Re : Caterham Seven | PH Used Buying Guide

Re : Caterham Seven | PH Used Buying Guide

Saturday 4th January

Caterham Seven | PH Used Buying Guide

Like having a baby, Seven ownership is life-changing. And, like a baby, you'll want help. Here's a start...



There can't be many PHers of a certain age who haven't entertained the notion of assembling a Caterham 7 kit in their garage. Just about every magazine, website or TV programme that's taken on the job has found that it's not exactly the work of a weekend though, even when you're starting from the Complete Knock Down kit. Caterham says between 80 and 100 hours, which doesn't sound much when you read it on the screen, but if you're only able to spend an hour or two a night with the spanners it can seem like a stretch.

The good news is that you don't have to spend your evenings and weekends putting the 'no profane, no gain' theory to the test while repeatedly turning the Caterham build manual to (you hope) ever more helpful angles and then, when it's all up and together, going through the IVA (previously SVA) testing and registration process. That's because you can buy a new, ready-to-go car from Caterham at prices starting from Β£27,490 for the now 135hp Ford Sigma 1.6-engined 270 (which started off as a 125hp car). Today you'll pay Β£28,990 for the 152hp 310 version, while the 180hp Duratec 2.0-engined 360 is Β£31,490, or Β£34,490 for the 210hp 420 version.

You could even have Β£50k's worth of supercharged 310hp 620, but our first bit of Caterham advice would be not to get too wrapped up in the idea of a high-powered Seven just for the hell of it or because you're not sure if your powerfully-built ego will be able to handle the prospect of telling your mates that you've gone for the weediest option. Unless you're planning on haunting the trackday grids on a regular basis, you may find that even the least powerful modern Seven, the aforementioned 270, will be ample for your needs.


The car weighs between 530 and 550kg, ish, allowing the 270 to breeze through the 0-60 in 5.0sec and hit 120mph, plenty in an open car whose in-cabin wind patterns are dictated by a flat slab of glass and your bony elbow poking out of the side. Spindly 4.5J x 14in wheels and a typo-sounding weight of 490kg add up to fun even in the tiny three-cylinder 660cc Suzuki kei-motored 80hp Caterham 160 on sale from 2013 to 2018, when Suzuki stopped making those engines.

Here are the performance stats for all the recent Sevens:

80hp 160: 0-60 6.9sec, top speed 100mph
135hp 270: 0-60 5.0sec, top speed 122mph
180hp 360: 0-60 4.8sec, top speed 130mph
210hp 420: 0-60 4.0sec, top speed 136mph
310hp 620: 0-60 2.8sec, top speed 155mph

All this stuff about new Sevens is by way of an introduction to your third and some might say best Caterham option, which is to scout the PH Classifieds for a used example. Buoyant secondhand prices reflect the timelessness of the driving experience, the relatively low mileages put onto these cars, the simplicity of the design, which knocks on positively to reliability, the lightness of the finished product, which keeps consumable costs surprisingly low, and the whole Caterham 'thing'.

For all these reasons you won't find many Seven bargains about. At the time of writing there was a 2015 Suzuki-engined 160 on PH at Β£16,900, which is around a thousand quid less than what they were new. A 2017 example of the 160 with 4,000 miles on the clock is only Β£95 cheaper than the then-new list price.


As we're now in 2020 and we like to think that we're modern round here, we're going to concentrate on the Ford-engined cars that began taking over from the light, powerful but mechanically edgy K Series cars after Rover collapsed in 2005, but which continued to be available in one form or another right up to around 2013.

You should be able to pick up a 2007 Sigma Roadsport with under 20,000 miles for Β£18,000-Β£19,000. Roadsport, as the name implies, has been the badge for more everyday road-oriented Sevens since the mid 1990s. The Supersports name was adopted in 2012 to describe a slightly tuned up and stiffened 1.6 Sigma-powered car with a closer-ratio gearbox and a lightened flywheel.

