The premium quality, South African designed and built Millennium 7 sports car is to be made available to more enthusiasts in the future. This will follow a decision by the main driver of the project, Chris Carstens, to put it on more of a business footing than has been the situation up to now, where production has been very limited and all the cars have vastly different specifications.
The Millennium 7 is yet another take on the original Lotus 7, designed and built by the legendary Colin Chapman in England in 1957. This relatively simple, but highly effective design is probably the most copied car of all time.
Records show that more than 90 companies around the world have built variations on the Lotus 7 theme. Several companies and individuals in South Africa have been involved in these projects over the years, with varying degrees of success; a high point is the fact that many locally-made Lotus 7 replicas have found their way to foreign countries as exports.
This Millennium 7 project is the result of a number of people in the SA aircraft industry living their dream by producing a purpose-built two-seater sports car on a Brentwood Park smallholding, north of Kempton Park. Aeronautical engineer Chris Carstens and his long-time friend, Kobus van der Walt, of SAA Technical, both of Kempton Park, are the driving forces behind this project, which has been under development for the past six years.
Chris, who heads up Safair Technical, has been involved in building aircraft, sports cars and even a trike over the years and the Millennium 7 was the result of a request by Kobus to design and build him a special sports car and they hit on the idea of building a Lotus 7 replica for the 21st century.
Chris and Kobus then attracted seven like-minded people from the aeronautical world to join their team, which is housed in a novel, metal aircraft hanger "tunnel" factory on the smallholding. Interest in the car is so high that Chris is already planning to erect a second, conventional factory alongside it to handle increased production.
South African-born Alastair Gibson, formerly the chief mechanic at Honda F1, is a personal friend of Chris and Kobus and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project, as well as providing valuable input in the design and build.
Automotive service providers in the Kempton Park area are also involved in the Millennium 7 project, providing skills such as spray painting, machining, laser cutting of metal panels and exhaust fabrication.
So far about 20 cars have been built or are in the process of being built.
There is already sereious interest from Australia and a sample car is being sent there for homologation by the authorities. This could lead to exports to other lucrative markets, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, in the future.
The Millennium 7 uses a complex space frame of CR12 cold rolled square tubing covered by aluminium stressed skin panels to increase stiffness. Bodywork, which is made by DAW, is of glass fibre and weighs less than 40kg. The cockpit is far larger than the original Lotus 7 to accommodate the larger build of South Africans.
A complete car with a four-cylinder Toyota engine weighs in the region of 700kg, assuring stunning performance without the need for a very powerful engine.
One area where the Millennium 7 differs from most other Lotus 7 replicas is in the rake of the windscreen, with it having a much steeper rake at 55 degrees and the screen itself is mounted in beautifully made carbon fibre A-posts.
An unusual feature of the car, which has been designed and engineered by Chris, are the partially enclosed front wheel fenders that are inspired by aircraft wheel covers - called "pants" in aero speak - and the "hub caps" on current F1 cars. The support strut still has to have a big hole cut in it and a carbon fibre scoop fitted to duct in cooling air. These fenders are among the more obvious of the many aerodynamic features integral with the design, which has evolved considerably over the years.
Front and rear suspension is independent by means of wishbones and shock absorbers with coil springs. No anti-roll bars are fitted. The Millennium 7 team even makes its own shock absorbers. The front wishbones are cast chrome moly and the rear ones are fabricated from tubing. All welding is to aircraft standards and the aeronautical background of the team members ensures very high quality for all elements that make up the car.
The Millennium 7 can be supplied as a do-it-yourself kit at a target price of about R150 000, while the aim is to provide a limited number of ready-to-drive cars to a customer's specification in the foreseeable future.
The kit will include the frame, alloy double skin panelling, bodywork, front and rear suspension, fuel tank, brakes, brake tubing, pedal box and master cylinders, steering system and a basic wiring harness. To these must be added: engine, gearbox, differential, drive shafts, radiator, steering wheel, instrumentation, wheels and tyres.
Many makes and types of engine can be fitted to the Millennium 7, although Toyota and Ford power units are the most popular - some having superchargers or turbochargers. One enthusiast fitted one of the early model cars with a turbocharged Mazda RX8 rotary engine. It is a real flyer!
A variety of gearboxes have been fitted, but all the cars use the rear differential from the E30 BMW 3-series, with its drive shafts.
The front and rear disc brakes come from the same BMW source but now the local ATE team has shown enthusiasm for the project and is making up custom, aluminium four-pot front callipers for the front and a special set up for the rear.
Chris Carstens has also had an approach from supercar enthusiast, Jose de Campos, of African Hoe, who is interested in making forgings for the front wishbones instead of the current method of casting them in chrome moly.
Chris and his team is now looking at restructuring the company so there can be a dedicated operation for making up the kits and assembling cars to a fairly standard specification.
A number of new, 2-litre Ford Focus Duratec engines have been obtained, with the intention of using them in a so-called "standard car" paired with a Ford Type 9 gearbox. These units have the advantage of affordable spare parts that are readily available, with plenty of scope for modifying them for higher performance.
There would then be a special area where cars or kits would be made to suit other makes of power train and for builds with special requirements, as well as an R&D facility. The intention is to have the new business model finalised early in the New Year
The show car that was displayed at the Zwartkops circuit in December is fitted with a modified 1600 20-valve Toyota engine matched to a Toyota T50 gearbox.
Engine management is by GoTech, with a Stack digital display to show speed, distance, revs, temperatures, pressures and the like. Steering wheel is a Sparco with quick-release system. Seats are Cobra, specially widened to fit the broader torso of a South African. .
Seat belts are from Schroth, while the wheels - 17 inch for the road and 15 inch for the track - are from Compomotive in Italy. Tyres are Dunlop. All these high-tech items were supplied by ATS Motor Sport Supplies, in Roodepoort.
The show car can also be changed quickly into a track day car with the fitting of a bolt-on chrome-moly roll cage and 15" lightweight Compomotives shod with Dunlop semi-slicks. A special luggage boot lid is fitted to clear one of the roll cage tubes.
"We are delighted at the response to our invitation for motor enthusiasts to come and view the latest version of the Millennium 7 and are looking forward to this becoming another iconic local sports car brand," commented Chris Carstens.