The rise of the retro Caterham was not going to stop with the demise of the 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine. The sepia-toned Sevens have simply been too well received, whether in limited edition or series production form, for the fun to stop now. So even with just the two models currently in the range - 660cc three-cyl Suzuki turbo or 2.0-litre Ford Duratec - the Super Seven continues in earnest, now offered as a 600 or 2000 variant. The latter is what we're driving here in all its Bourbon glory, and with it the promise of a new Seven experience: the old-school vibe with modern-day performance. More than twice the horsepower of the 600., in other words.
Even for those not entirely sold on the styling overhaul - the flared front wings are standard, the colour-matched wheels optional - it’s hard not to smile at a Super 2000. In a world of cars designed to look like powerlifting Transformers, the small-wheeled, narrow-bodied silhouette of a Seven is charming. Most of the details are great, including the badges, Moto-Lita wheel and lovely leather used inside, though a few feel less successful. From where PH sits, the ‘wood’ dash trim really isn’t very nice, and visible spare wheels should be reserved only for 4x4s. You’d rather be seen stranded with a puncture than lugging that around. Suffice it to say those that liked previous efforts (and it seems like there were plenty) will likely be enthused by the 2000; those of us who prefer Sevens with quick-release Momos and Detonator Yellow paint might still be a bit unsure. But the choice is nice to have.
What’s most certainly different to any other classically styled Seven is the newfound gusto; the 2.0-litre may not gurgle like the throttle-bodied Sigma or parp along in the turbo triple style, but heck is it fast. And an average-sounding Caterham is still brilliant by any standard, too, the 2000 taking on the bark of an old F2 rally car as the tacho approaches its amber region. If the three-cylinder cars encourage using the torque, the grown-up version wants every last rev; the 360 this car is based on makes peak power at 7,300rpm and maximum torque (of just 143lb ft) at 6,100rpm. Perhaps on account of just a few miles, this one didn’t feel quite as feral as 2.0-litre Caterhams can, but it undoubtedly rewards a driver for keeping the gear low and the revs high. Which, with an engine this urgent and a five-speed gearbox this perfect, is a pleasure to oblige. And just as a sports car celebrating the past should be.
Furthermore, peering out to see those flared fairings over the wheels, grabbing that lovely little wheel and watching the revs climb on a Smiths dial is a very pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. Of course, it’s a broadly familiar Seven experience, if just that little bit different. The leather on the seats and the transmission tunnel is really quite nice, which is a turn up for the books. In some cars you’ll contrive a smile or a feeling of fun because the spec or the badge has convinced you it’s a good; in a Super 2000 you’re smiling entirely involuntarily because petrol-based entertainment doesn’t come anymore authentic.
It isn’t perfect, mind. Where you’re happy to bimble in those lower-powered cars, the intensity of 2.0-litre Caterhams is best served with a more aggressive chassis tune. The 2000, with its road suspension and Avon ZT7 tyres, never quite delivers the bite and precision that makes something like a 360R - with the sports suspension and Avon ZZS rubber - so wholly compelling. This is all relative, of course, because by any other measure the Super 2000 is an utterly engrossing sports car: vivid, alive and so gloriously transparent. To this day nothing can teach understeer, oversteer, wheelspin and brake feel like a Seven, and it remains a glorious experience. But the feeling of a powertrain and chassis slightly at odds with each other does nag at you.
Now, Caterhams being Caterhams, there would be scope to further optimise a Super 2000, even beyond the official options list. Creating something that looks like an extra from The Prisoner but could keep virtually anything honest on a track day would have a certain unconventional appeal. Problem is that would get jolly expensive; as a base model, the Super 2000 is a substantial £8k more expensive than the 360 with the same power. You could have a good go on the configurator (we do this so you don’t have to), adding the R pack, some nice paint, upgraded seats, better brakes, the Momo quick release, a heater and a windscreen, all for less than the £39,990 a Super 2000 starts at. And that’s quite hard to argue with.
Which is not to dismiss the idea of a heritage-inspired Seven - not one bit. The success up to this point has already proved their validity. Rather it feels that the more relaxed, leather-lined remit of the genre simply suits less power and ferocity. Additionally, once the £40k threshold has been breached, the innate back-to-basics charm of a Seven becomes harder to reconcile with the asking price. There’s only so much embellishment a fundamentally quite basic package can accept before it looks like a lot of money for not much car.
That sounds harsh when it shouldn’t - your correspondent enjoyed this Seven more than many others cars this year with hundreds more horsepower. But it unequivocally proved that the lovely Super 1600 was the finest exponent of this approach, perfectly balancing accessible performance with the Revival racer vibe. Which makes it all the more galling that they’re no longer on sale. If this is the kind of Seven you want, grabbing a lightly used 1600 feels the best way to do it - skipping the queue in the process. The 2000 is an intriguing concept, but ultimately it feels like engine and chassis are better matched in other Sevens.
SPECIFICATION | CATERHAM SEVEN SUPER 2000
Engine: 1,999cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 183@7,300rpm
Torque (lb ft):143@6,100rpm
Top speed: 130mph
Price: from £39,990
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