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Lotus Seven

The Lotus Seven was a small, simple, lightweight two-seater open-top sports car produced by Lotus Cars (initially called Lotus Engineering) between 1957 and 1972. It was designed by Lotus founder Colin Chapman and has been considered the embodiment of the Lotus philosophy of performance through low weight and simplicity. The original model was highly successful with more than 2,500 cars sold, due to its attraction as a road legal car that could be used for clubman racing. After Lotus ended production of the Seven, Caterham bought the rights to it, and today make both kits and fully assembled cars.

History

The Lotus Seven was launched in 1957, after the Lotus Eleven was in limited production. The Seven name was left over, due to a model that was abandoned by Lotus; a car that would have seen Lotus entering Formula Two with a Riley-engined single-seater in 1952 or 1953. However, the car was completed around Chapman's chassis as a sports car by its backers and christened the Clairmonte Special.

Based on Chapman's first series-produced Lotus 6, the Seven was powered by a 40 bhp Ford Side-valve 1,172 cc engine. It was mainly for lower budget club racing on short tracks (750 motor club).

The Lotus Seven Series 2 (S2) followed in 1960, and the Series 3 (S3) in 1968. In 1970, Lotus radically changed the shape of the car to create the slightly more conventional sized Series 4 (S4), with a squarer fibreglass shell replacing most of the aluminium bodywork. It also offered some "luxuries" as standard, such as an internal heater matrix. The S4 model was not widely welcomed, and Lotus sold few cars.

The British tax system of the time (Purchase Tax) meant the car could be supplied as a kit (known as "completely knocked down" or CKD) without attracting the tax surcharge that would apply if sold in assembled form. Tax rules specified assembly instructions could not be included, but in a typical Chapman-inspired piece of lateral thinking, there was no rule covering the inclusion of disassembly instructions. Hence all the enthusiast had to do was to follow these in reverse.

Having joined the EEC on 1 January 1973, the UK had to abolish Purchase Tax and adopt VAT instead. VAT does not allow for concessions such as "CKD", so the tax advantage of the kit-built Lotus Seven came to an end. (Note that VAT does allow for variable rating and even zero-rating" of certain goods and services; but the Government still opted not to indulge the kit-builder).

In 1973, Lotus decided to shed fully its "British tax system"-inspired kit car image and concentrate on limited series motor racing cars. As part of this plan, it sold the rights to the Seven to its only remaining agents Caterham Cars. After a brief period producing the Series 4, including assembly of the last "kits" supplied by Lotus, Caterham introduced their version of the Series 3, and have been manufacturing and refining this car ever since as the Caterham Seven.

Replicas

Since the design of the Lotus Seven is so simple, over 160 companies have offered replicas or Seven-type cars over the years. Such cars are often referred to as "sevenesque or simply a "seven" or "se7en". Sometimes they are also called clubmans. Some examples are:

Also see Lotus Seven replicas

Analysis of the Seven's performance

Road test

A car with a tuned Ford 1172 cc engine and close ratio gearbox was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1958. It was found to have a top speed of , could accelerate from 0- in 16.2 seconds and had a fuel consumption of . The test car cost £1157 including taxes of £386. They commented that car could be bought in component form and then it would have cost £399 for the parts from Lotus, £100 for the Ford engine and gearbox and £27 for the BMC rear axle.

Top speed

A Seven's top speed greatly depends upon the body configuration, engine power and gearing. Early models with low-powered engines had difficulty exceeding , although a race-prepared Seven was clocked at by Brausch Niemann through a speed-trap at the 1962 Natal Grand Prix. In addition, clamshell style wings tend to create drag and generate lift at higher speeds. Cycle guards help alleviate this tendency, and low height Brookland aeroscreens that replace the windscreen help improve top end speed.

Low speed acceleration

Nearly all Sevens, due to their extremely light weight (around 10cwt / 500 kg) have excellent acceleration, especially up to , depending on power. For their time, the original late 1950s Sevens could beat most contemporary saloon cars—and by the early 1960s, with improved Ford-Cosworth engines could take on most high performance sports cars with 0–60 mph time in the low 7 seconds.

Braking

The choice of brakes vary considerably between models and over the evolution of the car. The less powerful early models had drum brakes all round, while more powerful and later models had drums at the rear only (especially on live axle cars from the early 1960s) or discs all round. With the popularity of semi-independent (DeDion) or fully independent Rear suspension most manufacturers have opted for discs all round, as is current common practice in the automotive industry.

Physics favours small cars in braking and Sevens have excellent stopping distances, but one of the effects of light weight and powerful (non ABS) brakes is the tendency to lock up, especially at the front under strong braking. The cooling surface-to-weight ratio improves with reduced scale, while the light weight makes vacuum assistance unnecessary.

Handling

The highest part of the car is about three feet from the road and it has a cloth top and side curtains with plastic back and side windows. The supports for the top and the windshield frame are aluminium. The lower chassis tubes are five inches from the road, while the wet sump, bell housing and one chassis tube are lower, meaning the centre of gravity is very low.

The front/rear weight distribution is nearly equal and the lack of a boot and small petrol tank assure that it remains fairly constant. It is, however, more front-heavy than more modern high performance cars.

Suspension

In the original Seven, the front lower A-arm (or "wishbone") of the double wishbone suspension is traditional, but for the purpose of reducing cost, the upper suspension integrated an anti-roll (anti-sway) bar into a horizontal suspension arm. This approach formed a pseudo-wishbone which was semi-independent in nature. This approach worked well with early crossply tyres, but with later radials, the configuration seriously affected its adjustability.

