I wrote this trip report the day after taking out a rental 7 from Caterham. The rental cost is refunded when you pay the balance on the cost of a new 7, so this was effectively my chance to drive a Caterham 7 months before mine would be finished.
Thursday, 7th August. I arrived at the Caterham sales office around 10:30am. It took about 30/40 minutes to sort out paperwork and get a quick briefing on the controls, how to put the weather equipment on, etc and then I was away.
I had the car until 4:00pm, with a mileage limit of 85 miles. Over 85 miles and I start paying 50p per mile.
The car was a P reg Rover 1600i, with de Dion suspension, flared wheel arches and all done out in bright yellow.
The short drive out of Caterham was quite an overload to the brain. You sit so very low to the ground, and even conventional small cars like Metros now seemed a little imposing. This is all new to me. I'm concentrating, and trying hard not to stall -- boy would that be embarrassing!
I didn't stall, and after a few minutes I'm out onto the A22 heading towards the M25. Filtering onto the A22, the cars in front (no doubt locals who are familar with these tiny performance cars) move aside and offer an open road ahead. OK, let's open this thing up and see what it will do. Foot down, and the thing races off, passing the other road vehicles with ease and heading towards the M25 at 90ish. When you can reach out of the side of the car and touch the ground with your fingers, 90mph is a mindblowingly fast speed!
The seating position is incredibly natural. You sit, legs stretched out, with your left leg against the drive shaft tunnel, and the right leg against the body of the car. The pedals are next to one another and take just a little getting used to if you've never driven anything like this before. With your legs ``enclosed'', and your posture being almost lying back in the seat, the sensory input from the car is immense. You can feel the whole car, and the old adage of ``becoming one with your vehicle'' comes to mind.
The steering is precise and very responsive, the ride is firm and the road holding tight. You find yourself taking delight in accelerating around bends -- the sensation is the car is stuck to the ground.
I avoided main roads and stuck to country lanes. A couple of times I came across other vehicles, and after following them closely for a while, overtook with ease at points I would never normally consider with my SAAB. At one point I was following a Jaguar XJS. It tried on several ocassions to pull away, but I found myself having to hold off on the throttle as he was in my way. I didn't have the confidence with the 7 to go for an overtaking maneuver, so settled for annoying the XJS by sitting behind him with ease.
At the end of the day I returned the 7 to the showroom with 84 miles on the clock and a full tank of petrol.
My comment to the sales folks was that I would never have thought you could have so much fun staying within the speed limit.
My intention all along had been to place an order on returning, but after spending the day with this thing, it would have been very difficult not to leave that place without signing up for one.
I filled in the order form. I've choosen the basic model, live axle, Ford 1600, with weather kit and 7 grille. The weather kit includes the all important door flaps -- I did try driving the 7 with the drivers door off, but only managed about half a mile before I put the door back on. It would be fine with a full face helmet, but not without.
The 7 grille is important -- well, important as I want to be a bit of a snob! There are plenty of 7 lookalikes around, but none can be called "7". The large metalic 7 at the front of the car tells the world that this is a Caterham, and not a Westfield, DAX, Birkin, or Robin Hood, etc.
One option concerned me. The colour. The basic price includes plastic molded wings which you need to choose the colour of. The body is aluminum, unless you pay extra (~646 pounds) to have it a matching colour. I asked about a quote for a custom paint job. Caterham had not had a request before for a Friesian (ie like a cow) colour scheme. It will certainly be unique. They said their paintshop will do anything, so I'm just waiting now for the quote for the work. If their price is too high, then I'll request white, and use black sticky back plastic to stick on as the splodges...
My order has been placed, and I'm now the proud owner of a kit number, #20571. The delivery is scheduled for the 1st week in November. Looks like I have something to occupy my time on those dark winter evenings...