By now you will hopefully be familiar with the premise of having a Caterham Seven on
the PH Fleet
; not only does it give us chance to try the 310R, Caterham's self-proclaimed
successor to the R300
, it also means PHers can
get involved too
. Seven readers, seven months and seven stories with a Caterham Seven is the plan...
The previous reports from Ben Nicholls, Jan Hatton, Ben Hanford and Stephen Charlesworth are in the links below; here is the fifth, from Martyn Banham.
For everyone else, the man standing outside the train station brandishing a small steering wheel made for a strange sight. For me it was most welcome, at last being reunited with the Caterham that I had helped assemble. And for a whole weekend, too...
It takes time to dial into driving a Caterham. Not ideal when everyone is looking at you. There were a few heart-in-mouth moments kangarooing onto roundabouts and out of junctions, not aided by needing to use the tip of my right shoe to control the sensitive throttle pedal.
The first surprise of the Caterham experience - it's not unbearable on the motorway. Earplugs are a must, as is keen observation, being so low and small. The nearly 360-degree vision really helps. A few counties come and go before I escape the monotony of the motorway. On more suitable roads I start to explore the car's abilities. The acceleration and the movement of the chassis at first can be overwhelming. It reminds me of stepping into a two-stroke racing kart after driving chuggy rental ones - it takes a little while for your brain to stop lagging behind everything happening. What would it be like with twice the power?
I had hopes of getting information from the PH forum on the best roads and restaurants for a trip to Wales, but it seemed everyone was on holiday or too busy bickering about PCPs. In the end my brave passenger and I didn't spend long in Wales, because it transpires that the Caterham is possibly the slowest point-to-point car I've ever driven (rivalling a Nissan Leaf, but that's another story). Dealing with my passenger's harness, then my own, warming the car so it idles - you simply don't just walk up, get in and set off like a 'normal' car. Do this a few times and you don't get very far very quickly. I discover tiny things become issues with a Caterham - where do I put my sunglasses now it's dark? Where do I display the parking ticket? (Under the wiper.) A friend asked "how do you lock the car?" "Err... you can't." It really makes you appreciate how far cars have evolved.
When the road was clear the Caterham was utterly thrilling. Time and time again it would take all manner of bends with incredible nonchalance, yet it was supremely involving and biddable. Free from traffic it covers ground voraciously. In the dry, the limits of grip appear so high that it seemed suicidal to challenge them. I did find it more difficult to read the (at times heavy) steering than I expected. A previous user said the brakes didn't give them confidence - constantly worrying about pressing the throttle at the same time does limit your faith in the them but the car loses speed as easily as it acquires it.
The sensation when accelerating is unlike anything I've driven - a Tesla P100D included. The lack of inertia means it flings itself up the road in a relentless fashion. The best bit is that this can be enjoyed again and again without fear of recrimination. The balance of performance (for the road at least) is perfectly judged, with enough power to overtake decisively and work the chassis, but not so much to make you fear for loss of control or your licence.
It was well into the afternoon when we reached the glorious Elan Valley. The views were stunning, enjoyed more with the slow pace forced by the narrow, uneven roads. The lost time meant our plans to explore the Brecon Beacons had to be abandoned. This turned out to be wise as darkness fell hours from home. Crossing the Malverns and ever-quieter Cotswold roads compensated for missing Wales' more prestigious tarmac.
As the night wore on and the air grew colder, I prodded the switch for the heater. This brought memories of the day I had fitted it. A strange thing, to have such a connection to a car - it's not just any Caterham, but the Caterham I helped bring to life. In hindsight, though, I should have stopped and fitted the hood - I only discovered how much heat it traps venturing to a supermarket the next day. With time I suspect one learns, through an unforgiving trial and error process, the right combination of clothes, heater and weather gear for the conditions. The LED headlights were great on dipped beam, but main beam was frustratingly lacking, as you lost the near-field without much gain in visual range. The silhouette of the cycle wings and bonnet in the dark is an image I won't forget anytime soon.
Even the next day, I found myself wanting to go down another road, and another. This continued until the (wildly inaccurate) fuel gauge sat at 'empty' longer than I dared allow. When parked, I spent far too long gazing out the window at the car. Of all things, it was the Miami Blue paint that received the most compliments. Everywhere, excited kids shouted and stared ("look Daddy, a racing car"), drivers waved and motorcyclists nodded. In my experience only a Morgan 3-Wheeler is as universally well-received.
Driving a Caterham is such an addictive experience that all the flaws, trivial or not, just melt away. I handed back the keys and steering wheel with a very heavy heart, and set about browsing the classifieds on the train home. Getting back into a supermini afterwards felt like driving a van.
I'm left with many questions - would an SV chassis help with the pedal spacing? Would an S be less busy on the road; is the R pack justified on track? Would I be as happy with less power - would I want more? Will I ever see 'HVP' again? I feel blessed to have now experienced not just driving but building a Caterham. My ambition to have a one in my life, in one way or another, has only been reinforced. My unending thanks to PH and Caterham for making it happen.
Car: Caterham Seven 310R
Run by: Whoever makes Matt coffee. Oh yes, and the comp winners...
On fleet since: April 2017
List price new: £23,495 (As tested £38,930 comprising £2,500 for factory build, £4,495 for R pack, £200 for track suspension pack, £675 for ventilated front brakes with quad piston calipers, £200 for 13-inch Apollo black alloys on Avon ZZS tyres, £1,250 for full weather equipment and side screens, £95 for side screen arm rests, £80 for hood bag, £95 for boot cover in carbon vinyl, £115 for fully carpeted interior, £400 for carbon leather seats, £150 for Momo quick release steering wheel, £300 for heater, £300 for Sequential shift lights, £495 for lowered floors, £900 for high intensity lights with LED daytime running lights, £1,000 for Miami Blue custom colour, £395 for full decal pack, £995 for full paint protection and £895 for on the road package)
Last month at a glance: The windy way to Wales for our latest Caterham custodian
Find out more about Caterham here.
1 / 6