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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Rootes in Foreign Soil: Sunbeam Venezia, Zagato Imp and TVR Tina

The Sunbeam Alpine introduced in 1960, a year before Triumph's TR-4 and nearly 3 years before the MGB, brought civilized touches like roll-up windows and detachable hardtops to the world of mainstream British roadsters. With styling credited to Loewy Associates recalling a pared down 2 passenger T-Bird with sheer flanks and bold tail fins, it was a modest success for awhile in the States.  In Italy, the parent Rootes Group, in an attempt to expand sales in Europe, got the respected coach builders at Superleggera Touring to improve the cars with dual fuel tanks allowing more luggage space, wood dash panels (odd that it took Italians to suggest this to the Brits) and matching steering wheels.  Soon enough Touring reworked the aggressive line of the tail fins, too, trimming the rear fender profiles to something closer to their  Aston DB4 and Lancia Flaminia GT. These ideas were successful enough that the twin tanks were adopted on the Series III Alpine in 1963, and the trimmer fins on the Series IV in 1964.

    Sunbeam Alpine Series I, 1959-60

The success of Touring's Alpine tweaks encouraged the head of Rootes' Italian operations, George Carless, to ask for a Superleggera design for a 4-seater along Alpine lines. This was in 1961, around the time production contracts for the Alfa Romeo 2600 spider (at left below) and Lancia Flaminia GT (at right) prompted the firm to plan a larger production facility aimed at the kind of assembly-line production which had appeared at Pininfarina. The new Sunbeam 2 + 2, christened the Venezia, appeared in 1963, and is the center car below.

      Alfa Romeo 2600, Sunbeam Venezia and Lancia Flaminia at Superleggera Touring

The Venezia shares its peaked front fenders with the Flaminia GT, along with then-fashionable quad headlights.  As on the Lancia, this detail is perhaps the least well-resolved on the car, with odd air intakes occupying the leftover space between the Sunbeam's headlight units and the fender peak. The effect is that someone has tried to graft tail fins onto the front of the car. The Venezia was literally launched in September 1963, riding down the Grand Canal on a gondola, and nearly plunged into the drink when attendants forgot to apply the emergency brake...

                                Sunbeam Venezia on Grand Canal, 1963

This near-disaster foreshadowed a real one, when Chrysler acquired a 30 percent stake in the makers of Hillman, Singer*, Sunbeam and Humber in 1964.  With 3 members now on the Rootes board of directors, they cancelled the Venezia project.
    Sunbeam Venezia, 1964-65

While the Venezia was a tidy little car, it is unlikely that it would have found the desired market in Europe, where customers had the choice of Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Fiat OSCAs with more power, and of course, similar Italian styling for the same money or less. Cancellation of the Venezia rendered much of the Touring's production facility redundant, and was one of the factors which led to the fine old coach builder's closing in 1966. Approximately 200 Venezias were built in 1964 and '65. 

   Sunbeam Venezia, 1964-65

Meanwhile, in 1963, Rootes Motors would introduce the Hillman Imp, the first mass-produced British car with a rear engine, in this case an aluminum 875 cc water-cooled inline four.  Like the Venezia saga, the Imp story involved a new factory, this one in Scotland. And like the Venezia, the Imp contributed to the ultimate fate of its maker.  Developed in the last years of a forgotten rear-engined vogue that included Simcas, Fiats and the Corvair, the Imp suffered initial teething problems with its Coventry Climax-based engine.  And though it was eventually offered in sporty coupe versions by Sunbeam and Singer*, and had some rally success, it took 13 years to sell just over 440,000 cars.  For perspective, Ford sold roughly that many Mustangs in its first year.  Still, with its modern, Corvair-inspired lines and a 998 cc engine option, the Imp was a tempting package for tuners and specialists.

    Hillman Imp (1967 model shown)

One of those specialists was Zagato in Italy.  Like Touring had been, they were keen to expand their customer base by building a car with more mass appeal.  Soon after the Imp's 1963 introduction, Zagato produced 3 alloy-bodied prototypes.  Ercole Spada's glassy coupe design simplified the Imp's belt line crease (which dipped between the headlights as on the Corvair) into a sharp, encircling break line encircling the entire car... 

                             Zagato Imp, 1963

As with the Venezia, the Rootes Group's cost studies led to the conclusion that production costs would have led to a price too high to permit the desired production market penetration. So those 3 Hillman "Zimp" prototypes would remain the sole examples of the species.

