Crook, Colin Chapman ,Caterham Cars & Coachworks, Kits , Continuity, Culture and Conservation
Chapman was probably the vanguard of post 2nd WW British motorsport and Specialist car manufacture.
This achievement with support from extremely talented friends and colleagues ought to be viewed in a wider socio-economic climate of post war Britain that spawned a galaxy of talent –see below.
These engineers, designers, competitor/drivers, entrepreneurs and marque manufacturer owners were a special group that did much to both drive austerity through to affluence but establish Britain as a leading motoring and motor racing force.
In the process they did much to democratise the opportunities along with participation.
In order to better comprehend Chapman holistically, the A&R explores the wider envelope of post war motoring.
Here in a series of articles in some instances we revisit previous examinations where significant new information and or overlaps occur making a fresh take worthy. We examine the group of entrepreneurs and enterprising men that helped galvanize , inspire , generate innovation along with wider participation. Theirs was a very practical assistance. Their contributions helped the specialist’s car making the individualization and personalization of cars along with tuning and modification which acted rachet like spurring competition and specialist brands especially in Britain.
In these series of articles, we hope to: –
- Generally, benchmark Chapman in the context of his time
- Explore and analyise the specialist after-market industry and the prime movers/contemporaries of Chapman
- Identify the locations and sites where manufacture or retail took place
The A&R is also very interested in the Industrial archelogy of British motoring. We use these series of articles to identify the sites, locations associated with the specialists /after-market provider retailers /industry.
Sadly, corresponding with the decline in British manufacture wealth has become increasingly almost exclusively property/land orientated.
A consequence of which many important historical motoring heritage sites are lost to property speculation.
This is a considerably loss as they have the potential for inspiration, job creation and education-based tourism [ cf Morgan factory at Malvern]
These sites along with the entrepreneurs that created them have a valuable lesson and inspiration for to-days start up, green, bottom –up inspired low cost enterprise.
Surrey poses a significant motor racing base ranging from Brookland’s to marques A.C. Cooper ,Ballamy , Nordec H.R.G. and Caterham from the late 1950’s.
VW Derrington were based at Kingston on Thames from the 1920’s onwards.
Subscribers might like to see the directly relevant and integrated A&R pieces that complement and help structure this article: –
- Austin specials
- Lotus Mk.III
- Lotus Mk.VI & 1172 formula
- Chapman &Warren Street
- Lotus Seven
- Chapman contemporaries and peers
- Focused group in this series including Ballamy, Super Accessories, Nordec
- Dellow, Morgan & Marcos
- British motor sport locations
- Chapman and Lotus Consultancy and Diversification, projects and patents
- Design Heroes and Lotus Design Decades series
This article sits very comfortably; both subject and geographically with Ballamy & Nordec, subscribers are directed to both for important overlaps, photographic evidence and sites plans
Post Second world war: Socio-economic envelope and motoring
This envelope is a complex meld of interacting forces and includes: –
- The skill, education and inclination of a generation of ex –servicemen many with training in mechanics and aviation technologies
- The boffin mentality bred during the war of applied theory mixed with innovation and improvisation
- Improved health and leisure and a desire to have a focused hobby and healthy cooperative amateur competition
- A British streak towards the individualistic and innovated often linked with a disciplined focus
- Apprentice engineers –often on a low income / disposable income –see data provided for the price relativities etc.
The statistical data we use describes the period 1950-1959 as that of Recovery & Crisis.
Price relativities and incomes
See appendix [ given in Ballamy article] and that of previous items where we discuss price relativities of the era.
A few examples help compellent the detailed figures given in the appendix.
In 1953 footballers maximum weekly wage as £15. This had risen to £20 in 1958.
In 1959 a Rolls Royce Phanton V retailed at £8,905.
An Austin A50 cost £678 and a Mk.I Sprite £669.
The editors have estimated a fitter & turner might have earned £400 annually in the mid 1950’s.
Of special significance is the wages of young men undertaking apprenticeships in the Armed forces. From this raw talent and skill base many designers would emerge. Their low disposable income indicates the extent they have to scavenge and improvise.
This cannot be overestimated and serious students can better understand Chapman and the era but grasping limited purchasing power.
The 750 Motor Club
The 750Motor club has had a disproportionate beneficial impact on British motor sport.
This continues today.
It has helped produce engineer designers, manufactures and drivers.
Many combined these skills holistically.
Chapman and Ballamy were both members. Ballamy made his early independent suspension for the Austin Seven.
Avoiding repetition, we direct subscribers to our dedicated articles and references to the Seven Fifty MC notably in Austin specials and the Lotus Mk.III.
Russell discusses Ballamy ,Chapman and the 750 and subscribers are directed to his book.
