An Autocar image previews what a fully-enclosed Caterham could look like
Caterham will build a new front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, fully enclosed sports car to sell alongside its Seven model — if it can find a suitable brand as a project partner, the company’s boss has revealed.
The car is likely to be based around the abandoned but highly regarded C120 concept created with Renault-owned Alpine in 2014. Caterham’s boss, Graham MacDonald, indicated that there was a great sense of regret that this project never came to fruition and he said the company would have no hesitation in picking up the plans again in the right circumstances.
The British firm is looking to enter a more mainstream area of the car market with a new model — something it tried in the 1990s with the Caterham 21. MacDonald suggested such a car would have a more conventional shape than the Seven to broaden its appeal.
However, the core desire of the company is to maintain the much-praised Seven, so any fully enclosed model is likely to be an addition to the line-up, rather than a direct replacement for the Seven.
Caterham would use an engine from another manufacturer for its sports car, as it does for its current models which have Ford engines. However, MacDonald ruled out using Ford’s Ecoboost engines for such a project, saying Caterham wanted to use a naturally aspirated powerplant.
“The Seven is 60 years old next year,” he said. “While we love and cherish that, we have to think about the future. It’s important to get the right engine and product for our customers. It has to have Caterham DNA.
“We are talking to Ford and a number of other manufacturers. While the 620 is supercharged, we like naturally aspirated engines.”
As with the C120, Caterham would build the car in a joint venture with another manufacturer because it does not have the financial resources to fund such an undertaking on its own. It is currently in talks with interested parties.
Reports at the time suggested the production version of the C120 would cost around £35,000, but there’s no indication of how much a new sports car would cost.
“The best thing for Caterham now is probably a joint venture,” said MacDonald. “Any new product is a big investment for a small business like us. We’re more than happy to sit and talk to anyone.
“What we’re unlikely to do is just stick a roof and doors on a Seven. We want a bit more ease of access and more creature comforts inside.
“We’d love to have a full-bodied sports car, because when we take the Seven to some of the new emerging markets, they don’t recognise it as a car because of the way it looks.”
The C120 was being developed under a joint venture with Renault, but it failed to make production after Caterham lost funding two years into the project back in 2014.
Macdonald said the project would have taken an investment of €75 million (roughly £63m at today’s exchange rates) from both Caterham and Renault, but both parties reached only around €20m (£16.75m) each before the project was aborted. If Caterham were to find another partner to take up the C120, it would still need to find more than €50m (£42m) for its half of the deal to see the project through to production.
Caterham’s new sports car would be rear-wheel drive and have its engine mounted in the front — unlike the C120, which was mid-engined. MacDonald said that was a compromiseagreed with Alpine, which was keen for the C120 to emulate Alpine sports cars of the past.
Renault and Caterham ended the joint venture on good terms and MacDonald remains open to the prospect of a partnership in the future. “It was amicable,” he said. “I would be more than happy to partake in a joint venture down the line if something suitable came up.
“Most definitely, it [the C120] could be revisited. We did a lot of research at the time. Renault was very good with the assistance we got. They had thousands of people in their technical centre. We’ve got an awful lot of data that we now own. Renault agreed that if we needed to, we could go back to them and request to supply parts. We were keen when we parted to revisit it. Will we? I would love to think so but, as it stands, it’s not on the plans.
“We are actively thinking about what is the next step to the Seven. We have a number of ideas involving a number of other businesses. As yet, nothing is near conclusion, but certainly we would like another product to follow on from it.”