Click to return to main menu

HISTORY OF MY SE7EN OWNERSHIP
 

In the beginning......

My first introduction to the world of Seven`s was being driven around Silverstone Race Track in an 1800 Caterham at a Top Gear Live event. It was the first car I was out in that day and nothing afterwards could match the feeling. I scrambled out of the car afterwards with a seriously large grin on my face, the acceleration and the cornering were absolutely fantastic. Since that day I have been unable to shake off the bug that is `The Seven`. After that I went away thinking about how long it would take me to gather up the necessary cash to buy a Seven. I was still at college at the time and so set my target for the end of my diploma studies which finished in June 2000. This is when I aimed to place the order for my Seven, a sort of graduation present if you like. Luckily I did graduate but had to put the purchase on hold due to moving house in 2000. Fortunately my then girlfriend and now wife also got taken for a spin around the track and she too enjoyed the sevening experience. The Caterham stand at the event showing off both model ranges, the 7 and the 21. While the 21 may be more user friendly in terms of shelter from the elements the 7, for me at least, still beats the 21 hands down in terms of looks.

The choices

The following outlines the choices that were available when I went to buy a se7en. Since then things have changed and many more manufacturers and models are producing higher quality cars.

Caterham

The Caterham Seven is of course seen as the original Lotus Seven replica. It has strong historical links with Lotus, being a dealer for their cars until they were granted the license to build the cars themselves when Lotus ceased production of the model.. The Caterham is available as a fully built car, a modular kit or in starter kit form. There are two chassis kits, the live axle version and the de Dion version. Caterham currently use Vauxhall and Rover powerplants although they can supply chassis` to accomodate a variety of engines from the Ford Crossflow to Honda Fireblade motorcycle engines. The Vauxhall based Classic is the live axle version and is the cheapest modular kit car they produce. The Rover based cars have K series engines in 1.6, 1.8 and 1.8VVC guises. Supersport tuning upgrades are also available to give extra performance. The cheapest way to get a Caterham is to build it yourself using a starter kit. Provided no more than one of the components you use is reconditioned then these can be put on a current plate.

Birkin

The Birkin S3 originates from South Africa and is very popular in America and Japan. It is probably the closest you`ll get to a Caterham without a Caterham badge and recent lawsuits in South Africa between the two companies will give you an idea of just how similar they are. On this occasion Birkin won the battle and have now started to sell the Birkin in the UK through Tradelink International based at Silverstone. However the Birkin is not a copy of the Caterham, it has always been inspired by the Lotus Seven S3 and todays car is a development of the classic marque. Many of you will have seen the article about the Birkin in Kit Car International magazine. It was the price claims that attracted me to the Birkin at first and after visiting their premises and test driving the car I was very impressed with it. The Birkin is available as a rolling chassis minus engine and gearbox or as a fully built car with 2.0L Ford Zetec engine in various levels of tune from 150BHP - 190BHP. The latest news from Birkin is that they are producing modular kits similar to Caterham and Westfield. All versions are currently based on a live axle but Birkin are developing an IRS system which should be available in the near future. Since first visiting Birkin a number of improvements have been made to the car, developing and fine-tuning the already high standard.

Westfield

Westfield are probably one of the the most widely recognised of the Seven inspired cars along with Caterham. Since the litigation battle with Caterham they have developed their own product which is widely accepted in both the kit car and mainstream car markets. They offer a range of cars from the 1600 crossflow engined base model, through the 1800 Zetec models up to the Rover V8 top of the range model. They also have a Rover K series engined car called the FW400 which has a carbon monocoque although this is considerably more expensive. The Westfield range is available fully built, as a modular kit or as a starter kit. Most options have IRS and are now in wide bodied form, affording more space for the taller and wider enthusiast. They were also the first British Specialist Car manufacturer to achieve Low Volume Type Approval for complete cars adhering to EEC Regulations.

Dax

The Dax Rush is pushing the limits of the Seven Design to the max. These guys and their customers have created some fantastic motors, including a 4wd Cosworth turbo model which at that time and probably still is the quickest thing on four wheels. The cars are a lot wider than most mainly due to the size of rear tyres required to get the power down. They do still have that classic 7 look. Engine options are endless ranging from Ford lumps to Rover V8`s. Dax have 3 rear suspension options, live axle, de dion and they have developed their own rear suspension designed to keep the wheel camber constant.

Formula 27

The Formula 27 is extremely similar in proportions to the Caterham and Birkin. The car has aluminium side and rear panels with GRP nose, bonnet and scuttle. Suspension options for the rear are live axle or IRS while front suspension is an inboard independant design. The car will accept most in line engines and a wide bodied version is available which will also take the Rover V8.

The Decision

Fully built v Kit

I have always wanted to build my Seven but the lack of a garage at my current flat would make it a little difficult. However with a change of location seeming probable by the time I order the car I have decided to go for a kit. Apart from enabling me to stay within my budget I believe that if I build the car then when it comes to maintaining or repairing it I will have a better idea of what I`m doing.

