Caterham Academy Factory Build or Self Build

One question that seemed to be on everyone’s lips from the first time we all gathered at the Midlands office last December was “Did you build your car yourself?”.

Personally I would never have entertained a self build operation due to two simple reasons. Firstly the time I would need to dedicate would not fit into an already busy and hectic work and family life. Secondly my mechanical skills are more to be desired and I was sure that impatience of getting it wrong and the constant trial and error that would ensue, would only lead to increased frustration that would in turn stoke the furnace of my first reason. So in simple terms, it was a factory build solution from the get-go for me!

Overheard discussions of “missing parts” from the kit, SVA obstacles, SVA test fees, investments in special tools were all discussions that I could not partake, thankfully! If I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times and that was “If I was to do it again, I’d let Caterham build it”, this comment a testimony to the backwardly installed headlamps on one specimen that was undergoing major resurrection work the week prior to the Donnington trackday.

So, if you are contemplating entering the Caterham Academy 2012 series, my advice is simple. Commit early and get a pre December 2011 build slot so you can concentrate on your driving skills. The balance of reduced costs of a self build is minimal at the end of the day. Pick your colour scheme and let Caterham do the rest 😉


With that question answered, the next is “Norff” or “Sowff”? I opted for a build from the Dartford factory as simply, I knew the folks from the Caterham sales office and Dartford factory with some, already Facebook chums. However four things spring to mind post delivery and those are:

1: One discussion point I picked up on at the December introduction meeting on factory built cars was the surreal comment of car weight and the use of nylon bolts for fixing the rear wheel arches. Total jibberish was my gut instinct, quite rightly endorsed by Nick Potter who explained the real reason is that when you get a shunt and an arch pings off, the nylon bolts will break without tearing the aluminium skin of the car. Dartford fits steel and Midlands fit nylon by default.

2: Both the front and rear license plates on my Dartford built car are fixed with double sided sponge pads. In the Midlands these are fitted with “Gorilla Snot”, a black silicone substance as used to fix the front wheel arches. More on that later, but after having the R500’s plate peel off somewhere along the M3 last year, a more Gorilla Snot permanent fix is the answer.


3: One thing I opted for as a post build setup was the ‘bag seat’. The logic here is that together with a more comfortable seating position, if you were hit a wall backwards, the bolts on the standard factory seats would sheer giving the potential of a more serious injury. A no brainer for me subsequent to hitting Radillion at Spa full tilt the other year. Problem was, when the guys from Midlands were removing the driver seat, ‘under breath’ comments about “Sowff” using the wrong bolts made me smile.

4: Mirrors! I know in my ‘fancy dress’ world there is a present fashion of ‘retro’, but the Austin 1100 style wing mirrors as fixed to the windscreen upright seemed as much use as a plastic frying pan. How am I supposed to see through the apex and the exit point with a Liberace boudoir mirror obstructing the view? Opt for the roll cage mounts which I am sure come as a recommended Midlands build.
In conclusion here, it would appear that the Midlands are more geared to a race specification build where Dartford appear to be more road specification build. Make your own choice here as I’m not going to evoke a Yankee and Confederate Civil War style debate here 🙂