Caterham’s history is linked with the history of Lotus cars. Colin Chapman designed the Lotus seven series 1 car in 1957 which was very popular among race car enthusiasts of the time. Later the Lotus company launched the series 2, series 3 and series 4 versions of the Lotus Seven in 1960, 1968 and 1970 respectively. In 1973, Lotus took a decision to discontinue the model. At that time Graham Nearn, the founder of the Caterham Company, which was a major dealer for the Lotus cars, purchased the rights to produce the discontinued Lotus Seven model cars from Colin Chapman.
At first Caterham started producing the Series 4 which was the latest version of the Lotus seven cars. But due to less popularity than the series 3 version, Caterham switched to produce series 3 version from 1974. The caterham produced Lotus cars were called as the Lotus/Caterham 7.
The Caterham car company was started at Caterham at Surrey in UK and the offices worked there until 1987. In 1987, the administration of the company was moved to a new factory at Dartford at Kent in UK. But a Caterham south showroom was retained near the railway station which worked till February 2013. Additionally the Caterham Midlands showroom operates outside Leicester. In 2012, the caterham cars moved to a new facility which was located at Leafield. The new models of the Caterham cars are expected to be built and developed in this new facility for the future. This new facility was formerly used by Arrows F1 tem and Super Aguri F1 team. This will also accommodate the Caterham F1 team which was at first operating from Hingham Norfolk.
The company produces the Caterham seven cars for more than 55 years. The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the company and the iconic sports car. In 2011, the Lotus team’s owner, Tony Fernandes, officially announced that he had purchased Caterham Company. The company was headed by Ansar Ali, who held office as the CEO of the company since 2006 to 2012. Later Graham Mc Donald, the former CFO of the company took in charge as the CEO and heads the company now.
Caterham cars are known for their light weight which is considered a special virtue of any sports car. As the Lotus seven cars were designed, Caterham seven cars are also built with aluminium sheet which is attached to a tubular steel chassis. The nosecone of the car is made of two materials which can be specified by the buyer. It can be either Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) or can be made of Carbon fibre. The Caterham seven cars are rear wheel drive cars and have a front mounted engine. They have a capacity to carry two persons.
The speed of the Caterham seven cars are from the sole design of light weight of the car. Some versions of the Caterham seven cars are even less than 500 kgs. The engine of the cars is not particularly powerful. Also the car compromises a lot on its safety features like roof, airbags, ABS, traction control and other safety and comfort units of a car. As there are not much safety features in the car, the weight of the car is still more reduced which gives the speedy sports car an advantage. But this reduces the everyday practicality of the car and makes it a pure race car. So the car is not preferred for family drives.
The Caterham cars continued the trend of Kit cars which was excelled by the Lotus cars. The Lotus seven cars were sold as Kit form in UK so that the tax burden is reduced as England had a higher taxation system for larger cars than the tax for self assembled cars. When the Lotus seven models were continued by Caterham, it gave the cars in Complete Knock Down (CKD) kit form. This was welcomed by driving enthusiasts. Modern kit cars of the Caterham are given as ready to assemble parts and do not needs a donor car, fabrication or any special skills, which is a major difference between Caterham cars and other kit form cars.
The earlier cars of the Lotus as well as Caterham used a Lotus Twin cam engines. Then it followed the Ford cross flow engines. During the starting era, Caterham used engines from Ford kent or Cosworth derived race- prepared BDA/R units. The first Cosworth BDRs appeared in 1983 in 1600 cc with a power of 140 bhp. Three years later, the power was increased to 150 bhp for a 1700 cc version of the same engine. In the 90s Caterham started using other sources for its engines such as the K series engine from MG Rover and Vauxhall engines. The Rover engine gives a power of 110 – 250 bhp power in the R500 evolution. Vauxhall engines give 165 bhp to 320 bhp.
The higher power range of caterham cars which are now available in the market use mostly Ford engines only. It is said that the K series engine which are found in meager numbers in the market would be eliminated totally and only an all Ford engine models would exist.
The gear box found in the Caterham cars are either a Ford T9 five speed gear box or a Caterham six speed gear box. The Ford T9 is comparatively cheap but is meant for a heavier car than the Caterham cars. The Caterham’s own six speed gear box is perfectly designed to match the Seven cars.
Caterham cars in other markets:
The Caterham seven cars are widely loved by racing enthusiasts all over the world. But as Caterham does not give attention to details like safety and emission features to maintain the reduced weight of the car, the cars are sold only on limited numbers in markets other than UK.
