Well, here it is! My very own Caterham. Something I've wanted since I was a kid. My "attainable" dream car that I had posters of on my wall, and wallpapers of on my computer. Mission Accomplished!
For the uninitiated, the original design for this vehicle dates back to the mid-50s, when Colin Chapman (the man who founded Lotus) designed it under his "simplify and add lightness" philosophy. It was sold as the Lotus 7 for many years until the mid 1970s, when Lotus sold the rights to the design to Caterham. To this day Caterham continues to sell this vehicle, with the overall design having been left relatively unchanged. The running gear has been updated over the years, and they now offer things like a wider version of the chassis for larger people, but the fundamental concept and design remains the same. While I've wanted a Caterham forever, this was somewhat of an impulse-buy when I saw it posted in a Facebook Group, and as such, I'm still very-much playing catch-up on understanding this specific car, the history behind the HPC badge (which I didn't even know about until this purchase), etc.
My particular example is a 1993 Caterham Super Seven HPC... and potentially an extremely rare 1-of-20 Evolution model (vs the 337 "normal" HPC variants that were made; I'll explain more below.) One of the fun parts of Caterham ownership is that it's hard to find precise records on anything. "No two Caterhams are alike," as they say, given owners often elect to purchase the kit and build it themselves, resulting in all manner of subtle variations even betweeen theoretically identical models. However, here's what I have gleaned thus far after a lot of research:
First off, the Super Seven moniker seems to be reserved for higher-output versions of the Seven, and the HPC was the highest-output version of them all (at the time). HPC stands for High Performance Club or High Performanec Course depending on who you ask, and was apparently a package that included, among other things, a free "High Performance Course" entry, which was a course you were required to take prior to purchasing the vehicle. I assume, however, that this requirement only applied to HPCs purchased in the UK.
The HPC variant of this vehicle can be confirmed by checking the VIN, which should have an 'H' at the 7th letter. Mine does not, which at first led me to believe this was just a Super Seven in HPC drag. However I've since learned that only those vehicles that were assembled at the factory (not sold as a kit) would have had that H in the VIN, and even then there is some debate about that given Caterham's seemingly arbitrary assignment of VINs in some cases. Mine being a US vehicle, it would have been shipped to the US as a kit, and assembled by the Caterham dealer locally... and so this is why it lacks the H in the VIN, despite being an HPC - complete with all of the HPC trimmings, as we will discuss below. Instead, mine has a 'C' for "Clubman" though many US kits have an 'A' for "Alternative." The point being that Caterham played things fast-and-loose when it came to VIN assignments. In any case, some fun info behind the HPC moniker can be seen below:
My specific car came with quite a bit of documentation but it was lacking in the very original documents. I reached out to the folks at Rocky Mountain Caterham, and they were kind enough to reach out to "The Archivist" at Caterham in the UK, who was able to furnish me with the original purchase order, which is what you see below. In addition, they mentioned the following:
"This car is a HPC as per the attached specification sheet. It was ordered by Moto America for Texas Motor Works and according to the invoice it was shipped on 15th December 1993 (not 5/93 as on the sheet).
It is one of the rare cars with the HPC Evolution engine which was available in 218bhp, 225bhp and 235bhp tune – this is a 218bhp version. The other cost options were competition exhaust, Motolita steering wheel, leather seats & headrests, 6-pt driver’s harness, wind deflectors, luggage rack and paint (Post Office Red)."
Now, I've been doing a lot of research in trying to determine what exactly constitutes an Evolution model. What I do know is that only around 20 are reported to have been made (this is as compared with 337 HPC variants overall), so if this is an Evolution model, that is extremely cool. However, what I'm still unclear about is whether or not an Evolution was just an HPC with one of the Evolution upgrades checked off (as in my case), or if it was an entirely separate vehicle that, among other things, came with the Evolution engine. The car was sold to the past few buyers as just "an HPC" but I'm starting to suspect this is actually an HPC Evolution. If anyone out there is reading this and knows more about this subject, and is able to clarify things, please reach out to me! In the meantime, based on what the Caterham archivist provided, I'm going to go ahead and all it an Evolution.
