1997 Caterham Classic SE Keeps Playing the Hits



From the April 1997 challenge of Automobile and Driver.

Varied old-fogy automo­tive wankers are perpetually lamenting the demise of rattletrap roadsters—the sort that have been round when the typical man might let you know who Neville Chamberlain was. Properly, cheer up, graybeards, a number of of those old-timer automobiles are nonetheless round.

Caterham Vehicles of Cater­ham, England, produces a vari­ation of the unique Lotus 7 that first appeared in 1957. When Lotus decided to stop producing the car in 1973, Caterham purchased the rights to produce the tiny English roadster. At present, Caterham gives two fashions on the market in package type within the U.S.: the Supersprint and the Basic SE. Each automobiles use 1.6- or 1.7-liter carbureted Ford Cortina-based 4­-cylinder engines that date again to the Sixties.

The Supersprint has an impartial rear suspension; the Basic makes do with a stable rear axle identical to the unique. It additionally eschews bucket seats in favor of a bench that stretches throughout the cockpit—­identical to the unique—with solely the trans­mission tunnel and belts left to carry the motive force in place. Plus, the smaller tires of the Basic are dwarfed by the automotive’s rear fenders. The aluminum protecting the body was polished (you will get it painted), and the fiberglass fenders and the nostril cone have been painted purple.

In 1982, Caterham lengthened the automotive by two inches to extend its legroom, however it’s nonetheless extraordinarily tight inside. To get into this roadster, you first stand on the seat after which assist your physique on the roll bar and facet sill as you slide your legs beneath the steering wheel. After a number of tries, it turns into comparatively straightforward, however there’s little room when you’re in there. Fortunately, the park­ing brake is situated beneath the passenger-side sprint so it does not intrude.

Footroom can also be treasured. In truth, this tester needed to drive barefoot as a result of his measurement ten­-and-a-half sneakers merely would not work—miserable the clutch meant making use of the brake, too. However being cramped is a part of the enjoyable, proper?

The automotive weighs simply 1124 kilos. Weight is the enemy of efficiency, and this automotive’s gentle weight makes for a really energetic drive. Our check automotive’s 100-horsepower 1.6-liter motor did the 0-to-60-mph routine in 6.5 seconds, which beats each a Mazda Miata and a BMW Z3. The engine pulls cleanly proper off idle, and a correct exhaust bark bellows proper under your left ear. The one clue that there are carburetors meter­ing the gasoline circulate is the looks of two air cleaners poking by means of a gap lower in the correct facet of the hood—or ought to we are saying “bonnet”? Apart from that, the engine ran simply as easily as a fuel-injected one throughout our fair-weather check. Skidpad grip is spectacular at 0.91 g, however an inclination to lock the correct entrance brake stretched out stops from 70 mph to 220 toes.

My expertise with previous sports activities automobiles is proscribed to a few aged Triumphs I as soon as thought-about shopping for. After only a few miles in both the TR3 or the TR6, I walked away amazed that I used to be in a position to drive each for brief journeys with out having to stroll again—the automobiles felt able to fail at any second. The Caterham undoubtedly appears like a classic automotive, however someplace alongside its evolution, it has misplaced that rattle­lure really feel. You may speed up laborious, dive into corners, and mash the brakes with­out concern of imminent breakage. You end up hustling round and grinning loads on this kooky-looking machine.

The four-speed gearbox is pirated from a Seventies-vintage European Ford Escort. It is good for the automotive. The lever is tiny—smaller than a Miata’s—and snicks into gears with an enormously satisfying mechanical really feel that so few automobiles supply today.

Despite the fact that the automotive begins as a package, you’d hardly realize it when driving. The body is strengthened by aluminum honeycomb panels which are riveted to its sides, and the result’s an impressively stiff automotive. No rattles or squeaks accom­pany laborious driving, which speaks volumes in regards to the automotive’s high quality.

The package for the automotive pictured right here, which incorporates the engine, prices $23,500. A Caterham seller will put it collectively for you for $2500. Doing it your self is claimed to take about 50 hours. A 1.7-liter assembled Supersprint prices $33,000. Of the 700 Caterhams professional­duced every year, solely 50 make it throughout the pond, and that has created the cur­hire 16-week ready checklist.

Did we’ve enjoyable driving the Basic? Sure, however most likely not as a lot as guys sufficiently old to recollect Neville Chamberlain.

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1997 Caterham Basic SE
Automobile Sort: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible


Base/As Examined: $26,000/$26,000

pushrod 8-valve inline-4, iron block and head

Displacement: 98 in3, 1599 cm3

Energy: 100 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 100 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm 

4-speed guide 


Wheelbase: 88.5 in

Size: 133.0 in
Curb Weight: 112.4 lb


60 mph: 6.5 sec

1/4-Mile: 15.5 sec @ 84 mph

Rolling Begin, 5–60 mph: 6.5 sec
Braking, 70–0 mph: 220 ft

Roadholding, 100-ft Skidpad: 0.91 g 



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