The New Caterham Super Seven 1600 - A Fitting Tribute To Caterham's Past
A weird, yet pleasantly surprising new model in the Caterham family
By Phil Bradley
In a World where car manufacturers strive for the latest technology and most modern looks, the tagline of "The New Old School" given to Caterham's new model is a bit strange. It's dubbed the Super Seven 1600, and when the current Caterham road car lineup consists of the 270, the 310, the 360, the 420 and 620, the name doesn't exactly fit into the model lineup either.
The heart of the Super Seven is effectively the same as their 270 model. Power comes from a 1.6L Ford Sigma engine, producing 135BHP to the rear wheels, a 0-60MPH time of 5.0 seconds and a top speed of 122MPH. From this, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the new Super Seven 1600 is just Caterham's way of making a quick buck. At a base price of £33,495, the car is £6k above the 270 of which it shares it's motor, but look into the details at what Caterham have updated, and you'll see the reasons behind this. Although a retro-styled exterior, under the bodywork lies a much more modern car.
Firstly, you'll notice the exposed K&N air filters, that are linked to new, twin 40s throttle bodies. These are designed to increase air flow into the engine when the driver puts their foot on the throttle. Further to this, inside the Super Seven, there are Smiths instruments on the leather trimmed dashboard, along with a Moto-Lita wooden steering wheel. Visually, the Super Seven gets flared front wings, a chrome mesh grille and filler cap and slightly larger, 14 inch wheels. The design hails back to the original Super Sevens, released back in the 1970s, and more recently, the Caterham Seven Sprint and Super Sprint limited edition models sold out in 2017 with a similar design. Caterham know that there's a demand for this design, so they've decided to mass produce it. Vintage Caterham badges are dotted all over the car too, separating it from the other models in the range.
Although retro, the Super Seven is still hardcore. It lacks ABS, power steering and traction control. The whole car weighs just 540KG. The chassis is available as both a standard chassis and larger chassis. My test car happened to be a smaller chassis, the first of which i've driven in a Caterham. The pedals are much closer together, and the driver and passenger are much more confined in the cabin. I completely understand this chassis for track days and racing, as the smaller cabin keeps you held in place, and the pedals being closer together allows for heel and toe, but for every day driving, the pedals were too close for comfort. So much so that I found it easier to drive barefoot, as this avoided pressing the accelerator instead of the brake! (Trust me, there was a few interesting moments on the motorway!)
Smaller chassis aside, i've always loved driving a Caterham. I've been fortunate enough to drive four of their models now, and I can honestly say that i've never driven anything quite like them. They have to be the only cars that i've reviewed that I would genuinely own. The Super Seven 1600 is the least powerful model i've driven from the range, and I have to admit, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. My contact at Caterham told me that the Super Seven was possibly his favourite model, I couldn't quite understand why, until I drove it.
Sitting in the drivers seat and starting the car up, there is a bit of a rasp from the engine and exhaust, but nothing too different from other models. When you increase the revs a little higher though, the Super Seven comes alive. The K&N filters add to the incredible sound that is emitted from the engine and exhaust . Like the noise we all used to make when we were children, pretending to be a fast car passing by, only the Caterham produces the real thing. Driving on country roads going through the 5-speed manual gearbox with this noise is just music to a petrolhead's ears. You'd be forgiven for forgetting that there was just a 1.6L engine underneath the bonnet.
Driving the Super Seven is just pure fun. No roof, and the wonderful sound from the engine and exhaust are a winning combination. Blip the throttle a little bit, and you even get a few lively pops and bangs from the exhaust too. If you really want to feel the wind in your hair, or just cool down after the hot few days I had with the car, you can take the doors off too. Sadly, this also removes your wing mirrors.
The size of the car is smaller than your average road car, so passing tractors or other large vehicles on country lanes is easy, much better than any heart racing moment in a car larger in size! I even enjoyed using standard seatbelts. The Super Seven 1600 is equipped with seatbelts as opposed to 4-point race harnesses, making it much easier to get in and out of.
The view from the driver's seat is a great one. The flared wings reflect off the chrome covers on the headlights and combining this with the wooden steering wheel and the bark from the exhaust, it makes you feel like you're driving something out of the 1950s along the French Riviera. Instead, it's a 2020 car and I was driving through the British countryside. Close enough.
Another point I have to make is the Super Seven's curb appeal. It's not something I normally care about when reviewing a car, however I noticed on several occasions that members of the public were admiring the car. Whether it was thumbs up from passengers on the motorway, or people actually approaching the Super Seven to get a better look. When driving a nice car, you often get rude remarks or even gestures from jealous people. The Caterham gets none of this. I genuinely felt people enjoyed the car and didn't feel any jealousy towards it. I had one moment at a petrol station in Northampton, where I pulled in to find what looked to be a driving club also filling up. Around the forecourt there were Porsches and Aston Martins, yet when I came back from paying for my fuel, I found the drivers were stood around the Super Seven. Clearly, everybody loved it.
The looks of the Caterham Super Seven 1600 are like marmite. You either love them or you hate them. Personally, the flared wings and retro looks weren't for me, but I understand Caterham's reasoning behind it. This design sold out limited edition models for them and worked so well for Colin Chapman in the early 50s, so why wouldn't they create more of what people are demanding? When rivalling cars like the Morgan Plus Four sell for nearly twice the price of the Super Seven, you can understand why Caterham are becoming more popular. I was genuinely taken aback by how enjoyable this model was to drive and of course the noise it made. I can only hope that Caterham reintroduce the K&N filters into their other models in the future.
For those of you who, like me aren't overly sold on the throwback, retro looks of the Super Seven 1600, I just have two words for you. Drive it.
Caterham Super Seven 1600