Cars Caterham 21: has the sports car flop now come of age?

18:56  18 december  2017
18:56  18 december  2017 Source:   Motoring Research

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Not because Caterham reckoned it was three times the car that the Seven was, but because it had been making the Seven for 21 years, this car a celebration of the fact. Those after a more extreme experience also had the Renault Sport Spider to choose from.

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You are just buzzing. Your left leg is hot, your right arm is damp and a hot exhaust has singed your calf as you wriggle free of a low-roofed cockpit whose door is almost slapping you in the face.

You’ve just driven 150 miles in a Caterham Seven in the rain – and loved every second.

But your body is relieved to be releasing itself from the close grip of the Seven’s cabin, your ears are humming from the din and part of you wishes that the experience had been just a little more comfortable.

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Caterham Cars have finally located the last of the tooling for the 21 's meaning that the 21 's OC can now take custody of them all. In September 2008, Classic & Sportscar Magazine reviewed the 21 , comparing it to the Lotus Elise, Vauxhall VX220 and Renault Sport Spyder.

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Caterham Cars have finally located the last of the tooling for the 21 's meaning that the 21 's OC can now take custody of them all. In September 2008, Classic & Sportscar Magazine reviewed the 21 , comparing it to the Lotus Elise, Vauxhall VX220 and Renault Sport Spyder.

The outcome of the unusual build was one of the more capable Caterham 21 's to grace the road. The car has seen just one or two track days in it's time and in the This car is well known in the Caterham club circles and it both drives well and is a piece of English sports car history. Sadly. it now needs to

Wouldn’t it be great, you find yourself thinking, if you could have all the thrills of a Seven in a car with a sensibly scaled cockpit that didn’t roar like a North Sea gale?

And that very wouldn’t-it-be-great idea was exactly the one that Caterham had in the early 1990s.

Caterham’s modern classic Seven

The plan was to rebody the Seven. Or more accurately, perhaps, to provide it with a body beyond the vintage wings, simple clam of a bonnet, that famous nose-cone and a big tray for a pair of seats and a spare wheel mounting.

Instead, the Seven’s tubular chassis would get enveloping bodywork that looked more sportscar-sensuous and pushed through the air with a load less blustery commotion.

Why 21? Not because Caterham reckoned it was three times the car that the Seven was, but because it had been making the Seven for 21 years, this car a celebration of the fact.

Caterham 21 © Provided by Motoring Research Caterham 21

It must have been quite a challenge to extract a flowing shape from the Seven’s proportions, the closeness of the occupants’ rear ends to the back axle threatening to force the old-school proportions of a ‘50s British sportscar on this new Caterham.

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Tags Seven, Caterham 21 , Caterham. Caterham is thinking of building a new sports car with front engine, rear wheel drive layout, fully closed Caterman would build the car in a joint structure with another manufacturer because the company does not have the financial resources to fund on its own.

The name came from the fact it was introduced at the 1994 British Motor Show to mark 21 years of Caterham Cars building the Seven. In total just under 50 Caterham 21 sports cars were manufactured. Most are now in the hands of dedicated enthusiasts, with at least one successfully

And that’s what it got, although your eye was drawn away from this by the shapely tail and its Ford Mondeo lamp clusters, the long bonnet and a pair of air extractors whose exit ramps occupied much of the 21’s lower body.

The result was a car that looked a bit Brit sportscar traditional and unusually narrow, despite adding three inches to the front track to provide slightly wider footwells. But it was neat and not unattractive.

Caterham Seven Range © Caterham; Newspress Caterham Seven Range

The 21 looked more appealing inside, where a stylish twin binnacle facia replaced the Seven’s simple flat panel. The centre of the dash cascade into a narrow centre console and carried a strikingly stacked trio of dials, while the outer edges of the dashboard were bodycolour, as was much of the surface of the inner doors, making this cabin look a whole lot more contemporary. It was also very well finished.

The absence of window winders seemed contemporary too, the 21 having electric window lifts, you’d be thinking. Except that it didn’t, their opening a task for the driver, who would need to demount the glass and stow it in the boot.

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Still it was an arrangement that made the 21 lighter, its 665kg generating an exciting 205bhp per tonne when the car was fitted with the 136bhp 1.8 version of Rover’s all-alloy K Series. It was 110kg more than a Seven, but still 60kg less than a Lotus Elise.

Fear the Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise © Provided by Motoring Research Lotus Elise

Ah, the Elise. There was brief honeymoon for the 21 when the Lotus wasn’t present. The Caterham was unveiled in autumn 1994 with an alloy body, and appeared a year after that at the 1995 Earls Court show with its glassfibre production shell.

But not many months later the Elise went on sale and with the mid-engined layout that Caterham had originally considered, before concluding that this was too much of a leap for the tiny firm to take on.

The Lotus was also joined by the MGF, a milder-mannered sportster but an able one nevertheless, the appearance of these two alongside the Mazda MX-5 providing the 21 with formidable opposition. Those after a more extreme experience also had the Renault Sport Spider to choose from.

MGF © Provided by Motoring Research MGF Still, the Caterham delivered formidable performance, its low weight allowing the 1.8 Supersport to burst to 60mph in 5.8 and onto a 131mph maximum that was far higher than most Seven’s could manage.

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The more powerful 1.8 – there was a 1.6 version too – also got you Caterham’s excellent six-speed gearbox. All of which added up to a riot of a drive, if not quite as much rebellion as you’d enjoy aboard a Seven. The 21’s steering lost a little of the Seven’s blade-sharp edge, and it was heavier too.

‘Simmering vegetable’

That would have mattered less if the 21 had delivered the extra civility implied by its bodywork. True, the ride was a little smoother, but you were still packed charter-flight tight into the Caterham’s cockpit, its mechanicals made as much noise as an all-night party and if you left the roof on and the windows up, you’d boil up like a simmering vegetable.

You needed the agility of a squirrel to get beneath the hood and bridge a bicycle lane’s width of sill before tumbling into your seat. In other words, several of the supposed advantages of a redesigned body failed to materialise.

Caterham 21 © Provided by Motoring Research Caterham 21 And the 21 was inevitably more expensive, taking it straight into enemy territory. While the ultra-modern Elise 1.8 cost £19,950, the 1.6 litre Caterham 21 was £21,995, and an ambitious £25,495 as a 1.8 Supersport.

An MGF 1.8i, meanwhile, was £17,440 and a base 1.6 Caterham Seven £17,850. It doesn’t take a marketing analyst to deduce that the 21 was going to sit somewhere between a hard and desperate sell, as proven by an eventual sales tally of 48 between the point of its announcement in 1994 and the end of production in 2000.

The 21 was a good effort for such a small company, but not quite good enough and unlucky to face a light barrage of fresh sportscar competition, ironically from Lotus, the source of its bread-and-butter Seven.

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These days the 21 is almost entirely forgotten, but it makes a more convincing classic buy than it ever did as a new car. Provided you can actually find one for sale, that is.

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