The high-performance CSR of 2005 was touted as the first 'new' Seven in 48 years. Built on the SV platform, it had fully-independent double-wishbone suspension all round with pushrods linking coilover spring-and-damper units. Superlights are more extreme, pared-down models, and you'll occasionally find Tracksports, ex-Academy and LSD'ed SuperSprints for sale.

Whichever Seven you go for, you'll be buying into something more than a lightweight confection of aluminium and composite panels tacked onto a steel spaceframe chassis and shoved up the road by engines designed to propel cars that were twice as heavy. You'll be buying a car that you or just about any garage will be able to work on - and you'll be buying into a legend.

Search for a Caterham Seven here


Bodywork & Interior

Both the Roadsport and Supersport Sevens came in two basic chassis sizes, the traditional narrow-bodied Series 3 (S3) and the 110mm wider, 80mm longer and 25kg heavier SV that arrived in 2000 as a Β£1,000 option for those of a more portly, taller or less snake-hipped aspect. For bigfoot types the SV provided an extra 25mm of vertical space and 55mm of width in the footwell. You could even specify a lowered floor, and that's considered a good option for all but the vertically challenged.

Without the benefit of a side by side comparison, you can spot the difference between the S3 and the SV by counting the hood poppers on the windscreen frame, but someone else will have to come on here to tell you what those numbers are. The SV also had a wider front track and a bigger fuel tank.

Because the body panels are either aluminium or glassfibre (for the nosecone and wings), rust in the accepted sense of the word isn't going to be a problem. However, even aluminium oxidises, and the Seven's aluminium skin is part of the stressed chassis, so don't just leave the bodywork to its own devices in the fond hope that it will look after itself. The powder coating on the mild steel chassis doesn't last for ever either, so keep an eye out for perforations there.

Well-meaning passengers might use the windscreen as a grab point for heaving themselves in, which can cause cracks in the bottom corners of the glass or bends in the frame.


Inside, if you can call it that on a Seven, trim levels on base models can be very austere with little more than rubber floor mats and cloth seats to insulate you from the car's hard points. Owners paying an extra Β£2,995 for the luxury S pack got carpets (ooh!), a full windscreen and side windows (aah!), a heater (not really all that necessary), a 12V socket (yaroo!), a Momo steering wheel, and leather seats. Removable steering wheels are good for security and for allowing the passage of your big beery tum-tum.

The composite seats you'll see on some Sevens may look a bit punishing, but don't rule a car out just because of that. If your body fits into them they can be surprisingly comfortable even on long trips. This type of seat from a reputable firm like Tillett will cost between Β£500 and Β£800 a throw, so even if you don't fancy your chances of getting in or more imporantly out of them, you can always buy the car and eBay the seats for good money.

The Seven's full hood isn't massively loved as it's a bit of a pain to erect and can generate a Turkish bath type atmosphere in summer rain. Many owners prefer to drive with no hood in place, keeping dry-ish when the rain strikes by going quickly enough to divert the watery flow over their heads. Well, that's the theory anyway. If you're on a tour and don't fancy using up most of your luggage space with the full hood, you can get so-called 'half hoods' from firms like Soft Bits, who also do RE-Bag boot bags for extra stowage. These half hoods aren't really meant to stop you getting wet but they do offer handy bonce protection in hot countries.

If the car you're looking at has a roll bar in place, check the height of it. If it's one of the taller FIA bars you might not be able to use the standard hood and sticks.


Engine & Transmission

As noted earlier, for the purposes of this guide we're focusing on Ford Sigma 1.6 and Duratec 2.0 engined cars. You can buy cheaper Ford-powered kit-built Sevens, but the Zetec motor is a little bit heavy and the Pinto is both tall and heavy, raising the car's centre of gravity. The least said about the CVH that was fitted to some Swiss market cars the better.

By contrast, the Yamaha-designed Sigma unit as used in the Focus 1.6 is light, compact and reliable and suits the Seven really well even (or especially) in 135hp form. Timing is by belt with a long 8yr/100,000-mile change schedule. The chain-driven Duratec is equally biddable, and all ancillaries are easily available off the shelf for both engines.

