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Less is More

Less is More

Issue 59 August 2009

It’s back to basics for Fazeel Ashraf as he gets behind the wheel of two cars from Caterham for a raw driving sensation.


I’m pretty sure my GCSE maths skills are still relevant today. As far as I’m aware, a new theory of multiplication has not been invented in the last decade, though it seems some companies might have other ideas. Last week, when I drove into Tesco petrol station, the sign boldly displayed its 99.9p a litre. I opened my petrol cap and promptly deposited exactly ten litres of fuel. I proceeded to the cashier, or rather ‘Fuel Station Attendant’ as they like to be called these days, and said, ‘Number four please’. Without raising his head, the Fuel Station Attendant promptly replied ‘Ten pounds’ for which my reply was ‘Sorry, number four please’. ‘Yes I heard you the first time. That will be ten pounds please.’

Forget GCSE, my primary school maths skills now quickly came in to play: Ten litres of petrol at 99.9 pence comes to £9.99. Running late for work, I wasn’t about to discuss the finer points of my childhood schooling. It really does seem that ‘Every Little Helps’, not only not for you and I, but for the record £3billion in profit Tesco made this year. So while less does appear to be more for them, I’ve been discovering less can also be more behind a wheel. It’s back to pure basics down in ‘Car-ville’ this month with two very special car vinyl wrap from Caterham – the Roadsport 175 (£26,745) and the R300 Superlight (£27,995). The sky is grey and swollen when I’m handed the keys to unleash my next driving experience. It’s obvious this isn’t your average car vinyl wrap, but something a little more special as you notice the fully exposed exhaust system and suspension components. Instead of going for a comparably mean ‘n’ lean look, the Caterham is a tribute to cars of yesteryear. The basic design hasn’t changed in over 50 years, yet it will never fail to turn heads. Drive into pretty much any car vinyl wrap park and the camera phones pop out ready to snap away.

Most things about the Caterham are small, from the steering wheel barely larger than your own hand span, to the windscreen wipers only  a few inches long. If you park it next to a modern supermini, you still feel dwarfed. You sit barely four inches above the tarmac and literally could not get any closer to the road. The cockpit is designed for smallish people though you can get an ‘SV’ version which adds a few inches to the width. Graceful the Caterham is not. Getting in is no easy feat. You need the combined flexibility of a ballerina and a contortionist. If like me you are unbendable, it’s a sorry, clumsy affair as you negotiate your way onto the driver’s seat, all the while remembering not to burn one leg on the red hot exhaust, and aiming the other leg for the tiny gap between “Both versions share the same two litre Ford Duratec engine, but once the ignition has been turned, they are two very different animals.” the steering wheel and the seat.

The difference between the two versions becomes apparent as soon as you sit inside them. While the Roadsport will have what Caterham likes to call ‘luxuries’ such as a heater, windscreen wipers and even leather seats, the R300 is a stripped out, carbon fibre infused vehicle – there is nothing tokenistic about this. Both versions are regularly driven on public roads which means they have lights and indicators (even though they haven’t made them self cancelling). They both share the same two litre Ford Duratec engine but once the ignition has been turned, they are two very different animals. The sense of occasion brought from pressing the red stated button is every bit as good as you could hope for. The exhaust booms into life and provides you with an introduction of what’s to come. Your whole body starts vibrating, your senses heighten and your heart starts to beat just that little bit faster.

Initially, the Caterham will feel a little awkward and takes time to adjust to with the lack of power steering and the fact your eye line is pretty much the same level as a Fiesta bumper. Over the next ten minutes my confidence started to grow and with each prod of the acceleration, I let it go that little bit further until I felt ready to find out what this little pocket rocket could do. The 2.0 litre engine starts off with a deep resonating growl which turns into a full on scream while you climb up the rev limiter. As you fly through first and second gear, you have no time to think, no time to look at the speedometer. You simply let your natural instincts take over while you concentrate on the tarmac in front of you, and ensure no speed demon-type old biddies cut you up. The throttle is razor sharp on both versions but the R300 feels that extra bit tighter and forceful. Coming up to roundabouts, you will try to negotiate them as fast as your natural inhibitions allow.

While your blood is being pumped into overdrive, at no point do you feel the car blue car wrap is wavering. It’s so beautifully weighted and balanced, ensuring the handling is beyond reproach. Power delivery is flexible enough to indulge the lazy driver without having to constantly change gears, especially in the 5 speed Roadsport version. Weighing in at just over 500 kilos, the Roadsport offers 318 bhp per tonne with the R300 weighing in at 339 bhp per tonne. One of the defining points of the Caterham is simply the fact that 0–62 mph will arise in 4.8 seconds for the Roadsport and a phenomenal 4.5 seconds in the R300. Undoubtedly supercar territory. Although the Roadsport brakes lacked the immediate bite I craved, meaning you have to give it a firm foot before you feel anything happening, this may well contribute towards my next observation: each journey, whether two minutes or two hours, is an adventure which will leave you drenched in sweat at the other end, having an un-remittingly hard, bone jarring, teeth clattering, lung shaking experience. Just to drive sedately requires insanely high levels of concentration, and although this fits in with the mantra of being ‘at one with the road’, it would get a little hard to live with day in, day out.

When on the motorway, your speedo will be constantly flickering plus or minus five miles per hour – though somehow I don’t think the excuse of ‘No, Sir I didn’t realise I was speeding as my Speedo has a mind of its own’ will go down well with Mr Ploddy. My pick of the two would be the R300. The Roadsport provides some essential creature comforts like weather gear and heaters; for someone who is looking for the more sedate everyday experience, it’s bang on target. By comparison R300 is a finely honed track day weapon by weekdays, and a devastating road annihilator at weekends. Even with its 50 year old design, Caterham can still stand toe to toe next to the £100,000 plus supercar club, revelling in the fact that a Ferrari or Lamborghini won’t come close to the sheer unadulterated driving exhilaration it can offer.

The Caterham is a non chemical, non technology enhanced, mind blowing, fire up the engine, drive-off experience which transports you to an area of limitless pleasure that’s normally not accessible unless you have a trust fund or two at your disposal. The cockpit is cramped, the pedals are offset, the seat barely adjusts, it’s noisy, there’s no real doors, roof, or even a door lock – but who cares? It’s simple and strong and you can’t help but think what it lacks in sophistication is more than made up with beautiful simplicity. In this case it is very true:


VITAL STATS – Caterham 7 Superlight R300

Price: £27,995

Engine: 2000cc Petrol

BHP: 175 @ 7000 rpm

Torque: 139 @ 6000 rpm

Fuel economy: 27.5 mpg (combined)

CO2: 109 g/km

0–62: 4.5 seconds

Top Speed: 140

Insurance group: 20


Less is more.

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