First drive: Caterham Seven Supersport
The Caterham Seven is one of the few cars you consciously prepare for before you even turn up to drive it. Days before the allotted date, you watch the sky for signs of rain. You think about what to wear. You will rummage in cupboards for those trainers with almost no sole left because you want to feel those pedals. And in the case of the new Supersport, you will be on the phone begging old friends to let you borrow their motorbike helmet.
That's because the latest addition to the Caterham range is derived directly from the car which competes in the manufacturer's one-make race series, and therefore replaces the Seven's tiny windscreen with an even smaller strip of plastic which blows the airflow neatly into your fragile eyeballs.
But it's exactly that kind of little foible which makes us adore the car a little more than is appropriate for a collection of nuts and bolts and bodywork. Slotting into the tiny cockpit is like sliding into a coffin designed by Colin Chapman. The driving position is achingly brilliant. The Supersport comes with composite, completely uncushioned seats, but they moulded to your correspondent like a mother's touch.
Despite featuring a thoroughly modern 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine, the Seven splutters into life like a scaled down Battle of Britain fighter. We practically hum Jerusalem as we force the overly tight motorbike helmet onto our head, and set off onto the Surrey mean streets.
Immediately it's apparent just how much stiffer the Supersport is from standard. The model inherits the track car's uprated springs and dampers as well as its stiffer anti-roll bars, and the resulting agility is apparent even at low speeds. It's probably this impression that makes us gun the Seven up to speed almost as soon as the town of Caterham's small urban sprawl has fallen away.
Impressively, as well as igniting the firecracker in front of you, the Supersport's right pedal also seems to control a fishhook inserted in your cheeks. By the time the Christmas tree light on the dash indicates we should change up, we're grinning like a maniac inside our tiny helmet. Swashbuckling our way through the tight, close-ratio five-speed gearbox, our headache disappears. By the time we exit the first roundabout sideways we're already calculating how many possessions we would have to sell to acquire this bright orange box of wonderfulness.
If you ask nicely, and indicate you're interested in buying, Caterham will lend you a car for the day for a small fee. Our advice? Don't. The Seven is as addictive as a free lap dance, and will likely land in just as much trouble with your other half. Tucked into your helmet, the Supersport is a noisy, solitary and special love. With a list price pitched beneath the Superlights at £22,995, it's dangerously affordable and, thanks to a brilliant combination of components, endlessly invigorating. It isn't the quickest car Caterham sells by some distance, but it might just be the best.