    Zagato Imp

Designer Trevor Fiore and specialist maker TVR made a final attempt to get Rootes interested in a mass-market sports car aimed at the Spitfire, Sprite and Fiat 850 spider and coupe.  This was the TVR Tina, using the Imp's engine and transaxle, with the prototype roadster and coupe bodies built in Italy by Fissore.  The prototypes were in metal, while the plans were to produce the customer cars in fiberglass as on TVR's other efforts.  Two different headlight schemes were tried on the roadster design; the top one shown below is oddly predictive of the small, projector beam headlights that would appear decades later...

    TVR Tina, 1966-67

The coupe appeared at the Paris Show in 1967, and Jensen, which assembled the V8-powered Sunbeam Tigers, was approached about production plans.  Again, Rootes and Chrysler were unconvinced that potential sales in America would justify tooling up for this appealing little car, and it turned out that the Sunbeam Alpine Series V which finished its run the next year would be the last 2-seater from Chrysler Rootes.  

                                TVR Tina, 1966-67

*Footnote:  For a brief history of another independent British make which had a brief fling with European design before being absorbed by Rootes and then Chrylser, see our post on the Singer Le Mans, 1500 and HRG Twin-Cam from March 28, 2018.

Photo credits:

Top:  wikimedia
2nd + 3nd from top:  sunbeamvenezia.com
4rd thru 8th from top:  wikimedia
9th thru bottom:  imps4ever.info

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Forgotten Classics: Singer Le Mans and 1500, and the HRG Twin Cam

England's Singer Motors began when George Singer began making bicycles in 1874.  As the turn of the century approached, he got interested in motorcycles and three wheelers, and finally moved into car manufacturing in 1905.  Most Americans see that name and think "sewing machine", but those came from the unrelated American Charles Singer, though for awhile in the early 1920s he made cars too, just to confuse things.  By 1926 the English Singer Motors had done something that would've endeared them to car enthusiasts everywhere, if only Singer had let them know...they introduced a small four-cylinder engine with valve actuation by a single overhead cam.  This was pretty advanced stuff in 1927; BMW, to name one example, didn't get around to introducing this feature until 1962.  Soon Singer was Britain's third largest car producer, after Austin and Morris.  By 1934, the ohc 4 used to power the mass-market economy cars had grown to 1,500 cc, and powered the Le Mans model. One of these won the rally run in conjunction with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, piloted by Betty Haig.  The Le Mans was about as rakish as Singers ever got...

Singer Le Mans 1.5 liter, 1934

As the Depression took hold, however, rakishness didn't help much, and neither did Singer's relative lack of skill at promotion, something that was more in evidence over at Morris Garages, maker of rival MG, and at the new upstart Jaguar works.  Singer went bankrupt in 1936 and was reorganized.  Postwar, they continued to offer their overhead cam engine in the 9 Roadster with around 1,100 cc, and in 1952 this was uprated to the 1,500 cc unit from their sedan, which itself resembled a 3/4 size version of the first postwar Kaiser and Frazer cars.  The sedan failed to make an impression Stateside, but the Roadster showed up at races and rallies, and Singer engines were used in the HRG, which was to Singer as ERA was to Riley.  Or to use a more familiar example, as Abarth was to Fiat.

                                              Singer 9 Roadster, produced 1939-55

The Roadster didn't sell nearly as well as the MG TD in America, even though it was a bit more practical, having 2 more seats.  Performance and price were competitive, so the sales people put the anemic sales down to the Roadster's somewhat chubbier proportions; it was merely cute where the MG was rakish.  American dealers made at least two attempts to rebody the car in fiberglass.  Around the same time, Ghia-Aigle, the Swiss branch of Italy's Carrozzeria Ghia, began to build a small series of Michelotti-styled coupes and convertibles on Singer chassis. This arrangement helped sell a few Singers in Switzerland, because if a car was bodied by a Swiss coach builder, the buyer paid no import tax on the chassis. The first of these appeared at the Paris Auto Show in1952, a fastback festooned with embryonic fins, a two tone color scheme, and a beaky, de-chromed version of the traditional radiator grille.

                               1952 Singer coupe by Ghia-Aigle

Monochrome versions of the fastback coupe followed, and by 1954 Ghia-Aigle produced a lower, sleeker convertible with roll-up windows and exterior decoration pared down to essentials...

