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Winter Updates: '23 - '24

Updated: May 6

With warmer weather finally making an appearance, I figured it was time to post an update covering all of the minor tweaks and cosmetic fixes I'd done over the winter. I wanted to address a bunch of low-hanging-fruit that had been bothering me and my OCD-ness. The changes below are in no particular order, and at the end of each section I'll include product links and pricing (as of the time of writing) for anyone who might be considering similar modifications to their vehicles.

New Rear View Mirror

A previous owner had 3D-printed a two-piece panel mirror out of black filament. It was bulky, haphazardly glued to the windshield with a whole bunch of glue AND tape, which made it extremely unsightly - especially from the front, and it also wasn't adjustable and so completely useless for me anyway. I decided I wanted a classic-looking center-mounted chrome mirror instead. After scouring the internet, I finally settled on a rectangular, polished billet aluminum mirror from Billet Specialties. It's got some weight to it which makes it feel expensive (probably a faux-pas for a Caterham, but whatever), and the associated windshield mount installed cleanly to the windshield with the included adhesive, It doesn't wobble at all, and provides a nice, distortion-free view straight out the back of the car. It is NOT a wide-angle mirror, but that's what the side-mirrors are for!

New Stanchions and Side Mirrors

The existing stanchions had some pretty ugly holes drilled into them; presumably a previous owner's attempts at mounting different mirrors. I had my own plan for mirrors, and so I ordered new polished aluminum stanchions directly from Caterham. When I replace one thing, I tend to replace every associated part, and so I also ordered new door hinges (the existing ones were an uglier, older style, and some of them had broken and had been replaced with 3D printed variants.) The bolts for both the door hinges, and the the stanchions themselves were mixed-and-matched, and so I sourced all new bolts as well.

I also desperately wanted to replace the existing Spa-style side mirrors. They had a faux carbon-fiber shell (I hate fake carbon), and more importantly they were mounted on 3D-printed arms that replaced the lower door hinges, but were far too weak and wobbly. One of them actually broke in half while I was driving, and that was the final straw for me. So I sourced new black Spa mirrors, and opted for a pair of black, machined aluminum Eccles mounts from DPR Motorsport. I replaced the chrome bolt and washer on the top of the mirrors with black ones for a uniform look from the outside. Unlike the previous setup I can confirm that these things are ROCK-SOLID (like practically as vibration-free as the center mirror, which is also rock-solid.) It's an excellent upgrade!

Replacement Bolts: You can get everything from Bolt Depot! Just measure the threads and stuff and then order accordingly.

New Wiper Arms/Blades and Windscreen Gasket

The existing wiper arms were faded, and the blades were loose and wobbly. I considered repainting and re-crimping, but when I saw how cheap they were to simply replace straight from Caterham, it seemed like a no-brainer. I did have to bend the wiper arms to the proper angle using a bench vise, but other than that, no issues. I honestly don't drive the car in weather that really necessitates the use of the wipers, so I actually just mounted them in such a way that they sit firmly against the bottom edge of the windshield glass so they'll stay out of the way and look good.

Since I replaced the stanchions, I also took that opportunity to remove the windshield and get the aluminum trim polished up. I also replaced the old gasket between the windshield and scuttle, which had gaps in some spots, and had shrunk in others. This was another super-cheap part to order directly from Caterham, so I figured why not. Installing it was as simple as ripping the old gasket off, and slowly pinching the new one into the groove in the bottom of the windshield little-by-little. I wasn't sure if there was an "official" method of installing it under the stanchions, but I followed along with a blog post that seemed to work well enough. In case that post ever gets taken down, essentially you pull the gasket through the triangular holes on each stanchion, and somewhat firmly pull it tight down against the scuttle while tightening everything (not too tight or you'll pull it out of the groove on the windshield.) Then you trim off the excess inside the triangular hole with a sharp knife.

New Rocker Switches / Turn Signal Tweak

All of the switchgear on the dash was pretty-badly faded from 30 years of exposure to UV light. I realize there are chemicals/treatments that can rejuvenate UV-damaged plastic, but in my experience those things are all temporary and need occasional re-application. I figured it wasn't all that expensive to straight-up replace the switches with new ones from Caterham, and then the problem would be permanently resolved.

I also wanted to update the three paddle switches on the dash and add a bit more uniformity. I used my CNC to cut a plastic bezel the same size as the rocker switches. I then cut a smaller insert out of black, anodized aluminum, which I laser engraved with the turn signal icon. Lastly I replaced the paddle switch itself with an all-black variant. Overall it at least somewhat matches the aesthetic of the other switches, and I like that it has an associated icon.

I did the same with the high beam switches on the left. These cars are odd, to me anyway, in that they have both a high/low beam toggle switch, AND a dedicated momentary "flash" button for the high beams. Not sure why this is, but I assume it's just the simplicity of the wiring that requires a separate, always-powered circuit for you to be able to flash your headlights when all of the lights are off. Both of these were paddle switches, but I thought a push-button made more sense of the momentary switch. I wasn't sure what icon to use either, but then I saw the icon for vehicles with automatic high-beams, so I created something similar, but with an "F" for "Flash" instead.

