I’m not wearing a left shoe because there’s no room in the footwell to wear one and operate the clutch. It’s been raining and my right hand is turning blue from the gale blowing around a windscreen the size of a letterbox-the pathetic heater is just about keeping my left hand pink-coloured. My right knee is bruised from knocking it on the dashboard.
I have no satnav or radio and am lost somewhere near Kimbolton, in Cambridgeshire. Catherine
of Aragon didn’t escape from here and I might not, either. Yet I’m having the time of my life.
At every corner, I click the little Caterham’s gearstick down a peg or two and rev and brake, turning a steering wheel the size of a tea-cup saucer; the nose jerks side-ways like a dog picking up the scent of grilling sausages. Then, I floor the throttle and the rear wheels slide, I let out a schoolboyish holloa and off we parp up the road like Mr Toad.
It’s wonderful stuff, but this Caterham lark isn’t for everyone. Lorries loom over your shoulder like grimy leviathans and proximity to the hard parts of other cars and barriers can be intimidating. But if you can escape them, and if you love being out in the countryside, enjoying the journey for the sake of motoring, rather than absent-mindedly grinding from A to B, then the recently launched 160 is the transport for you.
The thing with this Seven 160 car is that, although it might be a brand-new model for the little firm from Sussex, philosophically, it has a rather old-fashioned approach that is in keeping with its 1950s looks and paint job.
Caterhams have become more extreme, to the point where they’re akin to lying in a rocket-powered sled like Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner. However, this one has only a little three-cylinder turbocharged engine and 80bhp-pretty much any cheap supermini on sale is more powerful. It also has skinny little tyres that wouldn’t look out of place on a pushchair plus cheap old-fashioned suspension and it weighs about the same as a Bugaboo pushchair.
However, the combination of these seemingly innocuous parts is magical. The 160 isn’t fast and you need fast bowler Bob Willis’s acceleration to get past other traffic, but this means you’re always-all right, mostly-within speed limits, so you feel no guilt.
The car slides around corners at speeds that won’t put you upside down in a field, so you can pretend to be Lewis Hamilton-but in slow motion. Then, there’s the price. For about £15,000, Caterham will supply the car in bits and you put it together yourself. This sounds fun in theory, but I’d wager there are hundreds of dismembered Caterhams gathering dust in garages next to rowing machines, fondue sets and other contraptions that seemed a good idea when they were purchased.
For £18,000, Caterham, which clearly knows what it’s about, will build the car for you and that’s eminently sensible for somebody like me, whose efforts with a spanner would make the quality control of workers who built Communist Ladas seem positively Brunelian in comparison.
If I had built it, I’d be concerned that the steering wheel was about to come away in my hand at every corner, as if in a clown car, and this wonderful little machine is far too much fun to be worrying about such dull matters. So it’s left shoe off and away I go again. Poop poop!
On the road
Caterham Seven 160
Price £17,995 (fully built!)
Combined fuel consumption 57.6mpg
0-60mph 6.5 seconds
In the town Speed bumps are Everests, but roundabouts a hoot
In the country There are few ways to have more fun on a B road
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