh! This was going to be more difficult than I anticipated. Reality had hit home on my pipe dream, Caterham don’t give them away for nothing. Hours going over a spreadsheet trying to keep the costs down but not being able to do without that host of optional extras.

On top of the financial difficulties was the fact that I had never even changed the oil on a car before. Surely that’s what Main Dealers are for? However if you’re going to have a Caterham, you have to build it yourself.

Browsing through a build manual obtained from Caterham, I convinced myself it was no more difficult than building a piece of MFI furniture….. And anyway there were always plenty of friends offering to lend a hand and Caterham was always just up the road.

With the confidence up and the original minimal specification decided (Oh how this crept!), I ventured to Caterham for one last time to take a test drive. Despite Mike Thodesen showing me first hand the superb handling of the car across Kenley Airdrome, I parted with my deposit for a Live Axle Starter Kit.

“Is that all I get?”

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Two years Profit Share and scraping all the loose cash from behind the sofa, I was finally presented with a bare chassis and six cardboard boxes.

The past 4 months had seen me in ‘preparation’. Assembly Guide bedtime reading; I had already built the car several times in my head.

The garage now had lights, power and more importantly a heater. The floor had been sealed (invaluable for finding lost wotsits and missing thingys) and Halfords & Machine Mart were richer to the tune of about £300.

More cash, more boxes, more calls to Caterham

The next 12 months were spent switching between ruthless scrimping & saving, and feverish activity when the next target module arrived.

The routine of Saturday morning runs to Dartford, was usually followed by calls to Darren in the parts department, explaining the latest kit was missing X & Y. My idea that this was like building a piece of MFI furniture was starting to become closer to the truth than I expected.

However no one at Caterham could have been more helpful. Any missing parts were immediately dispatched by Darren or Iain and would arrive in a jiffy bag the next day. Len Unwin was superb in his technical assistance over the phone and, with my frequent trips to the Caterham Showroom – just to check… – I got to know Jason Sutherland’s Graduate Car better than my own.

Bureaucracy & Red Tape

Spring 2000 and I was ready to go, just the legal side to get through. Recent introduction of the SVA test complicated matters but with guidance from Tim Ward I felt confident.

Last minute problems of the brake lights fusing were traced to a cable rubbing on the transmission tunnel. Fixed, I was heading to Gillingham and my date with bureaucracy.

The SVA Test was introduced to cover Grey Imports and the Seven, with its 1957 design, doesn’t fit in very well with the idea of low emissions, noise and no protruding parts.
As an exercise in pure farce, I have never seen anything better. Dressing the car up with various caps, covers, pieces of foam and lengths of rubber tubing, only to remove them upon successful test seemed an incredible waste of time for both the examiner and me.

However the test was to have one last laugh at my expense. It failed! Emissions too high.

Attempts are resolving this on site for a recheck were out of my league and only resulted in a call to the RAC to restore smooth running.

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A call to Len and Tim back at the factory confirmed that this was the first time to their knowledge that a car had failed on emissions. They readily agreed to check it over and, as I was short of annual leave, present it for a retest with their next batch of factory cars.

Thus in May 2000, after completing the registration process with confirmation of duty paid and certificate of newness, Wimbledon Vehicle Licensing Office sent me my tax disk. A quick trip to Halfords for number plates and W89 XGN was on the road.

To those of you on the edge

A final word to any of you thinking of a Seven. Don’t buy a ready built car, it’s cheating. Build it yourself; the satisfaction you receive is indescribable.

Even with my complete lack of mechanical experience, I was able to build the car single handed. The only assistance I had was for installation of the rear axle and the engine/gearbox assembly; these items are just too big and heavy to manage alone.

I’m not saying it was child’s play but with the manual and the support from everyone at Caterham Cars it was achieved with minimal grey hair and the knowledge I gained was incredible. No longer am I scared of that thing under the bonnet.

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