Post War specialists: marques, after market and tuners etc.
The attached list is informative.[ please see Ballamy article for spreadsheet . It gives an indication of the breadth and depth of the post war interest in specials building and amateur motor sport.
Subscribers are invited to make comparisons and examine our dedicated pieces.
The list helps benchmark Chapman, Lotus ,Caterham and Ballamy – in commercial and technical innovation terms.
Colin Chapman and Lotus Seven
Caterham market the Seven with the strap line: –
Raucous, Pure, Unapologetic
We doubt that Chapman would have used these terms but they informed his thinking and intentions.
The Lotus Seven is one of the greatest cars of all time.
This can be attributed to its fundamental correctness, is absolute driving experience and that nothing can be further removed [ in the interval between no manufacturer has improved upon the concept.
Chapman also saw the potential of kit building, the affordability element, overcoming tax burden but also addressing a wider audience with resources to complete a car and to personalise – often performance wise.
There is no need to expand further, too much has been written but it is important to understand why Chapman chose to kill the seven as he moved the brand up market and how another entrepreneur recognised its potential.
This has lessons in other industrial enterprise.
Leading up to Caterham Cars: –
Anthony Crook was a racing driver, pilot and Bristol marque distributor.
It’s thought he established in Caterham to be close to the Kenley Airfield.
Bristol were a high-end specialist British car marque.
His engineer mechanics would be skilled.
His premises are likely to have been well equipped for servicing and possibly undertaking body work repair.
Although within a convenient distance of London ,Caterham did not have immediate motorsport connections.
The premises would have been reasonably ideal when Graham Nearn established.
Figure 1. Anthony Crook was a motor racing driver, a pilot and business man. His Bristol franchise was based at Caterham Hill through the 1950’s
The Caterham cars story is too well documented to needed repetition. There are numerous books and internet coverage. Caterham’s own summary is to the point.
Figure 2. From the company
Caterham Cars were sold in 2005.
Graham Nearn [1933-2009]
Graham Nearn was possibly the ideal individual to continue the Chapman concept.
Graham established his business initially with David Wakefield.
He possessed the following qualities
- Imaginative, innovating and entrepreneurial
- Good man manager and employer, loyal and lasting friendship with supporters and suppliers
- Astute and competent businessman and a creative publicist, exploited avenues not least the One Make Series
- Educated at nearby Purley Grammar school, he undertook the national service.
Figure 3.Chapman & Nearn –the contract regarding the Seven
Graham was a considerable gentleman.
The editor had some correspondence with him. He made available an early Lotus for display at a car show we mounted and gave the editor permission to have a forensic examination of one of the most famous Lotus Mk.VI in existence. [ see photograph below]
Over many years he also owned some of the most significant Lotus Seven.
Unique driving Experience
It’s believed that Graham Near had a competitive driving ability.
It is possibly this quality that enabled him to define the special quality of the Lotus Seven and to see its potential in a totally holistic fashion.
He possibly was able to articulate the Seven in terms of its Unique driving Experience; and possibly equally significant the conversion into a marketing expression and strategy.
Chapman exploited the kit system in part to help reduce the burden of Purchase Tax.
It had much to commend it and appealed to the practical owner, driver and race competitor.
Caterham were to follow this route with success.
Figure 4. A&R Library collection , note an image redolent of early Seven S1 adverts
International Perspectives and Exports
Caterham’s have been exported internationally subject to legislation etc. They have also been raced on this basis.
A considerable achievement relevant to their size was being awarded the 1993 Queens Award to Export.
Legality and Defending the concept
The legal challenge that Caterham mounted to defend the Seven concept is worthy of examination. Although it’s difficult to patent a car design or its appearance Caterham won a case.
Serious students ought to take this on board for its impact on a brand and its fullest commercial dimensions.
Automobile are not all engineering and brand reputation and differentiation are contained within legal definitions and protections.
Caterham Cars have been based at a number of locations .As they have expanded they have part outgrown premises and taken advantage of commercial opportunities.
They have been at Caterham from inception and more recently at Dartford and Crawley.
In the context of Industrial /motoring archaeology we believe the early sites are worthy of study.
Ballamy,Nordec & Caterham Connection
Ballamy and Nordec shared premises in the Caterham area. In fact they almost backed onto each other.They co -existed through the late 1950’s and an early 1960’s.
It’s very possibly that some of the engineers moved between both.
The A&R has studied both and it is instructive to see our detailed comparisons.
Town End, Caterham on the Hill
The Caterham Cars initial location at Town End.