    1954 Singer 1500 cabriolet by Ghia-Aigle

The glassy notchback coupe below appeared the same year, and provides more evidence that a truly modern product could be built around the Singer chassis.  Total production figures are elusive, but unlikely to have broken into double digits.

   1954 Singer 1500 Ghia-Aigle coupe

Meanwhile, back in the Mother Country, HRG had plans of its own.  Their upright, rigid-axled roadsters had been a favorite of club racers since 1935, using largely unmodified SInger fours, but now they'd developed a prototype with their own twin-cam head mounted on the SM 1500 block, along with 4-wheel hydraulic caliper disc brakes made by HRG, 4-wheel independent suspension and a choice of 4 or 5 speeds... 

    Singer-HRG 1500 Twin Cam Engine

Even the alloy wheels were a break with tradition, and in place of the tall, spindly look of the HRG and Singer Le Mans, the alloy shell of the new car wrapped the contents so closely that twin bonnet blisters were needed to clear the cam covers...an altogether tasty and enlightened piece of design. But Singer management has having none of it. Cash was running low, and in 1955 Singer merged with Rootes Motors, makers of Hillman, Sunbeam and Humber.  The supply of Singer engine blocks dried up, and HRG was able to make only 3 "production" versions of the new Twin Cam by the end of 1956.  Along with the prototype, they are the last true sports cars with Singer engines.  By 1957, Singer had become nothing more than a "badge-engineered" sedan with a pushrod Hillman engine.  And after a brief moment of thinking otherwise, Americans went back to linking the same to sewing machines and nothing else.

    1955-56 HRG Twin Cam

Photo credits:

Top:  wikimedia
2nd:  classiccarcatalogue.com
3rd:  coachbuild.com/forum
4th:  ghia-aigle.info/cars.htm
5th:  coachbuild.com/forum
6th:  bonhams.com
7th:  motors.all-free-photos.com

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Unsung Genius: Rocco Motto, the Closer

As Italy climbed out of the debris of the human and industrial catastrophe of World War II, the cottage industry of machine shops and carrozzeria that had built racers and specialized  road cars prior to the war came back to life.  One of these was the small shop run by Rocco Motto in Torino.  Motto, born 10 years before World War I and orphaned in that war, had started his coach building company in 1932, and subcontracted to bigger coach builders to build bodywork.  After the war, one of his most predictive efforts was for Giaur, a firm founded by the Giannini brothers and Berardo Taraschi, who had previously worked for Urania.  The name was a contraction of the first letters of Giannini and Urania, and engines came from Giannini, while cars exported to America featured Crosley engines. This tidy, tiny 750cc coupe from 1950 managed to predict the form of later efforts by Vignale as well as Frua and others.  Around 4 dozen Giaurs were built, in a wide variety of body styles, but most were more focused on road racing than this San Remo coupe...

Motto welcomed working on foreign chassis, and the one below is a Renault 4CV from 1953 clothed in a spare, deftly detailed shell recalling the earlier Giaur. Attention to detail is shown in the dummy grille housing the fog lights, the air intake forward of the rear wheels for the rear-mounted, water-cooled engine, and the stylish, polished disc wheels, which seem to take the deeply recessed wheels of the stock Renault as a starting point.  

Despite the presence of more-than-competent designers at his own shop, Motto would often be called upon to build bodies styled by others, stepping in when a winning performance had already been given a head start by somebody else, a bit like a good closing pitcher. Sadly, he often got little public credit for these efforts. The 1953 Road & Track test of a 1953 Siata 208S spider like the one below mentions neither its designer, Giovanni Michelotti, nor its builder, Rocco Motto.

In the same year, Motto designed and built his second effort on a Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport chassis.  The tightly controlled, sparsely decorated compound curves kept pace with the Ferrari spiders built by Vignale, Touring and Pinin Farina…something the Talbot chassis, with its heavy Wilson preselector transmission, was finding harder to do on the track. The covered headlights show a concern for air flow, and the forward-leaning oval of the grille is an aggressive take on contemporary Ferrari themes.

1953 was a busy year for the Motto crew. They also built the body for the MG TD shown below, and two others like it.  Two cars were built on tubular frames supplied by Gilco (who also supplied Ferrari and Maserati), and one on a specially-modified chassis supplied by the MG factory.  The alloy body forms reflected the lines of the OSCAs bodied by Morelli, and the cars were competitive in road racing. 

Motto's design for coupe version of the staid Renault Fregate sedan also appeared in 1953. The front-engined, 2 liter 4 cylinder GTs were built in a small series for French race driver Louis Rosier, who had operated car dealerships during this period.

