Published in "British Classic", Germany
Photographer: Andreas Beyer, beyer-fotografie.de
Text: Till Schauen
“Hello, I'm the one with the weird car.” This is how Brigitte Laaker introduces herself when you meet her. That makes things easy because her car actually does seem strange to some. For those who are not in the know, it is an extreme sports car that you can't do anything with because it has no roof and no trunk. And anyway, how could you understand as a normal-minded Central European? Legitimate objections, we'll take them up in a moment.
Before that, the connoisseur asks: Lotus? More like a Caterham, right? Ha - I knew it! Pithy, pithy. Open the bonnet ... What does it say? OLIO? Tssh, tssh - it's not original!
Brigitte Laaker could now ask for a definition of "original" taking into account the specific history of the seven from Caterham, in the UK. But whatever? The connoisseur has already turned away and is meticulously examining the moldings on a pagoda - Mercedes. Brigitte shrugs her shoulders and puts the bonnet back on. It is often misunderstood, you get used to it over time ...
Her Seven has 300,000 kilometers on the clock, most of it with her at the wheel. The workshop responsible for maintenance easy that’s her garage: “I have had every part of the car in my hands. Maybe I don't know what it's called, but I do know where it belongs.”
“Some people see me as a blonde woman in a sports car and think that they have to be the gentleman, explaining to the lady what she has there and in general how it all works ...” however the ‘blonde lady’ just accepts this, as she doesn't want to offend anyone, that's no fun. But fun is central to this car: "It is my remedy for headaches and infections of all kinds. My good mood machine. Saarland - not by motorway, of course, but through the hilly country. Then I sit in the car and think:" Curves, sun - how nice! "
Brigitte Laaker stood in front of the car for the first time in 1982 when she was 21 years old. She was not very enthusiastic about the Seven: “Green and impersonal. Looked like a forceps delivery.“ Her father had bought the car after the untimely death of his wife , Brigitte's mother, as part of the recovery process. The five year old left-hand drive Caterham car was owned by a British soldier who was stationed in the Rhineland in 1977. It was not a kit but was built in the factory according to classic specifications with a Lotus Twin Cam engine, four-speed gearbox and rigid axle from the Ford Escort. When the soldier returned to the UK, he left the Caterham on the continent - with 15,000 miles on the clock. Brigitte Laaker didn't know what think at first. "When my father took me out for the first time, I was sitting ten centimeters away from the asphalt and was thinking that I could file my fingernails on the road." Then came the first few kilometers behind the wheel, "tough driver training," she says. Double-declutching - that was something she knew from her everyday Jeep, but the Caterham wanted more: "Not to twist the steering when shifting, to let the clutch come super fast and to operate the accelerator, accelerator and brake pedal again with one movement To always drive the car on the ideal line through the bend.” Until she got it, she had to go through this ‘driving school’ again and again. But then! The first trip alone – so much exhilaration!
And it has never changed, she says. Every trip is a celebration! A feeling that continued even through the everyday traffic, with Brigitte driving the car on weekdays on the way to the university and at the weekend her father took over: “He had a partner in Munich, that's 400 kilometers. The Twin Cam is reliable, but it didn't really like continuous driving on the autobahn. After two engines had given up, her father turned to the Alfa engine. “Password OLIO, hard to miss on the oil cap. Alfas DOHC is a more beneficial unit: powerful, easy to turn, widespread, and also stable - provided you take care of it. Her father also found the corresponding five-speed gearbox, and the Seven underwent its first major re build operation and afterwards was “finally a car!” At the same time, the fenders and nose changed colour and turned wine-red.
Nobody thought about forceps births anymore. Let us return to the objections of our fictional viewers at the beginning. How about
weather protection and luggage? You drive long distances with it, don't you? “Sure!”, says Brigitte, “Southern France, the Alps, two years ago for the club meeting in St. Moritz. There is a hood, but for it to be worth erecting, it has to rain very heavily like ‘stair rods’.
As for the luggage - well, yes , that first required experience and in-depth knowledge of the car in order to stow a basic set of tools and parts in all sorts of angles so that there is also space for a sports bag with luggage.
Getting into the topic: Many Caterham drivers are noticeably slim, we already saw that when we met the Lotus-Seven-Club Germany - in which Brigitte Laaker has been active for several years. Slipping in behind the steering wheel is purely a matter of practice. Now about the “Alfa engine in the Lotus”: 1.) According to club research, there was actually a customer who ordered and received an Alfa engine ex works; 2.) As indicated, the company also delivers the Seven as a kit, for free assembly according to the builder's wishes; 3.) Very few Seven are still in the condition they were in when they were first registered. That Sevens are modified by their owners is a given rule!
Now, it's not like 38 years ago when you could drive in peace and fun with a Caterham Seven. In 1987 the nose had to be replaced when another road user got too close. But it can also be self inflicted, like on the big tour of France a year earlier as Brigitte explains “Broken axle. The axle funnel has broken off bluntly! Probably it was because we had loaded too much luggage on board ... Uh, you might get that idea in view of the photos from back then. The result was a forced break in a magical French village workshop - while my father drove to England, fetched an axle back to France to install it. Ok, lesson learned. Nevertheless, there is always something, on the trip to the aforementioned meeting in St. Moritz, for example, the Seven stopped. At first, I suspected the fuel pump, it was actually broken, but that was due to ancient deposits in the tank that slipped during a hard braking maneuvere. The best thing was that a club mate came over and brought a replacement pump. And he didn't even want anything for it”. Brigitte would like to expressly praise her club. “A fantastic social network!."
Brigitte is now so familiar with every noise that she can immediately hear if something shakes loose, chafs through or seizes up somewhere. “If something screams, knocks or cracks, you just have to see what's going on. The other day, for example, the alternator bracket broke and the V-belt began to screech. Well, that was easy to find in 1986, when the axle broke there was no noise the car just stopped. "
But more severe event came on the way home from an autumn trip in 2015: rainy road, slippery road surface. “Like wet marble. I hit the road armco barrier. I got out of the car, unharmed, but very shaken. And very sad. (nobody would be surprised at that! Editor) The Seven came back into the garage and received the most extensive rebuild operation: “We cut off the entire front end and rebuilt it. It was over the winter - sometimes the paint on my brush froze ...! "
Later from England, the Arch Motors company, only had to add a new stem. That's the beauty of the Seven, there is pretty much everything you could need for replacements. The Seven hung on the ‘operating table’ for 36 weeks, after which it took a lot of test kilometers to get the chassis correctly adjusted again.
Now everything is fine again. So, what do you have to do to keep a car alive and fit for 12,000 kilometers a year for so long? Brigitte is clear “Always pay attention to the oil, warm up very slowly, first through the village, then 20 minutes on the country road, very lightly. And always pay attention to the operating fluids."
Anything else? "Listen. Listen, the rattle is the second timing chain. The upper chain can be tensioned, but the motor has to be removed for the second. As long as the sound doesn't change, it's not bad. Watch out. And the fact that it jerks when switching gas is due to the carburetors. Two double carburetors - you just have to warm up, adjust, drive, adjust ... “
Synchronize two double carburetors, even experienced and enthusiastic owner drivers shy away from it. "Nonsense," says Brigitte, "there are tools for that." This attitude from the women who was recently elected 3rd Chair of the Club is not surprising as everyone knows that she does it herself. Now the sun beckons and the wonderful strip of asphalt that stretches in wide curves through the Rhine-Hessian vineyards beckons.
Brigitte Laaker slips into the driver's seat , the engine grunts and she waves us goodbye.