New wheels, new colours, no roof – wave goodbye to your afternoon productivity
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The colour on that Caterham Seven Sprint is superb. It is, isn’t it? If you’re old enough to remember back to when this colour was all the rage first time round, you’ll get why Caterham has called this shade Camberwick Green. If not, here’s some pub trivia. Camberwick Green was a kids BBC TV show made in 1966. They only ever made 13 episodes (which came as a surprise to me, as I assumed there had been hundreds) and it was written by a chap called Gordon Murray (not that one). It’s one of six retro colours, all dating back to the Sixties that the new limited edition Seven Sprint is available in. Others include Mellow Yellow, BRG and Misty Blue. Limited edition? How many are Caterham making? Only 60, and they’re already sold out. £27,995 a piece and you couldn’t choose to build yours at home.
But isn’t it based on the 160 Classic that costs only £19,495? It is. Proving that if you get the detail right you can pretty much charge what you like. So let’s get through the basics before we turn our attention to those details. The Sprint has the same 660cc turbocharged Suzuki engine as the 160 Classic, driving through a five speed manual gearbox to a live back axle with an open differential. It has coil, rather than leaf, springs, but cutting edge it ain’t. 80bhp at 7000rpm and 79lb ft of torque at 3400rpm is enough to send the 490kg Sprint to 60mph in 6.9secs and on to a maximum speed of 100mph. It’s not fast fast, but it feels fast – which is more important, more of the time. Before we get to the question of speed, what about the detailing? This is what sets the Sprint apart and goes a long way towards justifying the price hike. The Sprint feels special. The period touches, from the fonts on the bootlid badges to the leather colour, paint, cream and steel wheels – and perhaps above all – the Momo-Lita wheel, are beautifully co-ordinated. There’s a real deftness to this work. I love the bubble rear lights, but wouldn’t normally be a fan of the flared wings. They work here, though. Together all this gives the Sprint a very different feel to other Sevens. This is emphatically not a track car. It’s not even a Caterham you want to drive fast. What it wants to do is get on little roads and poop-poop its way around. It’s a joyful, enthusiastic little thing. Yes, it drives the same as a Classic, but somehow the retro detailing brings out that side of its character even more, helped no end by the steering wheel. How can a steering wheel make a difference? Well, firstly it looks and feels utterly gorgeous – thin wood rims deserve a special place in component heaven. Secondly, the rim diameter is 70mm bigger. This has the effect of reducing steering effort as you’re not having to lever the wheel so much, while also softening steering kickback and fight. I adore it, with a couple of caveats… It takes up more space in the cabin. The sole choice you used to have with a Caterham’s driving position was whether to have your elbows in or out. Now they’re always out. And entry/exit is trickier too – it’s easy to wedge your left knee between wheel and transmission tunnel if you’re a bit eager – with painful consequences. Apart from that, keep the doors on, lose the roof and you’re away.
Away where? Wherever you like. It’s fun in town because it’s way narrower than you imagine and soft enough to soak up a speed bump. Unless it’s a tall one. B-roads and below are its natural domain, but it will happily buzz along motorways, as long as the driver is hardy/prepared enough. Feels a bit wrong though, being out among all the modern machinery. I went to the kind of territory where pheasants hang out and the Seven Sprint was perfect. I even went for a potter off-road, because it reminded me a bit of a trials car. If you don’t know what trials driving is, imagine King of the Hammers, but replace baseball caps and beer with flat caps and flasks of hot soup. It’s a quieter, gentler pursuit, much like this Caterham itself. Does it not make much noise then? It has a game go at sounding rorty, but principally it just makes noise. The three cylinder isn’t particularly tuneful and the engine is the one thing that isn’t in keeping with the period dress. It needs to have that farty chugginess at low revs, all blurty exhaust and snap of torque, but the turbo doesn’t get going properly until 3500rpm. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not slow off the mark because the gearing is so short (the 100mph top speed isn’t limited by aero, but gearing), and the engine is smooth enough that you can happily tolerate high revs (just as well as 7,000rpm comes up quite fast in second and third). But I‘d like it to have more personality. And the gearbox to be more co-operative. There’s every chance this particular Sprint has had a tough first 2,000 miles, but I’d like the clutch to be more heavily sprung and the gearbox to be happier to change down into first and reverse. Does this make a big difference? Nah, because you’ll be driving yours in the manner it deserves to be driven, which is with carefree verve in gears above second. Then it’s a hoot, a little treasure, so biddable and communicative, but tootling round at half the speed of regular, more tracky, Sevens. Just rediscover the lost art of heel-and-toeing and you’ll be fine. More tracky Sevens do a better job of keeping themselves in contact with the tarmac though. The Sprint’s front end is lovely – operated by the tactile delight that is the Moto-Lita steering wheel the nose is game, biddable and reasonably composed. The back end is more… bouncy. Almost akin to a spring lamb on a bumpy road. And you, as the driver, have your rump on the back axle, which then has a good go at jouncing you clean out of the seat. But you don’t care, you really don’t, because you’ll be holding on to your hat and giggling too hard. And if it rains just waterproof yourself and carry on – those long fenders mean you don’t get soaked from self-inflicted spray. So this or…? A Morgan 3-Wheeler, surely? Or perhaps a Morgan 4/4. Either way, a Morgan. They have genuine authenticity of course, where the Caterham’s is falsified, but you know what, with this plate on, it properly fools people. At the petrol station this morning a chap came up and commended me on the restoration job I’d done… The Sprint is the most evocative Seven I’ve driven, the detailing – and the quality of the detailing - is the best Caterham has ever done. The Seven turns 60 next year, this anchors it back in that time. After all, everyone else has had a go at plundering a back catalogue, why not Caterham?