In The United States, Caterham cars are sold only as kit forms as they lack some safety features which are essential for cars on American roads, but which are not essential regulations for self assembled cars. The car can be assembled by the buyer or he can choose an option paying for a local dealer to assemble the car. The engine and transmission are the core units given by the Caterham company while the other components such as the frame, differential, driveshaft, suspension interior wiring and instruments are provided in kit form. In UK, the cars can also be registered under Single Vehicle Approval (SVA), when bought as a fully assembled car from Caterham.
Trims of Caterham Seven:
Caterham Seven Classic is the basic level car available in the seven series. This trim level is available in both series 3 and series 5 (SV) chassis. This model cuts off all the other unessential parts of the car which are meant for comfort. Earlier this car was offered with a live rear axle but now it comes with a De Dion rear axle as in other variants from the year 2002. These variants are powered with a 1.4 litres K series engine and can churn out 105 bhp or with a 1.6 litres K series engine with 120 bhp.
Road sport is the trim level which is intended for regular usage, different weather conditions and touring. The car includes full wind screen and weather equipments that increase practicality of the car. This car was introduced as the Superlight R in 1996. Later a much softer version of the car was introduced and named as Seven club sport 1.8. The model was developed then on. This trim level offers a wide range of performance options. It is powered by a 1.6 litres Ford Sigma engine which can give three different power levels as 120 bhp, 125 bhp or 150 bhp. Another version of the same model can be powered by a 2.0 liters Ford Duratec engine which can give a 175 bhp of power. This car is a great alternative for those who need something more than the classic trim level but do not want to go for the higher super light cars.
Road sport A or the RSA are still ex academy cars and have not added any engine upgrades. But there have been performance related upgrades made to the cars. Some such upgrades are removing the windscreens and lights, wide track front suspension and upgraded dampers. There is professional team support available for the car. The car races in events similar to the RSB but also additionally runs in longer 30 minutes races.
Road sport B is largely for experienced drivers who have come through the previous season’s academy. Some minor modifications are allowed in the car such as fitting an anti roll bar rear suspension and Avon CR500 tyres which are sticky. The factory provides the technical support needed for the cars but a professional support team is not permitted. Road sport B competes in 20 minutes races at 7 or 8 double header meetings. For 2009, the RSB trim was exclusively made for the Sigma engine cars.
Superlight cars are intended for track purposes and fast road usage. The superlight cars have more performance options available such as the carbon body works and a close ratio six speed gear box. It uses a Caterham gear box for transmission. There is a wind deflector in the place of the wind screen and this makes a helmet mandatory to drive the car. The super light trim is available in S3 and SV chassis. The car is powered by 1.6 litres Ford Sigma which can produce 150 bhp of power or 2.0 liters Ford Duratec tuned for either 175 bhp, 210 bhp or 263 bhp powers.
Superlight R300, launched in 2009, is the intermediate level car for Road Sport A racing and the superlight R400 which is the existing sports version of Caterham. Experienced RSA drivers who want to move to the next level of speed in racing choose the superlight R300 cars.
Superlight R400 series is the most popular among the Caterham cars and it is the Caterham Motorsport’s car represented in the premier British championships. The Superlight R400 is powered by a 2.0 liter Ford Duratec engine tuned for a 210 bhp power. The name R400 comes from the impressive power to weight ratio, which breaks the barrier of 400 bhp per tonne. The car is actually capable of a 420 bhp per tonne with the cars weight at 515 kgs. The car runs on Avon CR500 tyres as with all series above academy.
Superlight R500 is the latest version of Caterham Superlight series cars available in the market. It is powered by 2.0 liters Ford Duratec engine which can give out a maximum horsepower of 263 bhp at 8500 rpm and provides a maximum torque of 177 lb.ft at 7200 rpm. The car weighs 506 kgs (516 kgs sequential gear box). It can reach the 0 – 60 mph speed at 2.88 seconds. The company claims a top speed of 150 mph. It uses the same Caterham six speed gear box as in the R400 series. The power to weight ratio of the car is 520 bhp per tonne. The R500 had been made the Top Gear car of the year 2008.
The CSR trim level of the Caterham seven is available in similar basic trims as the S3 and SV chassis. The basic CSR has a road and touring oriented spec and features full wind screen and weather equipments. The car is available as CSR200 which gives 200 bhp power or CSR260 as 260 bhp power. A CSR superlight version of 260 bhp power is also available. This Super light version is the current performance flagship of the Caterham seven CSR. It does not have any additional equipment such as wind screen, integrated dash and other comfort oriented components. The car has special dynamic dampers to increase the cars grip. The car is powered by 2.3 liters Ford Duratec tuned by Cosworth.
