Earlier this year, Motul announced its OEM partnership with Caterham Cars Ltd. Caterham builds simple lightweight sports cars that provide an unfiltered driving experience, something we couldn’t wait to experience first-hand. A long drive from Brussels to Imola via the Austrian Alps was the perfect opportunity to find out.
looking back at the roots of caterham
Essentially, Caterham only makes one type of car, the Caterham Seven, but with various performance trims. The version we got our hands on was the Caterham Seven 275R, a car that sits in the middle of the Caterham range – not the most powerful but certainly not the basic model either. It was delivered with R-trim, meaning that it had all the bells and whistles you’d want in a car like this. Before we dive into the new car, it might be interesting to look back at its roots.
The Caterham Seven is a direct descendant of the Lotus Seven, a sports car developed by Lotus’ Colin Chapman as the perfect car for the track or for racing down country lanes without any of the distractions or luxuries that would only add extra weight. Released in 1957, the Lotus Seven was a success and Lotus kept building them until 1972. In that year, however, Lotus wanted to move on and focus more on their premium sports cars like the Lotus Elan. This plan included Lotus selling the rights to build the Lotus Seven to a few of their agents. One of these was Caterham. The Caterham we’re looking at today is derived from the Lotus Seven series 3 car but after 45 years of evolution it shares few if any parts with the original Lotus. The essence of Chapman’s idea, however, has remained the same. Did you also know that since its release, every Caterham has been available as a kit car that you can build yourself? So those who are talented with a spanner can already start enjoying their car as they build it.
difficult to describe
So how would we describe a Caterham to someone who has no idea what kind of car it is? A space-frame chassis with some body panels bolted onto it. Engine mounted at the front, driven wheels at the rear. Two seats, a steering wheel, three pedals and a gear stick and no electronic nannies in sight. The roof and doors are optional. Everything a sports car needs without any distractions to weigh it down. Motoring distilled to its purest elements.
twice the size, double the fun
The Caterham Seven 275R might be the perfect specification to discover what Caterham is all about. The 275R came with a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder Ford Sigma engine mated to short-throw 5-speed manual gearbox. Our car was fitted with the optional 310-tune, which meant the Ford block was now producing 147bhp instead of 135. That doesn’t sound like much but when you realise the car only weighs 540kg you get a power to weight ratio that will outperform a Porsche 911GTS. The numbers aren’t the only thing that play in favour of the 275R: it’s the experience that makes this car so special. Every kilometre we covered on our road trip was an occasion. Because of the lack of any assistance or electronic system every single movement you make with the steering wheel or the pedals provides unfiltered feedback from the car.
It sounds like a cliché, but after just a few kilometres you feel entirely at one with the car. Our car had the optional R-pack which added the much-appreciated locking differential for better stability when accelerating out of a corner and greater control when the back slides out, which happens occasionally because obviously the only form of traction control is your right foot. It also offers an experience that is often missed in modern performance cars: the satisfaction of a perfectly executed corner combination. Because the Caterham is unassisted, everything is up to the driver. Entering a corner while downshifting with the perfect heel and toe technique, braking as late as possible without locking up a wheel and powering back out of the corner counter-steering with the back of the car stepping out just ever so slightly - this is a satisfaction that is no longer achievable in modern cars because you know the ABS will stop the wheels from locking up, the automatic paddle gearbox will execute perfect downshifts and the traction control system will keep you straight or offer you a controlled slide when exiting a corner. But in the Caterham, it’s all up to you.
The Caterham 275R, then, is a machine that delivers twice the fun of the average sports car while offering an unfiltered driving experience. And did I mention it costs less than half of the cars it outperforms?