Chapman's iconic 7 joins Team Lotus
Caterham Cars, makers of the iconic Seven - based on Colin Chapman's iconic Lotus 7 - has been bought by Lotus.
But not, as you'd expect, by Lotus Group, purveyor of minimalist sports cars such as the Elise, Exige and Evora to the gentry, itself now owned by Malaysian automaker Proton. Instead, Caterham has been taken over by the “other” Lotus - airline magnate Tony Fernandes' Team Lotus Formula 1.
Lotus founder Colin Chapman designed the original Seven in 1957 as an affordable, ultralight “racer for the road” - he even sold it as a kit, rather than as a complete car, so customers wouldn't have to pay sales tax!
Caterham Cars in Surrey became the UK's main dealer for the pocket-sized supercar in 1959 and in 1973, when Chapman was lured by the glamour of Formula 1, it acquired the rights to build, develop and distribute the Seven.
Whether Fernandes' takeover of Caterham is intended to help legitimise his claim in the still-to-be-settled court case which will decide which of the two Lotus squads (Team Lotus or Lotus Renault) is the rightful heir to Chapman's Formula 1 legacy, only he will know, but Fernandes has been talking a very fast lap about the company's future.
The acquisition, he says, will see the lightweight sports-car maker expand its brand profile and product family, not only with continued development of the Seven, but also by applying Chapman's mantra of “adding lightness” to new models for the 21st century.
Team Lotus has, however, retained the company's existing management, headed by managing director Ansar Ali, who's been responsible for boosting Caterham exports during the past five years as well as creating the Superlight R500 (Top Gear's Car of the Year in 2008) and Caterham's first new model in 15 years, the Caterham-Lola SP/300.R sports prototype racer.
Tony Fernandes said: “Caterham has a unique place in the motoring world, with an enviable reputation for performance, handling and engineering excellence. It has remained faithful to Colin Chapman's philosophy of 'less is more' and the DNA of the original Seven can still be seen in Caterrham's latest cars.
“We now have all the ingredients to take Caterham to new horizons with innovative products and global brand exposure.”
Ali added: “Until now, Caterham's resources have limited its exposure and the Seven has had to rely almost entirely on its reputation - but now we can give the brand the global springboard it deserves and expand the Caterham family beyond the Seven and SP/300.R.”
To celebrate its new ownership, Caterham will build a limited run of Team Lotus Special Edition Sevens.
Only 50 of the Team Lotus upgrade packages, which can be applied to any variant up to the top-of-the-range 195kW, 240km/h Superlight R500, will be available. For an extra £3000 (R33 000) over the price of a standard car, the Seven will be finished in the traditional green and yellow Lotus F1 livery with a plaque carrying the signatures of Team Lotus F1 drivers, Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.
Owners will also receive a Seven history book signed by chief designer, Mike Gascoyne and an invitation to a personal tour of the Team Lotus F1 factory in Hingham, Norfolk.