View Full Version : 2003 Caterham Super Seven Roadsport SV

01-13-2004, 11:37 PM
2003 Caterham Super Seven Roadsport SV
Fundamentally Fun: Caterham makes a Super Seven with wiggle room


IF IT DOESN’T MAKE IT go fast or make it legal to drive it on the road, it’s not on the Caterham Super Seven. It has no radio, no cupholders, minimal bodywork, what roof there is resembles a pup tent more than a convertible top. The “doors” are removable side curtains, useful to cut the wind on the freeway but more fun to drive without. Cross a shifter kart with a superbike and you’re getting close to the sensations available in a Super Seven. We spent hours and hours behind the wheel, giving rides to the adventurous and explaining it to people too timid to get into something that looks, to modern eyes, frail.

BASE PRICE: $28,595
POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter, 147-hp, 140-lb-ft I4; rwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 1268 pounds
0-60 MPH: 5.2 seconds (est.)

It’s not frail, really, no matter how it might seem from the cabin of a gargantuan SUV. This car was screwed, riveted and welded together about as tightly as anything we’ve driven lately. It’s just there’s not much of it: tubular space frame, skin-thin alloy and plastic body, engine and trans, four wheels, two seats so close to the ground you can reach out and file your nails on the pavement, a few instruments, three pedals and a steering wheel. The driver handles all traction control and brake antilock functions himself, and it’s a blast.

Spartan though it may be, by Super Seven standards the car you see in these photos is practically decadent. Not only does it have a heater and the optional heated windshield glass, it’s the Roadsport SV model. Compared with the competition-inspired Superlight R we wrote about early last year (AW, Feb. 17, 2003), the Roadsport SV has a 3.2-inch-longer wheelbase, wider track (by 6.9 inches in front, 4.3 in back) and larger cockpit, making it more suitable for weekend excursions with a tolerant passenger. In the Roadsport, the traditionalists’ hair-shirt approach to all-out performance yields, if only a little, to the needs of everyday motoring. The de Dion rear axle, dual-wishbone front suspension and stiffer, larger, side-impact-protected frame all depart in the direction of sophistication and refinement from the original design, which Colin Chapman rolled out as the Lotus Seven in 1957. Equipped, as this sample was, with a 147-hp Ford Focus Zetec four-cylinder, the Roadsport SV will still run with a Corvette (though it won’t beat it handily, as a 202-hp Superlight R can), but it won’t leave your own aging frame aching afterward.

Chapman’s design, which he once described as “the sort of thing you dash off in an afternoon,” has been a sports car purist’s touchstone in continuous production for 46 years now, the ultimate track-day machine for the driving enthusiast who just wants experience without all the froufrou. With Lotus itself ready to bring the similarly inspired Elise to this country—same elemental-motoring idea, executed with 21st-century technology—we thought it would be worth a look at a current Seven that might be as useful for weekend road outings. The Roadsport SV that was visiting at Ford’s SVT outfit on loan from Caterham USA in Denver fit the bill perfectly.

Manufactured since 1973 by Caterham Cars, the Super Seven you can buy in America today (uscaterham.com) arrives in kit form, which means it’s pretty much complete but without engine and transmission. The space-frame chassis resembles Chapman’s design, but has aluminum honeycomb side-impact protection, that de Dion rear axle located by lower A-frame and Watts linkage and—the latest—the bigger frame. It allows for 3.2 inches more legroom, a cockpit 4.3 inches wider, and a pedal box two inches wider and one inch taller. Even this “big” Roadsport has only a 90.7-inch wheelbase and 56.9-inch track front and rear; every inch counts in something this small. The foldable windshield is an inch taller than standard, too, so the roof (hood in Britspeak) is an inch higher.

No one would mistake this for a roomy environment—helping passengers find a graceful way to enter the vehicle is still part of the charm—but a Super Seven can now be described as habitable for those who found the standard cockpit a painful experience even after Caterham enlarged the space on all models in 1982. You get the cycle fenders with the Roadsport, which can’t be had with the clamshell fenders Chapman put on his first Sevens, but this arrangement is more aerodynamic and lets the driver watch the precise location of the front wheels.