So it started life sold to a dealer in Texas in 1993. From there, the next record I have is a sales invoice dated 1997, which states the Caterham had 850 miles on it. Based on some notes in the packet of documents that came with this car, it sounds as though it was titled to a dealership for the first few years, as the person who bought it in 1997, upon selling it, claimed he was "the second owner if you consider the Delaware dealership an owner." So what's unclear is whether it's the Texas dealership that tooled around in it for several years, or if it was immediately sold to the dealer in Delaware, who then tooled around in it. It sold for just over $40,000, which is roughly $77,000 in 2023 dollars. Quite a price for half of a car!
This owner eventually sold it to someone in Texas in 2012, who then sold it to someone in California in 2020, who then sold it to someone in South Carolina in 2021. At some point after that it made its way to another owner in North Carolina before finally being bought by me in 2023 and brought to Illinois. The sale to the California owner actually provided me a wealth of information because it was sold on Bring a Trailer, first in this initial listing, and then again in this listing a month later when the first sale fell through for some reason (supposedly not due to any fault with the car, but with the buyer.) She's a well-traveled specimen who has been all-over the country!
So now that we've covered the history of the car, let's take a closer look at the car itself, since I know that's really all anyone cares about. Photo dump incoming!
The car has a full red paint job with matte black stripes. This one has the "cycle fenders" up front, which look more modern than the "clamshell fenders" of old (long, swoopy fenders that are fixed to the body and don't turn with the wheels.) I love how much character these cars have - at least up front; the rear isn't particularly sexy to me as it's really just a giant, flat slab of car. The spare tire somewhat breaks that up at least. The giant, round bugeye lights. The yellow 7 logo in the grille. The louvers on the hood. All of these styling elements are so much fun! This engine is carbureted, and I really like the look of the two air filters poking out the right-hand side of the hood. On the left is the side exhaust, perfectly placed to ensure the driver hears all of the noises! The heated windshield with wipers is an option that I'm more than happy to have, because it eliminates the bugs-and-rocks-in-your-face experience that I'm not particularly fond of. (It's fun the first few times, but gets old quickly in my opinion.)
At the back you have a roll bar, and the snap-down vinyl tonneau cover that conceals a small-but-surprisingly-big, carpeted trunk area. Perfect for a grocery run... as long as you don't leave the groceries in there too long because the fuel tank is just under it, and the trunk has that lovely gasoline smell. Sitting atop the tonneau cover is a snap-on roof rolled up into that round carrying case (with the 7 logo stitched on each end; a nice touch!) In my case, this is mainly for wet weather emergencies, or maybe keeping the interior out of the sun when parked on a hot day. However there ARE people who daily these things in all sorts of weather with the roof on... mostly in the UK, since it's always raining there. Here in the United States of Freedom, I just try to avoid rainy days entirely. I opted to mount the spare tire carrier because I always like to have a spare tire with me no matter what I'm driving... and because - as I mentioned earlier - I think the flat, boring slab of a rear end on these cars is their least-attractive feature.
Oh, and let's not forget those lovely 15" Minilite wheels shod in relatively tiny (in this day and age) 185 section width tires. You don't need that much tire when you don't have that much car!
I also love the Caterham logos. The exterior badges are HPC badges, but the ones on the shift knob and steering wheel lack the "HPC" moniker. Maybe I'll see if I can find the proper ones at some point.
Inside is a... small... amount of space for two passengers and... that's about it. The seats are narrow but well-padded and actually rather comfortable, so if you can fit IN them, you'll likely enjoy it. They also slide fore and aft by several inches which allows some degree of adjustability, and the headrests even extend up! I don't think the seatback angle is adjustable, and I do find it to be reclined just a bit too far for my tastes. Four-point harnesses ensure that you won't accidentally fall out, and also that you'll look ridiculous belting yourself in after stopping off at the store for bread and milk. They're actually 5-point harnesses but the 5th belt is just tucked away under the seat and I'm more than happy to leave it that way. Getting into the car is very much an experience. If you have the "doors" on (which I do most of the time because they eliminate 90% of the wind in the cabin) then you have to hold them open as you climb in... but you can't use them for support, and you really need two hands to support yourself as you sit down in the car so it's a bit of a kerfuffle. Once sat down, you can "close" the doors with two snaps to hold them in place. You will look silly doing so. You will also be grinning the entire time.
