What is it?
Archetypal old-stager based on a design by Lotus founder Colin Chapman 50-odd years ago, the Seven is a two-seat tub with wheels. Stripped and spartan, it remains a seminal driving experience for those interested in driving rather than simply travelling.
Equipped with modern engines and brakes, plus a kerbweight of (usually) around 550kg, the Seven can scare even the most outrageously powerful supercars – helped in part by modest dimensions and steering that connects direct to your brain. Versions range from the undercooked to the ridiculous. Basic £22,995 125bhp 1.6 Ford Sigma up to the 2.3-litre Cosworth-powered CSR with 260bhp costing £44,995, or the even more extreme Superlight R500, which pumps out 263bhp from a 2.0-litre Duartec in a 506kg car. That’s 520bhp per tonne, fact fans. Uncomfortable, cramped and noisy, with a devastatingly crappy fabric hood arrangement that’s harder to put up than a broken tent, it remains a TG favourite.
As with anything very light, the Seven is connected in a way that a big, powerful supercar can never be. Unassisted steering means that the information fed back through your palms about what the front wheels are doing is exceptional, and sitting next to the back axle means that you can react very quickly to slides or movement. Sitting next to the back axle also means that you’ll feel every single pimple on the road, lose the feeling in your legs and be low enough to be lost under a decently-sized artic, but you pays your money…
On the inside
The inside of Caterham’s little car is basic and can be described as classic. Flat dash, dials, wheel, pedals. It’s tight in there (less so if you option the ‘SV’ slightly wide-body chassis) and not comfortable. The roof is a horror, and in winter you’ll slowroast your left thigh against the transmission tunnel while getting frostbite from the gaps in the fabric doors. There’s not much more to it than that.
Even though the Seven remains the most basic of sports cars, on the right day, and when the sun is shining and the right set of bends has opened up, there’s nothing quite like it. Your eyeballs will vibrate, your back vertebrae will fuse, but your smile will be almost rictus. Manage to tame one of the really quick versions and you’ll be crowned a hero – the R500 is possibly one of the most sickeningly rapid cars around a track, though the CSR is nearly as quick and much easier to live with. Go for the six-speed sequential gearbox option on the R500 whenever you can. It’s worth it. Insurance and tax depend on engines, so it’s worth checking out what you can get for the cash.