The Caterham Seven is now available as a kei car

By Colin Wood
Sep 23, 2021 | Caterham, Seven, Kei Car

Photography Courtesy Caterham

Think the Caterham Seven couldn’t get any smaller? Think again.

Not long after Caterham announced it was under the new management of Japan-based VT Holdings, the carmaker has introduced a new model of the Seven to its lineup: the 170.

Powered by a turbocharged, 660cc inline-three engine sourced from Suzuki and good for 84 horsepower, the 170 also claims the title of smallest Seven ever built. “With new front and rear wings, it measures just 1470mm in width (that’s a whopping 105mm narrower than anything else), making it also our smallest current Seven.”

Why such a small engine and reduced width? This version of the Seven was designed specifically to be sold in Japan as a kei car.

What, exactly, is a kei car? Essentially, they're microcars that can be no longer than about 11 feet, no wider than 5 feet, and powered by an engine no bigger than 660cc. Power output and top speed of these cars is also restricted.

[We drive the Honda S660: Be careful what you wish for]

The 170 is currently only available in the United Kingdom and Japan, though we wouldn’t be upset if Caterham decided to try selling it stateside.

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View comments on the GRM forums
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter)
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) UberDork
9/23/21 9:45 a.m.

Is the width taken out of the track? I can't imagine the interior being any smaller.

Pepe New Reader
9/23/21 9:55 a.m.

If cheap enough, I'd be all over that. The smaller the better.

Pepe New Reader
9/23/21 10:00 a.m.

I looked around. ~$30k in the UK, apparently.

wspohn SuperDork
9/23/21 11:01 a.m.

That seems to me like a Japan only model - they are the ones into microcars and small engines.

OTOH, I could certainly see something as light as a 7 being powered by an engine like the new GM turbo 3 cylinder L3T they are going to use in the new Trailblazer and Encore.perhaps.  Should be around 156 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque

Driven5 UltraDork
9/23/21 11:10 a.m.

Seems like a great idea.  How was this not a thing sooner?

nocones GRM+ Memberand UberDork
9/23/21 11:20 a.m.

I really like this.  On my list of projects is building something similar.  I even have the Geo Metro 1.0L.  I would maybe do Mid engined though.  

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
9/23/21 12:46 p.m.
Driven5 said:

Seems like a great idea.  How was this not a thing sooner?

Even pathological types like me rarely look at a Seven and have ever thought "You know, this car is just too darn big."

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
9/23/21 1:12 p.m.

I wonder if there will be some actions taken from the Mahandra Roxor playbook (minus the legal wranglings with Jeep.)  

But, the Roxor was sold into the US as a slow vehicle somewhere between a golf cart and a Side by Side Ute.  This keeps the highway safety eyes off the product.  But, some communities allow golf carts on the road so some Roxors are road driven.  

If the Seven was sold into this "golf cart" range some slow versions could be put on the road.  Simultaneously, Seven could sell "accessories" that make these into "track only" vehicles.  These "accessories" could be turbo kits with speed governors removed.  Could also be wider rear axles/tires.  It could then be the responsibility of the owner to not mix these uses.  The vehicles approved for the road shouldn't have the "accessories" intended for track only.   Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.  

Driven5 UltraDork
9/23/21 1:12 p.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

I'm talking less about the 'smaller 7' aspect, and more about the '7 as the basis for a Kei car' aspect. It seems like a practically-perfect match that, in retrospect, should have been completely obvious.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/23/21 1:24 p.m.
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) said:

Is the width taken out of the track? I can't imagine the interior being any smaller.

Look at that wheel offset.

As noted, they only had to lose 105mm overall compared to a non-SV car. That's just tire/wheel choice and a bit of a fender trim.

Someone at Caterham is brilliant. The original Lotus Seven was available as a kit car primarily as a tax dodge, so it's going back to its roots :)

newrider3 HalfDork
9/23/21 3:05 p.m.

Don't forget, the Seven 160 was introduced in 2013ish with the 660cc turbo three also, just not the Kei car outside dimensions. I've always thought this was a perfect powerplant for the spirit of the Lotus 7. 

93EXCivic MegaDork
9/23/21 4:07 p.m.
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) said:

Is the width taken out of the track? I can't imagine the interior being any smaller.

Yeah I would not fit in that having been in a 7 before.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/23/21 5:04 p.m.

I think it's really unlikely the interior was touched, as that would affect everything from the windscreen to the bonnet to the dashboard to the seats. I think it's all in those rear wheels.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
9/23/21 5:33 p.m.
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) said:

Is the width taken out of the track? I can't imagine the interior being any smaller.

Skinnier rear tires.

racerfink UltraDork
9/23/21 5:54 p.m.

Hmmmm...  (starts searching bike ads for Hayabusa motors...)

