The forgotten Sports Car: Caterham 21
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
IT ALL STARTED IN 1994...
It had been 21 years since Caterham, had bought the rights to, and began manufacturing their own version of the Lotus Seven. To celebrate, they decided to build a more practical version of that said car, with more conventional styling. The aim was to build around 200 cars a year, but over it's five year life, they built no more than fifty. So what happened...
Mechanically the 21 was identical to the Seven. The only major difference was the suspension, which needed to be changed to support the extra weight of a full body, even though it was only 100kg heavier, and still very light. The body was designed to look like the 1956 racing car, the Lotus Eleven. Obviously there are some major changes in order to make it more suitable for road use, but the overall design language of a low, slung shape is definitely there. The car manages to pull of looking both classic and modern at the same time. Despite being aimed at a more mainstream audience, the car still wasn't what you'd call practical. It didn't even have winding windows. As well as the underpinnings of the Seven, it also featured bits from other cars. Some of these said parts include: The rear light cluster from a Mk1 Ford Mondeo, door mirrors from a Rover 200 and front indicators from a Suzuki Cappuccino (because why the hell not)
The engine is the heart of every car, but unfortunately, the engine choices of the 21, weren't exactly special. A bunch of 4 cylinder engines, including the Rover K-Series, and a Vauxhall unit, ranging between 1.6 and 2 litres. However, even though the engine itself was nothing to shout about, the car was. Because it weighed as much as my dad's shoes, even with the most basic 133 hp engine, it still did 0-60 in under 7 seconds and topped out at nearly 130 mph. By today's standards those figures are pretty average, but this was back in 1994 remember. It was significantly faster then a Mazda MX-5, and not too much slower then a Porsche Boxster. Which costs a lot more. So is it a compromise you should make? Probably not
I mean, yes, it's quick, and yes, it's undoubtedly a lot of fun, but what else is there? They're is no denying that it's still basically 40 years old underneath. And even though it's more practical than a Seven (not that difficult), to say it's practical is still a push. And it won't have any safety features, such as airbags, traction control, ABS etc. It's not well equipped, even by the standards of the day. A stereo might be all you get. If that.
It's a toy. It's a leisure car, not a daily driver. The only reason to buy one of these is to have fun at the weekend. And even then there are better options. I'm not saying that such a car is pointless, but if you want a car that's fun at the weekend, and cheap, and easy to work on, and fast... Then what's wrong with a Seven?