Figure 5. Extract from Ordinance Survey, locating the site at Town End, Caterham-on-the-Hill, Surrey
Figure 6. Editors photograph –the Golden Lion marked on plans and seen in period photographs at intersection between Chaldon Road [leading to Westway] and Town End
Figure 7. identification of buildings many still present 2020
Figure 8. editors recent photograph cross references above
Figure 9. existing caption self -explanatory
Figure 10. photograph from published work, image of the interior of Caterham Cars factory
Figure 11. External image note distinctive bifold doors see editors’ picture below
Figure 12. Editors photograph dating from 1980’s
Figure 13. scanned an image from published work
Figure 14. editors recent picture of the redeveloped site
Caterham’s last presence in Caterham was at Station approach almost next to the BR station.
The premises they occupied are shown in period photographs as showroom and petrol station [ at the intersection of Church Hill, Stafford Road and Harestone Valley Road.
Figure 15.Caterham Cars at Station Approach, Caterham Valley. The premises were a car showroom and petrol station through 1950’s
Figure 16. Station Approach before redevelopment
Figure 17.Entrance to main storage & servicing area –editors photograph
Figure 18. Editors photograph of Aeries 1 in the storage area
Figure 19.editors photograph taken from supermarket Multi-storey car park, overlooking Caterham station towards rear Caterham Cars
Figure 20. Editors photograph of additional Victorian building attached to the site
Continuity and Evolution Intelligent redesign
Graham Nearn along with some very talented and dedicated engineer employees have made subtle yet cost effective improvements to the Seven.
This is no mean task and as car technology has changed retaining the front engine rear wheel drive configuration has required planning and negotiation.
The earliest Caterham was the continuation of the Seven S4.
Figure 21.Caterham brochure image from the net
Figure 22.Caterham reverted to the S3 concept to move forward
The adaptions improvements include: –
- Engines- not least motorcycle
- Suspension including the de Dion
- 6 speed gearbox
- Wheels and tyres
- Constant search for weight reduction – incorporation of carbon fibre etc.
- Limited editions
To which fully integrated has been insurance, finance, resale, marketing and affordability.
This has been done within changing legislation which has not favoured the specialist brands.
The Caterham 21 was a valiant attempt to diversify retaining a core principle. Like other notable predecessors [ e.g. Morgan] it was not totally successful.
It was big ask; to move from the ultra-traditional to a full width body upgrade. There were probably excellent technical, commercial and customer base motives to warrant the model. Like Chapman, Caterham might have discovered the devil in the detail and the costs /time of development.
The 21 might have suffered from a basket of issues. Amongst these might have been: –
- Relative performance / cost effectiveness over the base Seven
- The aesthetics and practicality might not have fully gelled to overcome other issues
- Other better competitors existed not least Lotus Elise
Although not a commercial success the 21 provided Caterham with some invaluable learning /feedback that they were enabled to subsequently incorporate.
Figure 23. Iconic image from the Prisoner
Figure 24a. Remote control cars in Top Gear livery
The Lotus Seven and its continuity through the Caterham had been enduring and the cars have earnt the following attributes and model status expressed
- Legendary dragon slayers
- Proven demonstrated performance
- Labelled to fast to race
- Engrained in public physce through The Prisoner
One Make Series
The one make series has done a considerable amount for the brand and sales.
It has spawned competition, market for upgrades, offered a training ground , provided a potential for high level road driving skills, seen the cars compete around the world notably in Europe.
This conservation applies in part to vechicles but also Motoring Archaeology.
We recognise Lotus Caterham Cars as national treasures having earnt a place in the Parthenon of excellence and sustainability.
Conservation will as we have recoded require an articulation of the economic benefits of retention over loss.
When Caterham cars moved from the town there has been a significant cost and cultural loss.
Serious students will be committed to the surveying and recording of sites before their loss. This must be undertaken for the benefit of future generations.
It has motivated the editors to undertake this series of articles and make measured drawings where possible.
Figure 25. editors photograph of famous Mk.VI at Caterham on the Hill site
Figure 26. Editors basic measured sketch prior to demolition
Catalogues or Brochures
Caterham have produced some brochures commensurate with the presence of the car.
The A&R is privileged to have a good cross section of examples.
Figure 27. A&R library collection
Caterham have used thier calenders for marketing and some highly visual photography has resulted.
Figure 28. The A&R has several examples
Caterham has also tapped the merchandising market and we give one example
Figure 29.A&R library collection ;Caterham collectables & merchandising
Redline was an offshoot of Caterham .It’s believed its key personnel were ex Caterham.
They build customers kit cars, were a parts supplier for both Lotus and Caterham.
They undertook servicing.
They occupied premises only several hundred yards from Caterham at Station approach.
They have recently moved .This might be for a variety of reasons but the relocation of Caterham out of the town might be part contributory.
The staff were extremely helpful and assisted the editor when he built his Ford special.
