All About the Driving
For a purely instinctive driving experience where the rules of the road – and the rules of physics – barely apply, one has choice. Spend £2m on a Bugatti Veyron SuperSport or spend roughly 2.5% of that on a Caterham Seven. You don’t get doors or a roof. The interior is on a par with any decent Fisher Price offering and the steering wheel looks like it was bolted on as an afterthought, but for absolute precision, jowl-distorting, jet fighter-esque acceleration and pure, unadulterated driving pleasure, the Caterham is a box-ticker.
History of the Caterham Seven
Between 1957 and 1972, the Lotus Seven was a lightweight sports car designed by legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman. It was based on the company ethos of low weight and simplicity. Around 2,500 Sevens were sold and after production ended, the design rights were bought by Caterham (owned since April 2011 by Air Asia and QPR top man Tony Fernandes) who rebranded the car the Caterham Seven.
Debuted at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show priced at £1,056 fully built (or £536 in kit form), the Lotus Seven was one of the first cars produced in the UK that was as comfortable on the road as it was on the track. In similar vein to the Porsche 911, the VW Beetle and the Fiat 500, a model from the 50s is as recognisable as a brand new one.
When Caterham took over, it gave Lotus the scope to focus their attention on more up-market sports cars – the Elan and the Esprit are still beautiful 30-odd years on and the 2014 Esprit gives a front-end nod to modern Lamborghinis – and today’s Caterham Sevens are direct descendants of the original Lotus.
Starting with the 7 Series 4 in 1973 (the carry-over from the Lotus production line), there have been almost 70 iterations of the Caterham Seven with Ford engines, Rover engines, Cosworth engines and Vauxhall engines and dozens of different models, from entry-level versions to seriously hardcore track racers.
One of Caterham’s most famous, and extreme models, the R500 EVO was a 250 bhp, 2.0 litre bored-out version of the Rover K-Series 230 bhp 1.8 litre R500. With reported sales of three (not three hundred or three thousand, just three), it set a series of earth-shattering performance benchmarks that stand to this day. Perhaps the most impressive was the 0 – 100 mph – 0 record, which was set at 10.73 seconds beating the Ferrari Enzo (ten times the price) into second place.
The R500 EVO also recorded the fastest ever time around the Bedford Autodrome West Circuit for a production car (timed by EVO magazine), beating a Porsche Carerra GT. The only car to have posted a quicker time was the Radical SR3 1300, a car with less of an interior and more of a cockpit that looks like the illegitimate lovechild of a 70s F1 car and a cheap Ferrari kit-car.
Caterham’s latest version, the Seven 620 R is the most hardcore, fastest version they have ever made, presumably until the next one.
It has a 2.0 litre supercharged Ford Duratec engine delivering 310 bhp, massive torque and a power-to-weight ratio of 568 bhp per tonne (the Lamborghini Aventador at £300,000 has a power-to-weight ratio of ‘just’ 426 bhp). It will hit 60 mph in a blisteringly-quick 2.79 seconds, will max out at 155 mph and each one is hand built in Kent.
Laden with carbon fibre with a limited slip-diff, six-speed sequential gearbox and a track-proven pedigree, the off-the-shelf car is a few pence short of £50,000 but a few optional extras can increase the bill by another five. Fifty-five grand for what is essentially an unbelievably quick go-kart is approaching Porsche Boxster GTS money but it offers performance that intimidates cars four times the price and gives owners an F1-type experience. For serious drivers, that’s more important than sat-navs and heated front seats.
There have been dozens and dozens of small, bespoke car makers that have come and gone over the years but the Caterham Seven (and in its guise as a Lotus) has endured the test of time. It’s focused driving. It’s driving a stripped-out, hunkered down sports car the way they’re supposed to be driven and it was conceived, designed, created and built right here in Britain.