Drive a Caterham. Want a Caterham. It's a recurring theme. And last week I drove a Caterham around Anglesey Circuit in glorious weather. Surprise! I really, really want a Caterham! Sensory overload comes as standard in a Seven. But cresting a rise, throttle pinned and in a perfect four-wheel drift as a stunning panorama of sun-dappled Irish Sea and Snowdonian mountains opens out before you is as close to motoring perfection as it gets.
MAY 24th 2016
Dan Trent – Needing A Caterham Supersport R
I have comparably vivid memories from each time I've driven one. There was the R300 I drove back from Betws-y-Coed to Hertfordshire in an autumnal six-hour B-road blast, guided by little more than a scribbled list of directions Sellotaped to the dashboard. And illuminated by the occasional lick of flame from the exhaust by my right elbow. The basic 1.6, 125hp Roadsport that carried me across the Alps, leaving me sunburned, deafened from the tunnels and grinning for weeks afterwards. The 360R whose roof started peeling off in the pouring rain on the M6 as I drove back from Oulton Park, leaving me weaving across three lanes of traffic, one hand on the wheel, the other gripping a flapping piece of vinyl and my only chance of staying dry. In any other car this would be a deal breaker. I was still fired up from driving it on track and shrugged it off as all part of the experience.
But which Caterham to buy? There's not really any such thing as a cheap one. But they hold their value too, which helps the man maths justification. The £50,000 supercharged 620R I was driving at Anglesey is the current mentalist of the range, picking up from where the R500 (immortalised by that Stig lap around the Top Gear test track) left off. These appeal, experience showing that whichever Caterham you're driving always feels quick enough. Until you drive the next, more powerful one. And from there's a slippery slope from the basic 1.6 Sigma you told yourself was more than enough to supercharged 2.0-litre and expletives every time you go near the throttle.
Those with experience of Sevens always come back to the normally aspirated mid-level cars being the sweetest all-round balance though. That R300 I drove was a case in point, the 360R I took to Oulton its equivalent in the current range. For a period between these it was known as the Supersport R, and that's the one I've picked out. Not cheap at £32,000 but it comes with the cachet of official Caterham Selected provenance with a factory inspection and 12-month warranty. And a free track day. I'd be cashing that in on day of collection I think.
It is, I think, a nice balance between the classic appeal and track-focused fun, having desirable upgrades like the DeDion rear axle, limited-slip diff, widetrack front suspension and the lower floor. It's missing the optional six-speed gearbox but the 180hp 2.0-litre Duratec is torquey enough for that not to matter and there's enough power to mooch in a high gear but sufficient revs to really nail it to the redline when you're on it. The colour scheme is classy too, though I might be tempted to swap the seats for something racier and put the newer matte black lights and screen surround for a more contemporary look.
You can't guarantee every drive will be as evocative as some of those ones I recall so fondly. But there's no such thing as a boring one in a Caterham. And you're off to a racing start for creating some new and equally vivid memories.
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