It was Luffy who hit the nail on the head regarding the Caterham.
I could quote him, but he was speaking fluent Gold Coast, so I’ll paraphrase: Back when brakes were hopeless and tyres were rubbish, there was a valid point to making something as light as the Caterham. But these days, it’s difficult to see past the compromises that insistence on lightness brings with it.
Maybe cars like the Caterham have seen their use-by-date come and go. Maybe we don’t have to be so bloody minded these days and, in the process, we can move on to cars that offer a much more rounded skill-set while still being great track-day cars.
Like I said, I’m paraphrasing (which you’d know if you know Luffy, because ‘compromises’ has anything up to four syllables, even when pronounced by a Queenslander). Anyway, he’s dead right. I think. None of this alters the fact that the Caterham is, in the right hands and in the right circumstances, huge fun.
It’s roofless, tiny, responsive, loud and tactile as all get out with its unassisted steering and bum-on-the-deck driving position. But while those attributes haven’t gone away, they don’t actually mean squat when the BFYB formula shakes things out.
Just as it makes no difference to the BFYB gods that an SS Ute can carry a whole pallet of dog food, neither do they give a toss that the Caterham weighs just 675kg and indulges your fighter-ace fantasies. See, at the end of the day, the Caterham just wasn’t that fast.
Or quick, as it turned out. Its 0-100 time of 6.5 speaks of that legendary lack of kerb mass, but by the time 400m have passed under its lovely little alloys, the lack of top-end urge and the aerodynamics of a lunch box with wing-mirrors take their toll, and the 275 is right back in the last handful of stragglers with a terminal velocity to match.
Mind you, you could probably even cop that if the thing was a dead-set slot-car around corners. Only it isn’t. It lacks the stomp to be truly fast around the big-boys corners and there’s a didn’t-see-that-coming shortage of grip that goes with it.
Truly, if ever the Caterham was going to shine, it should have been in the tight, gnarly stuff for which Winton is (in)famous. Don’t get us wrong, if that olde worlde, wind in yer hair, back-to-basics vibe is your thing, then nothing else here (or anywhere else) will deliver like the Caterham. But a BFYB hero it is not.
Engine: 1596cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v
Power: 100kW @ 6800rpm
Torque: 160Nm @ 4100rpm
Times 0-100km/h: 6.53sec (7th)
0-400m: 14.80sec @ 147.05km/h (7th)
Lap Time: 1:44.4sec (8th)
Warren Luff says
“I get the concept, but I’m just not a fan of them. They’re not that fast, they don’t handle that well, they don’t brake that well, and then you look at the other BFYB cars that are probably three times the weight, but still handle and stop a lot better than it.
In terms of open-top motoring they’re great fun. But for me if I want to have exposed motoring and go fast I think I’d go and buy a motorbike. For the absolute enthusiast who wants to drive it every couple of months, go ahead, you’ll have a lot of fun with it.”
David Morley - 6th: “I have to question its relevance in 2017. Needs to be faster”
Dylan Campbell - 6th: “Feels faster than it is, and huge fun, but I wouldn’t drive home in it”
Louis Cordony - 7th: “Cackle-inducing fun but ultimately a flawed gadget”
Tim Robson - 8th: “I didn’t mind it - but I take Morley’s point; it should rip your face off”
Want more? Check out the rest of 2017 Bang For Your Bucks