Tessa chose our car. She drove it at Caterham South and said "I like this one."
July 13th 2001 Saturday morning we picked up our new car - a '96 1.6k series Supersport. Out of the showroom and straight on the road to Scotland - We have never looked back since!
I had always wanted a Caterham - Tessa had no idea what they were. A day spent at Caterham South culminated in putting a deposit down on the car above. Only about 5 grand above our 'budget', but hey - its a nice colour. A week later we picked her up and proceeded to put 11,000 miles on her in the first 3 months of ownership!
A week before taking Tessa to Caterham I had 'popped in' to Caterhams show room in Caterham to 'see what they had' in there. Like many do, I had been looking at the more affordable alternatives - Westfields, Tigers, Dax etc - but it was a Caterham I had always desired, having read about the driving experience over the years, and been taken for a ride on a previous visit about 10 years previously, when Caterham were up the hill. I walked in and straight up to the bare chassis that they have in the showroom. My mind was made up. While not blind to their foilbies (our car has shocking powder coating for example) you can see the 40 years of development in the detail, and the quality of the work that goes into these cars. The painful (financially!) truth was that I would just not of been satisfied with GRP or plywood - I wanted aluminum!! Perceived superior quality? - some people think so, but the Caterham snobbery over rivals certainly worked for me!
Chassis as displayed at Caterham South showroom. A great chance to explore all those nooks and crannys you may never see on your own car!
I was taken for a drive in a 1.7 Supersprint, and was pleasantly surprised when we stopped and I was told I could drive! Legs shaking, I removed my too-big shoes and climbed in. Would I be dissapointed? DUUHH!! The carbs gulped and the exhaust spat and I was driving my first Caterham. Probably quite slowly, but it felt quick - and loud! It was, of course, everything I expected and more - as much as I could tell in a 5 minute blast.
A few days later I returned with Tessa. Never having seen one in the flesh she did not know what to expect. She has always wanted an open top car with a bit of go (as opposed to a posing car) - but would she like them? It was to be a joint purchase, and we knew we were going off to tour Europe in 2 weeks time - could I convince her? We walked around the showroom for a few hours while I yapped about all the various differences between models, seats, engines etc etc. No need really - she liked them. Once again we were ushered into a car to take it for a ride. A 1.4k - and I was mildly dissapointed - it just did not have the 'go' of the Supersprint' I had tried a few days before. No doubt I was not revving high enough, but it was 'smoother' than the crossflow. Tessa was taken out in another car, but as yet had not driven one. About 4pm I pointed this out. She needed to know what it was like to drive - this was to be her car as well. "You should of asked sir - no problem - we'll take this one..." The nearest car was the 1.6k Supersport you see above.
Tessa came back into the showroom 15 minutes later "I like this one" she proclaimed. It was 5 grand above our 'budget'.
I had not driven a 1.6 Supersport, so asked to do so. By this time it was 5pm on Saturday, but we were never rushed or discouraged. In the middle of my little drive the heavens opened. Myself and Caterham's Tim arrived back totally soaked. An observer said "If you can come back that wet with that big a grin on your face, its the car for you" The observer just happened to be Caterhams financial package organizer - a deal was done and a deposit paid. We would collect a week later, with a new screen (small crack) and a quick release wheel thrown in.
We justified the extra money with reasons like "Better fuel economy with a 'k' series" and "more reliable starting - no setting of carbs" etc etc but the fact is we were caught hook, line and sinker as soon as we drove it.
Scotland '01 Starting as we meant to go on, we drove out of Caterham South up too the Highlands for a quick trip! 5 days up there, one night back in London, then we set off on our 9000 mile road trip around Europe! Calling in to Caterham on our way back from Dover 6 weeks later they thought we were mad! 'We thought you were going to France for 5 days - if we had known what you were really going to do we would of sold you a transit van' said Mike.
A Woman's Work... I am very lucky in that Tessa enjoys the car as much as I do and takes part in all aspects - indeed she owns half of it!
At present the car is pretty standard. Upgraditis has begun with the addition of an apollo tank and a 4-1 exhaust system. With 138bhp the car is of course plenty fast enough, but nether the less the desire is for more! The aim is for about 180bhp, which we believe will allow us to use the car as we do now, maintaining our high mileage and good reliability, whilst improving our Spa lap times!
At this point I should thank Peter Carmichael - a fellow '7' owner - for all his help and advice during our Caterham tinkering. Those of you who know him will appreciate how his extensive knowledge of all things 'K' and '7' have been invaluable, both in practicle terms in the garage (usually his) or in technical or set up advice. On the odd occasion when something has broken on the car it is Peter I ring first, before the RAC.
Peter's Car - an awesome 254bhp K-series. Dangerously addictive!
As our only car, our Caterham gets used all year round, in all weathers. We have never had any problem with this, and we have always been able to carry all that we need, be it luggage for a 6 week camping trip, a set of wheels, a kite buggy or 6-7 bags from Sainsburys. These cars are as practicle as you make them.
Balham '03 Up until recently our car has lived out on the street in Balham, London. In all weathers we have never had any real problems with damage or vandalism. The car now lives in a garage in Englefield Green, Surrey. Amazing how the insurance premium did not go down though... (until I changed to MSM)
M3 '02 (I think!) Used in all weathers all year this is our only car. Our ownership experience shows how a Caterham can be very practical as an everyday car.
M25 '02 Ok - sometimes she lets us down. In this case the bolt holding the pulley onto the end of the crankshaft just fell off! A call to Peter C prevented disaster - I found the bolt 200m behind me.
IKEA '03 A shopping trip to IKEA in Bristol? In a Caterham?? Every one knows you go in there for some night-lights and come out with a trolley load of stuff - which we did.....
.....what you cannot see is that we were on our way back from a Club trackday at LLandow, near Cardiff. Already in the boot were two crash helmets, tool bag, foot pump and clothes from a weekend with parents in Somerset....
.... but we got everything in. Including a couple of trestles for my desk at home, a standard lamp, china mugs, flat-pack storage boxes, various kitchen bits and pieces - and some night lights....
...of course by the time we actually managed to get it all in, everyone else had gone home. When have you ever seen an IKEA car park empty?