The Lotus Seven Pecking Order
The original Lotus Seven was manufactured and sold between 1957 and 1972. The popularity of the Seven spawned hundreds of replicas in the years following, virtually all of them kits. Some of the kits were very true to the original, others less so. The vast majority were not complete kits, in that you still had to supply an engine, a drive train, and various other bits.
Because of the differences between the replicas, a pecking order has developed in the Seven world. In 1973 Lotus sold the rights to the Seven to Caterham Cars and a few other companies. Of those, only Caterham is still producing Sevens. As such, Caterham is King of the Lotus Seven replicas, and can lay some claim to not being a replica at all. Their kits are complete, well developed, and expensive.
On the next rung down are the original Lotus Sevens. This may sound surprising, but to Lotus Seven and particularly Caterham owners, the modern Caterham is a direct descendant of the line, and far more refined. A Caterham is faster, quieter, more reliable, and more comfortable than a Lotus. It also costs more.
The next several rungs are occupied by the more popular replica kits. In the U.S., the Stalker is probably at the top, followed by the Birkin and other Ford-engined kits. Below these would be the Westfield and the Miata-engined kits. The order would be different in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other English-speaking countries where the British-made kits (and the South African Birkin) are preferred.
At the bottom of the ladder is the Locost. This may seem rather unfair to Locost builders, who after all did far more work to construct their Lotus Seven replicas than any of the kit builders, and could therefore be considered more dedicated than anyone else to maintaining the breed. Their level of effort is unparalleled in the kit world.
Unfortunately the pecking order is not based on effort, but on cost. The thinking goes that Locost builders would have opted for a more sophisticated Birkin or Caterham, or a much faster Stalker, if they could have afforded it. To a great extent this is true. The Locost lets you into the exclusive Lotus Seven replicas club at a bargain price, and everyone knows it.
Each rung of the ladder has subcategories, based on the different models from each manufacturer, the year, and the quality of the build. None of these variations is enough to move up or down a rung, so even the most fabulous Locost build will not be up to par with any of the kits. Similarly, a beautifully restored original Lotus Seven can't measure up to any running Caterham.
Traditionally, automotive status has been determined on the road. Most enthusiasts would agree that the best car is the one that crosses the finish line first. But as V8-powered Stalker owners quickly learn, performance is not a factor in determining the relative worth of a Lotus Seven replica. The pecking order is set in stone before the build even begins.
The pecking order manifests itself at car meets, on the Internet, and in the car media. Park a Locost next to a Birkin, for example, and it's obvious who's posing, at least until a Caterham rolls in and puts the Birkin in its place. Gentlemanly respect is still accorded each of the drivers, but everyone knows the score. There is no intent to slight any builder or owner, it's just how things are in the Seven world.
Whether or not this affects your buying decisions when considering a Lotus Seven replica depends on your priorities. If you like being part of the in crowd, you should probably have your sights set on a Caterham, or at least a nicely-restored original Lotus Seven. If all you care about is having a fast, fun, unique sports car, a Locost will give you that, and do it as well as any of the replicas. Yes, we're biased.
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