Feast your eyes on these 50 facts to mark the 50th anniversary of British sports car manufacturer, Caterham From the brand’s success in motorsport to more than 100 variants of the iconic Seven.
Caterham will celebrate its milestone year with its 50th Anniversary Festival at Donington Park on September 2-3.
The timeline begins in 1973 when Caterham was born after a handshake between Graham Nearn and Lotus founder Colin Chapman in Pub Lotus in Primrose Hill, London.
In May that year, Caterham Car Sales & Coachworks acquired the tooling, designs and exclusive rights to the Seven and commenced manufacturing in Town End, Caterham, a month later.
Caterham has sold more than 22,000 cars in its 50-year history. There have also been several celebrity owners, including Sir Chris Hoy, Rowan Atkinson, Simon Cowell, Eddie Irvine, Chris Rea, Nigel Mansell, Guy Berryman, Jonathan Palmer, Theo Paphitis and Lee Dixon.
Caterham: 50 facts for 50 years
- Caterham acquired the tooling, designs and exclusive rights to the Seven from Lotus Cars in May 1973. The handshake between Colin Chapman and Graham Nearn took place in Pub Lotus in Primrose Hill, London.
- Caterham started building cars in June 1973 in Town End, Caterham, at a rate of circa one Series 4 car per week. Just 38 Series 4 cars were built before production ceased less than a year later.
- All of the first 10 Caterham orders were exported, with the first five going to Germany. Three cars went to Luanda, Angola and chassis #10 went to Guatemala. Chassis #6 was purchased by Jose Rebocho to compete in the Grande Prémio Café de Angola, a two-hour race held at the Autódromo Internacional de Luanda.
- Caterham relaunched the Series 3 model in 1974 featuring Lotus Twin Cam and Ford Crossflow engine options. It received strong demand from export markets, with the first 100 S3 cars built going to destinations such as the US, Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Qatar and Libya.
- French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo drove a Super Seven in the 1979 French action movie “Flic Ou Voyou” or “Cop or Hood”.
- Caterham revealed the Silver Jubilee edition Seven at the 1981 London Motorfair, limited to just eight examples, to mark 25 years of the Seven in 1982.
- In 1984, Caterham launched the Cosworth-powered 1600 BDR model. At the time it was the fastest production Seven built to date and boasted a power-to-weight ratio of nearly 300bhp per ton.
- In 1986, an HPC model launched with a Cosworth 1700 engine, and sales were restricted to buyers who took Caterham’s two-day High Performance Course. Just 62 cars were built and it was capable of 0-60mph in 5.0 seconds.
- Caterham launched Super 7 Racing in 1986, the brand’s one-make championship.
- From the onset, cars were built in the town of Caterham but in 1987, production moved to a larger premises at Kennett Road, Dartford, where cars are still built today.
- In 1989, the ‘Prisoner’ edition was launched in homage to the 1966 TV Series, in which Patrick McGoohan drove a Lotus 7 at the start of every episode. The Prisoner edition made its debut at the 1990 Birmingham Motorshow with Patrick McGoohan flying in from Hollywood for its launch. It featured a unique colour scheme and alloy wheel design.
- In 1990, Vauxhall became a new engine supplier with its engines used in the HPC VX and HPC VXI models.
- Caterham switched from Ford engines to Rover K-Series engines in 1991 with the launch of the 1.4 K-Series taken from the then-new Rover Metro GTI.
- The 35th Anniversary edition launched in 1992, marking 35 years of Seven production. The model received wide press coverage when it was photographed being driven by HRH Prince Edward and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.
- Caterham won the ‘Longest Day of Nelson’ 24-hour endurance race at Nelson Ledges Road Course, Ohio in June 1992. The HPC Twin Cam car built specially for the race won by seven laps and covered 990 laps and 1,980 miles. The driver team consisted of Jez Coates, Reg Price, Robert Nearn and George Alderman. The size of the trophy meant that on the flight home, it had its own seat on the plane.
