The following information is based predominantly around 7 type replica's in the South African environment. The views expressed are those purely of my own.

Most people I speak to tell me that they have always wanted a 7 from when they were a small boy, I also fall into this category. With this in mind, most people who are financially comfortable are not very price conscious and will pay just about anything for what they want. On the other hand those who are not so fortunate to be financially comfortable have no choice but to be very price conscious and the old saying "You get what you pay" for applies in this case. As a result most cars / projects are found in the classifieds of magazines/papers which include AutoTrader and the JunkMail and are predominantly homebuilt cars.

In South Africa there are very few genuine Lotus 7's or Caterham 7's and those that do exist are mostly known by those in the know. So 99% of the 7 type vehicles that are advertised in South Africa are replicas. In my opinion there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning a 7 replica, provided it remains within the spirit of the original concept (In my opinion). Possibly the most well known local car is the Birkin and these appear for sale on a regular basis. There was a car called the RM7 that was produced in Port Elizabeth during the 80's but the company no longer exit's. These cars also appear from time to time but were most definitely not produced in the same numbers that the Birkin has been. Other local manufacturer's who appear to have manufactured cars in reasonable numbers include the CC7 and FVH7 from the Cape. There are also a lot of what I call "Back Yard Specials" and some of them have been very well made and thought out, however, sadly most of these BYS's are actually appalling and quite frankly not worth the money. Be careful, don't rush out and buy something like this impulsively, it will cost you a lot of money in time to come and could be totally unsafe and ultimately cost you your life! Most importantly, if you are going to buy a chassis from someone, ask them if it comes with a "VIN Number". This is vital as it will enable you to register your car on the road. I know of people who have bought chassis from "Manufacturers" and cannot get them licensed as they had no VIN number!!

Recently, I have had a few calls from people who have bought 7 replica's based on pictures sent to them via email and when the car arrived it bore little resemblance to the car in the pictures they had viewed prior to the sale. I strongly suggest that you do NOT make any decisions or payments to buy such cars without physically inspecting the car in the flesh! Cars viewed in photo's can be very different when viewed in front of you. All the little niggles and issues can easily be hidden and I have also noticed that some pictures are of the most unusual areas of the car. If you do look at pictures before travelling to view the car in person, make sure the seller sends you detailed pictures of things like the engine bay, chassis plate and suspension components.

When looking for a car, try and get advice from someone who knows these cars and has experience looking after and repairing them. Ask this person to accompany you to view the vehicle and provide you with a real picture, they may even know the car and it's history. From personal experience I have found 7 type cars to be generally maintenance intensive and require some fairly focused TLC from time to time by someone who knows what they are doing.

 To build or not to build

I have regularly been approached by people who would like to build a 7-replica project for themselves either by constructing the chassis from scratch or by purchasing a complete kit. In most of the cases I have the following to say:

Most people look at a 7 Type chassis and think it is a relatively simple thing to construct by themselve's. This is actually quite debatable as there are many things that need to be considered, such as:

  • Do you have the practical ability to tackle such a project (Be honest with yourself)
  • Do you have the space or a suitable area to construct such a thing
  • Do you have the "Right" tools to perform such a task
  • Do you have access to people who can assist with answering questions that are going to create stumbling blocks for you

I have noted that a large number of people who tackle such a project and do not have all or any of the above at their disposal inevitably end up abandoning their project which is then offered for sale. This is actually quite sad as you have to consider the amount of time and money spent on getting to a bare chassis stage and then to give it all up is most unfortunate. Currently there appears to be a large number of people in South Africa building the Locost from Ron Champion's book "Build your own sports car for 250 pounds". Whilst I am not intimately familiar with this book, it does appear to provide the prospective builder with a reasonable amount of information to build a Locost and there is also a multitude of international web sites offering advice on the construction of the Locost type cars. This considered, there are still a lot of Locost project's that become still born in South Africa. As I have already mentioned, I personally prefer the classic lines of the original Series 1,2 & 3 Lotus 7's and I feel that the Locost deviates from this.

The next thing to consider is potentially buying one of these still born projects. In my opinion stay well away from them! It is extremely rare that you will buy a very well made abandoned project as if it was well made it probably would not be for sale. I have been horrified to see some of the attempts that have been made to construct a chassis and unsuspecting bargain hunters, whilst enthusiastic, have gone out and bought them for significant amounts of money. Remember that you have no idea what materials have been used nor do you know how the chassis was made i.e.: was it MIG or Arc welded, is it straight and square and was it made in a jig or not. All these questions lead to the ultimate question of "How safe is it?" Ultimately you are going to drive it and because of the nature of the car you are probably going to drive it fast, be it on the road or on the track. Remember that you are going to have a passenger in the vehicle either a family member or a friend and yours and their safety is of optimum consideration. There are many cars that I know of that have been completed and I refuse to drive or be driven in them from a safety perspective. This is a real concern.

Even those who are accomplished welders and fabricators have faulted, especially when it comes to the suspension stage. Whilst the rear suspension is a relatively simple arrangement, specifically if a Panhard-rod design is being used, this area does cause confusion but not as much as the front suspension. I have been asked questions by constructors about what to do with the front suspension and some of these questions include:

  • What uprights should I use
  • What rack should I use
  • What type of material should I use to construct the wishbones
  • What is bump steer and what do I do about it
  • What shock absorbers should I use
  • How should I mount the shock absorbers
  • How do I know where to mount the wishbone pickup points

The list of questions is endless and unfortunately the answers are never simple ones due to the many permutations of designs that are possible. I usually suggest that you visit http://www.amazon.com/ and purchase some of the suggested reading that I have listed at the end of this page. I have personally used these books to great effect and learnt a great deal from them. I often ask people if they have access to the necessary equipment and regularly the response is " I have the best welder or machinist in the country that works for me", this may well be the case but if these skilled people under their employ have never tackled such a project or have no experience with such a comprehensive task their very skilled ability is of little assistance. Building a car from scratch is a comprehensive task no matter how easy it may appear to be in books or by what your friends may tell you.

If you decide to buy a kit, make sure that you are dealing with someone who has good credentials. Ask to see samples of what you are about to buy and ask for more than one reference i.e. customers that they have built kits for in the past and passed road worthy tests. Have a look at their manufacturing facility and if it is not up to standard and looks "Heath Robinson" chances are you are either going to receive an inferior product or even worse, you are going to lose your money! Ask for promotional material such as pamphlets and ask if the company has a website and better still do they have a user group for builders. Can you order parts via the web and who are their agents in your area. Currently I know of a number of people who have lost large sums of money through such dishonest business practices.

I also suggest that you join a club that is familiar with this sort of project and speak to the members of the specific club for guidance prior to laying out a large sum of money. These people should be able to refer you to respected people/institutions that can provide a range of services when undertaking such a project.  See the attached list of clubs and books below for further reference.

Suggested reading

The Race and Rally source book      Allan Staniforth

Tune to Win                                    Caroll Smith

Drive to Win                                    Caroll Smith

Race Engineering                            Paul Van Falkenburg

Metal Fabrication                             Ron & Sue Fornier

Suggested Clubs in South Africa

The Lotus Register of South Africa   http://www.lotusregister.co.za/