0-60mph: 6.9 seconds
Top speed: 100mph
This perfect little time capsule of a roadster, soaked in heritage and oozing nostalgia, might just be the ultimate feel-good car. Not only because it makes you and your passenger whoop with joy, but also because it sends out a bow wave of cheer wherever you drive it. I’ve never experienced anything like it. At every junction we were met with thumbs-ups, air punches, endless smiles of appreciation and even clapping. People filmed us on their phones and called out from their gardens.
Driving it is an unusually inclusive affair. Everyone you pass gets involved. It’s so low that you can easily lean out and put the palm of your hand on the tarmac. You gaze up at cyclists and van drivers from your prone, legs-outstretched driving position. And everyone has something to say. The car really is tiny – it only weighs 490kg. I can’t think of anything, other than maybe a go-kart or a skateboard, where a Ford Fiesta looms over you. Stopping at a junction where a young mother was waiting to cross I found myself exactly at the eye level of her toddler. He waved and smiled and made a broom brrrrroooom noise. Just like me, in fact.
It’s been a big year for this tiny car. It’s exactly six decades since the great Colin Chapman launched the Lotus Seven. In 1973, he sold the brand to Caterham, which continued to produce these lightweight, high-powered racing machines with pure, raw, driving fun coursing through their veins. As part of the celebrations, Caterham has now built this Seven Sprint – a “variant” of the iconic Seven that was planned for the 1960s but never launched. To maintain their exclusivity – and to keep the maths pleasingly simple – only 60 have been built. Which is total madness as they could easily sell hundreds more. The car’s retro sister, the more powerful SuperSprint, which was launched last month, sold out within seven hours. I suspect there will soon be more “variations” of retro Sevens coming along to keep us happy.
Updated with a 660cc 80hp, three-cylinder Suzuki engine (the same one that is installed in Caterham’s entry-level Seven 160 model), the rest of the Sprint has all four wheels planted firmly in the 60s. Handling is elemental, you feel every rut; while cornering is physical and rewarding. There are no doors to speak of, no radio and the heating and the windscreen wipers work just as they used back then – not very well. Similarly the suspension and rollover bar are reminiscent of Colin Chapman’s original. It’s lovely to look at with its flared wings and chromed bug-eye headlamps. The polished exhaust silencer is perfectly positioned to scorch the hairs off your passenger’s calves as they clamber out, which adds to the period experience. The wheels are painted cream and have shiny hub caps (when was the last time you sawhubcaps on a car?) It comes in the same colours you’d have had 60 years ago: Cream, Mellow Yellow, Regency Red, Camberwick Green (pictured here and my favourite), British Racing Green and Misty Blue.
In the cockpit, the sepia-washed impression continues. There is a wood-rimmed steering wheel and the dashboard is scarlet red, complete with the classic “oOOo” instrument layout. The stitched seat upholstery is also in striking abattoir red.
Drivers were obviously fitter and slimmer in them days. Clambering in is almost impossible, a sort of knee curl followed by a triceps dip. Once you’re in it is tight but comfortable, in the way a sardine feels snug in its tin. If you are more than 12st you’ll struggle. Two friends could barely get their arses in – and one became so wedged we had to heave him out. But if you can get in, fire it up, listen to the glorious rattling roar – and blast your way back to the 60s.
For more information, visit Caterham
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