The Crosley-engined 750cc Nardi spider shown below left Motto's workshops, apparently destined for export to the U.S., in 1954.  The deeply-recessed wheels echo Motto's Renault 4CV.

Race and rally driver Jean Trevoux had won the 1951 Monte Carlo Rallye with a Delahaye 175 bodied in aluminum by Motto, and after admiring the reliability of the Packard 200 he'd driven to 9th place in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, commissioned Motto to design and build a sleeker alloy body for the Packard he would drive in the '53 and '54 races. Despite the car's familiar, Packard-derived lines, only a few trim pieces would be interchangeable with a stock Packard. 

Trevoux's best performance with the Motto Packard was in 1954, when he finished a respectable 13th in the wild, dangerous road race across Mexico. In the photo below, the Motto Packard is flanked by a Ferrari 340 Mexco and a cheerful mutt of a backyard special. To my knowledge this 300 hp straight 8 was the last Packard road racer ever...

By 1955 the French Salmson firm, trying to revive its fortunes with a line of GT cars based on its fairly advanced twin overhead cam inline four, had asked Motto to design a spider, coupe and sedan.  Though, like its coupe sister, the spider raced at Le Mans, its design was based upon the long wheelbase version of the 2300S* chassis, not the shorter wheelbase Grand Sport. Motto's design cleverly dealt with the long wheelbase by deploying devices like the wraparound windshield, relatively wide door opening (compared with Talbot above), and repetition of the vent details ahead of the door and behind it, just ahead of the curve that announces the rear wheel and relieves the sheer sides...

Back in the 1990s I corresponded with owner of this 2300S, wondering how many of the cars had been built, as photos showed cars in different colors, and with different bumpers and windshields. It turns out there was only one, and the bumpers, stock windshield and convertible top had been removed for racing.  This car still shows up at club meets...

In the late 50s Porsche approached an old friend and racing rival, Carlo Abarth, who had worked on the Cisitalia Porsche GP car* in the late 40s, with the idea of a lightweight version of the aging 356 Carrera coupe.  Abarth agreed, but failed to tell Porsche he had severed his business relationship with Zagato. That meant that the bodies for the Porsche Abarth Carrera GTL would be subcontracted to Motto and a relatively unknown firm called Viarengo & Filipponi.  The Revs Institutes Collier Collection owns the first car shown below, and they claim it was built by Viarengo & Filipponi.  Porsche was unhappy with the early cars, according to the museum, prompting a change in coach builder. 

Other Porschephiles claim the reverse is true, and that the first 3 cars were built by Motto, and 18 by the mostly unknown V & F.  I present pictures of the first car as well as a later one, in the hope that at least one of these is a Motto body, and that maybe someone from the museum or the Porsche Club will clarify.  One thing is certain, and that is the body was designed by Franco Scaglione.*

One of Motto's last performances as a closer was to build Raymond Loewy's dauntingly complex design for the bronze coupe below, a GT car also finished in 1960.  Built on a Lancia Flaminia chassis, the roof, rear and flanks of the Loraymo* predicted forms and details adapted 3 years later to the Studebaker Avanti, while the front explored (or strayed into) new territory with a large, impact absorbing bumper grille and hood assembly that must have been hard for Motto to form. Motto moved away from automobile design and production in 1965, and into commercial vehicle bodies.  He died at 92 in 1996, perhaps demonstrating that only hardy, resourceful souls can thrive in an unpredictable industry.

*Footnotes: For more on the Salmson 2300S, see our post for 6/18/2016. There's a fuller description of the Porsche-Cisitalia collaboration in the archives for 4/22/2017. The Loraymo is explored in "Avanti Antecedents" from 2/18/2016. Finally, we have a look at another unsung genius, Franco Scaglione, in the post for 12/20/2017.