- The 1992 Jonathan Palmer Evolution (‘JPE’) model featured a Swindon Racing Engines modified Vauxhall 2.0-litre 250bhp engine with a specification almost identical to those used in the British Touring Car Championship. It achieved 0-60 mph in just 3.4 seconds and set a new world record for the fastest accelerating, unmodified production car.
- In 1994 Caterham launched the 21, a two-seat roadster which was based on the Seven’s chassis but wrapped in a more practical body style, with doors, side windows and a boot.
- The Caterham Scholarship, now known as the Caterham Academy, originally launched in 1995 and has since seen more than 1,300 novices become racing drivers.
- The 1999 Superlight R500 model launched with a power-to-weight ratio of 500bhp per tonne. It was powered by a Caterham-modified 1.8-litre Rover K-Series engine with roller barrel throttle bodies to give uninterrupted airflow into the engine on full throttle.
- Caterham launched a motorbike-engined car in 1999, the Blackbird, using a Honda Blackbird CBR1100 engine that delivered 170bhp and redlined at 11,750 rpm. In 2001, a specially adapted Caterham which used a Honda Fireblade engine set a new world record for the fastest speed driven in reverse at 102.52 mph at the hands of Darren Manning.
- The Seven’s chassis dimensions remained unchanged right up until 2000 when the larger ‘SV’ chassis was introduced, increasing the length by 3 inches and the width by 4.3 inches, allowing for more interior space.
- Building on the great success of the R500, the R300 and R400 models were launched in 2002. At the 2002 Nürburgring 24-hour race, the R400 won its class by 10 laps, and came 11th overall out of around 200 starters, at the hands of Chris Harris, Clive Richards, Chris Cooper and Peter Haynes.
- The 2004 Superlight R500 Evolution used a K-Series engine increased to 2.0-litres developed by Minister Racing Engines, and achieved a 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds, 0-100 mph in 6.9 seconds and 0-100-0 mph in 10.7 seconds (faster than the £425,000 Ferrari Enzo).
- The Cosworth-powered CSR200 and CSR260 models of 2005 featured the first use of fully independent rear suspension, reprofiled front wings and an all-new interior with a curved cockpit subframe.
- In 2006, Ford Sigma engines replaced Rover as the main engines in the Seven, with the launch of the Roadsport models and the Superlight 120 / 150 models.
- Caterham partnered with Axon Automotive in 2006 to create the Axon 2R/Eco-M prototype. It featured a carbon fibre spaceframe and enhanced aerodynamics, enabling the car to achieve 131mpg in the 2007 Eco-Marathon.
- The Superlight R500 badge was reborn in 2008 with the launch of a Duratec-engined model. It had 263bhp with a power-to-weight ratio of 520 bhp per tonne. Options available for the first time included a six-speed sequential gearbox and launch control. It was subsequently named ‘Car of the Year’ by Top Gear and famously set a lap time of 1:17.9 around its Dunsfold test track – faster than the £1 million Bugatti Veyron.
- In 2011, Terry Grant set a new world record for the greatest number of non-stop donuts, managing 566 in a 150 bhp Roadsport.
- Caterham Cars was acquired from Corven Ventures by Team Lotus Enterprises in 2011, a group led by Malaysian, Tony Fernandes. Team Lotus Enterprises entered Formula 1 that year as Team Lotus (though it was not related to Lotus Cars). For the 2012 to 2014 seasons, the F1 team became ‘Caterham F1’. A Team Lotus edition Seven was also launched, finished in a matching colour scheme to the F1 car.
- In November 2012, a deal was signed with Renault to jointly develop a new mid-engined two-seater sports car, the Caterham C120 / Alpine A110 – separate cars with shared architecture and components. However, Caterham and Renault/Alpine parted company in mid-2014.
- Since 2013, Caterham has no longer been based in the town of Caterham, after it relocated to a larger, more modern unit near Gatwick Airport.
- Caterham revealed a new concept for a low-cost karting championship in 2013, aimed at novice drivers aged 13 to 16, which would have used its own newly designed kart, the CK-01.
