Driving the Seven           ....9/2006: over 100,000km in 7.5 years

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What's a Seven?




Zetec vs. X-Flow

Conversion to Zetec

Gearbox upgrade

Maintenance Log

7's  50th Anniversary







Performance and handling are unmatched by anything else on the road. Compare it to 911's or M3's it has no equal. I know, because I've driven these and many other cars. With the adjustable seats, the driving position is relaxed and somewhat of a cradled position. Not much option as the car is very low and in order to have the hairline below the windscreen, if you're shorter than 5'10"...5'11", the seat back has to have quite an angle to it. The adjustable seats are quite comfortable and very stable on the track, with the bench seat version there is more interior side to side room, at the expense of less lateral location support. The new Lotus Elise is a very close competitor. But.. I did have the privilege to drive a new US spec 190HP Elise on the track, and although this is a beautiful car, it competes well with the Boxster and S2000. However, A "Seven" replacement it is not. A Seven with some horsepower has just a very hard edge to it, that is not found in any other car, including the Elise. I'm probably biased, but it's like comparing "very good music" to "spine tingling music".

Surprisingly tall, 6'4"... 6'6",  people fit in this car, at least as passengers. For the drivers seat there are 3rd party floor lowering options available. A new wider and longer body style (Road sport SV and later also the CSR) was introduced 2001 by Caterham. Check it out at http://www.caterham.co.uk/ . But even in the standard size car, two 200 lbs people will fit snug but ok. As far as shoes - I've got size 10.5.  For the first few hundred miles it was tricky to hit the brake pedal the correct way without taking the clutch along but it was not difficult to get used to. Perfect layout for "heel-and-toe" with my size feet.

Engine braking is such that with the light chassis, taking the foot of the throttle will change how the car is "set" on the suspension. Like Mario Andretti says: "some people think the brakes are for stopping the car, but they're for setting the suspension".  In a Seven this applies to the brakes as well as to the throttle. Once you get used to how much each of these actions load up the suspension quadrants, you can start going very fast through the corners. Of the cars I've driven, this one has the absolute mildest transition from neutral to oversteer, making it very steerable with the throttle. Make sure you are in the power band before applying the throttle, otherwise you'll be bogging the engine.

I ordered my particular car with the wide track suspension, which adds 80 mm of track in front and a much stiffer front ARB. Although the XF (Crossflow) engined cars have the engine a few inches more forward than other engine types, the car would potentially understeer.  Although this is often mentioned, it's not a major issue for fast road use, but on the track and with cold tires this is something to work with. My preferred cornering style with this car is with the throttle on just before the apex, allowing for throttle steer. This car is so tremendously responsive it is very easy to steer the back or simply center it and get a smooth 4 wheel slide. Downside is accelerated tire wear. The standard Michelin XGT Pilot tires were pretty much done for around 20k miles. I then used Bridgestone Potenza's, as the Michelin Pilot compound in recent years had changed too much (too hard), but the Bridgestones are not at all suitable, due to a very stiff sidewall and high tire weight (21lbs/tire, without rim). I'm looking for some Avon (Cooper) tires as the next step. For the track I now use Avon ACB10's.  (Note: I finally changed to Yokohama's - these work very well for fast road use)


This is really a track / fast road car. People who enjoy fast cars and driving itself, enjoy this car. It's the pure roadster. Fast, racy sounds with some of the engine types, phenomenal handling. Nothing corners like this. Even in stock form it's ready to go to the track. At Caterham, development has focussed on track performance. Razor sharp and unassisted quick steering feels like it's directly wired to the motor cortex. With the de-Dion suspension the unsprung mass is very low, making for good traction, combined with minimal rear-steering. For a 1300 lbs car it would be expected that the ride be hard like a brick, but it's well tuned. In fast corners hitting certain bumps may unsettle the car slightly, but it's so easy to control it is not a problem.
But in summary, just being in the car and driving it, continues to be tremendous fun.  And that's still true 60k+ miles later mid 2006 !

