Courtesy of Silverstone Auctions
The Lotus Seven is a small, simple, lightweight two-seater open-top sports car produced by Lotus Cars (initially called Lotus Engineering) between 1957 and 1972. It was designed by Lotus founder Colin Chapman, and has been considered the embodiment of the Lotus philosophy of performance through low weight and simplicity. The original model was highly successful, with more than 2,500 cars sold, partly because of its attraction as a road-legal car that could be used for Clubmans racing, but mainly because it was such fun. This 1963 Lotus Super Seven Series 2 is powered by a 1498-cc Ford Pre-Crossflow Cosworth engine. Presented in good condition, this car has recently returned from the States where, we are told, the last owner enjoyed his little Lotus for some 31 years. The car was restored in the 1990s, with, we are led to believe, the engine, transmission and gearbox being rebuilt. At some point all the aluminum paneling was removed from the chassis and the chassis blasted, checked carefully and painted before the car was re-paneled. Most of the paneling was replaced and the rest of the car painted and generally tidied. So pleased was the owner with the result that the car was then subsequently promoted to a heated studio and used sparingly. Over the years, with the very nature of the Seven, owners will change things to suit their own requirements; however, the vendor believes this car to be particularly original and correct, with the ultra-rare early instruments, the original stamped Serek 5½-gallon fuel tank and the proper carburetors as fitted.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Lotus Super Seven Series 2 1500 Cosworth
Years Produced:1960–68 (Series 2)
Number Produced:1,350
Original List Price:About $2,100
SCM Valuation:$25,000–$45,000
Chassis Number Location:Brass plaque on firewall
Engine Number Location:Right side motor mount
Club Info:Lotus Seven Club
Alternatives:1966–70 Chevron Clubman, 1973–up Caterham Seven, 1966–70 Mallock U2
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 550, sold for $37,236, including buyer’s premium, at Silverstone Auctions’ Silverstone Classic sale in Northamptonshire, U.K., on September 4, 2015.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Lotus Sevens, particularly the Super Seven of the early ’60s. For what they are, they are fabulous, but to say that they are quirky occupants of a specialized niche in the sports car world probably understates the reality. It takes a certain kind of person to really appreciate one.

My first seriously driven racer was a Super Seven. I raced it for probably five seasons, starting about 30 years ago, before moving on to sports racers. I have wonderful memories of those days, but they are interspersed with occasional scary flashes of “what was I doing?” These cars are not for the faint of heart, on the road or on the track. The subtlety and suppleness that define most Lotus cars came along well after the Seven was conceived. The Seven is a throwback.

Charisma, lightness and success

A bit of history: Lotus wasn’t started as much as it sort of coalesced as a motley group of barely 20-year-old kids that centered on a charismatic young engineer named Colin Chapman. They started spending evenings and weekends building racing specials in one of their parents’ garage.

For the 1951 season, the 750 Motor Club announced a new racing class for two-seat non-production cars based on Austin Seven mechanicals, and the group decided to build a car to run there.

Chapman designed a simple tubular space frame that was both light and rigid — think of a box that gets larger as it goes from front to back and has lots of triangulation for stiffness. All of the requisite Austin mechanical bits were hung on for suspension and drivetrain, then the box was covered in aluminum sheet metal with bulges for the rear wheels and cycle fenders on the front. The car was called the Lotus Mk III and was an immediate success in the local club racing for which it was intended. With success came requests for help and parts, and soon Lotus moved into an actual commercial space and started believing they could be a real business.

By the summer of 1952, the basic design had evolved through a few iterations, and Lotus decided to build the Mk VI — the first Lotus for sale to customers. Generally, the Mk VI wasn’t available as a completed car. Lotus would sell you the frame and suspension components and point you down the block to the panel beater who would sell you the body. You were on your own for engine and drivetrain.

It was a successful venture, though, and the Lotus VI provided cash flow as Lotus joined the bigger leagues of racing with the envelope-bodied Mk VIII. That evolved into the IX, then the X, and in 1956, the Eleven, and in the process Lotus became a fully-fledged car manufacturer (albeit tiny), building and selling complete cars.

The simple Seven

Entering 1957, Lotus was humming, but Chapman wanted to find a way to expand production and sales without the expense and engineering effort of designing a new car, so the old Lotus VI was dusted off and turned into a serious production car called the Lotus Seven (starting with the Eleven, which was ostensibly a production car, all “street” Lotuses were given names, while the pure racers got numbers; the Seven was the only one that didn’t start with an “E”).

The chassis design was upgraded a bit for ease of production, it got a modern front suspension, and the front sprouted fiberglass “wings” instead of the cycle fenders, but essentially the Seven was a simple re-introduction of the original 1952 Lotus design — with both the advantages and shortcomings that came with it.

It is these characteristics, both good and bad, that define the experience of driving the car both on the road and in competition. The first and most important is the weight: A Super Seven weighs 1,100 pounds dripping wet, which is extraordinary for a road-legal sports car (a Bugeye Sprite weighs 1,500). This means that with a street Cortina engine on Webers making maybe 100 horsepower, the power-to-weight ratio combined with lack of inertia makes the Seven a formidable presence in any stoplight Grand Prix — if only for the first few blocks. I say this because, though it is a tiny little package, the Seven has the aerodynamics of a barn door. Between the flat windscreen and the sweeping front fenders scooping up air, the Seven has one of the worst drag coefficients in the sporting world: It runs into a wall of drag at about 80 mph.

The windscreen also makes the Lotus Seven into one of the least pleasant road cars that I have ever driven. At even moderate speeds, the wind buffeting is constant and awful. This combines with bad ergonomics (the seat is a pad on the floor, the back is a sheet of plywood), a feeling of vulnerability (your elbow is about a foot off the pavement) and a buckboard ride on rough roads to make an experience only a fanatic could enjoy. A 30-mile drive over great roads on a splendid summer’s day convinced me that the one I was driving needed to become a vintage racer.

Turning it up

As a racing car, everything changes. The windscreen goes away, and insecurity is handled by a roll bar, five-point belts, a helmet and driving gear. Track surfaces are smooth, and the engine gets another 30–40 horses. The driving position isn’t bad if you’re concentrating on racing, and the stiff chassis and light weight make the car handle more like a sports racer than a production car.

On the track, a well-prepared Super Seven is both a giggle to drive and amazingly fast, particularly on short tracks like Sears Point and Laguna Seca (it still hits an aerodynamic wall at about 100). I recall a mid-’80s Monterey Historics where a planned showdown between a team 289 Cobra and a Grand Sport Corvette was spoiled when a Super Seven simply drove away from both of them.

Though cool, iconic (Wikipedia says there are over 160 companies who have built “Sevenesque” equivalents), and a great race car, Lotus Sevens have never really become collectible. Their value is set by what I call weapons-grade considerations (“How much fun can I have with it?”), with little other value assigned, and those prices have remained very constant over the past 20 years.

Today’s subject car was clearly a street toy and sold in the middle of the SCM Pocket Price Guide range. A well-prepared racer would be worth about the additional cost it would take to make this car into one, so I would say fairly bought and sold for either approach. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Silverstone Auctions.)

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