RS performance RST V8 provides a high performance among the Caterham cars. It is built by the RS (Russell Savory) performance engine development ltd. This is a mostly carbon fibre bodied Caterham car with Kevlar seats. The car is powered with a 2.4 litres, 40 valves, V8 supercharged engine it powers the rear wheels of the car. The car can produce a power of 400 bhp in normal mode and over 500 bhp at 10000 rpm as a supercharged variant. The kerb weight of the car is almost 1150 pounds and this breaks the power to weight ratio of 1000 bhp per tonne limit. The car has a sticky wheel and traction control to keep the car in place during the high speed journey. The cost of the car is inclusive of a mandatory two days driver training for the car.
Caterham cars in Racing:
The Caterham F1 racing team was first seen in 2012 F1 races. The team first entered the competition with the name Lotus racing under the license of the Group Lotus. When Lotus team’s parent company, the Proton, cancelled the license, Tony Fernandes acquired the name Team Lotus in 2011. Later Proton sued against Tony Fernandes and he acquired Caterham cars. The team applied to change its name formally and competed in the 2012 F1 season as the Caterham F1. The Caterham F1 maintained the same green and yellow livery used by the team Lotus in the year 2011. The first F1 car of Caterham the CT-01 was revealed in the F1 racing magazine on 26th January 2012. The team moved to the Leafield technical centre in 2012. Truli and Kovalainen were the key sport drivers in the 2011 F1 season and the team finished 10th in the constructor championship. In the 2012 Formula 1 season, Truli and Kovalainen sign the agreement to play for the same team under the name Caterham. But later it was announced that Vitaley Petrov would replace Truli and Kovalainen would team with him. In the early part of the race, caterham was found lagging but later Kovalainen made it for the Q2, eliminating Michael Schumacher in the 2012 season. At the Monaco Grand Prix Kovalainen achieved the season’s best thirteenth place. In Valencia, Kovalainen collided with Toro Rossos’ car, but managed to complete the final lap at 14th position, just behind Petrov who made the best finish of Caterham at the 13th position. In January 2012, the team moved to the Leafield technical centre, which was the headquarters of the Arrows and super Arguri F1 teams. Caterham CT01 was the first car built to use the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). By this system, a moving vehicle’s kinetic energy can be recovered while the vehicle is braking. This recovered energy is stored in a reservoir such as a fly wheel or a battery. It is used during acceleration of the vehicle later.
In the GP2 series, Caterham competes in the name of Caterham Racing from the year 2012. In the previous year the team was called as Caterham Air Asia. The team is also owned by Tony Fernandes and retains the same green and yellow livery of the Formula 1 team. This GP2 team is used as a feeder team for the development of racing drivers for the F1 team Caterham F1. The team was initially based at Hingham and then it moved to Leafield technical centre along with the F1 team from August 2012.
Caterham racing is a competition among Caterham cars across the world, estimated to be completed in 11 countries. The Caterham motorsport ladder is the series of race events which forms a progression through various Caterham car championships. It starts with the Caterham Academy and there are various steps through the races till the most prestigious European car events.
The Caterham academy is a place for novice car race drivers and was first launched in 1995 under the name of Caterham Scholarship in UK. In the year 2000, the Caterham Scholarship was re named as the Caterham Academy. The racing events in this category comprises of sprints, hill climbs and circuit races. The Academy also provides two parallel championships called as Group1 and Group2. Each of these championship events leads to an Academy championship at the year end. It is estimated at nearly 700 racing drivers are made through the Caterham Academy. The Caterham motorsport ladder then goes into the Road sport B, Road sport A, R300, Superlight series and the Euro cup accordingly.
The virtual next level of Caterham Motorsport ladder, as deemed by many, is the Caterham graduates racing club. It is actually independent from Caterham Motorsport ladder but it is run by the same members of Caterham academy. The Caterham graduate’s championship was first held in the year 1998. During the early couple of years this championship was also a multi disciplinary event with a mix of sprints, hill climbs and circuit races as in the Caterham Scholarship. But later the event was solely held for circuit races from 2000. It comprises of various classes such as classic graduate, super graduate, mega graduate and sigma graduates, using the high end sigma engine cars.
In the year 2012, Caterham announced its desire to create a karting team at 2013. It stated that the intention of the karting series was to help young race drivers get into the racing career by providing a cheap karting career. It is said that the Caterham karting series will be open for children between the years 13 to 16 and the maximum entries is restricted to 120 entries. This karting series is expected to start from 2014. It is planned to be affordable and an enjoyable competitive kart series without losing any element of competition or experience.
For details, visit - Caterham's official website