Review: Caterham Super Seven 1600
Quite possibly my favourite Seven yet.
Things? GOOD. PACKAGE? Small. cliché? No. HOTEL? TRIVAGO.
As some of you may know, I work in marketing at Caterham Cars - but those who know me well, will know I'm unbiased and go into everything with an open mind. So when I say the Super Seven 1600 is one of the best cars I've had the pleasure of driving, I really do mean it.
Before we start, I'd like to say a huge thank you to Huck Mountain for the photography. If you want to see some truly epic images, check out @Huck93 on Instagram.
Back to the matter in hand. Let's go back to July 2020, post the original lockdown, and during what might possibly be one of the weirdest summers to date. I'd assembled a crack team of photographers and friends for a little drive to the home of classic British Motorsport - Goodwood. It was a simple plan really, take the UK range of cars out, capture a few images and have a good time doing it - everyone has some new content for socials.
After a day of prep, we had all the cars ready to go - and given I'd only driven the pre-production model Super Seven, I figured it was about time I gave the customer-ready version a proper go. My god. Was I in for a surprise.
I'll be honest, having spent a few weeks running-in a 360S, I knew I was going to miss the power from a 2.0 litre duratec when transitioning to the 1.6 sigma. But, a little known secret, the best Sevens to drive on the road really are the smaller engined models - particularly the 310R. The Super Seven though, is in a class of its own.
Let's start with the interior. I'm going to skip the usual stuff (I'm 6ft 2 so every car I get in feels small), but the introduction of premium leather on the dashboard and seats make a significant difference. Its easily more comfortable, but the subtle changes to the dashboard - such as the SMITHS dials, the upgraded carpets and the fluted seats transform the Seven into an pocket-sized grand tourer.
Back to the sunnier days.
On the outside, the changes are pretty obvious. There are big wings at the front, a chrome windscreen in the middle and a spare wheel on the back. Very 70s. You can even opt for gold alloys to really top it off. However, there is one major difference that transforms how this little Seven drives.
Air filters and throttle bodies. It's a bit of an anti-climax when you read it - but bear with me. So no, there isn't a power advantage, but there is a change in character. Instead of the point and squirt nature apparent in the 270 and 310 models, the Super Seven 1600 is tuned towards a more relaxed drive - feeling torquier through the lower rev range. The added bonus though, is that it sounds far more powerful.
A small squeeze on the throttle and the car comes to life. It's a triumphant roar from the engine, not the exhaust. You can feel the engine building momentum as it approaches a crescendo, and just when you think it's time to change up on the short shift 'box - there's still another 3,000 rpm to go. This car really does sing.
Before the purists jump in, yes - the air filters are designed to look like carbouretors, no - they aren't on the wrong side of the engine, and no, Caterham can't fit an engine from the 1970s because they don't reach modern emission standards. It sucks, but you get the noise of the past, paired to the performance of the future. Not a bad combination in my opinion.
Interior upgrades level up the Super Seven 1600.
You could say other Sevens do this too, and sitting directly next to the exhaust, they all sound loud - its very exciting. But actual engine noise, that's a different story. You get a lovely whine from the supercharger in a 620 when you've got it at full chat, but the Super Seven pops, bangs and shouts at every opportunity.
Admittedly, the Super Seven 1600 is more expensive than the 270, 310, 360 and the entire Academy package... however you are getting a hell of a lot more than a standard Seven (better leather, clamshell wings, diamond-cut alloy wheels, upgraded paints, retro dials, chromed finishes, a spare wheel and tyre, classic-stylke grille, improved seats, engine modifications and so on).
But you simply can't ignore that gorgeous engine note. When you compare it to the other models, and especially when you blast past five other cars on the backroads to Goodwood - it brings forth an entirely new character with buckets of charm.
Moto-Lita and White Birch leather transforms the cockpit.
Pairing a sweet-sounding engine to a lightweight chassis makes a car good. Adding a dollop of performance and some old-school driving dynamics... it makes a car great. You're probably reading this thinking, "That's great, but why is it the best car you've driven?".
This is a car that will put a smile on your face every time you start it. There's a small hearty rumble, followed by a theatre of noises. You can plant your foot through the corners and feel the Seven dig deep for traction. There's a surprising amount of grip for the skinny tyres, and the clamshell wings complete what has to be one of the best windscreen landscapes of all time. It isn't big, it isn't clever, but is is fun. That's all that matters.
It's joyous simplicity.