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Ordering a Caterham...what should I get?

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  • Ordering a Caterham...what should I get?

    It's finally come to the point that I am close to ordering a new Caterham Superlight R. I have been thinking about it for about a half year and realized that, if I want to be on the road next year instead of in 2006 that I had better order now. But I need some help or advice on choosing some of the many options. Here is what I have decided on for almost certain;

    Superlight R with SVT Zetec engine; painted body, battery master switch, red start button, standard fiberglass race seats, carbon fiber sill protector, 'silver pack' and not the black pack that is standard, side exhaust, alloy fuel filler door if I can get it. At this point I like the Caterham yellow with bare carbon wings and noseband. Another color is a possibility but should be a pretty visible color so I don't go unseen on the road.

    There are many options or choices available and I don't want to make a mistake in buying something that I won't use or don't need or, maybe, I should consider another option somewhere. Any advice on...

    FIA rollbar over the standard Superlight bar? I prefer the look of the smaller, more upright standard bar to the FIA which leans forward so it will fit inside the top. My use will be mostly street use with some track days.
    Is the standard rollbar acceptable for any track days and NASA HPDE events for instance?

    Standard windscreen and wipers. Superlights come with the short fiberglass wind deflector which I would like to try running with. But I can see the need for a windscreen and the best time to get one is when I order the car. Don't know if I will use the car in the rain but that's possible. I live just north of San Francisco and have other cars I can use when raining. How about for longer trips? I think the windshield would be nice to have.

    Hood (top) and full sidescreens. These will make the car usable in rainly weather but I don't know if I will be driving it in the wet. The full side screens can be nice to cut wind buffeting and can be used without the top. Which, if either, should I get? With the full windshield I think that the side screens would be very nice to have. I'm not sure about the top. Sure don't want to have boxes full of stuff that I never end up using or installing on the car. I know that, ultimately, I have to make up my mind for how I will use the car, but many of you who have been driving Sevens for years have experience in the nice, but not necessary options vs. the 'really must get' options.

    Heater? More cost, weight, etc. but nice if one wants to stay warm. I can see using the car in 30-40 degree weather. But can you get enough heat from the engine, either through the footwell walls or with some simple ducting installed to channel engine bay heat to the footwells? I WILL be ordering the footwell heat insulation kit.

    Wheels. I am going with 13" wheels and really liked the Barnby magnesium wheels that have been used on the Superlight and R500 but they is no longer an option from Caterham. I have not seen the new 8-spoke aluminum wheels on a car other than in some not-too-good photos. They don't look as "classic" to me as I would like, and nothing special, but something you might see on a hot import sedan. The KN Minators are nice, classic Seven wheels but may be heavier than the new Superlight and Barnby wheels. What to do here? Get my car with the new wheels and then sell them if I can get a set of Barnby wheels from Mike Barnby? Get the Minators?

    Steering wheel: Momo QR but is the 260 mm size better than the 280mm?

    4 point vs 6 point harness. The 6 point is a lot more money than the 4 point and would be worth it if I was on the track a lot but I can see only several track days per year. Maybe a few more. I'm not trying to skimp but don't want to order lots of expensive options that I neither need nor will use. Yes, I know my neck is worth the price of good safety equipment but there can be some sort of limit. If some of these options are highly recommended by others I will probably get them. Please let me know WHY you do or don't recommend things and feel free to email me off the forum at [email protected]

    Spare wheel/tire. Can I get by pretty well on the street without one? A flat can often be temporarily fixed with Slime or other stuff you put in the tire. Car looks nice without the spare but, if I am going to want one, it will be much better to order it initially.

    And this is the BIG dilemma; 5 or 6 speed transmission. The Caterham 6 speed is a fine box but expensive. It was designed to be used with the smaller and not-so-torquey 'K' engine. The Zetec, with its broad powerband might be better both on and off track with the close ration and/or heavy duty 5 speed. How do I choose between these two? The higher gear of the 5 speed will be nice for highway crusing. The 6 speed I think I might find that I am always needing to shift gears with on the track when the 5 speed might work better with the high torque Zetec. I've only driven the 6 speed and only several miles total. Certainly not good enough to form a good opinion.

    Am I overlooking anything important? I'm going to get my car on order in the next week or so but many options can be added or changed down the road. This is going to be an exciting project with a lot of work ahead to get on the road in Jan. 2005.

    Thank you for any help you can give me.