Besides the Wisconsin back roads, I've taken several longer trips with this car (100-400 mi's) and it works fine. Some things I'll add at some point are a clock, some kind of radio (traffic news - the car does not like traffic jams) and a reading light. At night it's tricky for the passenger to check the map. Elbow space for moving around with a map is at a premium, so some light under the passenger side dash or in the footwell would be very useful. (Since I wrote this years ago I have done many things to and with the car, except for making these additions... who knows, one day...). Recently I participated in the 50th year celebration (USA7.org) at Deals Gap, Tail of the Dragon in NC/TN. This implied driving down 770+ miles and some touring in the Smokey Mountains and a return trip of another same day 770 mile trip. The 100F weather was not great, but the car ran beautiful and I could still move the next day!

The car is relatively comfortable, but space is limited. For the long trips (for which it is not really intended) every couple of hours it is good to get out and get a stretch. The semi-open exhaust puts a bit of a tax on the ears, and it is recommended for long trips to use some hearing protection. With the cover up, it is very very boomy..... it very much amplifies all the noises. I only use the top with heavy rain. Light rain is not an issue, provided speeds are >30mph.

Driving without the side screens is a bit much for the uninitiated or newcomer, but it's absolutely outstanding and maybe the best way to fully enjoy the experience! Definitely want to use an earplug for the outboard ear, as on LHD the side exhaust is near.

On winding country roads, a Seven will transport you to an alternate state of mind. This is the car to drive from A to A. Any errand is an excuse to take a 45 min detour, if you're lucky enough to be living near or in the country side. In the city it's fun too for those that enjoy being the center of attention. Here in the US, car enthusiasts know what it is, but for many it's simply a very odd vehicle. I think all kids love it and will stop whatever they are doing, to watch it, listen to it and .... smell it (if it's carburetted).

Other Sevens:
To meet another Sevener is like meeting a lost family member, introductions usually follow after engine and suspension configuration have been discussed first!
I have the great fortune to have other Seveners in my neighborhood. John H. with a dark blue deDion/Zetec Cat lives only 15mi's from my house and Steve K. with a Zetec Birkin about 2hrs North. We get together regularly at Road America or simply to talk pistons. Since early 2002 the Zetec conversion efforts connected me with Graeme G. about 2 hrs to the South from me, in Illinois. Sevens join  different and yet similar people. Great stuff.

This car is a roadster, a pure sports car. Thus the relevance in this case has to do with the potential for daily driving enjoyment. And this is certainly very much a possibility.  Many Se7ens in the USA are solely intended for track use, but in my personal view it misses the point somewhat. The idea being that a car configured for daily road use, can be driven to the track, perform well and be driven home. For several years this is how I have used the car, until I had to admit that track use does place different "more extreme" demands on tires, so now I bring track tires to the track...  It is no different for the rest of the car. Engine and drivetrain are heavily used and loaded in the 4000-7000rpm and 3/4/5 gear range, whereas road use tends to have most of the rpms below 3500rpm (that's 70mph) on most roads, although with heavy loaded intervals. E.g. traffic light takeoffs, will use 1st and 2nd gear to leave most everything behind. Throw in 3rd for good measure and you're alone on the road.

With a deDion car, cloth adjustable seats, a heater and windscreen, there is no reason not to use this car for longer trips. The boot space is limited, but very usable. A soft bag, laptop , photo gear, hiking shoes and tools all easily fit in there. The weather gear is fine, although the hood will not go up in cold (<30F) weather, as the tension is just too great and risk of damaging the windscreen may well be real.
Driving the car in light rain is fine without the hood up, but downpours require the hood. Unfortunately the windshield wipers are cosmetic and not useful in anything but light rain, during which you will get more use from the windscreen heater than the wipers. The screen heater is excellent.

Over the years I've entertained may individuals, and invariably they'll have an insane grin on their face afterwards. I've been told that being  passenger in a 7 is a bit of an "inspiring" experience as everything is about 20mph faster than the driver thinks he or she is going...

As I mentioned, if you truly appreciate driving, you will appreciate this car. It's simply the best there is. After 50 years, there's nothing to replace it.