New Supra, new TG TV, plus a drive of the brand-new Porsche 911. This week...in cars
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Another retro Caterham Sprint? Indeed. Can’t blame ‘em, though – last year’s charming Sprint sold out its 60-strong production run inside a week. Add flared, running-board wings, chromed lights and a wooden steering wheel to the Caterham Seven 160 Classic, garnish with ye olde paint and the queues stretch around the proverbial village green. So what makes the Super Sprint Super, so to speak? Nice alliteration. Well, Caterham wanted to apply the same wattle-and-daub nostalgia schtick to a Caterham of slightly more intent. The sort of Caterham that brings out the caddish Toad of Toad Hall in you, and might tempt you into a track day at Goodwood, followed by a ruddy good thrashing down Hampshire’s B-roads on the way home, instead of a pottering amble. As a result, the ‘race-tuned’ 660cc three-cylinder Suzuki engine, complete with a turbocharger generating about as much pressure as your desk fan, has been bumped from 80 to 95bhp. There’s a proper limited-slip diff too, instead of the standard Sprint’s open differential. And the windscreen is now a cost-option, with ‘Brooklands aero screens’ fitted as standard instead.
I say ‘screens’ – you get two if you stick with two seats. If you’re really serious about trimming the already minute 490kg kerbweight, you can opt to have a single-seater layout. And a ‘screen’, singular. The driver seat is still on the right-hand side, mind – this isn’t a BAC Mono from Last of the Summer Wine. Six European racing circuit-inspired liveries, with contrast-colour nose cones, are exclusive to the Super Sprint, along with roundels and racing decals. The 12-inch Moto-Lita wooden steering wheel remains the focal point of a thoughtfully backdated cabin, and for yer-genuine Because Racecar intent, there’s a bespoke metal battery cut-off master switch proudly jutting from the dashboard. So it’s a tad more Goodwood Revival than a Festival of Speed… Funny you should mention the Revival. The Super Sprint was actually announced at the throwback motoring festival last summer. Before anyone had driven one, the 60-strong production run sold out – in seven hours. You’re looking at the fastest-selling Caterham in history – 60 years since the Seven was created. Hang on – you haven’t told me how much the punters paid… Before accessories, the Super Sprint costs £29,995. And thirty grand for 95bhp and a steering wheel made of tree instead of cow might strike you as a touch steep. But that’s arbitrary, isn’t? The Super Sprint’s blend of charm, quasi-motorsport pedigree and quality touches had every example spoken for in less time than it takes to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Caterham could’ve probably charged more, then. But this isn’t a car that suits a greedy attitude. It takes up microscopic amounts of road space. It uses very little fuel. And mostly, you only need mild actions to get big results from the car. Small pedal prods summon useful gusto from the uprated motor, and will easily lock the ABS-free brakes up on a greasy surface. But even a relatively leisurely Caterham is still quite exciting, right? Absolutely, it’s a complete tonic. As my colleague Ollie Marriage discovered in the Caterham Sprint last year, the gearing and turbo lag mean the car – even with extra potency – isn’t fast per se, but it feels quicker than it is, and that’s tantamount to sports car utopia. Might feel rather outgunned if a GT3 or GT-R starts hassling you on circuit, mind you. If in doubt, brake later. The ‘Dijon’ themed SS we drove had a mere 700 miles behind its 145mm 14-inch tyres, and could’ve done with twice that. It’s quick off the mark but after romping though first and second, third is a middling gear and then it’s a leaping chasm to fourth. The clutch of this particular Seven needed a more decisive rebound and the gearbox didn’t much care for finding second when it was cold. Or reverse, when it was warm. Nice shift, though. Less notchy than the last couple of Sevens I’ve driven. Is anyone really going to track their Super Sprint in anger? Caterham themselves say so. Their official website states that the company’s flagship retro model is “for the discerning chap or chapess who prefers the unbridled thrill of the race track to the constraints of the public highway.” Now, a machine that accelerates from 0-60mph in about 6.5 seconds and tops out at 100mph is pushing the limits of the phrase ‘unbridled thrills’. But if Caterham’s getting carried away with the rhetoric, we can forgive them, because the Super Sport is the sort of car you find yourself being a little bit swept away by. Fingertipping the dainty steering wheel, teasing the stumpy gearlever across its ultra-short gates, and having your backside beaten up by the live rear axle’s hyperactive bucking – you’re very busy in there, shoehorned between steering wheel rim, bodywork and tonneau cover. The airstream is accelerated headlong through the letterbox-sized slot between the aero screen and the bonnet, and attacks your brow with spray and draughts. Caterham’s official pictures, as seen above, were shot in warmer times. This time of year, it’s a tad more character-building to thread oneself into the Seven’s narrow tube of a cockpit and brave the elements. So, this is not your serious drivers’ Seven. You can go a lot faster for less: the rather-batty 420R costs under £29k if you build it yourself. But so charming is the Super Sprint, it sidesteps cynicism and feels like a terrifically authentic trinket. I should imagine those 60 individuals who shelled out for one before ever having sat in it will create some of their happiest motoring memories pedaling it through the British countryside. Whether they’re ‘chaps’, or ‘chapesses’…