Caterham Cars is a British manufacturer of specialist lightweight sports cars. Caterham is a town in the Tandridge District of Surrey, England, where Caterham Cars was founded. The company is still based in Caterham. As of today, only one Caterham model is being produced: the Caterham Seven. This car can trace its ancestry back to the Series 3 Lotus Seven. The Lotus/Caterham Seven is one of the most famous sports cars of the 1900s.
Caterham Cars was a major Lotus dealer during the 1960’s, and in 1973 Chapman sold the rights to manufacture the Seven design to the founder of Caterham Cars, Graham Nearn, when Lotus announced that they planned on discontinuing the model. Caterham Cars began with the Lotus Seven Series 4, but switched to the more popular Lotus Seven Series 3 in 1974.
Chapman and Lotus are famous for kick-starting the British kit car industry, since they offered their customers the Lotus Seven in kit form as a way of avoiding the UK new car tax. During the 1960’s, the original Lotus Seven was only sold in kit form; in the UK as well as in the USA. The rational behind the decision to sell kit cars only was to evade the very high taxes that had been assessed on new cars but not on automobile parts. When Caterham Cars took over, they continued the kit car tradition and offered cars in 'complete knock down' kit form. In the United Kingdom, all Caterham Sevens can still be purchased as kit cars, with the exception of the CSR model. In the United States, Caterham cars are only available as kit cars, partly due to the fact that they lack some of the safety features that are mandatory for all manufactured cars but voluntary for individually-assembled vehicles.
In most cases, engine and transmission are sourced separately as a unit. The other components, such as frame, differential, suspension, wiring, instruments and interior, can be purchased in kit form. When you get a kit car, you can either assemble it yourself or hire someone else to do it. It is for instance quite common to pay the regional dealer to have a fully assembled Caterham car delivered. In the United Kingdom, you can also purchase Caterham cars that have been fully assembled by Caterham and registered for the road under Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) regulations.
Just like the Lotus, Caterham Cars consists of aluminium sheet that has been attached to a tubular steel chassis. The engine is placed in the front and all Sevens have rear wheel drive. These cars are extremely low weight and only have two seats. Some versions weigh less than 500 kg and are high performance cars chiefly thanks to this, without having particularly powerful engines.
In the late 1990’s, Caterham Cars began production of the 21 model. Mechanically, this model was very similar to the 7, but it had a wide roadster body instead of the narrow, open body of the Seven. The 21 model even had a proper windscreen and a fold-away hood. Most buyers did however prefer the Lotus Elise over the Caterham 21, and the 21 was discontinued after a few years.