Photo Credits:
Top:  ruoteclassiche.quattroroute.it
2nd:  oldtimer.400.pl
3rd:   wikimedia
4th & 5th:    oldtimer.400.pl
6th:   voitures.renault.free.fr
7th:  oldtimer.400.pl
8th:  ruoteclassiche.quattroroute.it
9th:  hooniverse.com
10th & 11th:  liberallifestyles.com
12th:  amicalesalmson.com
13th:  the author
14th:  wikimedia
15th:  flickr.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cities Under Glass: the Dream of Domed Cities

For some reason, the recent successful test of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket has prompted a bit of thinking about domed cities.  If we're going to take Elon Musk's suggestion and found a colony on Mars, after all, it will likely need to be under some kind of dome or grouping of domes, in order to deal with issues of radiation, climate control (Mars is cold, averaging -67 degrees F.) and food production. Domed cities have been around in science fiction for awhile, and in 1960 inventor and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller proposed covering central Manhattan with a giant dome.  At least he thought Manhattan was salvageable; Frank Lloyd Wright would've preferred replacing the whole thing with something more like his Broadacre City, with one-acre plots each occupied by a horizontally-themed, Usonian ranch house. Fuller thought verticality was fine, and noted that his city would make the task of conditioning air easier, as the surface area of the dome was roughly 1/80th the total area of the buildings it enclosed...

Fuller's proposed Manhattan dome was just under 1.9 miles in diameter.  Among questions it left unanswered were how it would be financed, how many access and egress points would be included, and how that giant heating and air conditioning system (which would replace all the systems in the enclosed buildings) would operate, and as Fuller admitted in an interview, what this innovation might do to the legal concept of air rights...

But never mind.  Like Wright's proposal a few years earlier for a mile-high building to replace most of downtown Chicago, it attracted attention and got people talking.  Combined with the Fuller-invented geodesic domes which had begun to appear at military installations and on university campuses (and in a few cases, as habitations), the domed city concept ran parallel with the push to explore space and the perceived need to experiment with self-contained, self-sustaining environments.  This led to Fuller's assignment to design the U.S. Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal World's Fair, Expo 67.  The steel-framed, acrylic-paneled icosahedron was nearly 250 feet in diameter and 203 feet high.  Internal shading devices were devised to control heat gain.

The steel structure survived a 1976 fire, and Environment Canada bought the site in 1990 and began the task of repurposing the structure on Saint Helen's Island as a water museum, with the help of architect Eric Gauthier.  His arrangement of rectilinear masses opened to the public in 1995 and provides a visual counterpoint to the enclosing dome. It now houses an environmental museum, renamed Biosphere in 2007...

Around the same time as the Montreal dome was being reconstructed, an American research team gathered in southern Arizona to explore the idea of a self-sustaining closed ecological system, and to synthesize conditions which might be encountered colonizing other planets. Biosphere 2 has been employed twice for its original purpose; these two tests were from 1991 to '93 and again for 7 months in 1994.  The extensive interior environment included a rain forest, "ocean", wetlands, grassland and farming areas. Problems encountered included premature "die-off" of some flora and fauna, as well as interpersonal friction between some of the 8 human inhabitants...

Around 2010, a Russian effort was announced to construct a city called Mir under a glazed dome in the huge conical depression formed by an abandoned Siberian mining operation. Color renderings and section drawings illustrated the vastness of the scale and the task at hand. Photos of any completed Mir environments or happy inhabitants have not, however, surfaced since then...

One guesses that the Mars colonization would be an even more expensive project than this city under glass.  One recent estimate for the Mars initiative was 7 trillion dollars, or just over 1/3 of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2016 ($18.57 trillion, in case you're wondering). One wonders if it wouldn't be more cost-effective to just take that money and spend it on a more focused, determined effort to solve our problems here on Earth.  After all, we'd be starting out already knowing where the water is, and where the soil can support plants.  And on that long flight to Mars, we'd likely be exporting all the human foibles which have led us to make a mess here on our own planet. 

Photo credits:

Top:  R. Buckminster Fuller, found at treehugger.com
2nd:  Expo 67, the Montreal World's Fair
3rd thru 5th: parcjeandrapeau.com
6th:  wikimedia
Bottom:  scifiideas.com

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Caterham Cars: Multiples of Seven

Caterham Cars got its start in 1973, when they wisely obtained a license from Colin Chapman to produce his Lotus 7 design, which had gone out of production the previous year, after its 15th birthday.  Why was this wise? Well, the Caterham crew had apparently taken a good look at the Lotus 7 Series 4 introduced in 1970, and realized that compared to the newer car, with its awkward, squarish fiberglass contours offset mostly by the bourgeois luxury of a heater, the original 7 and Super 7, bodied mostly in aluminum, had more enthusiast appeal. They were proven right, and several iterations of the Caterham 7 are still in production. Chapman's upscale, odd-looking Seven S4 went out of production after only 3 years, in the same year Caterham began its own adventure with the Seven...  

