Cars was founded in Surrey, England, over 40 years ago, but
the Caterham's heritage goes back much further than that. In
fact, notwithstanding copyright rules, every enthusiast refers
to these little cars as Lotus 7s.
The Lotus 7 was originally designed by the late Colin
Chapman, founder of Lotus, in 1957. Chapman entered Formula
One soon afterwards and would eventually steer the likes of
Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti to
World Championships in the 1960s and '70s.
Graham Hill was the first man to race a Lotus 7 in 1958, and
the car soon became a cult favourite on the British Club
In South Africa too, the likes of Brausch Nieman successfully
campaigned Lotus 7s here in the 1960s to great effect.
The first Lotus 7 was powered by a puny 40 horsepower
sidevalve Ford Prefect motor and a three-speed gearbox. But
its light weight and excellent handling saw it set up lap
times that amazed competitors in sophisticated European
More power was inevitable and today there are replica versions
using Mazda Rotary power with over 200 horsepower, making them
Caterham is in fact the spiritual successor to the Lotus line.
In the early 1970s Lotus ceased production of the 7 and sold
the manufacturing jigs and the copyright to the Seven name to
Caterham, which was already established as a 7 distributor.
Since then Caterham has been established as the builder of
"genuine" 7s, although there are many other
companies producing 7 replicas all over the world.
Almost every motoring journalist who has ever driven one
likens the Caterham 7 to a four-wheeled motorcycle. In fact
the sparse cockpit and open cycle-fendered wheels are pure
motorcycle in essence.
Others have said that a Caterham is "the most fun you can
have with your clothes on" and this has drawn a whole
list of celebrities to the Caterham catalogue.
Rock stars that have owned Caterhams are legendary, and
include the likes of Steve Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith
and gravel-voiced Chris Rea, who is a hard-core racer on the
British club racing scene. British tv presenter Jeremy
Clarkson has also been known to have a go in a Caterham.
The British Caterham series has been running as a one make
racing class in the UK since 1986. And the recently
established Caterham Cars South Africa plans to establish a
similar series here.
The man behind the Caterham in South Africa is Derick Irving,
one of the finest racing talents to come out of South Africa.
Irving has won more South African championships than any other
driver and came within a whisker of being crowned the world
250 cc Superkart champion in the 1980s. He also competed in
the South African team in the 100 cc international class,
racing and beating the likes of future F1 stars, in those
days, such as Elio de Angelis.
The self-effacing Irving, now 50 years old, still races today
in the Volkswagen Polo series, but his dream is to establish a
one-make Caterham series here.
Irving reasons that in the current 7 club races there is too
much disparity between engines and chassis configurations,
even though all the cars look much the same.
Thus a competitor with a 70 kW Ford motor in a 7 is made to
look very shabby against one of the 170 kW rotary-powered
machines. His girlfriend can't tell the difference and neither
can most fans on the stands.
A one-make race series, using the Caterham's Toyota RunX RSi
motor which produces
141 kiloWatts, will provide equality of power. So too will the
standard Caterham chassis which is much safer than most 7
replicas, being wider, featuring a comprehensive roll cage,
and honeycomb side panels for crash protection.
sophisticated De Dion rear suspension provides amazing
handling, and the Avon slick tyres last for up to six race
The cars are also very fast. The 0-100 km/h time is under
five-seconds, thanks to a weight of under 600 kg, and top
speed is over 220 km/h.
At a cost of R250 000 including a six-speed gearbox and the
fuel-injected Toyota engine, the Caterham is one beautiful
future plans include establishing a racing school using
Caterhams, to provide invaluable open-wheeler experience for
racing stars of the future.