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Melbourne to Winton and back – In a Caterham Seven

By Chris Thompson, 28 May 2017 Features

Caterham seven drive main2

No roof, no doors, no power steering… what could go wrong?

Picture your ideal road trip car. It probably has doors. And a roof, unless you live somewhere warm.

I’d treat you with some suspicion if you told me your ideal road trip car was a Caterham Seven. Mine certainly isn’t.

But that didn’t matter, because when the time came to divvy up the keys amongst the MOTOR journos for the drive to Bang For Your Bucks at Winton, I drew (or rather was handed) the short car. Really, it’s tiny.

2017 Caterham Seven side exhaust
The morning after I had found out what I’d be piloting up the Hume, I headed into Caterham Cars in Richmond to pick it up.

Here’s a bit of advice – If you like attention, a good way to get some is to drive a bright red Caterham along busy Swan Street just as everybody else is walking to work.

Electric Steering - Geek Speak

It’s jarring to get out of a modern car with power-assisted pretty-much-everything, and get into something which will only assist your workout routine.

The amount of effort it takes to steer and brake in the Caterham Seven isn’t huge, but it’s staggeringly raw by modern standards.

2017 Caterham Seven
It does mean you’ve got to be paying attention to everything around you at all times – which could help a few people drop the bad habit of texting and driving.

Is this how it was in the early days of motoring? Did people really have to actually pay attention to their cars and the road ahead of them, without looking down at their phones every 2.6 seconds?

The answer is yes, but the fact that they didn’t have phones helps.

2017 Caterham Seven interior
Soon I was out of the city, letting the Caterham stretch its legs. This revealed the acceleration potential of an aspirated 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine in a 675kg car.

It’s not supercar fast, but 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.5 seconds sure feels quick when your head is about a metre from the road.

Doing highway speeds in something that has no doors and is small enough that you can actually lean out and touch the ground is exhilarating, there’s no other way to put it.

2017 Caterham Seven on Hume Highway
There’s really not much to insulate you from the road, either. There aren’t many perfectly smooth sections of the Hume, even though it’s a breeze for most cars.

Every bump or slight dip felt like it was about to fling me out of this motorised go-kart.

On top of that, it turns out other motorists are quite interested in an oddity like a Caterham, and will crowd around you to get a closer look. Not great at 110km/h, really.

2017 Caterham Seven Hume highway
Once in Winton, and after everyone had a good laugh at the spectacle of the new kid showing up in a go-kart, we headed to our hotel in nearby Benalla to catch some zeds before the big event.

Needless to say, driving back to Winton the next morning was interesting, as it was about eight degrees Celsius. Mercifully the thing has a heater, but my hands were still numb when we arrived at the track.

While it was there, the Caterham… actually, I can’t tell you yet. Wait for our BFYB 2017 feature, coming soon to MOTOR.

2017 Caterham Seven drift
Which brings me to the drive home.

It was much like the drive there, except it was darker. And colder. I employed gloves for this drive. And a scarf. On my face.

2017 Caterham Seven driving scarf
The below picture somewhat illustrates how the highway looks when you’re in a Caterham Seven, despite the fact it was taken from the passenger seat, by my housemate, on a smaller and slower road. Imagine this photo but twice as intense.

Caterham view ahead night
Since I had the car for one night at home before it had to be returned, I made the most of it.

I picked up my girlfriend from work in the CBD that night, which she quite enjoyed… I think. Driving through the city at night is another good way to draw far too much attention, by the way.

We also did what any 20-something-year-old would do – took it through the Maccas drive-thru. Standing up to pay for your nuggets is decidedly inelegant.

Getting Mcdonalds in a Caterham
In all seriousness, I had a blast in the Seven. Getting back to the very basics of driving is something everyone should do if given the chance. It will, at the very least, make you realise we’ve probably become a bit lazy.

I do however advise warm weather and sunlight for a drive in one because, as I type this, I think I’m coming down with a cold.