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Buying a Caterham

by Callum McDougall - Independent Caterham consultant

Caterhams are toys. Some of us try to convince ourselves that they can be a practical everyday car, honestly, they are not. Sure, compared to some other “purist drivers’ cars” they are extremely practical. “A roof”, “a boot to put things in”, more than can be said for much of the competition, but toys they remain.

A Caterham is a pat on the back from yourself for years of hard work. So, you need to make sure that the Caterham you buy is the Caterham you want. It’s not about having one, it’s about how it makes you feel! To that end, there are some major considerations to keep in mind; Does it look amazing? Does it scare you just a little bit? Does it make you feel like a 10-year-old kid?

Not the things you consider when buying the everyday saloon to take the kids to school in, but it’s important to realise that although we are still talking about buying cars, these are not the same things. This is a purchase you make with your heart, not your head. Too many people wrap themselves up in, “How many miles has is done?” or “What’s the service history like?”. As sensible as these questions may sound, they are almost irrelevant when it comes to buying a Caterham.

Caterhams tend to be very low mileage, they are easy to maintain and have better residual values than almost any other marques out there. Yes, there are some potential pitfalls when buying privately but a car coming from a reputable dealer can be bought in comfort with the knowledge both its value and mechanical integrity can be trusted. When starting a search for the first time, most people are quickly overwhelmed. Although most Caterhams look the same, their DNA is extremely complicated and full of variation. Finding the right place to start can seem impossible and for that reason it is strongly advisable to visit a dedicated Caterham specialist at the start of your search.

There you can look around, sit in a variety of cars and talk your requirements over with a knowledgeable, experienced pair of hands. You may find the one for you right away, or you may not, but you will have learnt how to identify the cars which match your needs.

If you are buying your first Caterham, don’t wait forever holding out for that ‘illusive unicorn’ car. Visiting all of the dealers in the country will never tell you what your truly perfect Caterham is. Only once you have lived with a Seven for a few years will you really identify which Caterham best fits your personality. Many of us end up with two like the chair of this network! Someone once suggested to me that their Caterham was like a household pet, and you know what, I agree with them. They aren’t perfect, they can be quirky and may annoy you at times, but we love them because of how they make us feel. They remind us that life isn’t just about working, providing, aspiring and progressing, life is for enjoying and living in the moment.

Once you have lived with your first Caterham for a few years you will start to identify characteristics which you like, or don’t like. “It’s a big snug… it could be a bit faster… I wish it had another gear…” These will help you pick out your second Caterham and this is usually the car most owners keep the longest. For this same reason, I strongly recommend owning a used Caterham before buying new, especially if you plan to build you own car from kit from. Assembling your own Caterham is a labour of love; it sounds great on paper but it fraught with frustrations and you will have to budget a small fortune for plasters.

Once complete however, your connection your own self-built car will be totally different to anything you have owned before, you do not want to go through that process only to that it doesn’t excite you behind the wheel. Buying a Caterham is often the realisation of a dream, opening up a whole new world of enjoyment and satisfaction. Owning and driving your own Caterham are of course the initial highlights, but the social network around Caterham ownership is vast and many have made lifelong friends through the owner clubs.

I have taken great satisfaction from guiding Caterham buyers over the years to find their perfect companion, and everyone is unique. My door is always open to anyone looking for some friendly advice. In the meantime, don’t forget to enjoy life and allow yourselves to live in the moment; we will never see it again.

Here are my top ten tips for buying a Caterham:

  1. Enjoy the process

  2. Understand what matters to you – track, tinkering, touring:

  3. Visit a specialist dealer

  4. Adopt a different mindset to buying a ‘normal’ car

  5. Gain knowledge through experience:

  6. Allow for imperfections

  7. Don’t overthink it

  8. Buy with your heart not your head

  9. Find other owners – Face book groups are a great start

  10. Live for the moment!

Callum McDougall

Callum has worked for Caterham Cars, Sevens and Classics and has built his own seven, raced and toured for many years, sharing his passion with all things Caterham and Lotus 7 with others by helping people not only with their first purchase but second third fourth and so on!



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