The sporting nature of the Caterham and the extreme cornering forces it can generate mean that regular oil checks and changes are important. Caterham dry sump or Apollo or Pace swirl tank options are worth thinking about if you're going to be giving it large a lot of the time. The Caterham dry sump isn't that well regarded, however. You won't feel much pain on oil change costs as expenses elsewhere are pleasingly low. A complete exhaust system will be under Β£350 and a new clutch less than Β£240.

All modern Sevens bar the 420 and 620R (which have Caterham six-speed manual and sequential boxes respectively) have the Focus IB5 5-speed manual gearbox. Like the Sigma engine and the earlier Ford Type 9 box that you'll find on a lot of earlier kit-built cars, this transmission has a good reputation for longevity, although heavy track use will eventually expose the road-car-spec syncromeshes and reverse may become difficult to engage. The differential bearings can go at the 70-80k mile mark too. Don't assume that the six-speed box is more relaxing at speed either because its ratios are very short.


If you're looking at older live-axle cars, try to determine the axle's origin. If it's from a Morris Ital, as many were, half-shafts, hubs and bearings are known to be vulnerable, especially on cars that are regularly trackday'd and/or have reasonably poky motors. Escort axles are likely to last longer.

Earlier on we mentioned the 'luxury' S pack at Β£2,995. Chucking another Β£1,000 into Caterham's coffers would liberate the R pack which added a limited slip differential, lightweight flywheel, sports suspension, racing harnesses and an uprated brake master cylinder, plus composite seats and a carbonfibre dash with different instrument design and a shift light. Obviously, used cars with either pack are well worth having. So are any cars without the R pack but with the limited slip diff which Caterham would fit to cars if asked.

Rear lights can fail without you realising it, either as a result of dicky wiring, a broken brakelight switch, or mud gathering on the connectors. If you're not using the car on a regular basis buy a trickle-charger to keep your battery perky.

Suspension & Steering

Semi-independent De Dion rear suspension design combining the differential and suspension functions within a rigid tube was first adopted by Sevens in the 1980s. Relative to live-axle cars, this was quite a comfort boon on bumpy roads, albeit at the expense of a little more roll - although compared to most cars Caterhams don't really roll at all.

Front suspension is by double wishbones, with slightly longer ones on the 360. As mentioned earlier, the 264hp CSR (Cosworth Seven Road & Racing) 2.3 of 2005 had fully independent suspension all round, which robbed the car of a bit of boot space but endowed it with exceptional damping and pliancy that will shock anyone getting into a Caterham for the first time and expecting lots of bounce and bump-steer on B roads.


The Suzuki-engined 160 had a live axle suspended via trailing arms and a Panhard rod. This design added a little unsprung weight but the actual componentry was lighter. Live-axle Sevens shouldn't be ignored by buyers. With decent dampers and a rose joint or two they can ride almost as well as De Dion cars.

It's really worth spending some time and/or money on getting the suspension nicely set up on a Seven because it will play such a huge part in your enjoyment of the car. Replacement front dampers from Caterham are about Β£150 each. If you're going to be doing a lot of trackdaying, quick steering rack options are very much worth considering.

Wheels, Tyres & Brakes

The extraordinary lightness of a Seven means that even hard-used examples won't kill their owners' wallets. Do 6000 miles in a year (which would be more than average for a Seven) and maybe half a dozen track days and you'll probably find that the tyres and brake pads still have plenty of life left in them.

Even when the consumables are consumed you'll be pleasantly surprised by the cost of replacements. A front set of brake pads will be under Β£50, as will a pair of front discs. A four-pot caliper 'big-brake' kit will enhance pedal feel and modulation, both of which are useful on the track.

14in classic alloys are standard in S pack cars, with lighter 15in Orcus alloys in R pack cars, which can also come with 13in wheels for pure track work. Good brand 185/60 R14 tyres are as little as Β£33 each.


Conclusion

So, you're finally going to do it. You're going to release the genie from the bottle and buy a Seven. Which model should you choose?