The folks at Caterham USA and its handful of dealerships will sell you an engine and transmission and help you arrange to have the assembly finished by pros if you don’t have the time (about 100 hours) or inclination to do it yourself. You’ll have some choices to make, even after you’ve made your pick between the Classic SE with live-axle suspension, the Super Seven de Dion, the Superlight R and the Roadsport SV (the Clubsport and SCCA racer versions are meant for the racetrack).

There are two Zetecs, the base 147-hp model and a 202-hp Supersport, or you might pick one of the more traditional Ford crossflow twin-cam fours. These displace 1600 cc or 1700 cc, and peak power outputs of 100, 135 or 150 hp. While the top crossflow engine makes a bit more power at higher rpm, even the base Zetec has a significant advantage in low-rpm torque (140 lb-ft at 4000 rpm vs. only 128 lb-ft at 5000 rpm for the top 1700-cc “Crossflow hp” version).

Toss in the variations in the five-speed (from the Ford Sierra in regular and heavy-duty spec) and six-speed manual gearboxes (Caterham’s own, offered only with the Zetec), and hard-core Seven lovers can debate these options all day long and over several beers into the night, comparing the cost (the Zetec demands more money), weight (the Zetec is heavier), and what it all does to the relative balance of the car.

We’ll say this: When you’re sitting behind that salad plate-size Momo steering wheel, flicking the short-throw shifter through the gears and slicing through traffic, you won’t want for power. The Zetec 2.0-liter in a machine that weighs only 1268 pounds provides plenty of fun on any road, and we even hand-timed a stoplight-to-60-mph sprint in 5.2 seconds. If you expect to have a stopwatch running more often than not when you drive your Super Seven, you might want to look at the other options (the Superlight R we drove in L.A. can get to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds), but for road-going thrills along with a modicum of comfort, the example we drove would be hard to top. Steering response is immediate and quick, handling is amazing, grip on modern tires makes you thankful for well-bolstered seats, and the only quibble we really had was a slightly spongy feel in the brake pedal, perhaps attributable to severe usage in track tests before it got to us. Or maybe the feel would be better with race-spec brake hoses, but the four-wheel discs certainly didn’t lack for stopping performance.

At $35,845 as tested, the cost is pretty darned close to the projected base price of a Lotus Elise when it arrives this spring, especially if you have to make allowance to have someone assemble the Seven for you. The Elise will have a 187-hp Toyota motor, but weighs 1965 pounds—the power-to-weight ratio works out to the Seven’s advantage (each hp moves 8.625 pounds vs. 10.5 pounds for the Elise), though aerodynamics probably won’t. The differences seem clear enough: modern car with warranty and mid-engine balance, or a cruder, even more elemental machine with the traditional front-engine/rear-drive layout. Purists may now begin their polar-moment-of-inertia debate. The rest of us will take our fun where we find it.

01-15-2004, 01:11 AM
Very nice...i'd love to try one, or even own one.
I see some good deals come and go on Ebay and maybe some day...

01-15-2004, 01:49 AM
Check out the Caterham Superlight R500. It will do 0-60 in 3.4 sec and hit a drag limited top speed of 150 mph.


1.8 litre 230bhp K-Series power unit
13" Magnesium wheels with Avon CR500 tyres
Carbon pack including nose, wings and wing protectors
Magnesium upgrade pack including sump, bell housing and oil tower
Stack instrumentation
Limited slip differential
Carbon nose and wings
R500 – 460kg

Factory Built for around $45,000. graemlins/driving.gif graemlins/thumbsup.gif

01-15-2004, 06:54 PM
Oh man! 0-60 in 3.4? Motorcycle times. I am almost drooling at the thought of it!

