Caterham Cars only current model, the Caterham 7 (or Seven), is a direct evolution of the Series 3 Lotus Seven designed by Colin Chapman and originally launched in 1968.
Colin Chapman’s Lotus Cars launched the Series 1 Lotus Seven in 1957. The car was immediately embraced by enthusiasts as a low-cost, lightweight sports car and successful race car. Revised Series 2, Series 3 and Series 4 versions were subsequently launched in 1960, 1968 and 1970 respectively.
Caterham Cars had been a major Lotus 7 dealer during the 1960s, and its founder, Graham Nearn, purchased the rights to continue manufacture of the Seven design from Chapman in 1973, after Lotus announced its intention to discontinue the model. Caterham initially restarted manufacture of the Lotus Seven Series 4; however, when this proved unpopular, production switched to a Series 3 model in 1974.
The Lotus/Caterham 7 is widely regarded by car enthusiasts and the media as one of the iconic sports cars of the 20th century. With 2007 marking the 50th year of continuous production, the Seven miraculously still enjoys strong support and success in clubman-style racing.
As with its Lotus Seven precursors, Caterhams are constructed of aluminium sheet attached to a tubular steel chassis. Nosecone and wings are either GRP or carbon fibre depending on specification. All Sevens are front engined with rear-wheel drive and two seats. Their extremely high performance is achieved through light weight (less than 500 kg (1,102 lb) on some versions) rather than particularly powerful engines. As well as a lightweight chassis and bodywork, Caterham Sevens achieve their very low mass through their lack of comfort and safety oriented features such as a fixed roof, doors, radio, air-conditioning, airbags, traction/stability control, ABS, satellite navigation or cruise control. As a result, the Seven is somewhat limited in its practicality for everyday usage and is instead recognised by driving enthusiasts for its focus on driving enjoyment, making it an ideal track/race car or ‘Sunday’ car.
Chapman and Lotus helped to pioneer the British kit car industry. The Lotus Seven was offered in kit form to allow buyers to avoid new car tax in the UK. Subsequently Caterham continued offering cars in ‘complete knock down’ (CKD) kit form as the tradition of hand building your own Seven was well established amongst enthusiasts. Today, all Caterham Sevens are still offered in kit form in the UK except the CSR (Series 6) model. Modern Caterham kits differ from the majority of kit cars as all parts are supplied ready to assemble, not requiring a donor car, fabrication or any special skills.