Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Caterham Seven
Step one: find £11k. Step two: read what John Evans has to say. Step three: follow his advice and buy the thrill-inducing rocket that is a Caterham Seven
Autocar
News
5 mins read
12 November 2018

If it’s your first Seven, are you sure you want to buy the fastest one on the forecourt? Because you’ll be surprised how quick and enjoyable one with less power is.”

So says Roger McClure of Caterham specialist PT Sports Cars. He’s owned two – a Supersport and his current car, a CSR – and has been passionate about Sevens ever since, as a lad of six, he saw a model of one at the dentist’s. That this didn’t put him off for life is testament to the little roadster’s addictive qualities. 

So addictive, in fact, that Autocar has multiple Caterham Seven reviews for you to immerse yourself in. And to think that, various power outputs and mechanical refinements aside, they are, at heart, the same car Colin Chapman sold to Graham Nearn as long ago as 1973. 

However, that being so, don’t think that buying a Caterham Seven is your passport to a world of roadside breakdowns. In fact, it’s hard to think of a more robust car or one whose running costs can be so reasonable. On that point, you’ll be surprised how many miles you can get from a set of brake pads and discs. 

If you’re new to the Seven, you may find navigating the many model types a trifle difficult. So instead, concentrate on the established Roadsport range, a comfort-oriented line-up (it has a windscreen, a heater and full weather protection) across a spread of accessible price points. 

Find a used Caterham on PistonHeads

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Car review

The Caterham Seven is a stripped-down sportscar offering one of the most pure driving experiences available. It is a true classic and available in nine iterations

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It was launched in 1996 and powered first by Rover’s lightweight K-series engine in 1.4-, 1.6- and 1.8-litre capacities. Rover’s collapse in 2005 forced a switch to Ford’s Sigma engines. Also launched in 1996 was the Superlight range of stripped-down Sevens complete with tuned K-series engines, later to be replaced by Ford Duratec units.

There are two chassis sizes to be aware of: the original, narrow-bodied Series 3 (S3) and the longer and wider SV. The fact that many owners choose to fit a removable steering wheel tells you what a squeeze the Seven’s cabin can be. That SV might make all the difference. 

Another ‘my first Seven’ to keep an eye out for is the 160, launched in 2013 and mounted on the S3 chassis only. It’s powered by a diminutive 660c three-cylinder turbocharged Suzuki engine. However, what the 160 lacks in performance, it more than makes up for in handling and steering thrills. It’s a great introduction to Seven motoring, with prices for a 2014-reg car with 10,000 miles starting at around £17,995 at a main dealer. Give it a couple of years, learn the ropes and then trade up to a Ford-powered Seven. 

Sevens are either factory or ‘home’ built. Either way, they will have been through the individual vehicle approval (IVA) examination in order to be registered, which should reassure you. 

With the Seven season over for another year, now could be a good time to make a seller an offer they can’t refuse. So long as you know what you’re buying, you won’t regret it. 

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How to get one in your garage:

An expert’s view - ROGER MC CLURE, PT SPORTS CARS: “Because a Caterham is so light, it’s easy on consumables. For example, I did 6000 miles in my CSR last year, including six track days, and the tyres and brake pads are still fine. Whether it’s powered by a Ford Duratec or Crossflow, a Vauxhall or a Rover K-series engine, most garages can fix them and parts are available. It’s the chassis and suspension you need a specialist for. Carbon or GRP wings and aluminium side skins mean rust is a concern only where aluminium and steel meet. The steel frame is thickly powder-coated from new but check the welds for rust or cracks.”

Buyer beware… 

ENGINE: Although it’s rare, check for head gasket failure on K-series engines. Also scrutinise the quality of the coolant and, regardless of the engine, the condition of the coolant pipes. On all engines, check the oil pressure and that servicing has been carried out every 12,000 miles. Listen for topengine noise, caused by oil starvation on track days or by oil foam dispersing and blocking the oil feed pipe. 

TRANSMISSION: Listen for gearbox, clutch and, if it has one, differential noises. The Ford T9 five-speed ’box is tough and Caterham’s six-speed unit really suits the K-series engine. Check the condition of the clutch cable. 

TYRES, BRAKES AND SUSPENSION: Expect brake pads and discs to have lots of life remaining. Check for uneven tyre wear caused by incorrect wheel alignment or worn suspension. Inspect the condition of the front wishbones. 

CHASSIS: Watch for galvanic corrosion where the steel chassis rails and aluminium panels meet. Check the tubular steel frame for rust and cracks in the welds. The Seven suffers acute gravel rash on its lower sections and, in winter, road salt plays havoc with any bare aluminium. Inspect the underside for speedhump damage.

INTERIOR: Check the condition of the seats where careless owners may have trampled on them to get in, and the windscreen rail, which some use as a handhold. 

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Also worth knowing: 

Interested in a Caterham? You can hire one from a dealer and see how you get on. Autocar’s local agent, Caterham Gatwick, quoted £199 for one day with a 270. Need more time? For £399, the firm would let us loose in it from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon. 

How much to spend:

£11,000-£14,995: Early 1990s 1600 Crossflows with around 30k miles, rising to £14,995 for early noughties K-series Roadsports. 

£15,000-£19,995: Includes a 2008-reg Roadsport 125 with around 15k miles for £16,995 and a main-dealer 2004 Roadsport 140 SV with 50k miles, a choice of 14- and 16-reg Roadsport 160s from £18k to £19,995, and a 16-reg Roadsport race car with 4k miles, again for £19,995. 

£20,000-£23,995: Selection of main-dealer 2007 to 2015 Roadsport 125s, 125 SVs and 150s. 

£24,000-£29,995: Choice of 2009 to 2017 Roadsports and Supersports with low mileages.

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One we found:

CATERHAM ROADSPORT 120, 2000/W, 30K MILES, £14,995: Being sold by a Caterham dealer but with only a three-month warranty, this looks like a good toe-in-the-water purchase. It has a 1.8-litre K-series, leather seats, fully carpeted interior, heater, heated windscreen and a quick-release Momo steering wheel.

JOHN EVANS

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