Hagerty Video: Tiny Engine, Huge Fun: New Caterham Super Seven 600 | Henry Catchpole – The Driver’s Seat

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Posted: 2023-02-01 16:00:02
Author: Hagerty
In this episode of The Driver’s Seat, Henry Catchpole drives the new Caterham Super Seven 600. It’s like a restomod that normal people can afford. Ok, it doesn’t have a quilted engine bay, but so much of what is appealing about cars like the Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer or the Alfaholics GTA-R or the Eagle E-type is present and correct in this little British sportscar. That idea of connection, emotion and back to basics old-school motoring values is present and correct and it costs less than £30,000.

With just 84bhp and 86lb ft of torque (yes, really) from its tiny 660cc, three-cylinder engine, it might sound like it would be slow and sleep-inducing. But it also weighs just 460kg or 1014lbs and has delightfully short gearing, so it actually feels surprisingly swift. Being closer to the road than the line painted down the middle means that every mph is exaggerated too.

The diminutive size of the Caterham also allows you to explore roads that would be off-limits to supercars. Whether it is dashing along between the reeds in some marshland or climbing tiny back lanes to spectacular vantage points, the Seven feels like it is up for an adventure. Admittedly there has to be a touch of the adventurous about the driver too, particularly if it’s the middle of winter in the UK and the temperature is below freezing.

Henry also gets into some of the history of the Seven, with an amusing story about Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven. The Norfolk firm finally stopped building the mk4 in 1973, since when it has been down to Caterham to keep the flame alive. And fifty years on, the formula feels somehow more relevant than ever, particularly in this very traditional, low-powered version which is fabulously fun and easy to enjoy at any speed.

Its skinny tyres might be at the other end of the scale from supercars like Porsche’s GT3 or Ferrari’s 296 GTB, but in many ways this little car is just as enjoyable. You only have to look at Henry’s cold but happy face in the film to see that. We hope you enjoy the episode; please let others know if you do.

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Hagerty Video Transcript

– Genius. This is a very basic car. But you know what? These remarkable things, I reckon they could replace touchscreens in high-end luxury vehicles one day. So tactile, yet simple. Back to basics. It’s 50 years since Caterham took over the baton of producing the Seven from Lotus and to celebrate this, the company’s latest new car has almost gone back to square one. This is the Super Seven 600 and while that number would normally denote some sort of fire breathing monster with 600 brake horsepower baton,

In this, not so much. Because this has just a little three cylinder 660 cc engine. But that doesn’t stop it being fun. A lot of fun. Now I don’t want for a minute to suggest that somehow suddenly power and grip, they’re bad. Oh no, don’t like those at all. This makes GT3 redundant. You know, Ferrari SF90. Who would want to drive one of those? No, that’s not what this is about. Just look at it the other way.

It’s more a case of simply because a GT3 exists, it doesn’t mean you can’t still learn something from this. And get enjoyment from something like this. Less can be, well, yes, it can be more sometimes and this really has less. That tiny three cylinder engine puts out just 84 brake horsepower

And 86 pounds foot of torque. But the thing is, it’s only pushing around 460 kilos. That’s less than half the weight of a modern MX5. And what’s more, because it’s only got short little ratios in this five speed box, you can just about reach 60 miles an hour

At the top end of third if you want. But realistically, you’re gonna be up in sort of third, fourth, you’ve got all the gears to play with. It’s a fun little gear shift too, not perfect, surprisingly sort of hefty in a way. I’ve got so short to throw

That it takes just a flick of the fingers at times. That short gearing means that it tops out at just 104 miles an hour. But really, how much faster would you actually want to go? More importantly, knot to 62 miles an hour is dealt with in 6.9 seconds. And I’d say it actually feels brisker than that. It’s a characterful little engine too.

It’s sort of incongruous somehow. All those chuffs and whistles, it’s sort of… I mean, it sounds like I don’t know, a pigeon that’s sneezing one minute and then sounds sort of vaguely, well, lovelorn on the next. Lovelorn, where are you? And power isn’t the only thing that this has got less of. The Seven is so simple that you can put it together yourself. In fact, if you want to buy this car for the sub 30,000 pounds that it’s advertised at then you have to put it together yourself or not go for the factory build option. It’s just as Colin Chapman intended it

Because that’s how he sold it, as a kit. Originally to get around various tax laws and keep it as cheap as possible. The only problem was that to abide by those tax laws, you couldn’t sell it with instructions. So Chapman came up with a typical Chapman solution and sold it with instructions

As to how to disassemble it. Obviously then read those back to front and you have an assembly manual which somehow got around it. And were Colin Chapman alive today, I think he’d recognize an awful lot of this car. Things like the live rear axle. He wanted to sell it

With a De Dion rear axle but to keep cost down, the Series 1 had a live rear axle just like this. This has the narrowest front track, the really traditional look. Look at that. Just tiny, isn’t it? And obviously matched by these tires which are Avon ZT7s, just one-five-five sections.