Earlier on we intimated that even the feeblest Seven would provide more laughs than many other self-professed 'performance cars', but if you have specific duties in mind your selection landscape may change. If you're planning on a lot of track work, the stupidly quick 310hp sprint-ratioed LSD'd 620 is an obvious pick, but the somewhat cheaper six-speed 420R isn't going to be far behind.

If you're planning on staying closer to terrible British roads, the mid-2000s CSR is spookily useable for such a light car. The more recent but less powerful 160 and 270 Sevens will also do a great job, but for a strong and more up to date mix of controllable power and pace allied to very acceptable fast touring comfort, the 2.0-litre 180hp 360 may well be the perfect solution. Its only downside against the 270, if you're being picky, is slightly inferior bump absorption.

There's a load of online stuff you can delve through to build up your pre-purchase Caterham knowledge. Blatchat.com and the Lotus 7 Club are good kicking-off points, although to access the info on the L7C you’ll have to be a member which is not cheap at Β£49.50. Talking of kicking off, it's a shame that the relationship beween the L7C and Caterham Cars is effectively non-existent. That’s the result of a spat about the use of the word β€˜Lotus’ in the name of the club. In Caterham’s defence, all references to Lotus were supposed to have been dropped when CC did the deal with Colin Chapman in the early 1970s. It’s all very boring politics, but there’s nowt boring about the car you’ll end up with when you eventually commit.


Search for a Caterham Seven here





Author
Discussion

Scottie - NW

Original Poster:

910 posts

182 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all

Two obvious questions from the article.

1. If the 2nd hand prices are hardly different from the new prices, why even buy used?

2. Would you not have nearly all the fun for half the price in a Westfield?


RogerDodger

1,793 posts

43 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Scottie - NW said:
Two obvious questions from the article.

1. If the 2nd hand prices are hardly different from the new prices, why even buy used?

2. Would you not have nearly all the fun for half the price in a Westfield?
Totally agree with 2.

But, some people really love the Caterham brand. They also like knowing what they'll be getting (not built "I'm someone's garage"). There is a lot of snobbery with Caterham Vs Westfield too. Which is great for people like me. I've owned three Westfield's and they were all bargains and money makers.

Most Westies that don't handle perfectly just need a session at a specialist and corner weighted.

Regardless of brand , everyone should try a 7 style car at least once :-)


horizontal

4 posts

53 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Price comparison doesn't take inflation nor extra spec into account.
Never owned/driven a Westfield so couldn't comment.

SidewaysSi

6,292 posts

183 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Scottie - NW said:
Two obvious questions from the article.

1. If the 2nd hand prices are hardly different from the new prices, why even buy used?

2. Would you not have nearly all the fun for half the price in a Westfield?
New and secondhand prices aren't really the same. They don't lose much but you make a sizeable saving going used.

Westfields have never appealed to me personally. They have a much lower profile in the press and never seem to do particularly well in group tests. Therefore growing up I never yearned for a Westie so when the opportunity came to be able to buy, I never thought about anything other than a Caterham.

I have now been driving them pretty much my whole adult life and love them. Not particularly safe though - you do take your own life into your hands when getting in one..

coppice

5,671 posts

93 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
I can't say I've ever encountered the oft talked about snobbery, or inverted snobbery, first hand - why sneer at someone with similar taste in cars ? When I was finally in a position to buy a car like this I wanted a 'proper' Seven purely because of the Colin Chapman DNA . I was , and am . a huge motor sport addict and having seen cars like the 49, 72 and 79 in action it meant a lot to me to own a car with even a tenuous link to Lotus glory years

I tried a Westfield Zetec and loved it - but then I went to the now defunct Classic Carriage company at Mallory Park , encountered the best customer care I have ever had in 40 years of car buying and bought a K series supersport. Then a VVC upgrade , then the purchase of a new R400D , later upgraded with roller barrels and 100,000 miles later I finally bid farewell -but only because of a back issue unconnected with the car . I loved nearly every mile - they are utterly hopeless in heavy rain , awful over bumps , have zero refinement, aren't very well made and give you permanent range anxiety .