Chapman's young specialist car factory had first offered the Lotus 7 as a tubular-framed advance over the previous, equally minimalist Lotus 6. Like the 6, the new car was offered with a Ford side-valve engine of just under 1,200 cc capacity, rack-and-pinion steering from a Morris Minor, open aluminum bodywork (truly open; no doors) a windshield, lights and rudimentary folding top in case customers would like to drive their cars to the local road racing venue.  Sevens were aimed at club racers in England, with with Ford's introduction of modern, short-stroke 4 cylinder engines a couple of years after the original 7 appeared. These were soon joined by larger and more powerful versions, which led in turn to the Super 7 in 1961, which was eventually offered with Cosworth-modified engines up to 1,600 cc, which made for startling performance in a car weighing around 1,100 pounds. 

Perhaps taking lesson from the failure of Chapman's concept for the upmarket, semi-civilized Lotus Seven S4, Caterham focused on improving the 7 as a narrowly focused, spartan road rocket.  In the first year of production 20 units of Caterham's variation on the Series 3 Lotus 7 were built with the 1557 cc engine from the Lotus Elan, based on a Ford engine block and with Cosworth-designed twin cam head.  One car was fitted with a 2 liter Alfa Romeo engine, and this presaged later offerings with even more vivid performance from 24 valve, twin-cam fours, as well as supercharged variants. 

Owing to changes in safety and emissions standards in Caterham's export markets, the firm continued to offer cars in complete knocked-down (CKD) form, much as Lotus had originally done as a response to British vehicle taxation laws.  Unlike other manufacturers who offered kit cars, Caterham kits were complete with all parts necessary to assemble the car.  This formula allowed the small firm to continue maintain a presence in the U.S., where there was a small but avid enthusiast market for the cars.  Unlike the home market, the U.S. one was limited to the kit offerings.

As the 20th anniversary of this successful formula approached, however, Caterham looked for ways to expand their market share. They decided to offer a more practical car for everyday road use, one with more comfort and safety features.  In 1994, to celebrate their 21st year as a car manufacturer, Caterham introduced the 21.  The car was still based on the tubular chassis of the Seven, but this was not apparent at first glance. Body designer Iain Robertson, perhaps inspired by Costin's late 50s Lotus Eleven, gave the new car generously curved fenders, faired-in headlights, and cleverly integrated outsourced components like Ford tail light units. Also as on the Eleven, the curves of the prototype were highlighted by its polished aluminum finish…

In order to save weight and complexity, the curved side windows were fixed in place, but the convertible top was easier to operate than the pup tent offered on the Seven, and the dash layout offered more a more ergonomic design than the earlier car.  The chassis increased rigidity over the Seven by 50%, partly by using wide door sill sections which limited interior width.  Under the bonnet, which tilted up with the front fenders, was a 24-valve Rover K-series 4 of either 1.6 or 1.8 liter size, coupled to either a Ford-sourced 5 speed or Caterham 6-speed gearbox.  While the new car was less than 3 inches shorter than the original Mazda Miata, it was over 800 pounds lighter at just under 1,500 pounds, so performance was more than adequate with any engine / gearbox combination.  Production was planned at 200 units a year, and bodywork was switched to fiberglass from aluminum for the production cars.

The reason that most car enthusiasts have never seen a Caterham 21 came down to timing. The company took a bit of time to tool up for production, and by 1996 rival Lotus had introduced its new Elise, also a lightweight and planned around the same Rover K-series engine, but mid-mounted for sharper handling.  Die-hard Seven fans felt that the handling of the new Caterham offering was blunted compared to their featherweight club racers, and seekers of comfort and convenience found more of that in the new Lotus Elise. As a result, Caterham built just over 4 dozen of the 21, while Lotus built over 8,600 of the Elise Series 1 between 1996 and 2001. Somehow, despite the name, prospective buyers didn't find the 21 to be three times the car that the 7 had been.  In 1999, a friend visited the Caterham factory in Dartford, east of London, and actually persuaded his wife to come along.  This was the last year of production for the failed 21, and while the photo from their visit shows a bevy of Caterham 7s about to be shipped, no 21s are on view. It may be a consolation that while production totaled only 49, this is at least a multiple of 7, and that the Seven lives on.  Meanwhile, this souvenir photo perfectly expresses the wild enthusiasm of a practical-minded lady for a cramped, drafty, noisy little car that can get you soaked when it rains.

Photo Credits
Top through 4th from top:  wikimedia
5th from top:  Caterham Cars
Bottom:  Marcus Nashelsky