914Driver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/23/21 6:07 p.m.

Page  7 of GRM Projects, way less than $30k.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/23/21 6:40 p.m.

That's a 17 year old article. Give Champion Motor Cars a call and see who answers :) And see if you can guess how long the rear diff stayed in place. I've got a lot of experience with a sister car to that one.

A homebrew is going to be cheaper than a Caterham, but won't command the same resale and involves a little more work. I can tell you that the Caterham is more of a jewel in how it's designed, built and detailed. There's certainly room in the market for both, and the existence of one does not invalidate the other.

jr02518 HalfDork
9/23/21 9:06 p.m.

These are one of car's that had been on my bucket list and getting to drive one did not disappoint. I have to add that at not quite 5'10", it helps.

The car I drove was built to the extreme.  Again, they are raw at best. Well worth getting tossed around in.  Like driving a shifter kart, you will be shaken not stirred. 

Yes, it's a Turbo charged rotary and it leaves a permanent smile on the driver.

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/24/21 11:26 a.m.

Awesome.  I can see something like this as being the real future of 'Se7en' type vehicles.  I love it.  Far more interesting to me than the recent offerings from Caterham with more and more power and more hard core track focus dynamicss.  I honestly think the sweet spot for a road car is something that can do the 1/4 mile in the high 13 to mid 14 second range and I'll bet this is pretty close to that weighing in at only 970 lb's with 84/86 hp/tq.  That's quick enough for me to have fun ringing it out on the street without instantly becoming an attention whore hooligan.  Faster than that and you have to let off as soon as you hit the gas. 

I've often wondered what the side by side rules are in each state that allows things like the Mahindra Roxor to be registered are.  Something like this would be awesome if it could be sold here under those same rules.  I'd be happy with the restrictions of no freeway etc.  If it could be sold here for $30K turn key I can see a much bigger market for it than other more recent powerful and holy E36 M3 expensive Caterhams with larger engines. 

To the inevitable 'I can build a faster Locost for pocket change and lint' crowed.  Good for you, go for it.  I bet there are literally tens of finished Locosts that can outperform any Caterham product at any price.  But I've never seen a Locost type vehicle, other than those that have gone a long way down the Lotus/Caterham copy path, that looks anything but crap.  That's a personal opinion and not meant as an insult to the people who've spent thousands of hours building one, but they all tend to have strange proportions and look home made and half finished.  This thing, like all Caterhams, is a thing of beauty especially the baby blue one with full windscreen even if it is a rendering.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/24/21 11:44 a.m.

The difference between the Locost and the Caterham styling is the scuttle location. Took me a while to spot it, but the forward scuttle means a shorter bonnet and a narrower windscreen. It's also why the shifter isn't buried underneath the dashboard and the steering wheel actually has some space behind it.

Had I continued with mine, the eventual plan was to move the scuttle back to counteract this. It would be an easy thing to sort out during the build if you were aware of it.

As for fun on the street - they're always in your face. Even if you're just tootling around, it's not a relaxing drive. That's why I sold mine, it just wasn't getting driven. I do miss it occasionally but not as often as you'd think.

As for the model range, I think Caterham is just responding to what people buy. I remember talking to the importer years ago and the market wasn't asking for the wings anymore, it was all about performance and not cosplay. So Caterham built what people were buying.

einy (Forum Supporter)
einy (Forum Supporter) Dork
9/24/21 12:20 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

As for fun on the street - they're always in your face. Even if you're just tootling around, it's not a relaxing drive. That's why I sold mine, it just wasn't getting driven. I do miss it occasionally but not as often as you'd think.

I'm coming to the same conclusion with my Exocet, but haven't pulled the trigger on selling it.  Yet.

Driven5 UltraDork
9/24/21 12:32 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

It was seeing the awkwardly large amount of the driver, typically past their knees, on typical Locosts that first drew my attention to this. I believe the scuttle and windshield location relative to the driver also plays some role in the amount of buffeting hits the occupants. One of the Locosters move their scuttle (and windshield) back to a more Caterham-like location, and noted a distinct reduction in abuse from the wind.  Most Locosts also don't place the upper frame tube next to the driver at an angle, nor angle the boot lid. The devil is in the details when it comes the visual appeal of a Caterham over a typical Locost.

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/24/21 1:08 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

In reply to Driven5 :

I totally agree with everything both of you are saying.  In addition to the scuttle, cockpit sides, trunk shape there are lot's of other things that don't look right on many Locosts.  Especially when you see the noses that are 2-4" wider and taller than standard.  You end up with a ungainly fat square sausage with little wheels sicking out etc.  Anyway, I didn't mean this to be bashing the millions of hours and thousands of dollars that many happy builders have spent in their garage.  Hat's off to them, they have the time, skill and dedication I am so obviously lacking.  It was more to say that despite the normal 'I can make it cheaper' crowed that the majority of Locost builds are no more comparable to a turn key production Caterham than a Kelmark GT was to a 246GT Dino.  Not that they aren't necessarily great fun cars, but the two are not equal in looks, performance, fit, finish, usability, or heck even safety.