But little , if anything , comes close to the Seven experience - except a single seater. They are like nothing else you can buy now -no TCS , ABS , ASR , PAS - you are on your own .

If you are tempted - JFDI

Moulder

1,234 posts

161 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
RogerDodger said:
Totally agree with 2.

But, some people really love the Caterham brand. They also like knowing what they'll be getting (not built "I'm someone's garage"). There is a lot of snobbery with Caterham Vs Westfield too. Which is great for people like me. I've owned three Westfield's and they were all bargains and money makers.

Most Westies that don't handle perfectly just need a session at a specialist and corner weighted.

Regardless of brand , everyone should try a 7 style car at least once :-)
There is Westfield snobbery as well...

Went down there anyway, most people can't tell the difference.


blearyeyedboy

5,000 posts

128 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
How overweight powerfully built do you have to be before you don't fit in a standard car and need an SV?

I'm a hair over 6 feet, 100kg (yes, I know, that's the New Year Resolution!) and I have size 11 feet...


Rick101

5,848 posts

99 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
6'2" here and the same elsewhere.

Went for an SV with lowered floors and it's like a limo compared to the S3.

You might be alright with standard floors but I suspect SV would be the right choice

DoubleD

10,252 posts

57 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
blearyeyedboy said:
How overweight powerfully built do you have to be before you don't fit in a standard car and need an SV?

I'm a hair over 6 feet, 100kg (yes, I know, that's the New Year Resolution!) and I have size 11 feet...
Sounds like you would better getting an SV

DjSki

945 posts

144 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Not sure about quite a bit of stuff in this article. Tyres aren’t that cheap for good ones. Used cars are of course much cheaper, no one pays a standard price for cars from the factory as this is before weather equipment and any additions, it also excludes the chunky factory build fee if you want that route.

I bought a well specced, very low mile Duratec 2014 car that new would have been well over £43k and I paid about £30k.

The CSR is no more useable than an SV, but the 260 engine is a peach. The SV isn’t exactly a practical car.

Go look at a Westy and then a Caterham, they are not the same quality products, and a Caterham is hardly high end!

They are like nothing else though and all petrol heads should try one if they are really into driving rather than just looking/being flash, much more so than they should Alfa’s.....


Julian Thompson

1,234 posts

187 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Caterham vs Westfield has raged forever.

They are similar but assuredly not the same.

Outwardly, one uses a plastic body over a steel frame and the other uses an alloy skin. This is what gives the Caterham a more pared back look.

The Westfield generally has independent rear suspension and the Caterham has either Live Axle (in the case of the older/bike engine cars, de-Dion (where the diff is in the frame but then there is a sort of beam between the wheels) or Caterhams own independent setup on the CSR.

Driving them - firstly, they feel quite different. Because these cars are so tuneable I accept that there will be exceptions to the following but I’ve built, owned, driven and worked on many of them, and so, generally:

The first difference is the driving position. The Westfield sides are lower, the dash feels further away. The double bubble aero screen (if equipped) is much harder to see over than in a Caterham with its flat scuttle. You feel like you’re sat on the Westfield, compared to the 7.

Then, the Westfield has floor hinged pedals and a slightly wider foot box which means you can drive it in most shoes. (Different caterhams over the years have slightly different foot boxes but most are tight in a standard width car)

Once you’re flying along you’ll notice the handling. Generally, the Caterham feels significantly more pointy at the front, and significantly easier to slide around - they are more forgiving. Having said this, they are equally as quick - once the Westfield is hooked into a corner it’s business as usual.

There are indeed (as mentioned before) lots of badly set up Westfield’s out there. The IRS is a blessing and a curse all in one. On both types of car people tend to run the front too high in response to trying to stop them hitting the floor. (BOTH have crap old fashioned falling rate front suspension) - (actually I have a mates Vauxhall Westfield on my ramp as we speak which I’m fitting a dry sump kit to after he bounced the sump off a rock.) Then, they tend to run the back too low and just generally make a mess of the setup. But either way - I think the out of the box Westfield feels a fraction dim witted by comparison to an out of the box Caterham.

