Caterham Cars are a manufacturer of specialist lightweight sports cars based in Caterham, Surrey, England and part of the British motor industry. Their only model, the Caterham 7, is a direct development of the Lotus Seven designed by Colin Chapman. The founder of Caterham Cars, Graham Nearn, purchased the rights to manufacture the Lotus 7 design from Chapman in 1973.
The cars are constructed from aluminium sheet attached to a tubular steel chassis, brazed together by hand. Their extremely high performance is achieved through light weight (less than 500 kg on some versions) rather than particularly powerful engines.
The most extreme engine/chassis combination available from the factory as of 2004 was the R500 with the 230 bhp (169 kW) MG Rover engine, bringing the car's 430 kg (948 lb) from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. This model also has the current production car world record (as of 27 April 2004) for 0-100-0 mph at 10.73 seconds. However, the new Caterham CSR model surpasses the R500 in power, and although significantly heavier, may take the records for itself.
In the United States, Caterhams must be sold as a kit due to its clear lack of modern safety features. Kit cars have much more lenient regulations. Customers can either choose to construct it themselves or pay their regional dealer to assemble it for them. The engine and transmission come assembled as well as the chassis as a whole but all other components, such as suspension, differential, drive-shaft, etc must be assembled. In the UK, the vehicles can be entirely assembled by Caterham and sold under SVA (Single Vehicle Approval).
Caterham also produced a model called the '21' during the late-90's. Mechanically the 21 was almost identical to the 7, but instead of the uncompromising open body and wheels, the car had a much more mainstream roadster body, including a proper windscreen and fold-away hood. The model was launched following the success of similar models from Lotus, with the Elise, Mazda and MG, however while a good car, the 21 never sold particularly well and was killed off after only a few years.
A Classic Caterham
The old school Caterham that used to have a live rear axle that is generally believed to have a poorer handling on rough roads. Now only available with the de dion axle. Engine: 1.4-litre (105 bhp).
An updated rear suspension with a deDion axle and optional Watts linkage, paired with an adjustable anti roll bar allows for a more detailed control of the rear wheels during heavy cornering. Engines: 1.6 and 1.8-litre (115 to 160 bhp).
A Caterham SV
Same construction as the Roadsport, but lengthened by 80 mm and widened by 110 mm. This results in a somewhat less cramped interior at the price of 25 kg (55 lb) extra weight. The handling penalty of the additional weight is offset by the wider stance of the front and rear wheels. Engines: 1.6 and 1.8-litre (115 to 160 bhp).
A Caterham Superlight
A pure track version of the Roadsport with glass fibre nose cones, fenders and other parts replaced by carbon fibre. The windshield has been replaced with a wind deflector, making a helmet more or less mandatory while driving or traveling. Engines: 1.8-litre (160 to 230 bhp).
Introduced in late 2004, these new models are similar in size to the SV but are in fact a completely new and heavier chassis with independent rear suspension and inboard, push rod style front suspension. The aerodynamics of the vehicle are greatly improved, with roughly 50% less front-end drag at 100mph (40-50 pounds). They use Ford Duratec engines tuned by the Cosworth company instead of the old MG Rover powerplants. Engines: 2.3-litre (200 to 260 bhp). The 260bhp variant produces incredibly high performance with a 0 - 60 Mph time of 3.1 seconds.
Historically, engines have been supplied by Ford, using the Ford Kent engine or a Cosworth-derived race-prepared BDG unit, enlarged to 1.7 litres and generating 150 bhp. In the late 80s, Caterham started using powerplants from various sources, with the least expensive models using a 1.4-litre K series from MG Rover for the base model, followed by a Ford Zetec 1.8-litre and a race-tuned Opel engine at the top, capable of achieving 175 or 210 bhp.
In 2001, Caterham entered a partnership with MG Rover, where the British manufacturer became the sole supplier for factory-built Sevens (Ford Zetec, Honda Fireblade, Yamaha Firebird or Suzuki Hayabusa engines were available for home assembly). These were based on the K series and carried the Xpower branding. The partnership apparently came to an end with the introduction of the 2005 model, now powered by a Ford Duratec engine.
The output from these power plants range from 140 to approximately 300 bhp, depending on modifications carried out on them.
The gearbox is either the classic Ford T9 five speed or the Caterham in house six speed box. The T9 is cheap and durable, but has gear ratios meant for a much heavier car. The six speed gearbox is expensive but is also considered the perfect match for the Seven. Independent companies such as Quaife provides replacement gearkits for the T9 and even sequential boxes for those with a racing fever and a large wallet.
Caterham have previously also made the Caterham 21 model but this was not a sales success and has been discontinued. The 21 used the 7 tube frame chassis with a composite bodyshell on top. All engines available throughout the 7 range could be used.
Due to its low cost, the Caterham has been a favourite among club racers since the beginning of its career. In the United Kingdom, the Caterham is used in a variety of one-make series and sports car championships, both national and regional.
Considering its power-to-weight ratio, the Caterham has proved successful against bigger and more powerful sportscars, to the point that it has been banned from FIA competitions and most international races, coining the phrase "too fast to race".
The Caterham 7 is the most raced model of car in the world, with upto 700 cars racing around the world each season.