Automotive

Caterham Cars gives bicycle technology a try

The prototype Caterham chassis, influenced by bicycle technology
The prototype Caterham chassis, influenced by bicycle technology
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A detailed image of the chassis that Caterham may offer as an option in 2017
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A detailed image of the chassis that Caterham may offer as an option in 2017
A computer image of the prototype vehicle with some body parts
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A computer image of the prototype vehicle with some body parts
A computer illustration of the chassis design
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A computer illustration of the chassis design
The prototype Caterham chassis, influenced by bicycle technology
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The prototype Caterham chassis, influenced by bicycle technology
Another view of the prototype ultra-lightweight chassis
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Another view of the prototype ultra-lightweight chassis
The butted tube approach by Reynolds Technology, that was patented in 1897
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The butted tube approach by Reynolds Technology, that was patented in 1897
Caterham, Reynolds and Simpact Engineering were involved in creating the ultra-lightweight chassis
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Caterham, Reynolds and Simpact Engineering were involved in creating the ultra-lightweight chassis

Caterham Cars has lasted over six decades by delivering a series of lightweight sports cars known for their unique look and giant fun factor. By sometime next year, buyers of the company's iconic Caterham Seven may have the option of an even lighter-weight model incorporating the butted tube technology used in bicycles.

The bicycle influence came about when Reynolds Technology, a company known for making quality bicycle frame tubes, approached Caterham with the idea of making an ultra-lightweight chassis using the butted tube process it had patented back in 1897. Once Caterham agreed, Simpact Engineering was enlisted for its design expertise.

The trio then had six months to complete the research and design of the chassis based on the parameters set by the Niche Vehicle Network in the UK that supplied the funding.

The butted tube approach by Reynolds Technology, that was patented in 1897
The butted tube approach by Reynolds Technology, that was patented in 1897

The butted tube approach developed by Reynolds meant that each tube member of the chassis was thicker at the ends than in the middle, which kept the frame strong yet lightweight. Using low-cost steel rather than alloys also allowed for weight reductions of up to 50 percent on some parts while maintaining the chassis' torsional stiffness and strength.

The final result was a prototype vehicle incorporating a chassis that came in more than 10 percent lighter than the already slimmed-down model found in the current run of Caterham Seven models.

Caterham said the plan is to further refine the chassis with the goal of offering it as an option for models in the 2017 lineup, at an extra cost of between £1,000 and £2,000 (about US$1,438 and $2,876). The company will also continue to develop the prototype vehicle utilizing the butted chassis, with the intent of launching it as a new model at some point in the future.

The automaker additionally stated that the process and technology developed for this project will be available to license to companies that make trucks, cranes or any business in which weight savings would be beneficial. Caterham does, incidentally, make its own line of bikes – without butted frames.

Source: Caterham Cars

5 comments
GaryHipwell
I think you'll find the gorgeous classic steel framed Caterham Fairspear has butted tubes.
Island Architect
I think that one can say that the Brits do have a sense of humor... these look like they could come out of Terry Thomas' garage and the school for scoundrels. They also can design absolutely astonishing things like the Converj that was the singular good thing at the NAIAS in the depths of 2009, they can also design some ghastly things. Clearly they enjoy "tooling" around in neat little packages and these may well be the successors to the MG TC some larger headlamps might well save the day.
Martin Hone
A saving of 10% sounds ok, but when the whole chassis probably only weighs 100 kg, it is not much advantage. Given there is still a lot of cluster welds and labour intensive fish-mouthing elsewhere on the chassis, I don't see the point, especially of the tubes have to be specially made with thicker ends, which is how I read it.
yawood
@Island Architect. You must have been hiding for the past 65 years when you say "these may well be the successors to the MG TC". They were. These have been around since 1952 when they were released as the Lotus Mark VI and subsequently upgraded to the Mark VII in 1957. When lotus stopped making them the demand was still so high that many people continued to make variants, the most successful being Caterham & Westfield who have continued to develop them to the present day. Caterham was the "official" successor to the Lotus products and they produce very fast and fun cars for the road and track.
Fran Cummings
Nothing new about this. Cars were originally developed from bicycles not horse drawn carriages. Benz, Ford and most of the original car markers were bike builders or riders who used bicycle inventions & technology to create the first successful cars. Ball bearings, differential gears, light weight tubing & roller chains were among the many inventions made for bicycles & later adapted for cars.
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