First Pass of the Build Manual

Ok, so today I had a ten and a half hour flight to Los Angeles from London. There wasn’t much for it but to read the build manual cover to cover. I ended up, reading 2015 V2, which Williams later confirmed as the latest available.

I spent the flight trying to digest everything and understand where it was confusing or unclear. I then marked the areas I wouldn’t be needing and corrected all the references to figures that were just about all wrong – initially the figures were all out by a count of 3, but later on that jumped to an offset of 6. Figure 100 in the text should have said 94, etc.

This is such a simple and obvious mistake by Caterham. I’m dumbfounded. A rainy Sunday afternoon with the original of the manual and it would be fixed in no time. How can they justify not fixing such glaring mistakes… amazing! It wouldn’t also be beyond the wit of man/woman to tweak the manual every time someone pointed out an error. For the 5 minutes it would take every time… they’d have an at least passable manual in a couple of months with only 5 minutes work a day. Amazing.

It took a few hours to read the manual but it’s done now and makes more sense of things when I’m reading build blogs and forum posts. It’s well advised that anyone doing a build reads the build manual as soon as you can stomach it.

Pre-Build Starts Here

First deposit paid… what to do next?

Even with my still unbelievable June delivery date, I’m going to have to wait 3 months. That’s a lot of planning time and evenings mulling things over.

On the todo list is:

  • Option selection
  • Colour – a biggy
  • Sort out the build space

Options, options

It’s all too easy to get carried away with the options list. But I’m thinking of the car as a journey, in many ways. So, I’m happy to leave some of the “less essential” options like carbon wings as future winter projects.

The bigger options like tuning level, S/R pack, SV, lowered floors, choice of gearbox are the critical ones for me and I guess anyone.

I’m pretty sure of what options I’ll be ticking but will wait to go through them with Lindon when we spec the car up later on.

Colour

Hmmm… that’s a biggy. The obvious choice is Purple.

We’ve had the Purplemeanie domain for 20 years or so and it seems almost rude not to take advantage of this project being “The Purplemeanie” (Don’t ask why Purplemeanie – there wasn’t a good reason). The question is whether I/we can live with that as a choice and I think key to the decision is what shade we can find that will work. I’m more of a “stealth” paint-job sort of person than a fluorescent pink sort of person, but we’ll see. Friends and colleagues have expressed the view that it needs to be a “stand out” colour, but I’m not sure.

I need some way of testing colours…. sounds like a job for a renderer. More on that in a later post.

Build Space

The build space is going to be the garage.

We had an extension built a few years ago that reshaped the garage. Originally it was a rectangular single skinned, single garage. The extension reworked the garage by adding a triangular section to the floor plan and cavity walls. See image below:

Dimensions in mm.

The car will fit in the original garage space but I’m hoping the triangular section will give me much needed space for the engine and gearbox before they get dropped in – other boxes can get stored elsewhere in the house. Building a Caterham was always on our mind during the extension build and I even got talked out of putting a pit in by the finance and planning committees during the build. That would have been useful now. The trick will be to fit all of what’s needed into the garage while leaving room for the beer fridge!

All that’s left to do now is:

  • Find somewhere for all the non-essential tools:
    • wood working – mainly Festool stuff which generally designed to be portable (all part of the master plan to allow the garage to be the build area)
    • x-carve CNC – fun but can’t think of a reason to need it in this build… yet!
  • Figure out what to do with 3 bikes that are not currently suspended in the ceiling
  • Finish painting the walls – started after the extension build but not completed
  • Apply epoxy garage floor covering – bought after the extension build but not applied before the garage filled up again
  • Fix the lighting – the extension build electrical contractor only put in single tube 4′ fluorescents and every time I turn the lights on in there I think I’ll get round to sorting it out
  • Possibly paint two of the 6 wall (yes 6) that are plywood
  • Possibly paint the ceiling
  • Wait… for… delivery…. day… that’s going to be the hardest part!

First Test Drives

After the deliberations covered in the Introduction, I found myself in the Williams Automotive show room talking to their Caterham sales guy, Lindon. He was more than happy to let me have a test drive in a couple of 7’s, talk through options and to see what worked.

First off, coffee, followed by a sit in an S3 with lowered floors. It was clear from the start that this was going to be a little too snug for my liking. I had already been thinking wide bodied SV rather than narrow bodied S3 so the sit in an S3 only went to confirm that view. Next up was a sit in a 420R SV and straight away that was enough to confirm SV line of thinking. While I certainly will be track’ing the car I expect to use it regularly on the road and also to take it on longer trips. The increased cabin space, boot size and fuel range are therefore further nails in the S3 coffin.

For those of you unfamiliar with Caterhams, there are essentially two body options at the moment. The S3 is the original 7 width and length. The SV is both wider and longer. I’m 175cm tall and I had the seat all the way back in the S3 but needed to pull it forwards a little in the SV… clearly a longer cabin space.

Caterham 360S SV Test Drive

Lindon chatted through various configuration options for a few minutes and then we headed out in a 360S for a drive. The weather had been wet and there were damp patches in places on the roads, I was determined to keep my cool and not go crazy. The sun was out and it was a crisp March morning – what else could you ask for?