New VDO Gauges and Warning Lights

This honestly all started with my chasing an overheating issue, but I'm glad it panned out the way it did. I replaced it with a slightly-newer "Vision Black" Series VDO unit that had a flat, rather than angled bezel. The newer gauge was also backlit, with a glowing needle, instead of the older front/edge lit gauge. I then decided to upgrade the rest of them to match, and I'm glad I did so now because it turns out these things are long out of production, and finding these same series in stock can be a real pain-in-the-butt (this is why I won't be providing links for these below, but instead just model numbers.) It took me weeks of scouring the internet to find all five individually! I considered just moving to newer gauges but really liked the 90's aesthetic that these maintained.

The speedometer and tachometer presented their own challenge. At some point in the past, the speedometer had been replaced; possibly more than once. The current one was incredibly busy - with digits for every 10 MPH all the way up to a completely silly 160 MPH. It was also the wrong size, in that it was an 85mm unit instead of an 80mm unit. This made the center dash behind the wheel look lopsided, as one gauge was slightly larger than the other, and the three indicator lights weren't centered between them as a result. (You can see the old gauges in the photos of the new steering wheel further down in this post.)

Unfortunately, I can't simply undo the larger 85mm hole that had been cut in the dash. Long-term I'd like to completely replace the dash as I plan on reorganizing the switchgear and probably simplifying a bit (not all those switch functions are actually installed on the vehicle.) In the short term, it was time to yet-again break out the CNC. In a similar vein to the turn signal switch, but on a much larger scale, I designed and manufactured a bezel for the center gauge cluster that would cover up the larger hole, allowing an 80mm speedometer to be fitted, while also re-centering the warning lights with associated icons.

By the way, converting the warning lights to LEDs turned out to be not as simple as you might think:

  • The high beam indicator is a straight swap.

  • The turn signal indicator is basically a link between the left and right signals, and grounds through the opposite side. So, for example, if you turn on your right turn signal, that bulb gets power from that circuit, and grounds through the left signals. Converting it to LED caused two issues: 1.) LEDs are diodes, and only work in one direction, so the bulb itself would only work one way. 2.) If I then swapped out the turn signal bulbs themselves for LEDs, grounding through the other side would effectively turn my turn signal into hazard lights due to the grounding current being large enough to light them up. The solution to this was a simple 3-wire harness with its own diodes, which effectively allowed each side of the turn signal circuit to feed the input to the LED, and then I wired the output of that LED to ground to the same wire as the high beam indicator.

  • The alternator indicator is also complicated because the power that flows through that small incandescent bulb (roughly 4 watts) is grounded through the alternator core itself, and is used to provide the "excitation energy" needed to help ensure the alternator starts properly. So it's missing in my photos because I still have the old bulb plugged in behind the dash while I work on a small wire harness to solve that problem too (basically creating a bypass circuit that will still allow 4W past the LED to the generator.)

Oh, and speaking of LEDs, all of the gauges themselves have been upgraded to LEDs, and whereas the old gauges had an ugly, "yellow-green" illumination, these now illuminate a bright red to match the color of the car!

VDO Vision Black Series Speedometer (437-151)

VDO Vision Black Series Tachometer (333-015-001K)

VDO Vision Black Series Coolant Temperature (310-105)

VDO Vision Black Series Oil Pressure (350-108)

VDO Vision Black Fuel Level (301-104)

Reupholstered and Rebadged Steering Wheel

The original RACETEK wheel had highly-worn Alcantara, and while the green-and-yellow Caterham badge in the center looked cool, it was starting to flake off at the edges, The wheel itself, however, wasn't in terrible shape. I completely disassembled it, and was able to literally scrape off the rest of the flaking badge with my fingernail. I then used my laser to engrave a new monochrome logo into the center, which I actually think looks better given the mostly black interior color scheme.

I then sent the actual wheel out to Sweidit, who reupholstered it in proper Nappa Leather, with black stitching, and a red stripe at the top for a bit of flair. I could have done all sorts of fancy color combos of regular and perforated leather, Alcantara, stitching, etc., but while it was tempting, I decided to stay classy and go for a relatively simple, elegant look. I then polished up the hardware, and reassembled the wheel, and I think the end-result looks fantastic!

Rugged Radios Intercom System

One thing I wanted for longer drives was the ability to utilize headsets both to help minimize exhaust noise, and make it easier to communicate. I also don't have (nor do I intend to add) a phone mount in this car, but still wanted to be able to hear navigation directions, or maybe take a phone call if necessary. There are options for battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled headsets that can be paired together, but as a general rule I prefer wired to wireless for things as it means not needing to worry about battery life and whatnot, and so I settled on a setup from Rugged Radios. This is the same equipment used by off-road/rally teams, so maybe a bit overkill for our application, but at least we know it will work!

