Terence McCarthy, Co-Editor of Chicane Lotus Drivers Club Magazine
The launch of a new model from Caterham is always of interest, and the recent arrival of the Caterham Super Seven 1600 was no different. “Welcome to the New Old School” I read on the Caterham website. The photographs show a distinct and deliberate 1970’s look (and, of course, even earlier Lotus 7s), complete with“clam shell” wings, and a £300/€335 “optional extra” Mota-Lita wooden rim steering wheel. It has Twin 40s throttle bodies on the Sigma, with their K&N covers exposed in the bonnet side. I used the configuration tool to select the bare minimum of “extras” that I would consider necessary, and would have been looking at a £40k/€44635 package to build myself!
Somewhat underwhelmed by all this, I wondered what was the motoring press world’s reaction to this retro-inspired Seven? I looked at a number of articles, many of which, to my disappointment merely parroted what I took to be the company’s press pack words and photographs. However, I did expect the remainder to be similar, commenting on the handling, performance, and the fun factor of the Seven. I also hoped they would compare the new model with other current Caterham Sevens. Neither proved to be the case, but at least two articles noted the differences between the intended market and those looking for performance “bang for the buck”.
Here are a few figures from the Caterham website:
Engine: 1.6 litre Ford Sigma
Max Power (bhp/rpm): 135 @ 6,800
Max Torque (Nm/rpm): 165 @ 4,100
0-60 mph (0 - 96.56 Km/h): 5.0 seconds
Power-to-weight: 250 bhp-per-tonne
Top speed: 122mph (196 Km/h)
Basic price £ 33'495 or € 37'560
However, the base price for the Seven 270 is £6000/€6,729 less for the same performance. It’s hard to see where this difference lies apart from the wings, the leather seats and the throttle bodies. The higher performance 310 (with more power and a higher top speed) starts over £4500/€5,047 cheaper! Even the 420 with 210bhp, and a 136mph top speed available is only some £1500/€1,682 more expensive. The intended purchasers seem to be like those who bought the limited edition Sprint and Super Sprint, and will appreciate the looks and overall style without necessarily wanting race performance and handling that some other models offer.
The new Super Seven 1600 provoked a mixed reception from the press, examples being: “ride quality is surprisingly fluid on the tall-sidewalled tyres and road-biased suspension”, but “the way the Super Seven steers, corners and goes makes most modern sports cars feel like you’re driving in oven gloves and hobnail boots”. Another, however, considers that “mighty headwinds are enough to make the 565kg Seven feel like it’s suddenly frozen in time, halted in its tracks like a dragon fly hovering in a breeze”. One, comparing the Super Seven 1600 to the Suzuki engined car, said it felt “flaccid”, and a second thought “Regular … Sevens offer better value for money”. But “this is a car you buy for the way it drives” says another, although one writer thought it was intended for “those customers who do not intend to play Russian roulette every time they leave the garage”, implying less than the sharp-edged performance and handling for which Sevens are renowned. One considered the handling was not helped by the large diameter Mota-Lita wheel, and another commented that one should “save up a little more money and buy a ‘proper’ Caterham that’s built for driving”.
So who is the Super Seven 1600 aimed at? It has a classic retro look, and some very appealing features, and if the sell-out success of the previous limited edition Sprint and Super Sprint models is any indication there will be enough buyers to make this an equal winner. These will be, I suspect, those who appreciate its looks, as well as the handling and performance, which, while not at the sharp end, will still give an exciting and rewarding drive. One writer considers that philosophy of the car has not changed, but only softened, and, agreeing, I feel that this makes the new model one that will appeal to a wider audience. “Autocar” claims “There’s no sensible reason for buying a Caterham” and they may be right, but they’re missing the point – it’s about the enjoyment of owning and driving a high performing classic vehicle, which is very hard to beat at any price. Although it’s not for me, I think that Caterham has another winner in the “new, old” Super Seven 1600.