Looking around at the interior. The center tunnel is nicely-padded. The passenger actually has a good amount of leg room. The pedal box is CRAMPED, but livable (drivers with larger than a Size 10 men's shoe need not apply). You get a quick-release steering wheel (it's SUPER tiny at 11" and yet even without power steering, super easy to turn because the car doesn't weigh anything.) If you're wondering what all the buttons do: the large rectangular toggle switches at the top control, from left to right, lights, wipers, wiper washer, heater (mine isn't installed, but I have it), brake fluid check, rear fog lights, hazards, heated windshield. The smaller toggles below are (again left to right), momentary high beams, permanent high beams, a little red button for the horn, and on the right a 3 position toggle for the turn signals. (No they do not self-cancel. Yes you always forget to turn them off.)
Finally, let's get to some of the mechanical deets! Under the hood sits a 2.0L Inline-4 Vauxhall C20XE (also called the "red top" for obvious reasons) with twin Weber 45DCOE carbs. In stock form, this engine puts out 175 HP, but various upgrades were available to boost that output. Those upgrades were carried out by Swindon Racing Engines in the UK, and it is that upgrade, as far as I understand it, is what differentiated an HPC Evolution from a normal HPC. This car has the 218 HP upgrade, which I believe was mainly a different cam and a tune. 218 HP is a lot of power for a vehicle that only weighs roughly 1250 lb.
Oh, right, we didn't mention the weight yet, did we. For reference, that's over 1,000 lb lighter than a modern-day Miata, and 1,500 lb lighter than my "light" Subaru BRZ! I'll need to get the car on the scales one day, as the documents from the second owner state an 1,100 lb curb weight, but that was without a windscreen, and other random bobs and bits which have since been added.
Power is sent to the wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. I'm told a 6-speed was an option, but that the gearing was worse for something you wanted to actually drive around. Usually the battery is mounted on the shelf near the firewall, but this car has the optional relocation to down under the engine to lower the center of gravity (it's also a smaller battery.) One thing that makes me a bit nervous is how far down the oil pan hangs under the car, but as you can see it is INCREDIBLY beefy, and the car came with a spare in case anything catastrophic happens. It still has several inches of clearance, but it is by far the lowest thing under the car.
Suspension is Bilstein coilovers, with a double-wishbone front suspension, and a de Dion rear end with a limited slip differential. As you may have noticed on the invoice, this car has the optional wide-track front suspension installed, which I assume was mainly wider wishbones and supporting changes. Disk brakes at all four corners (unassisted, just like the steering). The chassis is a tube frame, with a mixture of fiberglass and aluminum panels. The hood is held on by four latches and weighs about as much as a feather, so really easy for one person to remove in just a few seconds. Similarly, the nose cone is held on by four fasteners and can also be removed in a few seconds, giving easy access to the entire front end.
Road manners are excellent; far better than what you'd expect. I'll credit the Bilstein shocks for a lot of that. It soaks up bumps rather nicely, so coupled with the well-cushioned seats it's rather comfortable inside. Visibility is excellent, apart from the fact that you can't see past ANY other vehicle on the road. Being able to see both front tires, and watch them undulate over the road is quite fun, especially with those giant, but-eyed headlights, and the massive, louvered hood sitting in between them. Steering is direct, as you'd expect. Exhaust noise is dramatic given that it's located 18 inches from your head. The bark it makes when blipping on downshifts is utterly hilarious. One friend of mine described the engine noise as "the most aggressive four cylinder I've ever heard." Which brings me to the most important feature of the car: the giant smile it puts on your face!
And that's about it as far as a brief introduction to this car. Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna go for a drive in my very own Caterham. Cheers!