Skip to main content

Caterham 21

Caterham 21 1990s British sports car

The Caterham 21 debuted at the Birmingham Motor Show, in '94. It marked 21 years of Caterham Seven production. Design niggles delayed the launch of the new car for two years. The 21's enhanced equipment levels posed a challenge to Caterham. Respected manufacturers though they were, the small British firm were on a learning curve with a car of this complexity. The 21 prototype had, literally, dazzled show-goers. It was fetchigly finished in silver-polished aluminium. The production car's finish was more prosaic - standard paint on glass-fibre. Aluminium, though, could still be had as an extra. The prototype 21 was displayed with a Vauxhall JPE engine installed. Production cars were fitted with Rover 'K-series' 1.6-litre motors. There was also a VHP - Very High Performance - version of the 1.8-litre MGF engine available.

When the 21 did finally hit the road, it was to great acclaim. Aerodynamics were well-sorted - helping give a top speed of 131mph. Chassis-wise, the 21 was similar to the 7. The new car thereby inherited the superb handling characteristics of its predecessor. An important way, though, in which the two differed, was in practicality. The 7 - among the most exhilarating cars ever to drive - was far from user-friendly, as such. It was geared entirely toward the 'pure driving experience'. The 21 came with much more in the 'mod cons' column. As an all-round package, it was streets ahead of the Seven.

Caterham handed the task of styling the 21 to designer/journalist Iain Robertson. He sought inspiration in the race-bred lines of the Lotus Eleven. The 21's interior, too, was well-crafted. Though the cockpit was narrow, wide sills kept it this side of cramped. A vertical strip of switches was a deft design touch. No more than two hundred 21s per year were built. That kept Caterham from biting off more than a company of its size could chew. And, of course, there was always the Lotus legacy to consider. The Caterham 7 had done its parent marque proud. The 21, too, was a worthy successor.


Popular posts from this blog

Chrysler Airflow

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! The lines of its bodywork were drawn from aerodynamics - at a time when that discipline was a mere glint in a boffin's eye! Certainly, it was far from being routinely used in automotive design. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgling craft. A 'wind tunnel' was duly developed. Even today, such systems are considered arcane ... but, in the early '30s, they were tantamount to a black art! The engineering wizards overseeing the project were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton. Breer was the catalyst ... he had been first to be smitten by the science of aerodynamics. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when Orville Wright - father of aviation - was brought on board! More than 50 test cars were built. By means, then, of painstaking refinements, the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.But the Airflow was not just about aerodynamics. 'Weight lo…

NSU Ro80

The styling of the NSU Ro80 was ahead of its time. At first glance, masses of glass were straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile - giving it a low front, high back stance - which would influence automotive design for years to come. The 5-seater body was supremely aerodynamic for a saloon car - making cruising at speed a breeze. So flawless was it outwardly that it was hardly touched in ten years of production. Just the tail-lights were modified, on later versions.The Ro80's handling was equally impressive. FWD - and precision power-steering - kept it perfectly pointed. The long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. High-efficiency disc brakes were fitted all round. The 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through the gears with aplomb. Top speed was a sound 112mph.But, of course, nothing is perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get the car into showroom…

FN Four

In terms of breakthroughs in the history of motorcycling, there cannot be many to rival the first in-line four engine. Belgium was the birthplace of this landmark layout. FN was the much-to-be-thanked manufacturer.The FN Four first hit the highway in 1911. It produced 4bhp. That, from a 491 cc capacity. At the time, such figures described state-of-the-art technology. Top speed for the FN Four was 40mph. Not bad - for an 8-valve inlet-over-exhaust set-up. Oh, it was air-cooled.The FN Four was light - tipping the scales at 165lb dry. Not only the motor, but the chassis, too, was avant-garde. It featured an early form of telescopic forks. A new-fangled clutch - and 2-speed 'box - only added to the FN Four's slick box of tricks. Solid shaft-drive output the power. Who, then, designed this visionary vintage? You will not hear the name Paul Kelekom shouted from motorcycling's rooftops. But, you should - for it was he who fashioned the FN Four. In so doing, he ki…