The rain is pummeling my face. Every drop feels like a cold shard of glass attacking my brow. My eyes squint to better improve my vision. “I’ve made a mistake here”, I think to myself. These are my initial thoughts of the new Caterham Seven SuperSprint, a limited edition model built to celebrate 60 years of the Seven. As such, just so 60 were made.
However, this was the last thing on my mind, as my first impressions of the car were that of an uncomfortable nature. Thanks to retro styling, this model has a tiny windscreen – officially called a ‘Brooklands’ windscreen – and no weather protection. Thankfully, this model came with a pair of fetching driving goggles, which I found out after I gave Caterham an SOS call following my bodged attempt to drive home after collection.
With the goggles attached and the rain dying down, I was able to start enjoying the charms that this model had to offer. It’s based on the Seven 160, but as you will see from the get-go, the SuperSprint has more of a retro look. The interior features a wooden Momo steering wheel with a tan seat and a tan dashboard, plus the battery master cut of switch looks as if it’s come from the 50s.
The exterior is just as nostalgic, although let’s face it, Caterham is not a brand that has stray very far from the Seven’s iconic roots. Having said that, you’ll note that the badges offer an old school flavour, plus there is a different grille and small steel wheels. When the car was on sale, it was available in six colours, all of which are named after racetracks. The model tested here is dubbed ‘Dijon’, and features a navy blue finish with a white noseband.
Was on sale?
You may have noticed that I have used the past tense in regard to the car’s sale date. This is because all 60 models were sold within just six hours of the car’s launch at last year’s Goodwood Revival. Amazing considering this car was pushing a price of £30,000 and it’s terribly impractical, especially if you opted for a model with one seat and no roof as tested here. Mind you, this car – or any Caterham for that matter – was never built for practicality, it was built for a pure motoring experience, so let’s focus on that instead.
What makes it go?
Like the Seven 160, the SuperSprint is powered by a three-cylinder turbocharged 660cc petrol engine lifted from a Suzuki with power fed to the rear wheels via a short-throwing 5-speed manual gearbox. It does provide a bit more power than the 160 though, thanks to some fettling by the Caterham Works Racing team.
Instead of 80bhp, the SuperSprint pumps out 95bhp, with 111Nm of torque. Despite this, the performance is the same, meaning you’ll hit 60mph in a rather windy 6.9 seconds and continue to a top speed of 100mph. This may not sound particularly spicy, but if you bear in mind this car weighs just 490kg, it never feels slow. As well as more power, the SuperSprint has a more audible turbo flutter than the 160, and my word is it an addictive sound.
After leaving the monotony of the A23, I soon find myself back in Surrey and on some back roads where I’m able to stretch the car’s legs a little more. Despite being one of the less powerful Caterhams in the range, all you need to do is to poke the throttle and the car picks up with urgency. The engine may be small, but it’s plucky and it makes a pleasant thrum as you cruise along, really adding to the experience.
A Real Driver’s Car
The gearchange is precise and offers a nice weight to it, plus the chrome gearknob looks great in this retro theme cabin. Speaking of retro, the wooden steering feels lovely to hold, but it can become a bit slippery once wet, although it’s never a major issue. The steering itself is sublime as it requires just small inputs to change the direction of travel and because it’s light, it’s as agile as a hummingbird.
The handling is just as good as the steering, and although the tyres are of the skinny variety – width is just 155mm – they offer a good amount of grip. However, apply some throttle mid-corner and you’ll be able to provoke the back end to step out. This is where the lack of power comes to the car’s advantage as you can take the SuperSprint to its limits without having to drive at a million miles an hour to do so. The SuperSprint is a great example that you don’t need infinite horsepower to have fun.
Whereas the Sprint is more designed for road use, the SuperSprint has more of a race vibe to it. This means that you get adjustable suspension as well as limited slip diff and a four point harness to keep you in place when you’re really throwing this modern classic around. Sadly, I wasn’t able to experience this car on track, but the roads around Goodwood served as a decent substitute, making for a very pleasant drive indeed.
Is it really worth the money though?
Sigh. This is a tricky question, especially as it’s all too easy to enjoy this car and forget about the cost. The price clearly wasn’t a big issue for the paying punters that snapped this up quicker than you could say ‘Colin Chapman’. However, to take an impartial view, I agree it’s a lot of money. This problem is exacerbated further when you consider that a Seven 160 will cost you less than £20,000. Yes, you won’t get the retro styling, and the limited slip diff, etc, but you’ll save yourself a small fortune and you’ll actually be able to buy it.
However, there are two good things to take away here. Firstly, I’m sure it will only go up in value. Secondly, if you compare it to a modernised MGB, which will cost you around £60,000, the Caterham almost looks like a bargain. Almost. So what you’re getting here is a classic built with modern components, so it should be more reliable. Maybe not as fun as restoring your own classic car, but it’s more convenient.
It would be all too easy to look at the price of this Caterham and look at it as an expensive piece of nostalgia. Price aside, the SuperSprint oozes charm and it’s the sort of car that will worm your way in to your heart – apart from when you need to drive it through a downpour on the M23. It offers enough performance to keep you smiling, and the drive will forever keep you entertained. In fact, I loved it so much, that I actually had a cheeky look on Auto Trader to see how much used Caterhams (standard models) go for – out of my budget I’m afraid.
However, you’ll struggle to find on the used market, plus can I really recommend this over a standard Seven 160? As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can. Having said that, I do like the way how the SuperSprint gives you a taste of classic car motoring, but without the reliability worries. You’ll also find that every drive is an occasion, the sort of occasion that very little cars can match. Just be sure to get some decent waterproofs just in case though…
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