MAybe I should start another thread, but it's a serious question, what are the basic rules that allow side by sides, UTV's, ATV's etc to be used on the street?  Are they Sate by State or Federal, I have no idea.  While most side by sides like CanAm's, Gators, Polaris' etc are off road based vehicles, is there any reason why Kei type vehicles couldn't be built/imported/registered in the same way?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/24/21 1:21 p.m.

The over size "442" Locosts do look a little weird, but the "book" size has a good shape to the nose. Caterham's own SV has a bit of a weird look to the nose as well due to the wider frame.

Car and Driver did an article on four different Locosts, showing how much four similar cars can vary.

UTV street use is at the state level. You can't do it here, and it's only legal in certain areas in UT IIRC.

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/24/21 1:31 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

DAmn, I didn't realize how old that article was.  2006.  I feel even older than I did!  I recall reading your old build log real time as you worked on the car.  I could have sworn it was 10 years ago at most, not nearly 16.

I notice you showed a build price back then of $10,253, and I"ll bet your costs were more accurate than the others, which according to a handy dandy inflation calculator would be about $14K today.  Honesty that makes $30K for a turn key seem even more of a bargain to me.

Driven5 UltraDork
9/24/21 2:12 p.m.

In reply to Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) :

When you start looking at the true 'cost' to DIY build something 1-off for the first time from largely used parts, especially for anybody who has other reasons in their life to value their own time at all, it's not so much that the end result is cheaper as it is that the cost is amortized out in ways that that makes it far less obvious. If the primary intent is simply having a fun and and interesting fair weather toy to enjoy the elemental driving experience, rather than having an interesting but time consuming project, I'd certainly give a $30k Keiterham strong consideration against other similarly priced production cars.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/24/21 3:32 p.m.

Well, I wrote a book about the car. I don't remember the numbers but I'm pretty sure the book paid for the car :) I also made use of what I learned several times over, but that's because my job makes it relatively easy for those skills to transfer. At the time I built it, I referred to it as "20% of a Caterham" as that was my expected build cost. Given that Caterhams at the time started at $40k or so, I wasn't too far off. The car's in good hands now and I have visitation rights.

I don't know where the $30k price is coming from. The cheapest Seven on the Caterham site is £25,385.00 as a turn-key. That's basically $35k, and turn-key kits get a little funky with US regulations. Plus you'd have to actually, you know, get it here and deal with any import costs. I'm not sure you can buy a turn-key from Caterham directly in the US, I think it has to be built for you by a dealer.

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/24/21 3:46 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Not trying to argue with anyone.  The $30K came from this R&T article that quotes the price of the Kie-7 as £22,990, which is about $31,400 at today's exchange rates, so I heavily rounded down to $30K.  A better comparison than a home built Locost may be a Westfield.  What's the going rate to completed a Westfield Miata SVD build?  I'm sure last time I did the online Westfield calculator it came out over $15,000 for the stuff from Westfield without considering a donor, wheels, tires, refurbishing etc. etc.

I'm really not trying to be an ass, it's just I honestly love the concept of this car and think, at it's UK price, it sounds like a bargain compared to doing it 'right' yourself.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/24/21 4:02 p.m.

"Base price" in Caterham-speak means "in a box". The 170 has the same starting price and it's £2,395 for the build. We're getting further from $30k :) No question it's the bargain of the range but I think the bottom end is a little higher than a target of $30k.

The Westfield SDV was a bit of an oddball. Westfield didn't really take it seriously - when they supplied the first car to magazines to test, they didn't even swap out the brake pads from the 50 quid donor. It wasn't exactly a bolt-together, you had to move some pivot points if you actually wanted the clutch to disengage. I don't think Westfield ever believed us about that. It's still listed on their site if you go looking for it, but I'll bet they'll try to upsell you to something else. I just wiped out the live database tables with the configurator data a couple of hours ago, but IIRC the kit was $15k a decade ago in the US. It was considerably less in the UK because it's even more expensive to ship a box with a kit inside than an actual car.  

I agree that a theoretical $30k turnkey Caterham would be a bargain by comparison, I'm just not sure it actually exists. The math is different in the UK because of the low cost of MX5 donors and the relative lack of transport costs makes the Westfield more competitive price-wise.

To me, the real bargain of the Caterham range is the Academy car. £29,995 for a fully caged car. Plus you get your race license and training and a full season of motorsport with trackside support. I've seen them race and it's a complete riot.

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