I really like them both, both are great to own, work on and drive. My opinion is that the Westfield is better value, but the 7 has a nicer feeling cockpit, and is slightly better to drive.

LateStarter

49 posts

27 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
blearyeyedboy said:
How overweight powerfully built do you have to be before you don't fit in a standard car and need an SV?

I'm a hair over 6 feet, 100kg (yes, I know, that's the New Year Resolution!) and I have size 11 feet...
I am 6'2" was 115kg (now 100) and size 12 feet and have an S3, because I track and race it so regs say it has to be an S3 and driven SVs
You'll fit in an S3 but will always feel cramped, which is a good sensation on track but not so much for a fun Sunday drive.
Biggest frustration will be foot space in my experience, really hard to work your feet properly at rack pace in that limited space, which can lead to cramps in legs and the occasional unnecessary bit of excitement catching edge of foot under the brake as you lift off. At road pace it isn't really an issue.
Get an SV if you have the choice and obviously lowered floor is essential.


Edited by LateStarter on Saturday 4th January 09:52

gregf40mark2

30 posts

9 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
DoubleD said:
Sounds like you would better getting an SV
I completely disagree.

I'm 98kg, 6 foot 1.5" with size 13 feet and my 420R S3 is absolutely fine.

You will need to tick the lowered floors option though.

Olivera

3,675 posts

188 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Julian Thompson said:
My opinion is that the Westfield is better value, but the 7 has a nicer feeling cockpit, and is slightly better to drive.
I find the styling of most Caterhams preferable too, Westfields are often outright ugly or have poor detailing.

blearyeyedboy

5,000 posts

128 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
gregf40mark2 said:
I completely disagree.

I'm 98kg, 6 foot 1.5" with size 13 feet and my 420R S3 is absolutely fine.

You will need to tick the lowered floors option though.
LateStarter said:
I am 6'2" was 115kg (now 100) and size 12 feet and have an S3, because I track and race it so regs say it has to be an S3 and driven SVs
You'll fit in an S3 but will always feel cramped, which is a good sensation on track but not so much for a fun Sunday drive.
Biggest frustration will be foot space in my experience, really hard to work your feet properly at rack pace in that limited space, which can lead to cramps in legs and the occasional unnecessary bit of excitement catching edge of foot under the brake as you lift off. At road pace it isn't really an issue.
Get an SV if you have the choice and obviously lowered floor is essential.


Edited by LateStarter on Saturday 4th January 09:52
Thanks both. I didn't realise about the lowered floor; I now. Cheers.

jason61c

3,330 posts

123 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
one of the best kit cars of it's type.

SidewaysSi

6,292 posts

183 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
Interesting point at the end re. The club. I was a member for around 15 years but not anymore and I don't miss a thing about it.

selym

7,585 posts

120 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
SidewaysSi said:
Interesting point at the end re. The club. I was a member for around 15 years but not anymore and I don't miss a thing about it.
Clubs though.....hives of villainy and all round ishness.

SidewaysSi

6,292 posts

183 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
selym said:
SidewaysSi said:
Interesting point at the end re. The club. I was a member for around 15 years but not anymore and I don't miss a thing about it.
Clubs though.....hives of villainy and all round ishness.
Yep. And the 7 club was not good for that at all. Little wonder Caterham wanted nothing to do with them...Think they have lost a number of members which is a shame.

There were plenty of well respected and knowledgeable people there but who have long since moved on.

SidewaysSi

6,292 posts

183 months

Saturday 4th January
quotequote all
selym said:
SidewaysSi said:
Interesting point at the end re. The club. I was a member for around 15 years but not anymore and I don't miss a thing about it.
Clubs though.....hives of villainy and all round ishness.
Yep. And the 7 club was not good for that at all. Little wonder Caterham wanted nothing to do with them...Think they have lost a number of members which is a shame.

There were plenty of well respected and knowledgeable people there but who have long since moved on.