Lotus Seven: ‘So fun it’s ridiculous’

Maybe the British didn’t invent the sports car, but it would be hard to find another people who have had more influence on the development of that particular type of automobile.

Over the years, there have been many different variations on the sports car theme.

Possibly one of the purest interpretations was the Lotus Seven, first seen in 1957.

The founder of Lotus Cars, Colin Chapman, was famous for his design philosophy that embraced high-performance, low weight and simplicity.

At the time of its introduction, Britain was a very highly taxed jurisdiction. A loophole in the law allowed unassembled automobile kits to be sold without the taxes that would be assessed on a completed car.

The tax system in the U.K. changed in 1973 and Lotus decided to stop building the Seven.

The reputation earned by the Lotus Seven was such that a number of other companies began building kits, and even completed cars, using variations on Chapman’s original theme.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, who grew up driving the family sedan, Charles Garrett’s early automotive memories are of the parental Triumph Spitfire. He had other exposure to the world of sports cars, too.

“Back in the mid-’60s my dad used to take us to sports car races in the Detroit area,” Garrett remembers.

“We used to see Lotus Sevens just waste other cars — especially in the corners. I thought they were incredibly cool.”

Although he owned a couple of interesting older cars along the way, Garrett never lost the hankering to own a Seven.

“I saved for several years before it happened,” he says. “This is my first actual sports car.”

His Seven project began in 2004, partly because his son Wayne was old enough to participate and also because, Garrett says, “I wanted to do it before I was too old to climb in and out of it.”

After some research, a Birkin kit from South Africa was ordered. The replica kit came with everything except the powertrain and electronics. An Internet search of junkyards turned up a two-litre Ford Focus engine.

The kit came with a special bell-housing to convert the Ford engine from its original transverse-mounted, front-wheel drive application to a lengthwise position in the rear-drive Seven.

“There were a lot of modifications we had to do to the block,” Garrett says. “I actually had to cut off the bottom of the block at one point.

“The oil pan is completely fabricated because the original one would be dragging on the ground.

“We had to do eight mock-ups in cardboard to make an intake plenum that would fit under the hood.”

Garrett says the whole project took Wayne and him two and a half years.

“I never dreamed I’d put one together myself,” he says.

“Our learning curve was incredibly steep. I got some advice and help from friends who are car-knowledgeable, but Wayne and I basically did all of it.”

You won’t find Garrett’s Seven being used as a daily driver.

“Since ’06 I’ve put on 3,200 miles,” he admits. “Not a lot. It only goes out on really nice days.”

Driving the Seven, Garrett says, is an unusual experience.

“You don’t even have to lean over to touch the ground with your hand,” he says.

“It’s like a street-legal go-kart. There’s no (body) roll.

“There’s no squat. There’s no pitch. There’s no nothing. It’s just flat when you corner. It feels as if it’s on rails. It seems to defy physics as far as it’s cornering abilities.”

Garrett shows the car occasionally and finds that his car gets a wide range of reactions.

Many people pass it right by, while others — who know what they’re looking at — “are very excited by it.”

The Seven would seem to have satisfied Garrett’s automotive ambitions.

“I haven’t grown the least bit tired of it,” he says. “It’s amazing that I don’t have more bugs in my teeth because it’s nothing but smiles every time I get behind the wheel. It’s so much fun, it’s ridiculous.”

Photograph by: Ted Jacob, Calgary Herald