01-15-2004, 07:10 PM
<blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by Steve:
0-60 in 3.4?...<hr></blockquote>

That almost hurts to think about it (but in a good way).
There are so many different types of "7s" nowadays that building one is tempting. The Stawker, the Robin Hood, the LoCost, the Dutton, the Superformance, etc, as well as the various bike-powered ones.
Twenty five years ago I built a "semi-7" with a group of my students. We used a Toyota pushrod Corolla engine and trans with Toyota suspension at the rear and VW at the front. It was sort of a dog, but fun to auto-x. Here's a picture:


01-15-2004, 08:43 PM
As great as both of these sound...

I'd probably prefer the lotus Elise thats available here in the states shortly..

Thinking of the Seven sure does make the new Elise seem civialized doesn't it?

I guess when its said..everything is relative............. it couldn't be more accurate..

01-16-2004, 03:32 PM
What I don't understand is that I've seen two articles about the SV now -- Autoweek and Road & Track --- and they both talk like the SV is some newly introduced car. As far as I know, its been around for several years.... images/icons/confused.gif

But.... it's still on my list of cars to have since I might actually fit my 6'-4" into it!

01-16-2004, 03:52 PM
I would love one of those but sadly it will be out of my price range for years.

What I may do instead (in a year or so) is build my own inspired by the Locost book

https://members.shaw.ca/spitfire1500/images/book4.jpg (https://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1859606369/daves1974triu-20)

using an old Corolla, MGB or RX-7 as donor. Need to learn to weld first though images/icons/tongue.gif

01-16-2004, 03:54 PM
<blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><hr>Originally posted by aeronca65t:
Twenty five years ago I built a "semi-7" with a group of my students. We used a Toyota pushrod Corolla engine and trans with Toyota suspension at the rear and VW at the front. It was sort of a dog, but fun to auto-x. <hr></blockquote>

That is interesting. I want to build my own Seven at some point. What VW front suspension was this? Beetle?

01-20-2004, 10:41 PM
Early Beetle. It was really not very good....but it was free images/icons/grin.gif

The best front suspension for 7-clones is probably the front Spitfire suspension...."real" 7s used a lot of Spit / Herald suspension parts too.

Super 7
01-24-2004, 03:35 PM
I understand that Series 4 7's used spitfire suspension, adjustable mountings and all.

My S2 uses a Spit rack, spindles, trunions, and upper link. Thats a lot of Herald. No adjustment except toe, ride height, and bump steer are possible. No camber or caster.

No way I would pay that kind of money for a replica. You can buy the real thing all day for half that, and be vintage race eligable.

[ 01-24-2004: Message edited by: Super 7 ]</p>

Bruce Bowker
03-11-2004, 05:08 PM
I have a 2001 Caterham and must say it is one the most enjoyable FUN FUN FUN cars I have ever driven. And the seats, even though they seem pretty basic, are extremely comfortable. Only seats I ever sat in where the headrest is right there at the back of your head, not 6 inches away.


Jim Weatherford
03-14-2004, 04:20 AM
I drove a 2.0 Superformance and though it was a very tight fit, it was a blast to drive and very roadable. I'm 6'3" and 250 and it was a good but tight fit.

08-16-2004, 01:48 PM
I drove the Caterham SV. However, the roads were damp and I could not wring it out very much. It feels much more basic than the Elise. I'm 6'2" and 210LB and had more than enough room. I'm contemplating getting one for the US.

08-18-2004, 06:49 PM
If you want to build a Seven I think you could do a lot worse than read this:


08-23-2004, 03:44 PM
I have a Birkin S3 and at 6'1'' I fit (just barely). It has the exact external dimensions as the regular Caterham (not the SV) but a bit more space because the tranny bellhousing is narrower. With the stock seats it was not a problem to get in and out at all - but I since replaced it with a Kirkey racing seat and getting in and out is harder - but once you are in - you are not moving anywhere (which is a good thing for cars with lots of G forces /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif)

Lots of fun to drive.