Saturday, October 24, 2009
A Seven for all seasons
Simple pleasures. That’s how you could describe my glee at starting the Caterham this morning – not from a length of brown wire touched to the battery terminal, but from an actual key. The same could be said for my chuckle as it burst into life; this time with the usual satisfying rasp, but not the unpleasant screech from the alternator belt, which had come to accompany it. Actually, the last point is probably something of a relief to my neighbours as well…
All are the result of a small but significant series of tweaks and repairs to the car since I last wrote. The detail changes have included wiring in a new starter motor relay to bypass the current unit and solve the dreaded ‘Caterham click’; re-tensioning the alternator belt to silence the screech; and replacing the universal joint at the end of the steering column. On a more major note, I’ve also swapped the rock hard racing suspension for Caterham’s own road spec springs and dampers, and fitted a Half Hood from Soft Bits For Sevens.
In fact the new suspension has been proving its worth for over a month now. It’s still far from soggy, with the Seven’s trademark fidgety ride and pin sharp turn-in firmly retained, but the extra compliance is a massive plus. Not only do all four wheels stay on the ground a majority of the time now, but the car has also become much more forgiving at the limit. It even seems to have improved the steering feedback – presumably thanks to the new setup working the tyres more effectively.
Spin forward to last night and it was time for the rest of the work. Thanks to the invaluable help of another local Seven owner, fitting the new parts was a relatively straightforward procedure. We treated the car to its first oil change in my ownership while we were there (at a very conservative 1,750 miles) and then it was time to head back.
It was well towards midnight by that point, but the night air was still unseasonably warm so I headed off with the roof firmly stowed in the boot. But not for long. A few miles later I felt the first soft drips land on my forehead, then spots started to appear on the windscreen, then finally the deluge began.
I darted into a petrol station forecourt and set to work. The whole procedure took all of thirty seconds, thanks to a beautifully thought out design. The canopy unrolls from its bag in the boot with the rear already anchored to the back of the car via a pair of straps. It drapes over the roll bar and picks up on the poppers on the windscreen surround. Meanwhile a couple of additional straps at the side, tensioned with buckles like the rears, pull the cover taut.
At the back the Half Hood is open to the elements (hence the name), so it’s not completely watertight. It is surprisingly close, however, not to mention dramatically quicker and easier to erect than a full hood. What’s more the airflow through the cockpit greatly reduces the chance of misting up, particularly when combined with the car’s heated windscreen.
Back on the road, another simple adjustment began to pay dividends. We’d re-aligned the headlights while working on the car and not surprisingly this made night driving a lot more pleasant. I even finally discovered which of the dashboard switches controls the screen washer. Given it turned out to be the fan override switch I don’t feel quite so sheepish admitting that it’s taken me three months to locate!
With all this complete – despite the darkness and the rain – I couldn’t resist taking the long way home. It revealed the Caterham’s setup to be distinctly entertaining in the wet. The new universal joint has removed a lot of friction from the steering, as well as some play, giving it much a smoother action. This is particularly useful when indulging in low speed oversteer antics, although to be honest the ease with which these could be provoked in the damp suggests I might need to check the tyre pressures.
There’s plenty of time to do that another day though, not least because the car is now likely to come out much more often. Being able to stop at a petrol station and refuel without fear of ‘the click’ leaving you stranded is a major plus. Likewise, having basic weather gear means you can still venture out when the weather looks debatable, and no screech means early morning hoons are no longer such an anti-social undertaking. In short, a few brief (much overdue) changes have opened up the Caterham’s fun factor for virtually any occasion. Roll on winter.