There are a fair few Lotus Seven clones around Tokyo. Mostly Caterhams, probably – I’m not at all confident about identifying these kit cars, but that was always the marque of choice. One fine Sunday a couple months ago, I happened upon this contraption and naturally had a closer look. The overall impression was certainly Caterhamesque, but it was clear that this was something a bit different. I thought: “Great, an occasion to educate myself.”
This Tiger is not made of paper. It’s mostly aluminium and GRP, as per the recipe devised by Colin Chapman way back in the ‘50s. But Lotus Seven-like kit cars are like dune buggies and Jeep clones: there is a galaxy of small manufacturers out there, and it’s pretty daunting to see such a multitude of marques producing the same basic design, but with notable differences.
The O.G. of this story is the Lotus Seven, seen here in its earliest incarnation in 1957. The basic proposition was simple: two seats, extreme lightness (400 kg), a standard production engine (Ford was preferred, but not obligatory) and suspension, and very little else. These were cheap, especially in kit form, as they weren’t subject to UK purchase tax.
Lotus quit the kit game in 1973 and sold the rights (as well as the remaining stock) over to Caterham, which continued the line ever since. Another big player in this niche is Westfield, which has been competing with Caterham since 1982. There were and are dozens of other smaller concerns doing various clones of the Seven in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and Continental Europe. One of these is Tiger Racing Ltd.
Tiger, initially based in London, has been operating since 1989. The Super Six was one of their earliest products and was made from 1989 to about 2008, though sources differ about certain specifics. Aside from the badges, the easiest was to tell a Tiger from another Lotus Seven lookalike is the Super Six’s distinctive hood bump. That, coupled with the large rounded grille, helps the Super Six stand apart from the Caterham or Westfield designs.
The Super Six’s chassis is a small but sturdy box section affair. Front suspension and steering bits that weren’t made by Tiger were usually sourced from Ford, VW or Rover. The rear axle, for most cars produced, was a Ford Cortina Mk IV unit, sometimes with an aftermarket limited sip diff. A number of Super Sixes with IRS were made and exported to Japan – our feature car could be one of those, but I haven’t found any info about those beyond that.
Pretty much everything can be used under the hood, provided it fits. The initial preferred option was the 2-litre Ford Pinto, with or without mods. Some later cars were mated with a Zetec; the Toyota 1.6 litre 4AGE was also popular, sometimes using a Toyota rear axle as well.
Given the relatively width of engine options, these little things can pack anything between 120 and 200-plus hp – plenty for something that weighs about as much as a big motorbike. This combination of a superb power-to-weight ratio, reliable none-too-exotic mechanicals, tiny size and affordability has made these things irresistible to Japanese customers, who lapped these up and kept asking for more.
I mean seriously, I’ve never seen so many of these things about than when I started living here. They do have a small following in Continental Europe, but nothing like the UK – which sort of makes sense, as that is the concept’s country of origin. Japan must be the only other place where these are relatively widespread. They really are Anglophiles to the nth degree.
The tonneau cover hides the other half of the Super Six’s dash, with the large tach and speedo. The other noteworthy feature is how narrow the seats are. Most beer-drinking Brits nowadays would probably find this a bit too constraining. You really need to be on a green tea, tofu and seaweed diet (as well as not overly tall) to be able to fit in one of these comfortably.
These early Tigers were apparently among the better Seven clones of the ‘90s. I have no idea about production numbers for these things, be they Tigers or other marques. Some may have been made in the dozens, others in the thousands. Either way, it’s a very niche market with fanatical devotees the world over, many of them Japanese, it seems. Tiger Racing are still thriving, as are other outfits who specialize in these Seven clones; there are enough kits being sold to support an ecosystem of small firms producing variations on a design that harks back to the mid-‘50s. Colin Chapman would be proud!
COAL: Luego Locost – Building a Sevenesque Roadster, by David Saunders