Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
The Lotus 7 that had its beginnings in 1957
was viewed as the car responsible for putting the fledgling Lotus company on the map. It was skimpy and basic but smart in its design with multi tubular frame chassis on an aluminium body. It had no doors, just cutaway sides and with its hood raised it was nearly impossible to get into this car. Its front wheels had small mudguards whilst its headlights stood on their own.
It did offer coil-sprung independent front suspension
and a rear axle that resulted in fabulous handling. Its engine varied from a Ford 100E unit to a Coventry Climax FWA or a BMC A Series unit. More powerful motors became used in the Super 7 which started production in 1961 and for the first time disc brakes
were used in the front. A 1600 Cortina engine was used in the S3 series whilst in the S4 of 1970 the body was chunkier glassfibre with Europa Type front suspension
This car was seen as more civilised and it sold fairly well with more than 900 in three years. In 1973
Lotus ceased with the kit car market and sold the designs to Catherham Cars who are still building the S3 to this day.
Simplicity Made It Great
The simplicity of the Lotus Seven was what made it so great. It's creator, Colin Chapman, was as sage a businessman as he was an engineer. He aimed his bread and butter machinery at the mass market, using proprietary parts (where available), to keep the cost down to reasonable levels. But he generated his publicity with remarkably ingenious racing cars, built at considerable expense. In the case of the Lotus Seven, the car was available either off the assembly lines or in kit form, to be built at home.
According to the Lotus factory, it took between 80 and 100 man hours to assemble a kit, using nothing more elaborate than a power drill and a set of car tools. As a promotion stunt, a team of Lotus men managed to bolt a Seven together in a few hours in the New York Motor Show, but the average owner could hope at best to put in two or three weekends on the job. In many ways Colin Chapman could be compared to Ettore Bugatti. His original approach to designing, his refusal to take anything for granted and his ability to enthuse owners with a respect amounting to fervour, were all reminiscent of the maestro. So, too, was the fact that Chapman always sacrificed comfort for lightness. Small though it was, another similarity was that in common with Bugatti, Chapman did not keep his Type numbers in strict chronological order. The Lotus Seven, for example was produced some time after the Eight, which was the first of the aerodynamic Lotus models.
Why then did Chapman continue to market what to some people was an old fashioned body design, when a more effective envelope body could be produced at a comparable cost? The answer lay in the fact that the Lotus Seven was a dual purpose vehicle. It was a sports racing car in the true sense of the word. It did not pretend to compete with other British two-seaters, which were designed more as touring roadsters than strict sports cars. It was intended to form the basis of an effective racing car without a great deal more expense.
BMC, Ford or Coventry Climax Engines
With fuel and spare wheel aboard, the Seven weighed only 8 cwt. It was available with a choice of three engines - BMC, Ford or Coventry Climax. All three units could be modified, if required, to turn the Seven into a true competition car. For example, in its standard form the BMC "A" series motor developed 37 bhp, but it was reported in 1961 that one Australian enthusiast had already boosted their 7's power to a genuine 82 bhp, using almost every trick in the book. Sixty bhp was by no means an over-ambitious target for this 945 cc motor and it went without saying that an engine of this power in a two-seater weighing only 8 cwt / 406 kg would produce a quite exceptional sports-racing car at a modest cost.
In Australia the Lotus Seven kit cost A£1245 (in Sydney) including tax, which was at a lower rate than for a fully assembled motor vehicle. Thus, in price, the Lotus fell conveniently between the Sprite and an MG. It was not a suitable vehicle for the driver who merely wanted fast transport because it was lacking in many of the home comforts found with most factory produced sports cars from the era. The all-weather equipment did keep out the rain, but not the wind; the seats were comfortable but non-adjustable; the headlights were adequate rather than impressive, and the exhaust had a fruity tone which could be heard by the wallopers standing two blocks away.
But for the driver who enjoys their motoring, who likes to live with their machine and who demanded a high standard of safety with zestful performance, the Seven stood out way ahead of the field. There was nothing complicated or exotic about the design. The multiple space frame was clad in a stressed aluminium body with a fibreglass nose cone and separate fibreglass mudguards. The engine was mounted at the front and drove a proprietary rear axle through a conventional transmission system. All four wheels were sprung on combined coil and damper units and relied on normal 8 in hydraulic brake drums, unless discs were specified as optional extras.
