Dirty weekend: Autoblog meets Caterham (Part II)


Read the second part of Autoblog's encounter with the iconic sports car...

Caterham's uncompromised approach certainly makes the Seven cumbersome around town. The non-power assisted steering and bolt-action five-speed manual gearbox required a fair bit of heft to bend to our will, but it didn't take long to start guessing at how much nuance there was hidden behind all that weight.

On the outskirts of town we inevitably buried the accelerator pedal. Liberated from the lardy hatchback and shoehorned into Caterham's flyweight frame, the 175bhp petrol engine slingshots the Seven to 60mph in less than 4.8 seconds, but it is the physicality of the car's performance which eclipses the figures.

The Roadsport models are not as extreme as the Superlights, and the Duratec's power isn't delivered with the relentless thrust of say, a KTM Crossbow - instead the car shrieks its free-revving way to the redline in a resolutely old-school kind of way.

Mixed with gale force wind and fat-wobbling vibrations, the cacophony of the Roadsport's acceleration made us lift off and slip back into the stream of slower traffic for a little adjustment. This turned out to be a good thing because it is when you're stuck behind builders' vans and school run SUVs that Caterham reveals its party piece.

While any sports car worth its salt come alive on the open road, most need to be driven hard if you're going to feel like you've extracted the best from them. But this simply isn't the case with a Caterham. The sheer purity of the car's raw ability means the Seven rewards you at speeds well below the national limit.

The reason for this is simple. Unlike its modern rivals there is no layer of technology or sound deadening or extraneous weight to detach you from a symbiotic relationship with the car's controls. While the Roadsport's inherently softer nature make its straight line speed seem less aggressive and more manageable, it is still focused enough to make exiting the apex on the even the most mediocre corner feel like you just conquered Druids in the wet. It is that feeling of intimate involvement which keeps people coming back to Caterham, and probably the reason the Roadsport is its biggest seller. This car is a 550kg reminder of why you thought you liked driving in the first place.

The technological advances of the past five decades might have passed Caterham by, but the car is all the better for it because its mechanical purity remains utterly uncorrupted by the clutter of safety, comfort or practical compromise. The Seven is not a sentimental throwback, but an evolutionary tangent all of its own - a tantalising mutation of the car gene that shows us the way things were, and how they might be again.