The engine

I have decided to go for a standard 4 cylinder car engine rather than jumping on the bike engined band wagon. Whilst the performance of the bike engines is attractive, having to strip the car out to keep the weight down is not. If I was looking for a race car or hillclimb car then I would probably go for a bike engined version but I`m looking for a roadgoing sportscar which I can take to the track occasionally. I have considered everything from the 1.6 K series up to a 3.5 TVR V8. I have settled upon a modified 2.0 Ford Zetec. The new engine is reasonably priced and they should be easy to maintain. With a throttle body injection system and 3D management system this engine will put out 170bhp with the option to tune it to produce over 200bhp. Sounds good to me!

Live axle v de dion v IRS

This is a subject which has been debated thoroughly on the list. I have decided to go for a live axle car, basically because that is the only option offered by my chosen manufacturer at the moment. However, having listened to the views expressed by others I don`t feel that a live axle car is any disadvantage, especially since I`m not going to be racing the car. From what I can gather the IRS and de dion versions will offer more confidence inspiring handling characteristics but will only show minimal, if any, performance advantage. Having test driven a number of cars I didn`t feel that the ride under normal conditions, even on bumpy roads was particularly uncomfortable; after all I am used to a stiff suspension setup on my everyday car. The car I have chosen also has adjustable shocks to compensate for different types of driving. One of the other views expressed was the disadvantage that most live axled cars have drum brakes at the rear, however with this car the live axle has disc brakes.

The bodywork

At the end of the day I prefer the aluminium clad versions of the Seven which rules out quite a lot of the options. Out of the GRP versions I would say the Westfield looks the best, mainly because it has gone for a different style. However I find the cars which try to emulate the shape of the aluminium versions always look a bit flat and plain; I think it has something to do with the louvred bonnet on the aluminium cars. Having decided to have an aluminium car, and having seen the aluminium / carbon fibre combination I thought I had made up my mind. However the lack of a garage once again forced me to look at having it painted for protection and ease of maintenance. Thankfully with the prospect of a new garage returns the desire to show off the raw materials of the car. I have seen some aluminium cars which have been on the road for 12 months and they have not deteriorated in quality. So its a matt aluminium finish with carbon fibre nose cone, fenders, dashboard and centre console; should help to keep the weight down as well.

So what is it then?

I have decided to build a Birkin S3 170i. So now the decision has been made I just need to get it ordered and get it built.

Well at least that was the plan until Tradelink International advertised their current demonstrator for sale. Having driven this car before I knew its performance, it had loads of extras and the price was right. So I won`t be building it myself after all!

So we bought Birkin`s demonstrator car reg no. V474 VBD. We owned and drove this car for almost three years during which time we completed two se7ens.net tours, one in Scotland the other in Ireland. We also made a few minor alterations to the car, fitting harnesses and a fire extinguisher, but mostly we just enjoyed driving it. At first I found the performance a bit daunting, this was the first rear wheel drive car I had owned and the 160bhp combined with the lightweight chassis certainly made it the fastest car I had ever owned. However after a couple of years driving and some track time under my belt I had become used to the car and the inevitable upgraditis had set in.

I started to think about what upgrades I could make. The main problems with the car were grip and stopping power. I knew if I could improve those I could get my lap times down. Grip was easy, a set of Yokohama A032R tyres would sort that out. I was also loosing time on track from not being able to get the power down exiting corners, to sort this out a Quaife ATB LSD was required. The standard brakes on the Birkin work well enough but they don`t have much feel. Birkin had introduced a four pot caliper for the front which could be fitted to my car to improve braking feel. However I now craved more power and had spoken to Dave Andrews at DVA Power about a cam upgrade and some headwork on the zetec to take me up to 200bhp.

It was with all this in mind that I set off to the Autosport Show in 2003, hopefully to come back knowing where I was going. I had also considered trading my car in for a new Birkin kit as it would already have the new brakes along with other upgraded items like seats, electrics etc. So off I went to the Birkin stand at the show and what I saw was to change my plans completely. On the stand they had a new Birkin S3 with independant rear suspension, powered by a Ford duratec pumping out 190bhp in standard tune. It was also fitted with a beautifully made roll cage by Safety Devices. I knew there and then that this was what I wanted. Of course this car was only a prototype and the duratec was in its early stages as a performance engine so this wouldn`t happen overnight.

I needed to keep my old car until May 2003 as I was touring Ireland in it. After that it went on sale and was eventually sold in November 2003 to the Birkin dealer in Italy and then on to one of his customers. I could now place my order for the new car. This new website picks up the story of the new car......

...........or at least it should have. After numerous delays with Birkin I eventually decided that I could not wait for the new IRS car particularly as we were now booked to go on the USA2005 tour. So in a last minute change of plan we ordered a Caterham starter kit to which we could fit the duratec engine which was already bought and being developed.