1957-1980 Lotus Seven

The 1957-1980 Lotus Seven has been dubbed the original British "club racer," about as pure a sports car as you'll ever see.

Introduced in 1957 as a kit to get around the home market purchase tax, it was later sold by Lotus fully assembled, and then built by Caterham Cars of South London with few changes to the original Colin Chapman design.

It was intended as a low-cost way to enjoy sporty motoring and/or to go racing, and its kit-car heritage showed in the wide variety of proprietary engines that fit in the lightweight square-rigged body.

The Seven was about as spartan as they come -- even side curtains and a rudimentary soft top were options -- and its tiny size made the cockpit extremely confining for anyone larger than a munchkin. It was like driving a motorized roller skate.

Performance depended on what engine/transmission was used, but could have ranged from brisk to sensational. It was wonderful on twisty, lightly traveled back roads because of marvelously precise handling and cornering abilities, but worrisome in traffic because the low build made you invisible to most other drivers.

The stark, functional styling -- freestanding headlamps, flowing and separate front fenders, upright windshield that could be folded flat, a bobtail rear -- has been widely imitated.

Most Sevens had light-alloy bodies, but the early-'70s Mark IV versions used fiberglass. Lotus relied most heavily on British Ford engines, including the Chapman-modified dohc unit, which is the one to look for on the collector market.

Though we only go up to 1980 here (the Seven continued on), this was an extremely versatile platform that wouldn't die, mainly because it provided only the basics required for high-spirited driving fun.

Pluses of the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:
  • Handling
  • Simplicity
  • Individuality
  • Entertainment value
Minuses of the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:
  • Somewhat fragile
  • Lacking in refinement and modern amenities -- and proud of it
  • Not suitable for all-round use
Production of the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:
  • S1: 242
  • S2: 1,370
  • S3: 350
  • S4: Approximately 1,000
  • Caterham Seven (S3): 5000+
Specifications of the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:

Wheelbase, inches: 88.0

Length, inches: 132.0

Weight, pounds: 1,655 (average)

Price, new: Approximately $5,500 the U.S. in 1970 (variable with drivetrain components specified)

Engines for the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:

Engines for the 1957-1980 Lotus Seven:

Most examples fitted with four-cylinder Ford of Britain engines of 1000-1600cc. Output ranges from 40 DIN bhp to 125. Valvetrain configurations include side valve, overhead valve, and twin overhead cam (Chapman-modified 1588cc unit only).

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