New Old Wheels – Caterham Seven Sprint

We say: 160 classic gains period fittings with great results

caterham-sevenThe car you’re looking at is brand new. I haven’t done, as a bloke at a petrol station commended me, “a very nice restoration job” on an old Seven. It’s designed to look like one, though, as next year the Lotus Seven (as it was known until Caterham bought the rights in 1973) turns 60.

So Caterham is making 60 of these retro Sprint models. They cost $34,000 each, and have already all been sold. Underneath it’s identical to a 160 Classic, so you might question the value. However, when you have a poke around the Sprint you quickly appreciate a few things. The detailing is glorious, period-authentic and extends to every nook and cranny. It looks and feels expensive in a way no other Caterham ever has.

The pity of it is that the engine doesn’t follow suit. It’s the Suzuki-sourced 660cc turbo triple, and although it parps

caterham-seven-1

The car is worth buying for the lovely Moto-Lita steering wheel alone

loudly through a side exit exhaust, there’s no tune or rortiness to it. And the only reason I’m not criticising the turbo lag is that the gearing is so short the rev needle is soon swinging beyond 3,500rpm. Also, while the gearbox is OK when you’re batting about, getting into first and reverse can be challenging.

But you don’t care. You just don’t. Because soon you’ll be on a little road, the kind where pheasants hang out, your eyes will be full of British countryside and glorious detailing, your fingertips will be caressing a gorgeous thin-rimmed Moto-Lita wooden steering wheel, the chassis will be joyfully excited to be out at play and you’ll be having a ball.

A word on that steering wheel, because it’s core to the appeal of the car, not just visually, but dynamically. It’s 70mm wider than a conventional Seven wheel. This causes access issues and forces you to drive with your elbows out. However, with more leverage on the rim, it’s easier to keep a tight grip on. Steering effort is reduced, as are kickback and fight. It makes the Sprint feel gentler than other Sevens. And that suits it.

This is all by the by as they’ve all been sold, but it’s evidence that Caterham understands its past and knows how to celebrate it authentically. And it’s hard to put a cost on authenticity.

 

Verdict: Loveable, desirable and hugely amusing way of recreating the swing-axle Sixties.

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