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The Top Gear car review: Caterham Seven
For:Purist driving experience, old school charm meets new age ability
Against:Cramped, uncomfortable, ancient-looking, old interior
What is it?
If you look hard enough, you’ll find Caterham Sevens on some ancient cave drawings. Probably. The archetypal old-stager is based on a design by Lotus founder Colin Chapman and hasn’t changed in 60-odd years. For what is fundamentally a two-seat tub with wheels, stripped and spartan, it remains a seminal driving experience for those interested in driving rather than simply travelling.
Recently, Caterham simplified its range, filling the gaps between the base 270 (the diddy three-cylinder 160 has gone) and bonkers 620 with the 310, 360 and 420 models. Each is named after its power-to-weight figure, so given they all weigh around 500kg, just divide those numbers in half for the bhp figures. All engines are sourced from Ford, and can grow from 1.6-litres to 2.0-litres and have potential to be strapped up with a supercharger if white knuckles are something you’re looking for from a car.
Equipped with modern engines and brakes, the Seven can scare even the most outrageously powerful supercars – helped in part by modest dimensions and steering that connects directly to your brain. In the most powerful cars, 0-62mph is possible in 2.8 seconds. So it’s quick. Also uncomfortable, cramped and noisy, with a devastatingly crappy fabric hood arrangement that’s harder to put up than a broken tent. It, of course, remains an absolute TG favourite.
If you’re mad enough, you can build one yourself. It’s claimed that, armed with just a simple set of tools and 70 hours of free time, even the most mechanically deficient human should be able to transform Caterham’s pile of boxes into a road-legal car. To make sure there’s no room for artistic interpretation, all kits come fully wired, with the instruments in place, the fuel and brake lines fitted and all essential safety equipment secured. Essentially, all the other parts are just bolt-ons. It’s like an Ikea flat-pack with an exhaust.
In an era of three-phase charging, electric torque- vectoring and turbine range-extenders, the Seven is as simple as things get this side of a pedal car: a steel spaceframe chassis, engine at the front, power at the rear, and driver slung over the back axle to feel everything the featherweight is doing. It’s driving purity.