And I’d say slightly better than some of the ditch hunters that I’ve experienced on the past in these narrow tires. What wasn’t on the original Series 1 Seven were these front wings because the Series 1 actually had the cycle wings which you see more usually on Caterhams these days

And sort of hug the front tires like that. These flared arches came in on the Series 2, 3 and 4 and have, I don’t know, something more of a traditional look to them. Aerodynamically terrible because they create lift at high speed and I don’t think you need to be Adrian Newey

To understand how they do that. Overall though, the car is just so dinky. Isn’t it? 10 feet long, just over five feet wide. It’s brilliant. Fits on almost any sort of road. Those old school numbers mean that this fits on old school roads as well. It means it’s fun pretty much anywhere because suddenly it fits within this lane and those skinny tires and they’re fun. The lack of grip means it’s involving and interactive. Through a set of corners like this,

Use all your side of the road, feel the grip, stand a bit in the front through the tiny little motor litter wheel. Feel that live rear axle. Again, not the most sophisticated, not in the best but you feel it all. Little steering inputs. I always think you should concentrate very much

On the front end of a Caterham at long, everything’s relative, nose. Make sure that gets into a corner first and then you sort of worry about the rear later. It’s just involving and that’s wonderful. Yes, dynamically it would definitely benefit from a limited slip diff, some better tires would give more precision and perhaps the rear suspension does struggle at times so if you just upgraded to… But that misses the point. This isn’t meant to be the ultimate. Quite the opposite. I’m not about to claim

That this is the best car I’ve ever driven. It’s not even the best Caterham I’ve ever driven. But by stripping it all away, back to basics, you get to the fundamentals, I think, of a lot of what certainly I love about driving. Take away a lot of the power,

A lot of the grip and you remember that at a very basic level, driving enjoyment is about involvement, about feeling alive. And this certainly makes you feel alive in all that manageable, inoffensive speeds. It’s like sitting on a swing in a park. You are instantly five years old again. Of course, all this paired back jumpers for goalpost business isn’t without some downsides. Sometimes, I’m not gonna deny, you do long for the Rolls Royce like luxury of the most basic hot hatch because, well, yeah.

On days like today when it’s pretty cold, hasn’t really gone above freezing, it’s quite testing. The heating arrangements are actually sort of, they’re quite decent in that the fan here and it sort of pumps it out under the dashboard here but it’s a bit akin to having

Your feet in the oven and your head in the freezer. It’s a weird mix of temperatures for your body to adjust to. (laughs) All part of the experience though. Not so much characterful as a character building. Probably should have had a haircut before I did this film as well. Now I mentioned the luxury switches earlier but some of the rest of the inside bears mentioned too. It actually feels quite luxurious in here, for occasion with a embossed leather over there and add on the seats. These are the latest seats and they feel really rather good.

This particular car has the lowered floor pan. And for anyone that’s tall or even if you’re not, I suggest it’s a really good thing to get because it just gives you a little bit more room. I love these Smiths styles as well. Smiths is such a good name.

Everyone thinks that it was a Rolex that went to the top of Mount Everest 70 years ago this year with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, but actually it was much more likely had Smiths watch that was on their wrists. Going back to a car like this is a bit like going back to a deck of cards for a magician where it all started probably. And actually a card trick can be just as impressive really as any massive David Copperfield style making a train or an elephant disappear. Pick a card. Any card.

Have to be the seven of hearts, wouldn’t it? (chuckles) And this heartening Seven gives you faith. It’s like the simplest meal that satisfies as much as a complicated Michelin Star menu. The essentials of driving fun done well. Sometimes as cars get more powerful, faster, grippier, it can feel like it’s getting harder and harder to actually enjoy them, to enjoy driving.

But this reminds you that you don’t need much and it really is still possible to have a brilliant time behind the wheel with not a lot. Much of this new Super Seven 600 is what we see and love in restomods, but this doesn’t have a six or seven figure price tag, not even close. And it’s appropriate that this is a car celebrating a Caterham anniversary rather than a Lotus one. Because it was Caterham that saw

That this little car had life beyond its natural production run. They realized that the sun never sets on the basic formula of a car as timelessly good as the Seven.