  • #2
    Here's my opinions on some of your questions:

    Color: Yes, the yellow will definitely get you noticed on the road. Caterham also offer a very bright orange and a bright lime green as well.

    Windscreen: If you plan on getting the top and side screens you're going to need the full windscreen.

    Heater: My car doesn't have one, but I still stay toasty-warm even in winter due to heat from the headers. I don't have the footwell heat insulation kit though.

    Spare tire: Agree that you probably get by with the can of flat-fixer.

    Transmission: I'm happy with my 5-speed, but I've never driven the 6-speed. I also have a crossflow vs. the Zetec, so I guess I'm no real help there. I doubt you'd be kicking yourself no matter which way you go.


    • #3

      The heater matrix weighs in at just a few pounds. Although Ronbo is right about header heat seeping into the footwell, it is always nice to have warm air during those chilly mornings.

      I have the the 175HP Zetec and the five speeder T9, which is geared for a much heavier car (the Ford Sierra). First gear is useless as it is far to short. I usually start at second gear. The huge jump between first and second gear makes that particular shift slow since the synchro rings has to work so hard. Second to third gear is also a bit of a jump, but not at all as bad as 1-2. third to fourth is nice. Fifth is an overdrive.

      The Caterham box (which I've driven with a 200HP Zetec) is a sweet, sweet, piece of machinery. After a long run on first gear you flip your way through the gears with a huge grin on your face. Since it is a short ratio box the shifts are very quick.
      The only problem is that sixth gear has a 1:1 ratio, which will give you a cruising RPM at about 4500-5000. Not a problem on the track, but it will drive you up the wall on the highway. It's your call. I've seriously been thinking about getting a Caterham box and replacing the sixth speed with an overdrive gear.

      Spare tire:
      My spare has been sitting in my garage for the last year. If I am going for a full day in the desert, I usually bring it along. The rest of the time I rely on my spray can.

      There is a huge wind buffeting difference between sidescreens and no sidescreens with a standard windshield. My SV is like any modern car with the sidescreens, but I am constantly afraid of loosing my glasses when I take them off. I've been contemplating an aeroscreen and a helmet, but I haven't found anything I liked (screenwise) for the SV.

      Nice to have with you when the clouds are looming. It takes about five minutes to get on and keeps you reasonably dry.

      The Caterham six point harnesses are the same as the four pointers with an added crotch strap. After having worked with a Volvo safety engineer who explained the finer seatbelt mechanics to me, I swear by the crotch part.

      Submarining (when you glide downward/forward "under" the belt) is a nasty thing when you have limited space in the footwell. It's bad enough when the transmission crushes your feet as it is pressed backward and takes the footwell with it, but if your knees and pelvis is down there as well, you are looking at wheelchair time. Get it!

      Steering wheel:
      No opinion. (I actually don't know which size I have.) People recommend a removable wheel in the standard sized chassis.

      No opinion.

      Roll bar:
      No opinion. And ahead of all, no clue when it comes to racing regulations.

      Good luck!

      /Magnus F.


      • #4

        Thanks Ronbo and Magnus,
        Your comments are helpful. I hope others (many) will post their input as well as we all have differing opinions on what is best. Sometimes there probably isn't a best but just different options where either will work as well.

        I may just order my car without making an immediate decision if I can do that and research things further. I like your comments about the crotch strap for the seat belts. Yesterday on a very short "drive" around the paddock at Sears Point in Rich's Superlite I felt some heat coming in through the footwell. But, with the insulation which I have heard is very nice to have, that may block such heat.

        Almost certainly will get the full windscreen as an option as well as the full sidescreens. I do not care for the black fiberglass standard Superlight windscreen lookswise but would love to have a clear perspex full width windscreen that somehow mounted to the holes for the full windscreen allowing for easy interchangability. Anyone know of what might be available along those lines? Or, possibly, the Brooklands screens might be worth looking into. Do they cut the wind buffeting appreciably?

        I did it-- ordered my car just now. But many options remain open so let me hear from anyone if you have suggestions. Magnus, I went with the 6 point harness per your suggestion.

        Still have to decide on the 5 or 6 speed. The 5 speed is available with a close ratio gearset. I am finding out if an overdrive is available for the 6 speed and it that might hinder the ratios for trackwork.

        At this point I'll get the SVT Focus Zetec which is supposedly now available from Caterham USA. This has somewhere in the 180-190 HP range as stock but can have cams, throttle bodies, etc. added for more HP. Wouldn't I like 230 HP... but should be more than happy with a more modest amount. Don't need the fastest car around, that's for sure.

