Whether it’s retro cars, vintage clothes or Instagram filters on photos, making new stuff look old has never been so popular. Perhaps we yearn for simpler times – or maybe we’ve just run out of ideas. Either way, if the retro-future looks half as good as the Caterham Seven Sprint, I’m all for it.
The limited-edition Sprint marks 60 years of Caterham’s iconic Seven sports car. Launched at the Goodwood Revival, all 60 examples sold out within a week. Given that it costs £27,995 – a hefty £9,000 more than the Seven 160, which shares the same 660cc three-cylinder engine – that’s quite an achievement. So what makes the Sprint special?
Above all, it’s the styling. The Seven is a direct descendent of the 1957 Lotus Seven (Caterham acquired the rights in 1974) and the Sprint harks back to the original. Check out the flared front wings, powder-coated grey chassis, cream steel wheels, polished exhaust and classic-style badges. Inside, there are retro Smiths gauges, scarlet leather, a wood-rimmed steering wheel and a numbered plaque showing which of the 60 cars is yours.
Caterham offers a suitably old-school range of paint colours, too. The car in our photos is Camberwick Green, but you can also choose Regency Red, Mellow Yellow, Cream, Misty Blue or British Racing Green. The only other options are armrests, a tonneau cover, stainless steel rear wing guards and a lower floor for extra cabin space. Want a radio, sat nav or Bluetooth? You’re looking at the wrong car.
However, the Caterham isn’t quite as retro under the skin. Its eager and surprisingly efficient engine comes from Suzuki. And though 80hp might not sound much, in a 495kg car (a Ford Fiesta weighs 1,100kg) it’s good for 60mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 100mph. With your buttocks millimetres from the bitumen, that feels more than adequate. Faster, more focused Sevens might slay supercars on the track, but the Sprint feels made for British B-roads.
On that note, I’ll confess to never having been a fan of the Seven. It always seemed a little too compromised, too much like hard work. The Sprint is easier, with a light clutch and larger steering wheel that makes it feel less nervous. That raspy three-pot engine likes to rev, but also pulls strongly from just 2,000rpm; you don’t have to thrash it to make swift progress. And the chassis is softer than you might expect, squirming and shimmying where a hardcore Seven would jolt and jar.
All this adds up to fun without breaking the speed limit – what an old-fashioned idea! You can be blatting along, savouring the smells of ploughed fields and hot exhaust, then look down and realise you’re only doing 40mph. The joy of the Sprint comes from simple interaction: accelerating, braking, steering, changing gear. There are no electronic traction or stability aids: you are in control. This is driving in its purest form.
It would take a braver man than me to drive a Sprint every day. It’s noisy, not particularly comfortable and there’s no luggage space – not even a glovebox. The hood is fiddly and flimsy, too. However, as a weekend toy, this traditional British sports car takes some beating. On a crisp autumn morning, with the roof down and fallen leaves swirling around its exposed cycle wings, it felt just about perfect.
“That’s all very well,” I hear you say, “but I can’t actually buy one.” It’s true, the Sprint has sold-out, but the good news is that the regular Seven 160 is still available and it’s cheaper – especially if you opt to build it yourself. And if you are one of the chosen 60, look after your Sprint carefully; it’s a sure-fire future classic.