- The 620R was launched at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed by F1 drivers Charles Pic and Alexander Rossi. It was powered by a supercharged 2.0-litre Duratec engine, featured an all-new six-speed straight-cut sequential gearbox, a LSD and race dampers.
- Caterham launched a new entry-level model, the Seven 160, in 2013. Weighing just 490kg, it was powered by Suzuki’s 3-cylinder 660cc turbo engine delivering 80 bhp – a similar engine is used in today’s 170 and Super Seven 600. It featured a rear live axle, rather than the normal De Dion unit. In Japan, the model was launched at an event at the British embassy in Tokyo.
- Since the launch of the Seven 160 and 620R, Caterham has used a ‘double horsepower’ naming strategy. This was continued in 2015 with the launch of the 2.0-litre Duratec-powered 360 as a replacement for the Roadsport 175, along with the 270 and 420 models.
- Caterham launched the Kamui Kobayashi Edition for the Japanese market in 2014, designed by F1 driver Kobayashi, which was a single-seater and featured green lacquer carbon fibre front wings and rear wing protectors – Caterham’s first use of this finish. All but one of the cars built were sold in Japan.
- Caterham partnered with LEGO in 2015 to produce a 620R LEGO set consisting of 770 pieces. More than ten LEGO Sevens have been sold for every full-size Caterham.
- The limited-edition retro inspired Seven Sprint launched in 2016 was created to commemorate 60 years since the launch of the Lotus Seven. It was based on the Seven 160 with the same Suzuki engine, but featured flared wings, red leather seats, red dashboard and a wood-rimmed steering wheel. It was only available in paint colours offered by British manufacturers in 1967. All 120 cars (60 in Europe and 60 in Japan) sold out within days.
- The Seven 310R launched in 2016, based on the 1.6-litre Sigma engine used in the 270R but with reprofiled cams and a remap to deliver 152 bhp (compared to 135 bhp for the 270R). It featured double-wishbone front suspension and a LSD.
- Caterham launched its ‘Signature’ customisation programme in 2016 with a special Harrods model to demonstrate the breadth of options available.
- In 2017, Sir Chris Hoy – both a former Caterham owner and racer – set a new world record for the number of donuts in 60 seconds, managing to do 19 in a 620R.
- The limited-edition retro inspired SuperSprint of 2018 used an uprated 95 bhp version of the 660cc Suzuki engine, tan leather seats and race-inspired details such as an LSD, round chrome mirrors and period decals. It was available in six colour combinations, each named after a historic racing circuit such as Zandvoort. Limited to just 120 units, it sold out within the first day.
- Caterham starred in The Grand Tour’s ‘A Massive Hunt’, with James May using a 310R with off-road modifications to travel across Madagascar.
- In 2021, a Seven 170 was built in less than six hours in the world’s highest car dealership – the top of Brighton’s 450ft British Airways i360 Tower.
- At 440kg, the 170R (launched in 2021) is Caterham’s lightest model yet and one of the world’s lightest production cars.
- Last year the 420 Cup was launched, a road legal car built for the track. It features a 210 bhp 2.0-litre Duratec engine, 6-speed sequential gearbox, fully adjustable dampers and carbon seats.
- Now owned by VT Holdings, Caterham has had three previous owners over the years: the Nearn family until 2005, Corven Ventures until 2011 and Team Lotus Enterprises until 2021.
- There have been several celebrity Caterham owners, including Sir Chris Hoy, Rowan Atkinson, Simon Cowell, Eddie Irvine, Chris Rea, Nigel Mansell, Guy Berryman, Jonathan Palmer, Theo Paphitis, Lee Dixon and Jeremy Clarkson who purchased one for his ex-wife Frances Cain.
- There have been over 100 variants of the Seven since it was introduced in 1957.
- Caterham has sold over 22,000 cars to date, in both kit and factory-built form, and used over 35 engine variants. 2021 was a record sales year for the brand, with 670 units sold.