        Another option I would like is the Stack Dash. These things are expensive! but very good looking and should be nice for track days. The dashboard with the Stack is really clean looking, too.



        • #5
          Don't worry about most of that stuff. Things like the heater, windscreen, sill protectors et. al. can be purchased and installed later, perhaps purchased w/ a stonger dollar too. If you're worried about making a mistake ordering something you might not want don't order it - add it later!

          The crotch strap costs something like 30 bucks - big deal (eh?) either now or later. The hassle there is that you've gotta take the seats out to put it in but you can order it anytime before you get the car or during the build as it will ship generally w/in a week - as will most of the items for sale.

          If you're serious about the track you'll need to get the Race Academy roll cage. Otherwise, remember that the FIA bar is in fact sanctioned by the FIA - I reckon you'll have less hastle on more tracks come trackday w/ that bar. And it comes w/ an additional removeable 'Petty strut' which will enhance the car's safety.

          5 or 6 is a problem. I went to and looked at the ratios of their 4 or 5 or 6 speed Sierra sequentials. Interestingly the ratios of an overdriven 6 speed box are identical to the close ratio 5. You just get the longer legs of the OD 6th. How often you'll need that I can't say. I didn't by my car for long distance touring so fuel mileage / comfort (does anyone by a 7 for comfort?) doesn't matter. Lots o the Limeys suggest that a 6 isn't necessary. Me? 5 speed close ratio for now but ultimately I'll be banging that 6 speed helical-cut Dog Box.

          My SLR came w/ a Racetech wheel. It's very cool. Spec it, not the others, one of which I've read some complaints about on the limey board. It may be what you get anyway.

          The reason for the 13" wheels of course is weight. If you go to the larger wheel you have to get larger cycle wings - stick w/ the 13s if you're going the SLR route. The 8 spokes look great to me so order your car w/ them and I'll trade ya for my mags

          Spend the dough on a dry sump, rather than all the other things you can add later. Oh, and get that order in because the car's suddenly hot property (lots of press Over Here) and the list is likely getting long.
          A day you don't go a hundred is a day wasted


          • #6
            Hi Chris,
            Where is "over here"? Here there is a lot of press, too, and the dealer said that there might be a price increase soon due to the weak dollar (I don't think it is headed higher). Anyway, my order is in to the dealer for the car and I will have some time to add or change certain things.

            I'll be getting 13" wheels but hope to find something other than what is currently used on the Superlight. Maybe I can get the standard wheels and sell them rather than to get a credit for the wholesale price of them.

            As my dealer explained it the 6 point harness with crotch strap has larger webbing than the 4 point harness. The difference in price between the two is $220. That seems like a lot for a little more webbing and a few straps.

            I don't think I will race my car but just do some track days. I'ts really going to be a street driven car for the most part. I initially wanted the FIA bar but, after seeing cars with the standard bar, the FIA doesn't look right on the car with its forward slope. I should find out if is may be required for track days. I will probably do only several track days a year and do not consider myself serious about it. That could change so I should see about having the car built so I can change the bar easily. The cage would not be easy to live with on the street so that's a no go.

            I asked my dealer about dry sumping the Zetec engine and he said it isn't needed as with the K engine. The sump is already baffled. The Zetec, also, is larger than the K engine and with a broader torque range which, I have been told, negates the need for the 6 speed where you will be shifting much more than is really necessary. I am going to check out the close ratio internals for the Sierra box. If a 6 sp. is not needed on the K engined cars it sure isn't on the Zetec. But my dealer has been building Zetecs here with the 6 sp. I just don't want to get a box where I will always be having to shift when not necessary with the broader torque range of the Zetec.

            The Racetec is the standard steering wheel. It's a bit flexible at the top compared to the Momo and I think the latter looks better anyway. Will get the QR.

            Had the chance to heft both fiberglass nose cone and front wings vs the fiberglass ones. What a difference! I don't know the exact weight difference and it probaby doesn't save a whole lot on the car but you can feel that the carbon is MUCH lighter.
            My car is still a long way off but at least I am on my way to getting one.


            • #7
              Where is "over here"?
              By 'over here' I mean on this side of the pond, as the English say. Iow, in the USofA. In my case I'm south of you in SoCal. I found that it helped (some) on blatchat to make the distinction - there's so many differences, 7wise and otherwise, twixt here and there.

