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
I don’t know if it’s the camera perspective, but the nose on that looks huge.
Never seen a Tiger Super Six, looks like a blast to drive if I could fold myself into it.
Its definitely a larger nose cone probably to accommodate an overhead cam engine. A Sierra sourced ‘Pinto’ engine is way taller than the old Kent engines. The front fenders look a little wonky on this example but Sevens come in all types of quality.
I actually looked at importing a Seven-eque from Japan but they don’t see to drop in value the same way a regular sports does (ie – Honda Beat, Nissan Fairlady, etc).
I owned one of the first TSS to be built & the very first in the detailed colours of this article. Brings back some great memories. I owned the car for 6 years 1992-1998 had many a track day in it & build quality was great. This small family run business out of Plumstead South East London really excelled themselves.
My car had a FORD 1700cc X flow engine with twin 40 Weber carbs It sounded amazing through its side exhaust system. Many had Ford 2l Pinto engines from RS 2000 Escorts but were heavier to drive.
The fact that one of these cars is in Tokyo all these years later amazes me.
These remind me of the “specials” that American hot rodders built to race against foreign sport cars in the 1950’s. The most famous being Max Balchowsky’s Old Yeller. I think that a return to building these special type cars would be a good idea. The Lotus replicas are better designed than the various T bucket kits, which had to be a nightmare to drive. Now there are well engineered and constructed kits to build all kinds of cars; Cobra replicas, ’34 Fords and more, with well engineered frames, suspensions, and braking systems. There is a very good episode of Jay Leno’s garage about Old Yeller.
A Lotus 7 clone is at the top of my wish list. Not sure what powerplant I would want though.
These wee farnarclers have long-since reached some point beyond parody, as in, “just as designed by Colin Chapman – chassis, construction, steering, engine, suspenders, appearance, and proportions may differ.” As Chapman might have said – mind you, for money, that might be anything – just add zeitgeist.
I personally think green tea rather misses the point of a good cuppa teaspoon-standing black char, and I further believe most seaweeds should stay at their distance under the waves as well as any tofus, but yet I still tried once to sit in some facsimilie of the Chapman original many years ago: it took some time and some grease and a medic to remove the suctional cling-on from my bum.
The Japanese like these these foods – I understand they really do believe them to be that – and the Seven, so it is eminently suitable that they should madly like, car and food respectively, the type of car best suited to those who have eaten only them.
I’ll admit to not knowing about the Tiger but the Prfessor doees, so all is well.
One thing that intrigues, not just about the Tiger but also Westfield et al, is how close they seem to get to Lotus/Caterham IP without ending up in court.
Google knows. T87 regurgitates… 😝
I think the most on point Seven replica for Japan is the Rotus, designed in the US around RWD Toyota parts, ideally the 16V out of an AE86 but adequately quick with lighlty modified 3rd gen Celica bits like this Bring A Trailer listing https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1985-rotus-7/
The Miata based locost 7 kit cars are popular in the US, and I expect their popularity will continue wherever the roadster is sold. Personally I hate the 7 aerodynamics, and its appearance with the rain gear on it. If it weren’t for the SUV and giant pick ups, they would be more popular.