As mentioned above, the choice of engine was the A series BMC unit, a Ford Anglia (ohv), a Ford Ten (side valve) and the 1100 cc Coventry Climax unit. The latter was not easy to get because of production limitations and we believe very few made it to Australia. Acceleration for the stock Ford version was quite creditable, with a standard quarter in 21.2 sec and 0-60 mph in 16.2 sec. Fuel consumption, once again influenced by the lack of streamlining, was not brilliant considering the Lotus 7 was a sub 500kg car. Lotus had built cars capable of 61 mpg at a constant 40 mph - so the aerodynamics, or lack of, was to blame. The 1100 cc Lotus Mk IX was an example of how Lotus could design a more aerodynamic car - even at a constant 60 mph, its mileage worked out at 49.0 mpg. Maximum speed of the Lotus Seven was 113 mph, that from a 72 bhp Coventry Climax unit.
Behind the Wheel
The compact dimensions of the Seven made it particularly useful in traffic. Overall length was a mere 11 ft, width 4 ft 5 in and wheelbase 7 ft 4 in. Although the height to the top of the scuttle was only 27.5 inches, the minimum ground clearance was 5 in. The turning circle was a fantastic 24 feet to the left and 30 feet to the right. When assembled from the kit, the body was a dashing mixture of gleaming aluminium and red impregnated fibreglass. However there were two features of the Lotus Seven that most owners found disappointing. One was the all-weather equipment. In standard form, it consisted of a pair of hoops with a plastic top that normally sat behind the front seats. This top fastened into place with quick action studs. No side screens were provided, and many owners resorted to having a set specially made up. These aftermarket screens were very necessary, too, because the Lotus front wheels were prone to throw up plenty of rain water.
The second disappointment concerned the headlights. In standard form, the Lotus was built to comply with safety regulations by fitting a permanently deflected Lucas
fog lamp on the left and a Lucas
long-range driving lamp on the right. In Britain this was legal provided the right-hand lamp was switched off when traffic approached and the wing mounted parking lamp remained on. But even if the arrangement did pass Australian traffic authorities (we are not sure if it technically did), it had little to commend it. Most owners again were forced to adapt headlight arrangements taken from other cars - MG
often being a successful donor.
The instrument panel was neat and effective. An excellent view of the dials could be seen through the two-spoke steering wheel. The speedometer
was calibrated to 100 mph and the three other dials were for the ammeter, oil pressure gauge
and water temperature gauge
. Despite a limited radiator opening, test drivers from the era noted that the Seven engine appeared to run unnecessarily cool. That was probably a good thing, allowing owners to modify their engines without necessitating any cooling-system modifications to cope with the extra heat.
The IFS used transverse wishbones with an anti-sway bar and a pair of combined coil springs and telescopic dampers. The rear suspension
had a BMC "A" series axle, located by twin parallel trailing arms and a diagonal member to provide lateral location. Coil springs with in-built dampers were also used. Nine inch brake drums provided very powerful stopping, because of the low all-up weight. Disc brakes were available as optional extras, so were wire wheels. In the first series Lotus Sevens, the battery was located at the back for weight distribution reasons. Later models had a lightweight battery (24 lbs) placed behind the engine. The fuel tank was also reduced in size to five gallons, so as to augment the luggage space.
Roadholding gave extraordinarily good cornering power and though the springing was understandably firm, the ride was not uncomfortable. Body roll just did not exist and the car handled with the sureness and confidence of a thoroughbred. It was eminently safe, and provided remarkably enjoyable motoring. The Lotus Seven was classed as a production sports car and could enter races in this category. But because of its lack of streamlining, it was obviously best suited to short circuits and hill climbs. In Britain, it was popular for mud trials, known as scrambles, where a unique type of motoring had been brought to a thrilling perfection.
For those owners who wanted to convert the Seven into competition trim, Lotus marketed a wide range of optional extras, including a banana exhaust system, close ratio gearbox and non-standard rear axle ratio's. For A£1245 Australian enthusiasts could purchase the basic sports car specifications. But actually, it bought more. The Seven was a dual purpose vehicle. Apart from its sporting nature, it was a genuine racing car, particularly suitable for the novice and then equally suited (with a much modified engine) for the experienced driver. It could be driven to and from a race track without using a trailer and offered alternative transport for weekend or even for day-to-day motoring.
Ask anyone who has driven a Lotus Seven. They will tell you, you only have to sit in the cockpit to realise that it is a true sports car, with no concessions to comfort. The driving controls were placed for rapid action, apart from the handbrake. This was located above the passenger's knee, which was not ideal. Because of the high power to weight ratio, top gear was most flexible and it was only necessary to use the gearbox if a really brisk performance or maximum cornering power is needed. The lotus Mk Seven was a delightful if unusual type of sports car, appealing to the section of the market that demanded a traditional sports car with the temperament of a true racer. And it represents something special too, as we now live in an age where nobody would seriously contemplate the assembly of their own car.