              The difference in price between the two is $220. That seems like a lot for a little more webbing and a few straps.
              I'm not sure I know what option this is. The listings I see show the SLR w/ the 4 points as standard. The 6 point belts webbing is wider than 3"? If it's much wider it could be called a suit! The 4 point belts that came w/ my car are 3" wide. I'm adding the crotch strap for $30.00.

              I initially wanted the FIA bar but, after seeing cars with the standard bar, the FIA doesn't look right on the car with its forward slope.
              Installing the FIA bar requires removal of the rear shocks. Iow, if you decide to add it later it will be a relatively large amount of work. Definitely something to think about before you decide.

              I just don't want to get a box where I will always be having to shift when not necessary with the broader torque range of the Zetec.
              Based on my experience from yesterday's '1st blat' I'd say that 2nd gear is all one needs for the public roads!

              Btw, go here:

              for a good look at the new wheels. Nice looking car too, except that the exhaust is on the wrong side... :lol:
              A day you don't go a hundred is a day wasted


              • #8
                Originally posted by Steve Stephens
                Hi Chris,
                I asked my dealer about dry sumping the Zetec engine and he said it isn't needed as with the K engine. The sump is already baffled.
                I run a wet sump in my Zetec and I have occasionally experienced pressure drops when on the track or doing stupid things on the serpentine roads. The oil pressure has never dropped into the red, but it went down from four to two or something like that.

                /Magnus F.


                • #9
                  What to get?

                  There are options that your dealer may not tell you about...

                  1. You can order the car with the engine compartment power coated. Very nice looking!

                  2. You can also order the roll bar painted in different colors.

                  3. They can also power coat the interior panels, but they tend to get scratched easily and then it starts to look ratty, so you are better off skipping this one.

                  4. Skip the carbon fiber from caterham and purchase a nice set from one of these chaps:

                  (note: I have only seen their stuff on the web and blatchat, so you pays your money and you takes your chances).

                  5. Instead of the dry sump check out the accusump (it also prevents wear when the engine is started). The guys from GT-Classics use these on their racecars with great success.

                  Also note that if you are going to get the full windscreen the price is the difference between the aero screen and the windscreen. You don't get both for the one price.

                  The SLR has lots of goodies on it already so you don't need to go crazy. The leater seats are nice if you are doing any extended traveling in it. Don't bother with a top (hood). Get the sidescreens and a tonneau (and pack an umbrella if you get caught in the rain)! :wink:


                  Tom "ELV15" Jones


                  • #10

                    I can give you little advice for the more Caterham specific stuff (don't have one). But following my 2ct opinon on some general things:

                    FIA rollbar over the standard Superlight bar?.......Is the standard rollbar acceptable for any track days and NASA HPDE events for instance?

                    AFAIK NASA just requires any rollbar for HPDE. That said, I read on Blatchat about several people flattening the Caterham standard bar in a barrel roll. Should be a rare event but if a roll bar is installed I would prefer one that does the job. IMHO the standard roll bar looks indeed a little flimsy.

                    Standard windscreen and wipers.

                    I like the aeroscreens but would not install one because the risk of flying stones and other road crap make the use of some face protection advisable. Some people drive Aeoscreens with helmet. For that reason I stay with the screen. Oh yes, as mentioned before there is also no hood option with the aeroscreens.

                    Hood (top) and full sidescreens.

                    You will probably ask 20 Seven owners and get about 5 different answers. You will need to find out for yourself. I use the hood rarely (SoCal) and never the sidescreens. The latter do protect from the wind nicely but they impede the side vision and with the hood it really gets claustrophobic.


                    I had one and never used it (although occasionally driving at 30 to 40 degrees F). I found the heat leakage through the footwell panels was sufficient. The heater does not much for the upper body anyway. Last month I ripped it out and sold it for $50 to the East Coast :-)
                    I was anyway wondering if a small vent flap on top of the footwell would not do a better, lighter and cheaper job if you really need more heat.



