With the build finished and the car on the road, I thought I’d start wrapping the blog up with some reflections on the build.
The car was delivered in October 2017, and I’d planned to do a winter build and have the car on the road for Spring 2018. This turned out to be wildly optimistic, mostly due to inexperience and limited spare time.
Especially towards the beginning of the build, I was concerned about doing something wrong, so took the build at a very slow pace, making sure I read the manuals thoroughly and got familiar with the car. This did accelerate as I got through the build, and became a bit more confident in both the manual and my own ability. Certainly I noticed that when a job was to be done on both sides of the car, the second side took a fraction of the time!
The other thing I’d over-estimated was how much spare time I would have – especially with two young children! Once it became clear that Spring was not going to happen, I resigned myself to a slower build anyway. There seemed little point rushing and not enjoying the build experience. Limited weekends also meant the build went in phases of building/not building, with a couple of months where very little was done. At points, I also caught myself thinking of the car more as a project to be delivered rather than a car to be built, and I had to consciously push myself to re-engage with it – once I did though, I quickly got back into enjoying the build each time.
Estimates for total build time vary, but a rough guide is 100 hours. I know I spent considerably more than that, although I don’t know the actual number. 100 seems doable, and I’m sure if I were to do it again now, I would be much closer to that scale of effort.
Build manual and parts (the “Caterham experience”)
Wow, the manual is bad. This car has been relatively unchanged for 60 years, and they still can’t put a decent manual together…
I ended up switching manuals from the older text-heavy version to the new diagram-centric version relatively early on, and the latter was definitely an improvement, although neither completely covers all aspects of the build. There were times when I ended up flicking between the manuals for direction, and frequently ended up on others’ blogs or emailing Derek for advice on something not covered by the manuals.
This really feels like something that could easily be remedied with little effort.
The main frustration with the manual is that it’s hard to tell if you’re building it right. You end up either stopping for clarification or taking some educated guesses at times to carry on. This was not always successful either, and caused a couple of re-work items in the PBC (e.g. seat washers).
The other key challenge impacting whether you feel you are building correctly is that some parts didn’t fit and needed some adjusting/shaping (widening holes etc.). For these I wasn’t sure whether it was the part or, whether I’d done something incorrectly. As the build progressed (and I got more familiar with the “Caterham experience”), my confidence in adjusting these grew until it actually became a familiar, almost funny refrain during the build.
Part of the challenge I had on my build (which may not be a problem for others) was that my car was delivered with part references from the older manual (labelled bags etc.), but the parts are labelled differently for the new manual (or not clearly identified), so I had to spend time with each step trying to make sure I had the right parts. Parts also tended to be packaged in odd combinations, with bags often containing bits not required for the build. This did at least get easier later in the build when there were fewer parts remaining, however.
Derek and the blogs
Because of the issues with the manual, I ended up emailing Derek a lot early in the build. He was always very helpful, and sent very quick responses. I found that short emails to him with photos got the best responses. He obviously knows every aspect of the Caterham build – not sure what I would have done without his help at times!
I found others’ blogs to be a really useful source of information too, particularly purplemeanie.co.uk and caterham420rbuild.com. They just help validate that you’re not going too far off course, and photos of the car at each step really help supplement the gaps in the manual.
I also enjoyed writing my blog – taking the time each day to capture what I had done and the experience, and it’s something I can keep to remember the build now the car is complete. It also turned out to be useful in the PBC debating a couple of warranty items!
Achievement and frustration
There’s no doubt that building your own car brings a real sense of achievement. It’s great seeing the car develop as you go, transforming from a shell into a completed car – slowly shaping into a Caterham as the key parts go on.
There are also a couple of really significant bits of the build – the main one being the installation of the engine. Navigating the engine and gearbox hanging from a hoist above the car and then into position was probably the most rewarding and terrifying part of the whole build.
I found that the parts of the build I most enjoyed were where I could bolt the chunky stuff together: suspension, prop shaft, rear hubs etc. Anything that was nuts, bolts and spanners was the most enjoyable aspect. As a result, I now know every bolt on this car, and feel really confident working with it.
The aspects of the build I enjoyed less were the more fiddly parts: headlights/wiring and grommets (what a PITA that was), engine plumbing and the last few bits and pieces of IVA prep. Some of these jobs just took hours for no visible gain, and for the IVA prep there was limited information as to what “done” looked like, so I ended up getting a bit 80/20 towards the end, willing to let Caterham tidy it up a bit rather than spend lots of hours with an uncertain goal.
I did screw a couple of things up too. The main one was the bolts for the bell housing and engine mount where I broke the thread, although I maintain this was the fault of the torque values in the manual (especially as others had the same problem). It was easily remedied at PBC though, so no lasting damage.
The other irritating thing was that I managed to scratch the bodywork twice during the build. Entirely my fault, as I got too casual working near the bodywork over time and should have taken more care to cover it up as I did earlier in the build. That said, I was able to repair the paint damage, and I now already have some stone chips from it being on the road, so you can’t get too precious – it’s to be driven, after all! I can always get it resprayed/have the wings replaced down the road.
The other couple of mis-steps were in how I secured the wings and throttle cable, both of which ended up getting re-done (at increased cost) with the PBC. These were the points I strayed from the guide, so that was a clear lesson.
Build space and help required
Oh, for a double garage! I completed my build in a standard garage, and although it was doable, it did require some contortion at times, and I had to continuously move bikes etc. out of the way each time I wanted to work on it, which meant I couldn’t just do a quick 30 minutes when I had time very often.
I think I completed 95%+ of the build on my own, but at times help is definitely required, particularly for the engine, LSD, brakes and lifting/lowering the car. Thanks Brendan, Ben, Tom, Rach, Ewan and Zoë! 🙂 Brendan in particular really helped with tools and time, which I really appreciated, and Ben’s help with the engine installation was invaluable.
I made a few changes as I worked through the build, the main one being to fit an FIA-spec roll bar. I also bought some aeroscreen brackets, although I ended up not fitting these as I couldn’t get them positioned correctly without drilling bodywork. If I do switch to an aeroscreen at any point (unlikely, I think), I’ll have another go with these.
I also bought a high-level third brake light, half-hood, smaller side mirrors and some rubber to line the aluminium bodywork in the boot to be installed after the build. I plan to get some LED bulbs and possibly some clear indicator lenses and repeaters too (although fitting these with the wings now glued could be difficult).
Another aspect of this experience I have really enjoyed has been the Caterham community on Facebook. The groups were always friendly and helpful (S3 vs. SV pontificating aside!), and a great source of knowledge. These will be something I will stay a part of going forwards, and I’m looking forward to meeting more people on club nights, drives and events too.
I can’t remember the first time I knew I wanted to build a Caterham, but it was a lot of years ago. The experience completely lived up to my expectations even though it was probably a bit tougher than I’d anticipated at times, and definitely took longer than planned! I think I’d rather that than it was too easy, however (although Caterham – seriously – fix the manual).
I love that I now own a fantastic car and motoring icon where I know every nut and bolt. I caught myself thinking today as I turned into a quick corner, “I built this!” 🙂
I really enjoyed the build experience (and writing this blog), and I’ll happily tinker with it and work on it in future, but I’m looking forward to using it now, with the roof off, sun beating down and exhaust rumbling away beside me (above 4,000 rpm)…