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Throwback review: Autoweek 2003 Caterham SLR (Feb 2003)


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https://www.autoweek.com/news/a2094221/2003-caterham-seven-superlight-r-caterham-seventh-heaven-what-colin-chapman-meant/

 

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2003 Caterham Seven Superlight R: Caterham Seventh Heaven: What Colin Chapman meant when he said 'add lightness'

IF THERE IS A STREET car lower and lighter than a Caterham Seven, we haven’t driven it. Strapped into the driver’s seat you can set your hand palm-first on the ground. The ride height is just over three inches, lower than most speed bumps. The overall height is less than three feet, lower than most parking lot arms. And at 1080 pounds and 204 hp, the power-to-weight ratio (1 hp: 5.3 pounds) of this Superlight R model beats every production street car sold in America.

 

It’s as terrific on the road as it sounds on paper.

 

No doubt that’s just how Colin Chapman wanted it when he unveiled the Lotus Seven at the 1957 London Motor Show. The Caterham Seven can trace its roots (not very far back) to the cars Chapman built in his girlfriend’s garage in North London in 1948. It’s like a time machine, though better engineered. Chapman built the Lotus Seven until 1973, when production was turned over to Caterham, which has been making it in England ever since. Caterham USA now sells the kits over here.

 

Through it all, the engineering has not lagged one whit. The Superlight R model we drove was as tightly screwed together as any full-scale production car, better than many. Tolerances were exact, nothing squeaked, nothing rattled. In proportion, it was like sitting at the back of a long, low go-kart with a big snout.

 

Ours had no real windshield to speak of, just two little flaps that suggested the breeze go north. It didn’t. So the Caterham guys included goggles.

 

Underhood, our test car had a normally aspirated, 2.0-liter longitudinal Ford Zetec four loaded with Stage II cams, programmable engine management, custom heads and aluminum flywheel. It was attached to a Caterham six-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential and de Dion rear suspension. Adjustable double wishbones kept the front wheels straight.

 

The Superlight R body gets bigger brakes, suspension upgrades, Avon R500 tires, composite race seats, four-point belts and carbon fiber fenders, nose cone and dash.

 

On the road? Pip, pip, cheerio! It drove like a 204-hp skateboard. The engine is remarkable for a four-cylinder. Stomping on the gas blurred everything in the periphery. Caterham claims 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. And it’s just as impressive in a corner.

 

Of course, so little suspension travel means your body absorbs what the swing arms don’t. Stones flung up by traffic aim for your head. And if the driver of that huge SUV isn’t paying attention, you’re road pizza.

 

Such is the price of a no-compromise design. The other price is not as high. The engine- and transmission-less Superlight R kit lists for $29,950. Our test car totaled $44,550 for everything except engine installation and import duty. That’s also the best dollar-per-giggle ratio we’ve tested.

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

That's my car!  Built by Caterham USA in Colorado as a demo unit for the press.  I purchased it as second owner in 2006 and owned it ever since.  I think I paid $24K back then.  Best car I've owned.

 

I still have the magnesium wheels.  It came with the Seven America Superlight R plaque (still attached)

 

Then and today

Autoweek 2003.jpg

Caterhams.jpg

Picture1.jpg

Edited by JBH
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41 minutes ago, JBH said:

That's my car!  Built by Caterham USA in Colorado as a demo unit for the press.  I purchased it as second owner in 2006 and owned it ever since.  I think I paid $24K back then.  Best car I've owned.

 

I still have the magnesium wheels.  It came with the Seven America Superlight R plaque (still attached)

 

Then and today

Autoweek 2003.jpg

Caterhams.jpg

Picture1.jpg

 

That's really cool! Somebody actually reads my threads hah.

 

Love the Plaque. My original owner decided against having it on the car. Fun fact, American SLR's don't have a # assigned as they aren't a "true" SLR but rather an official replica. All SLR's were built in a pretty specific manner and assembled in the factory in UK as I recall and thats why they had a # assigned. 

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1 hour ago, Vovchandr said:

 

My “American” car is a numbered Superlight.  #123.  :toetap05:  
 

https://www.thecaterhamregister.net/superlights.htm

 

 

Fun fact, American SLR's don't have a # assigned as they aren't a "true" SLR but rather an official replica. All SLR's were built in a pretty specific manner and assembled in the factory in UK as I recall and thats why they had a # assigned. 

 

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18 minutes ago, yellowss7 said:

My “American” car is a numbered Superlight. #123. 

You messed up the quote a little 

 

However this is straight from CC horses mouth 

 

"I have records of plaques numbers for 127 SLRs. These do not include any USA SLRs, and in fact only 3 of the cars are RHD models: one each to Belgium, Jordan & Venezuela. The last issue is actually #129, as there is no record of issuance of numbers 7 or 52. Of the 127, 60 were supplied as complete kits and 67 were factory built. The kits had chassis numbers ending 2****, whilst the factory built examples had chassis numbers ending 3****."

 

Looks like my memory was off and some were supplied as kits after all. 

 

Are you mixing up Superlight and SLR? #123 SLR is orange and RHD?

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I wonder how many “American SLRs” were built.  We got all the good bits.  Honestly, the Zetec 2.0 works really well in this car. The 6-speed gearbox has more than 20k track miles.  I’m sounding like Autoweek…

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55 minutes ago, JBH said:

I wonder how many “American SLRs” were built.  We got all the good bits.  Honestly, the Zetec 2.0 works really well in this car. The 6-speed gearbox has more than 20k track miles.  I’m sounding like Autoweek…

 

That's a very good question. I'd be curious to the answer myself. 

 

I think the Zetec "200hp" setup is very good but I wished they used SVT motors as base. It would be much more true to the spirit even if numbers werent too far apart. 

 

Also according to CC, most came with 5 speeds unless 6 speeds were specified. Mine actually came with a 5 speed that I still have and 6spd was swapped in from a donor track 7 that owner also had. 

 

If we had to throw a number at it, what do we think? 30 or less SLRs? 

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I have a real, Superlight badge for a Superlight Jon Nelson built in the early 2000's; i believe the badge number is only double digits. The car was built with a stock Zetec (147 hp as I recall). My car was the prototype for CA smog approval at the time. We eventually failed in that effort and the car was registered in OR. I still have the badge, but sold the car in 2005. I'll check the number of the badge in September when I am home, but I don't think it says Seven America, but my memory isn't what it used to be.

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