The Seven Survives

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

For fast, four-wheel fun at a modest price very few cars, if any, could claim to beat the old Lotus Seven, particularly in the days before kit cars were taxed. With Lotus’s changing image and the streamlining of production, there was no place for the Seven at Hethel. Thankfully for hardy enthusiasts, Graham Nearn, of Caterham Cars Ltd., then distributors for the Seven, and now sole spares stockists, rescued this spartan classic and with co-director David Wakefield started Seven Cars Ltd., to continue manufacture at their Town End, Caterham Hill, Caterham, Surrey, premises. Under their jurisdiction the 18-year-old Seven shows every sign of continuing for posterity in much the same vein as Morgan, a traditional throwback to the days when motoring could be almost uninhibited fun.

In their last few years of Seven production Lotus made only the Series IV, a sort of plastic bath-tub on wheels, a little too beach-buggy-like for the purists, but roomier, more comfortable, almost civilised compared with earlier series. But production of the IV was impractical for Nearn and Wakefield, difficulty with component suppliers sounding the final death knell. Instead they revived the Series III Super Seven, to them the true Seven, simpler to make, spartan and eye-catching, practically a polished-aluminium, road-going clubman’s racing car. Now they’re hand-assembling three Super Sevens a week, trying to cope with an almost insatiable demand, particularly from abroad, and a six-month waiting list.

Caterharn’s vehicle is known purely as a Super Seven, though our test car’s ancestry was evidenced by a Lotus badge on the steering wheel and a “doctored” badge on the nose, “Lotus” changed to “Seven” and Chapman’s initials to “CCS”—Caterham Car Sales.

The standard specification includes the Lotus Big-Valve Twin Cam engine, 126 b.h.p. in 11 cwt., which means that the Super Seven is fast, very fast. Maximum speed is a shade over 120 m.p.h., while a 0-60-m.p.h. time of about 5.8 sec. puts its acceleration in the league of the super-cars. In a world where prices of everything are going crazy, it seems amazing that such performance can be bought for about £2,000, surely the finest ratio of pound against performance in the four-wheeled world. The basic price with taxes is £1,979. Essential or desirable extras on the test car— seat belts, Goodyear alloy wheels, Maserati air horns, Smiths heater kit—lifted its price to £2,084, just £15 cheaper than a BMW R90S motorcycle, one of the few production vehicles capable of out-accelerating it. One small drawback—to overcome certain legal technicalities the Super Seven is delivered in kit form, though nowadays this does not avoid payment of Car Tax and VAT. All mechanical and electrical components are ready-fitted, but the glass-fibre wings need bolting on and suspension bolts need tightening, just a few hours’ work.

Though it looks the same as the old Lotus product, Caterham have put a great deal of additional development into the Super Seven. Particularly, they’ve fitted a strong transverse mounting bracket for the Triumph Herald steering rack, added several extra diagonal bracing tubes in the Arch Motors-manufactured, space-frame chassis to prevent it flexing like a ripening banana, as did ageing Lotus Sevens, and re-positioned the Exide battery to avoid the traditional shorting across the terminals by the bonnet. The impossible hand-brake remains underneath the passenger facia, useful for frightened passengers, fairly useless for the driver.

You’d need to be a very hardy masochist to use a Super Seven as sole transport 365 days a year, but in the heat-wave of the test period it was perfection. Fully open, with the sidescreens removed (left at home, in fact, because there’s nowhere to stow them safely), is the best way to enjoy the Seven, elbow dangling over the cut-away side, right nostril flared by the wind which batters round the small screen, the outside exhaust crackling and banging on the over-run, the bark from the two unsilenced, twin 40-mm. choke Dellortos waking up the dawdlers. Two thunderstorms forced the hood to be erected, a couple of minutes’ job— then another two minutes contorting myself into the cockpit! Once in it was quite cosy, but there were leaks. There’s just room for a small case and oddments in the well above the 8-gall. tank behind the fixed seats. The tunnel and floor are carpeted, and the functional facia well-instrumented by Smiths, with speedometer plus trip, tachometer, fuel, oil pressure and water temperature gauges and ammeter. The fixed driving position, legs out-stretched towards the close-coupled pedals, was ideal for me, but might be torture for tall people. A tiny, cranked, gear-lever sits within an inch or two of the small, thick-rimmed wheel controlling the Ford 2000E gearbox with its gear speeds of 40, 60 and 80 m.p.h. in the intermediates at the 6,500-r.p.m. red line. In the hot weather in London traffic the single electric fan struggled to keep engine temperature below 100° and my feet cooked for lack of insulation between them and the engine bay.

You don’t really drive a Super Seven, you think it along, aiming out over the gunsight headlamps, just twitching the wheel to send it scurrying round corners at incredible speed, pouring on more power to tighten the line. There’s little roll to overcome, simply high G-force, but you’re clamped in the tiny cockpit. It can be flicked around like a toy on the throttle and steering, the tail twitching if pushed hard enough. The Ford live rear axle, suspended by coil-spring/damper units, trailing arms and an A-frame, fights with bumps taken fast, but sorts itself out quickly enough. Triumph uprights are used at the front, with coil-spring/damper units, fabricated bottom wishbones and an anti-roll bar. Such light weight means that the disc/drum brakes generate enormous stopping power. The overall feeling is of a lithe, superb-handling racing car, at its best on smooth, winding A and B roads, conditions in which its cross-country times must be practically unbeatable. This tiny, rapid, beautifully made car eats its way through traffic like nothing else on four wheels.

The Super Seven is crude, uncomfortable over long distances and thoroughly impractical, but its magical performance and handling would make it a “must” in my mythical stable of ideal cars. The Super Seven is not just a sports car, it’s the definitive article.—C.R.

Related articles

Related products