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Not one Caterham was sold last year and only one in 2008. "Yep, last year was the first year I had no deliveries at all, so I am not a rich man," says Caterham Cars Australia spokesman Chris van Wyk.
He says they have two problems. "The price is too high and most Clubman buyers want a kit car, something that we do not offer," he says. "In my experience with this market, most buyers want to build a $40,000 kit car, or they may pay up to around $60,000 for a built-up car. Very few have the ability to pay more. So even now, we are really still too expensive for the market, but as the Caterham uses quality components, we cannot compete with other clubman cars directly on price. Some of these competitors used some second-hand or reconditioned components in the past, which we do not do. We have Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs for example. "This means we are really looking at buyers who can afford a BMW Z4 or a Porsche Boxster, but for most of those our car is too focussed and basic.
The cost of ADR homologation is also horrendous and this hits the smaller manufacturers disproportionately hard, as we have to amortise those costs over a small volume of cars. "So, whichever way you cut it, we will always have a very small customer base."
Yet he is confident of at least a 100 per cent sales increase this year with the base model two-litre model costing $82,950 which is $26,050 less than outgoing $107,700 SVR 200. Van Wyk says the price drop was due to "the more favourable currency exchange rate, the reduced duty and a revised, less expensive engine". And rather than just offering one model, Caterham now has its largest range of Sevens on offer.
The Roadsport SV 175, Superlight SV R300 and CSR 175 are all powered by a two-litre engine developed with Ford in the UK. The new Euro 4 four-cylinder engine produces 129kW of power and replaces the previous "very nice, but also very expensive" hand built Cosworth 2.3 litre with 147kW. "The engine is a jewel, handmade in the F1 engine factory, but it is about $50 000 just for the engine," van Wyk says.
There is also the base model $64,900 Seven Roadsport SV 120, which replaces the SVR 120 and is powered by a 1.6 Ford Sigma. "Our Roadsport SV 120 model also dodges the dreaded luxury car tax, because it posts fuel consumption at under seven litres per 100km," van Wyk says. "So if someone is looking for a fun sports car for the road, we now have much more affordable models from which to choose."
The Seven Roadsport SV 175, which is based on the outgoing SVR 200, is intended for road use and has weather protection, but no airconditioning. It features a short-throw manual five-speed gearbox, unassisted direct steering, unassisted brakes and owners will still be able to see the front suspension and steering at work from the driver's seat. There is also a specification decrease on the Roadsport SV 175 against the SVR 200. It now comes with 14-inch wheels and a five-speed gearbox rather than 15-inch wheels and bespoke Avon CR500 tyres, with the six-speed Caterham designed gearbox, which is now a $6795 option. The 175 also has with De Dion rear suspension, electrically heated windscreen, heater, padded armrests, cloth seat trim and carbonfibre fascia, sills and rear guard protectors.
The track-oriented Seven Superlight SV R300 has jettisoned all but the bare essentials to keep the weight down, so there is no heater, windscreen or weather protection, although they can be fitted as options. However, it does come with a bespoke six-speed close-ratio gearbox, adjustable suspension, 15-inch alloy wheels and carbonfibre wind deflector and front guards, and costs $92,530.
Top of the Caterham Seven range is the $95,530 CSR 175 with inboard front suspension, independent rear suspension and adjustable dampers and front anti-roll bar. The CSR shares the 254mm ventilated front disc brakes with the SV 175 and the SV R300, but has larger 254mm solid rear discs and wider rear tyres offered as an option.
At the budget end is the Seven Roadsport SV 120 with its 1.6 litre Ford Sigma engine, five-speed manual gearbox, De Dior rear suspension and 14-inch wheels. It still comes with such niceties as full weather protection, electrically heated windscreen and cloth trim. Caterham Seven sports cars are based on the 1957 Colin Chapman-designed Lotus 7.
Caterham Australia also orders in complete or kit-form racing cars with prices dependent on customer specifications. "But to date I have not received any orders. There is not really a suitable racing series for them in Australia," van Wyk says.