Figure 30. .Redline servicing and parts service formerly at Timber Hill Lane, Caterham
Figure 31. . photo prior to move
Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.
These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.
In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate: –
- Enumerate British specialist car manufacturers, where have they been based/ what was their operation? , to what extent has their history been recorded?
- Is the car manufacture worthy of being considered Industrial Archeology?
- What is the importance of recording industrial history? What needs to be documented and archived?
- Consider the importance of Morgan to Malvern – attempt in holistic manner to quantify economic benefits to locality
- Suggest how community groups can be encouraged and engaged or made aware of recording significant local history
- What other car models have both the longevity and iconic status of the Lotus Seven /Caterham? Suggest explanations
- To what extent has a popular culture been exploited in car marketing – give examples using Caterham as benchmark
- Which car brands have foundered on attempting to upgrade a model? What is at stake.? Enumerate examples where it has worked and why
Exhibitions, Education, Economics and Entertainment
In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.
For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition, we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.
In this instance we suggest the following exhibition titles might be appropriate: –
- Cars on the hills :Caterham Cars/Caterham on-the- Hill
- A sense of place: Cars and Identification
- The Road ahead
- Tourism: A road map
- Cars, competition and Participation
- Cars and Continuity: Brand on the Run
- Places, Pilgrimage& Portmerion
- The Path not taken
- Seven out of Seven :Caterham Cars Story
- Seven Wonders
The post war era produced a very special breed of entrepreneurs in Britain.
These included both men and women.
A significant group were within the engineering sector. In this instance many competed directly.
They identified, responded to demand and frequently created products for their own use in competition, which made the way to retail.
They were enterprising and set up manufacturing and distribution.
In many cases embracing early mail order and credit.
They provided to the young the means to experiment and customize and individualize. This was reasonably affordable when accompanied by skilled craft input.
Many were like Chapman polymaths, holding patents, frequently diversifying.
They did Britain a great service. Possibly less than credited.
Theirs too has handed down a legacy and continuity – although of mixed fortune –in various forms Lotus,Ginetta, Caterham ,Morgan and TVR survive. In addition, Ballamy and Caterham helped establish the Specialist kit car market which continues today and along with it 750Mclub racing series.
They grew business from a low capital base and were ideas driven. A such they provide much inspiration for today.
Caterham cars is worthy of a full -on holistic analysis. It offers many good examples in the interaction of business practice, technology change, marketing, branding. Size / volume production, product planning and man management.
Caterham has some resemblance with Morgan.Both has strong elements of tradition and hand craftsmanship melded with modernity. Both have been through economic downturns, evolved, adapted and remained relevant and in many respects sustainable. Both are national treasures and institutions of enduring and endearing longevity.
Chapman demonstrated conclusively the fundamental correctness of the Seven
Graham Nearn was possibly the right person to take the project forward. He possessed perhaps the rare blend of business acumen accompanied by an idealism, believe, inspired marketing loyalty to concept and people. He demonstrated an intimate knowledge of his core product. His was the ability to capture and articulate the unique driving experience and cement it into popular culture as enshrined in The Prisoner and Top Gear appearances.
They have entered folklore.
Caterham briefly lent its name if not all its technical skills to F1 in the 21 century.
As we write in 2020 Caterham have been in existence nearly half a century averaged between involvement and manufacture.
Graham Nearn as we record started from a modest base recognising the raw potential, functionality and distinctive uniqueness of the Seven. He nurtured this and sympathetically evolved the concept. Along the way practicing the best of Product Design, incorporation and structured integration. He kept his organisation appropriate in size for the market.
As such Caterham cars have lessons for all aspiring young entrepreneurs
Sadly, many of the sites they occupied have been lost.
Caterham town has lost both Caterham Cars and Redline. This is both a commercial and cultural blow.
Caterham was something of a mecca and pilgrimage site. The loss is reputational.
For this reason, we articulate the need for conservation – not least in the case of the Lotus factory at Hornsey.
The most significant ought to be protected and used for generating ideas and business. Serious students will wish to analyze the interaction of economic geography of the British automobile industry. Where necessary recording locations and saving details in an archive for future reference.
Ballamy and Graham Nearn to some extent was a serious designer and in many respects had links with the great modernist designers of the early 20C.
Figure 32.1 of the many books on the subject and forming part of A&R library collection
Figure 33. A&R collection
Discovering Industrial archaeology &history. Bodey.Shire.1975.
Elementary Surveying for Industrial archaeologists. Bodey & Hallas.Shire.1977
Industrial Heritage of Britain.Tinder.The AA.1992.
Fieldwork in Industrial Archaeology.Major. Batsford.1975.
The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution. Bracegirdle. Heinemann.1973.
Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However, by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.
*Items in italics non-A&R library books.