When you talk about raw cars, where the experience and bond between driver and machine is about as tight as you can get, nothing comes closer than a Caterham.
Essentially an evolution of the 1957 Lotus Seven, the Caterham Seven has remained true to its light, simplistic roots since launching in 1973. Gradually adapting over time as lighter materials and better performance components have become available, the lightweight sportster has matured into the 2017 Caterham Seven 620R, a 231kW, supercharged monster that weighs just 572kg.
A product of the fan-created LEGO Ideas platform, set 21307 was initially proposed by Carl Greatrix back in 2014. The model proposal quickly won favour with supporters and achieved the minimum 10,000 votes of support to be put forward for LEGO group approval in mid-2015.
Just under a year later, the kit was approved and it arrived in stores just before the end of 2016.
The Caterham follows official scale models of the Ferrari F40, Volkswagen Beetle and Kombi Camper, and Mini Cooper to be constructed from LEGO. It is the 14th IDEAS kit, as designed and voted for by fans.
So, with a real Caterham out of reach, and the kit costing a very reasonable $130, we figured we’d sit down on the couch and throw all 773 pieces together to see if this licensed kit of a car that spawned so many licensed kit cars would culminate in a good car kit!
We will say too, that between our plan, build and publish of this review, we noted that Autocar Magazine in the UK took a similar approach, showing once again that great car minds think alike!
There are three primary bags of pieces to the kit, the first taking in the central chassis, firewall (with cool pedal box) and rear wheel arches. There are also a set of four traffic cone models that double as jack-stands, and can store away neatly in the boot.
The chassis uses multiple ‘technic’ pieces and is very strong and rigid. The rear subframe too utilises a multitude of standard building blocks and more technical components to allow for the wide rear track and fat arches.
Although there is no working differential as found in some of the LEGO technic models, each rear axle is a separate component allowing the wheels to rotate individually. There are cool printed brake rotor pieces as well.
Constructing the rear storage and wheel arch assembly uses some clever techniques to enable the model to utilize smooth surfaces rather than blocky edges as some more traditional LEGO sets do.
There are pieces that change the direction of ‘block adhesion’ which maintain strength as well as design.
True to form as an English, enthusiast’s choice, the Caterham 620R is right-hand drive and features a manual gearbox, as identified by the three pedals in the driver’s footwell.
There’s a fun handbrake and gear shift design despite neither being functional.
Detail under the bonnet is exceptional, and very true to the layout of the real car, showcasing coolant bottles, oil catch can, and airbox hoses in perfect miniature.
Bag number two sees much of the bodywork added as well as completed engine and carbon-fibre front arches.
The supercharged Ford 2.0-litre Duratec engine is made up of 37 pieces and is a very tiny work of art. The build uses pistols from wild-west LEGO sets as the exhaust manifold and neat hinges to correctly angle the intake plenum.
There’s a branded plate for the top of the cam cover (no stickers for clumsy fingers to mess up) and the gearbox even shows a realistic bell housing and textured casing. The whole unit can be easily removed to show friends and family your construction handiwork.
A couple of hoses need a bit of dexterity to get in the right place, and by now you are more than a third of the way through the build.
The flat-bottom of the chassis allows a stable build platform to help attach the assembled seats and clever use of hinges helps give the Caterham its V-shape stance.
All the stripes and lettered pieces are pre-marked, ensuring a consistent build quality for all models.
Building the side-exit hotdog exhaust again shows creative use of the LEGO catalogue, with Minifig lipstick used to connect the exhaust manifold pipes to the cylindrical muffler.
Up front, there is sadly no steering ability which is a bit of a letdown. It would likely add more complexity and cost to the kit’s design, but given the out-rigger style of the Seven’s front wheels, we don’t think this would have been a huge endeavour to undertake.
That is the beauty of LEGO though, if you want steering, you can re-engineer it yourself to add some in!
One of the most clever parts of the kit though are the front arches. The real car has these constructed from carbon-fibre, but the LEGO version is almost as intricate and clever.
Even through the four-step process to create each wheel arch, it doesn’t all quite make sense until you connect it to the car, and while fragile, the result is excellent and very reminiscent of the actual car.
The final steps of the second bag are the bug-eye headlamps and indicators. The last bag just finishes everything off.
Following the angled lines of the lower chassis, the removable bonnet is again an excellent miniature representation of a real one, and allows you to quickly show off your engine-building skills.
The completed nose cone is quite precariously mounted, but angles downward as per its life-sized counterpart, and has a neat ‘7’ branded grille.
We like the use of marked gauges on the dashboard, and thought the hooks make clever switches, but would have liked to see perhaps a folding or removable windscreen as an optional part of the build. That said, the representative details from the model to the real car are excellent.
Mounting the wheels to maximise the concave offset gives the little LEGO machine a tough stance, and the marked-up fuel cap and badge on the boot and roll bar stays on the rear cover just complete the picture.
All up, the 2017 Caterham Seven 620R LEGO set took us about 90 minutes to build, and it was thoroughly entertaining and rewarding.
As you can see we have matched it up against some local Caterham Seven cars, and the detail crossover is excellent.
A raw sports machine like the Caterham is something most of us won’t have a chance to own or drive, but the LEGO set is a fun and worthy ‘next best thing’.
Treat yourself, claim it is for the kids, and build one while you can!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.