What is it?
It seems every long-standing British car maker is trying to cash in on its heritage at the moment. Jaguar Classic and Land Rover Classic are busy restoring XKSSs and two-door Range Rovers, Morgan has successfully relaunched its 3 Wheeler and now Caterham is producing a vintage model of its own to commemorate six decades since the launch of the original Lotus Seven.
The new Sprint mixes the look and charm of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s original two-seater with the running gear, heated windscreen and watertight roof of a modern day Seven 160.
The model gets long, curving wheel arches and a red leather interior complete with a gorgeous Moto-Lita wood-rimmed steering wheel, but up front there’s a contrastingly modern Suzuki 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that’s barely larger than the battery under the bonnet. It comes mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and puts out just 80bhp, and it needs to be spinning at 7000rpm to manage even that.
What’s it like?
Yet, since the little Sprint weighs only 490kg, its power-to-weight ratio is a respectable 163bhp per tonne, so 62mph arrives in 6.9sec and its maximum speed is 100mph – which is plenty in a car that sits inches off the ground and comes with flimsy, removable doors, let me tell you. The accompanying 79lb ft of torque may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than enough to break the traction of its 155-section rear tyres.
True, the potential for fun is on offer, but you have to get into the thing first. The Sprint is based on the 160 model, which measures 1575mm wide, although the cabin is little more than half that, so for anyone of average or more height, slipping into the cockpit with the roof up involves using a variety of bespoke yoga movements I’m yet to learn the names of. Once in, leg room is very narrow and there’s barely enough space to rest your arms. In fact, your right arm will naturally fall into a curved section of the door and your left will rest on the transmission tunnel. It’s that tight.
Start it up and the three-pot rumbles into life, vibrating the body in a decidedly old-school manner. Once rolling, the engine feels more modern, with a familiar kick as the boost arrives from 2500rpm and turbo flutter when off throttle, but the short-ratio gearbox is tight and notchy and therefore contrasting to most new cars. The throw feels barely an inch long from neutral to first, but the narrow gate means you can’t rush the change as fast as you might expect.
The grip from the car’s skinny Avon tyres is low on damp winter roads, but the balanced chassis and deliciously communicative unassisted steering makes driving around its limit a joy. The car’s ride, while not harsh, is firm enough that every crack and surface change in the road vibrates its way through your backside, while your fingertips are in constant communication with the front tyres via that varnished wooden rim. Within seconds, you can gauge exactly what level of grip you’re working with, and even if you overstep the mark, the low speeds you’re travelling at make gathering it up a much more straightforward task. It proves a simple setup – solid beam axle and rear drum brakes included – can be supremely effective in the right application.
Every action translates into a noticeable reaction from the car, and while the cramped space makes working the 330mm-diameter wheel slightly uncomfortable, the resulting elbows-out driving style feels very 1960s.
Of course, the Sprint’s raw nature translates into limited long-distance cruising ability. Wind noise, road noise and vibrations, not to mention the ache from a lack of space to rest your left foot, as well as the boredom from a lack of radio are just a few of several reasons why you’d probably keep the Seven exclusively for charging down B-roads.
Should I buy one?
Arguably, £28,000 is a lot of money for such a basic Caterham, but clearly that’s proven no issue, because all 60 examples of the Seven Sprint have already found homes. And judging by the steady or rising prices of other heritage limited-edition cars, it’s entirely possible that you might pay even more for it second or third time around.
Ultimately, for those who crave the looks and simplicity of a classic model with significantly improved reliability and weatherproofing, and for those who want to experience what motoring used to be, the Seven Sprint makes a loveable proposition that’ll be hard to resist on the used market.
Caterham Seven Sprint
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £27,995; Engine 3 cyls, 660cc, turbo, petrol; Power 80bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 79lb ft at 3400rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 490kg; 0-62mph 6.9sec; Top speed 100mph; Economy 57.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 114g/km, 19%; Rivals Morgan 3 Wheeler
What is it?