First experiences with a Caterham are probably something that will always remain with you. The acrobatics of getting in, the fumbling with the harnesses, the tight space and the sound of the exhaust near your ear all go to create a sense of occasion.

Lindon let me take the car out of the gravel drive and onto the roads after we’d done all the paperwork and he’d extracted the car from one of their packed garages. I used to work in the village where they’re based, Horton, for 7 or 8 years so knew the area well. We went out over Chipping Sodbury Common, around the back of Chipping Sodbury and out towards the Cross Hands Hotel on the A46. Then we headed out towards Acton Turville, did a loop in the village and back to the Cross Hands. Instead of then heading straight back to Chipping Sodbury we took a right taking us up the A46, through Horton on the back lanes and out to Williams compound.

The route from the Cross Hands up to Acton Turville is a great route for a test drive Blat. There are some great long sweepers, a tight right hander on the way out and a couple of long straights, ideal to test the merits of what a 7 can do on the road.

However, within only a few hundred meters of leaving Williams the brakes on this 360 were alarming me. I was worried that this was how all Caterhams were. The travel was long and they didn’t seem at all effective. Lindon told me that this the car was brand new and I’ve more recently seen forum posts talking about the need for 7 brakes to be bedded in or else you can get this effect.

The roads weren’t too clear but the 360 was great. I didn’t push it anywhere close to its limits and I barely got above 5000rpm. I was very happy to soak up the experience and not embarrass myself or their insurance company. The sense of speed, even at low road speeds, was fantastic… a bit like driving an old mini or a fiat 126 but with the dial turned up to 11 – everything else on the road feels so big in comparison. The experience was similar to driving some of the more potent go-karts I’ve driven. It also felt closer to a go-kart than to a Formula Ford I drove on a track day experience at Silverstone. The Formula Ford is a real racing car. There’s a sense of claustrophobia in the FF that you don’t quite get in a Catherham, which somehow feels more open like a go-kart. Both cars I drove had lowered floors so you sit lower in the car and so I was Expecting it to feel more like the FF.

Caterham 420R SV Test Drive

Next up was a go in a 420R SV. While it was an R spec 420, it had full leather seats, heater and carpets. Lindon said this was a common approach… spec the R for the suspension, LImited Slip Differential etc but add back some of the comfort options from the options list, making it a better road proposition.

The 2.0L Duratec initially struggled a bit at tick-over but soon warmed up and we headed out. With both the 420 and the 360, the clutches were fierce. I overcooked the 420 on the exit of Williams’ paddock and the smell of rubber hung in the cabin for a good 2 or 3 minutes.

it was a relief to find that the 420’s brakes were fantastic. Short throw and hard pedal. Not the scary affair in the 360.

The test drive took the same route as we had taken with the 360 but this time the roads were a bit clearer and I could stretch it a little more, still way below crazy mode, but enough to show me what that might look like.

The 420 was instantly and obviously more tractable and powerful. Both cars I drove had the 5 speed box which suited the 420 well. The extra torque making the car easier to trundle along in traffic and enjoy the scenery. Not that the 360 was bad for that kind of driving, just that the 420 was better. I’m sure that if track-only is your thing then the 6 speed sequential is the right choice. However, for me this car will be 80-90% road use and so the H pattern, 5 speed will be the better choice for me I think. The clutch was a different matter though and I kangarroed off from a couple of junctions – Lindon was kind enough to say that everyone new to a 7 does that.

On returning to Williams, my mind was made up… 420R SV with lowered floor and some comfort options. Just needed approval from the finance committee.

Only regrets… not taking a couple of snaps to mark the occaision.

Introduction

I’ve always wanted to build a Caterham, for as long as I can remember. It was always one of those bucket list things but I just never had the time.

Recently we had a couple of those life events that everyone goes through. They focused my mind on the fact that I’m not getting any younger and if I wanted to enjoy some of my bucket list then I’d better get on with them before the bucket sprang a leak.

I can probably blame my wife and a friend Darrell for the final push. We were just chatting on the touchline of one of the kids football games when I thought, bugger it, I’m going to stop just talking about it and get on with it. Darrell was relaying a story where a bunch of dads had had one of those beery evenings where they’d all signed up to build a car together. However, over the following few days they had all bailed and nothing had come of it. I knew I was going to build something at some time and bailing was not going to be an option for much longer.

Time to investigate more seriously.

Having done some research it was clear that delivery times were going to be a problem. Estimates were in the 8+ month range and that was going to put a build into the winter of 2017/18. Disappointing, but not a deal breaker. If it was going to take that long then no time like the present to start the discussion. Some more Googling and I realised that Williams Automotives were not too far away and I might as well have a chat.

That week I called Williams and set up a couple of test drives and a informal chat with Lindon. See First Test Drives for more detail on that experience.

Once the test drives were over there was no doubt about it, I needed to scratch the itch and get on with it. Lindon checked the online Caterham build system and looked just as shocked as I was when he told me that above all expectations they had a build slot available for a kit car in June of 2017. He double checked with Caterham on the phone and told me that the slot was mine until someone else ponied up a deposit.

That weekend I got the finance committee together, discussed it with the rest of the team and I called Lindon to get the ball rolling and to put the deposit down.

The rest, as they say, is history… or at least it will be if you’re following along as we embark on this adventure.