A number of changes to the front suspension were tried in racing circles in the 1970-80s mostly involving using a full upper wishbone and a separate anti-rollbar, and this approach was finally adopted by most manufacturers by the early 1990s. This approach has much greater allowance for adjustment in suspension settings, especially camber.

For the rear suspension - Lotus originally used a live axle (or solid axle) rear suspension. This approach was very cost effective since most production saloon cars up to the 1980s used these components. A mixture of Ford, Austin (Rover) components were used. The disadvantage of live axles is higher unsprung weight since the springs (and shock absorber) have to carry the weight of the axle and differential, affecting handling response.

Aerodynamics

In general, un-aerodynamic cars tend to be free of adverse aerodynamic effects on handling, but the front wheel arches, of all but the Series I, cause lift at high speeds. Like the good straight line performance, the car's nimble handling is limited in speed range. It can be argued that this is not usually important in a car intended for public roads.

While the car's frontal area is small, the Lotus Seven has the highest drag coefficient of any known production car--ranging from 0.65 to 0.75, depending on bodywork. The introduction of the Series IV Seven improved the car's Cd.

Additionally, the clamshell front fenders, or "wings," develop lift. This lift creates a high-speed understeer tendency.

Steering

The rack and pinion steering provides a minimum of play and friction. The light weight assures light steering without power assistance, even with very large tyres. The ratio is quick.

Rigidity of the frame

Like racing cars of the time and the equally respected and more expensive Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupe, it had a multi-tube space frame with high sides to allow a stiffer frame (longer lever arm). However, the Series II and other road versions had simpler frames than the more race oriented Series I.

It is a stressed skin construction, in which the flat aluminium body panels, and especially the floor, triangulate the largely rectangular steel tubular frame structure. This gives a rigid frame with few tubes and very little body weight that does not contribute to the frame stiffness. The flat panels avoid difficulties in shaping aluminum sheet into smooth compound curves. On the down side, it does not allow "sexy" curves or streamlining.

Mechanical details

Engines

After the English Ford flathead (L head or side valve) with 49 hp (37 kW), a BMC series A was used, then push rod overhead valve (OHV) Fords of 1,340 cc and 1,500 cc with the intake and exhaust on the same side of the head. These were often Cosworth modified; the Cosworth 1,340 cc "Super Seven" delivered 85 bhp and the 1,500 cc "Super Seven 1500" 105 bhp. These were later replaced by the Ford Kent engine, better known as the Ford crossflow, in 1,600 cc and 1,700 cc models designated SuperSprints; in their 1,700 cc guise, a crossflow delivers up to 135 bhp. The acceleration finally caught up to the handling when the Cosworth/Ford Twin Cam 1,600, as in the Lotus Elan, was used. There was also a model, sold in the US with a Coventry Climax engine and independent rear suspension.

Frame and body

The Lotus Seven was designed with racing in mind, and lightness was of primary concern to Chapman. A front mounted engine driving the rear wheels (a similar layout to most cars of the day) and a very lightweight steel spaceframe was covered with unstressed aluminium panel bodywork. The body panels were mainly flat to avoid the expense of more elaborate curved bodywork, and the simple cloth lined plastic doors were hinged from the windscreen. The nose-cone and wheel arches were originally aluminium parts, but these were replaced in the later S2 and S3 models with painted or self-coloured fibreglass.

Weight

Early Lotus Sevens weighed around 1,100 lb (10cwt/500 kg). Although the weight crept upward as production progressed, it remained remarkably low for a production car of over a litre displacement.

Suspension

The front was by "A" arms and coil springs with an anti-roll bar serving as the front half of the top A arm. The rear had trailing arms, a triangular centre locating member and solid rear axle.

The geometry and high (relative to total) unsprung weight gave it some bump steer, which owners sometimes treated by moving the supports forward and lengthening the trailing arms.

A model that was sold in the US had independent rear suspension and a Coventry Climax engine.

Problem areas

The series II had problems with its Standard Companion estate car (station wagon) rear axle and differential. This was later solved on the Series III with a Ford Cortina rear end.

The tubular spaceframe chassis suffered from rust, especially from the inside which would lead to its sudden and unexpected collapse.

Lotus 7 in the Media

  • An S2 Lotus 7 (registration KAR 120C) driven by star Patrick McGoohan was featured in the 1967–1968 television series The Prisoner.
  • A Lotus 7 appears as one of the stealable cars in Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, under the name "Locust". Ironically enough there is a replica of the Lotus 7 made under that name.
  • In the games Sonic Drift and Sonic Drift 2, Tails uses a car called the "Whirlwind S7", which is a reference to the Lotus S7.
  • A Super Seven is driven by the character Sena Wakabayashi in the anime series You're Under Arrest.
  • Sōichi Sugano from the anime éX-Driver drives a Super Seven. This series contains several Lotus models, but the Seven is most prominent.
  • The Caterham was in 1991, famous for its association with the title song for Chris Rea's album, Auberge (pictured). Though it was his personal car, it was used as a background prop for his video of the song as well as the album cover.

Footnotes

References

  • Jeremy Coulter. The Lotus and Caterham Sevens. Croydon: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1986. ISBN 0-947981-06-3
  • Lotus Super Seven Series II owner's manual, Lotus Components.
  • Lotus Seven Register
  • Peter Ross "Lotus - The Early Years 1951-54". Coterie Press, 2004. ISBN 1-902351-12-6 describes the original Lotus Mk VII single seater.

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