                    • #11
                      Thanks all for your replies. I have ordered my Superlight in Caterham yellow with bare carbon wings and front band on nosecone. Will be going SVT Zetec (about 185HP) with long first gear 5 speed. Standard rollbar is much larger diameter tubing than the old standard bars and have decided on that bar which is ok for NASA trackdays/HPDE events. I doubt that I will be racing and have been assured that the FIA bar is a bolt in changeover should I want to put one in. Also getting the Stack 8130M dash and the big red starter button (green if available), standard new style 13" wheels, Tillots, front exit exhaust, no heater (hope this is not a mistake but I have also thought about what Gert mentions about installing a flap in the footwell to capture engine heat). Wind screen plus windshield (silver), alloy fuel filler, carbon sill protectors (looks better with the carbon wings and dash), MOMO QR wheel, tonneau cover and a few other minor things.

                      Now I have to get the thing built by next Jan. 1 as I want to go in for SB100 registration on Jan. 2 2005 so as to not miss out.
                      Those numbers are going at about 28 per week now and yesterday were at 463 assigned. Only a few more weeks left till they run out. They lasted until May or June last year.



                      • #12
                        I'd recommend the FIA bar on the theory that you only have one head and the best protection is best for that head. Also have the rollbar painted to match the car---it improves the visibility of your car to other motorists---the principal risk of driving a 7. The black rolbars are not as visible. The 5 speed box from SPC is a good choice. I have the 6 speeder and it's great except for highway driving when it mysteriously lacks an overdrive---a significant shortcoming. I prefer the comfort of the leather seats to the Tilletts. A windshield gives you more safety, comfort and flexibility. Find what spring and shock options are available as this may save you from a future upgrade. Racers in the UK say that the 13" tires are fastest on the track. I have a zetec and heartily endorse that option---although if I could "do it over" the Duratec would be my choice. When I bought the car I figured it would be 80% road use and 20% autocross/track use. After using the car in competitive events it's working out to be just about the opposite. The real fun is had in the venues that best allow you to explore the cars incredible capabilities. That ain't the street!!! Hope to see you on the road one of these days. 8)


                        • #13
                          I really like the Brooklands screens - aerodynamically much more tolerable than a full windscreen without side curtains and a good option for cruising country back roads. However, if you plan to do a lot of freeway driving you should use a full windscreen. Simple test to determine which configuration is best for you in a freeway situation is to ask: when a flying muffler hits my car at 70+ mph, how much of it would I like to catch with my teeth? For that reason, I would never drive in traffic with an aeroscreen. I'd rather get plastic surgery under anaesthetic.

                          As for belts, the local club that I drive with requires a six point harness with crotch strap and 3" webbing for track use. Get the best and you won't be throwing away perfectly good gear to meet track regulations.


                          • #14
                            Regarding the QR: do you mean quick release or quick ratio? I have the 8% quick ratio and like it very much. There is also a 22% QR rack. My wheel is the 260mm suede momo, which I like. It does somewhat obscure the guages and probably makes the steering seem even quicker than a larger wheel might. These are the sort of decisions that are really fun to make---ya just don't get to make these types of decisions with other cars :!: 8) On the quick release: definitely get that. It makes it easier to get in and out of the car and is a good anti-theft measure---when some jerk sticks a screwdriver into your ignition to boost the car at least he's going to need a set of vicegrips(or two) for steering :!:


                            • #15
                              options and more options

                              A lot of great tidbits that you have all brought up here. I still have a lot of questions and even more from reading what you all say.

                              Roll a 7,
                              I meant quick release and it's standard (and I want it for the reasons you give) on a Superlight. I don't know about the steering ratios but that's something to check out. I thought the larger 280 mm steering wheel might give more visibility to the gauges and I'm slim enough it won't get in the way of my legs. But there must be a reason why the 260mm wheel is standard and I would expect that it has been discovered that is the best for the most owners.

                              You mention a 5 sp. from SPC. Who are they? Better than the close ratio 5 sp. from Caterham (Sierra box)?

                              Brooklands screens interest me but may be better on a classic 7 than a new yellow Superlight. I know that if I am in fast traffic I will want to be using my full helmet. I think you are right about the full windscreen for freeway driving so I have ordered that in addition to the windscreen. Maybe I should just delete the aeroscreen but it looks pretty neat. I'd really rather have a clear perspex aeroscreen. I have heard different things about the 4 and 6 pt. harnesses in that it isn't just the crutch strap added to the 4 point harness but that the 6 pt. has larger belt webbing. But I've heard also that the 6 pt. has "spreaders" at the hips and 2" wide webbing. More to investigate.

                              Here's another question. Is the aluminum brake master cylinder a good way to go? Supposedly the pedal pressure increases but it is more firm. One R500 owner swears by it but he is using the car on the track only.

                              Counting down; car should be here in June.