I went with their 696 Remote Head Intercom, because it has Bluetooth for pairing our devices, but mostly because it includes an adorable little hardwired remote head that can be mounted on the space-challenged Caterham dash and used to control VOX sensitivity, intercom volume, and Bluetooth calls/music/volume. I'm trying to keep the interior looking "original," but figured ONE modern piece of switchgear on the dash wouldn't ruin everything.

I wound up mounting the remote head sideways in a location that kept it within reach of the driver, and the actual intercom I mounted on the blanking plate along the firewall (where the heater would normally go.) I then ran the wires for the two headsets up the center tunnel, and have them popping out on the right sides of both seats. They don't get in the way, nor do you feel them, but if we ever want to use the headsets, we can just plug them in and we're in business!

For the headsets, we went with a pair of behind-the-head headsets that use a simple Velcro strap across the top, because that allows us to still wear hats on sunny days - a necessity in a convertible!

Exterior LED Upgrades

One of my primary goals for this winter was a full exterior LED retrofit. This was for two reasons. The first being that the wiring on this car (particularly the grounding) is... not great. So tapping the brakes would cause things like the temperature gauge to shoot up by 20 degrees (just having your turn signal on would cause it to fluctuate in sync with the bulbs.) However, the bigger reason was that the existing lights were practically invisible on brighter days, which was somewhat of a safety concern - especially for vehicles behind me who already on more than one occasion had locked up their brakes even when I was gently decelerating with plenty of advance warning. Welcome to driving a miniature car while surrounded by American motorists.

However, I did not want to ruin the 90s aesthetic of the car with modern LED housings with fancy halos or projectors. I wanted to keep things as classic-looking as possible. And that turned out to be relatively easy!

At the front, some simple LED bulb retrofits did the trick for the turn signals (specifically, a pair of XP80 bulbs from Diode Dynamics.) For the headlights, everyone and their mother pointed me to Holley, who have a Retrobright lineup of sealed-beam replacement LED units that maintain the OEM look as far as the lens is concerned. They even offer them in either 5000K, or 3000K for a "classic" look, which is what I went with. Outwardly, the only real difference is that the lens protrudes out a half inch before curving over (you can see that in the photos below). Also, the lip on these was slightly thicker, which meant I had to bend the inner lip of the housing back a hair to ensure they seated correctly and still fit under the band clamps, but other than that it was plug-and-play. And before anyone asks, the weather hasn't been good enough for me to test them at night yet, but I will update this post when I can. However I will say they are significantly brighter against the garage wall!

Here is a brief, somewhat-pointless clip taken on a hazy-but-sunny day to show that the turn signals are indeed actually visible in direct sunlight now!

At the rear, I could have opted to upgrade to the newer style LED lights from Caterham, but again I didn't want to ruin the classic aesthetics, and so instead I turned to Just Add Lightness, who offer what is essentially an LED board retrofit in an original housing that significantly increases output without affecting the looks. What's really cool about this board is that instead of a dim red dot in the center of the lens, the ENTIRE square area of the lens lights up evenly now, making it not only much more noticeable, but much better-looking too! They sell just the board separately, but I bought entire housings as I wanted new lenses (mine were faded and cracked.)

Again, here is a brief clip showing that they are actually visible in sunlight now. They still aren't as bright as a modern vehicle, but it's a significant improvement over the useless stock setup.

I also took the opportunity to clean up some other lighting at the rear. The third brake light was mounted on some beefy, ugly brackets that had it hanging down under the roll bar by several inches, which looked messy and also obstructed my view from the rear view mirror. So I 3D-printed a bracket that allowed me to stick it straight to the roll-bar with some 3M adhesive for a much sleeker look.

One other nuisance was the license plate, which had a massive, ugly bracket that also housed a massive ugly lamp to illuminate it from the top. Got rid of all of that, and instead replaced it with a narrower frame, and some "LED Plate Bolts" from Super Bright LEDs.

Handbrake Removal

This is apparently a super-controversial one for my friends across the pond, but I removed the [useless to me] handbrake that was mounted under the passenger side dash. You can't reach it while driving, so it's only use is as a parking brake, though it wasn't adjusted correctly, and the cables were hanging down under the car. I could have fixed all that, but out in Chicagoland here, it's relatively flat. This is my weekend fun car, and not a daily driver. Wherever I go, usually leaving it in gear is enough. If I have to park on a particularly steep hill, I always have a pair of wheel chocks with me anyway (a carryover from my days as a bus driver). It is simply not something I will miss, and the upshot is it loses some weight, removes the unsightly cables under the car, and frees up more passenger legroom!

Trickle Charger

This is a silly one, but the previous owner had installed a trickle charger under the hood, which was annoying merely because it meant removing the hood every time you wanted to plug it in. I wanted to be able to toss it on the charger whenever it wasn't being driven (not just in the winter), and so I replaced it with a CTEK connector that is zip-tied to the frame under the passenger side. So now plugging/unplugging is as easy as just reaching under the car.

One Final Tweak

I bought a vinyl cutter specifically so I could make this sticker exactly how I wanted it!

Stay tuned for another blog post in the coming weeks with info on some of the mechanical work I've done on the car since my purchase (including chasing down that pesky overheating issue!)

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