“Focus. Speed. I am Speed.” Caterham designers might well be fans of Lightning McQueen’s mantra, for their 620R model is the most extreme, road-legal Seven yet. In their own words, they have “created a monster. A very special monster”.
The car’s barely-changed design looks as fresh today as when Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven appeared in 1957.
Insect-like, it sits on nearly-slick Avon tyres, the noticeable camber of the front wheels, deep nose vents and colossal exhaust all hinting at something exceptional confined within the narrow body. Strapped into the four-point harness, the theme is the same. The rear view through the driving mirror is mostly obscured by roll bars, the side mirrors show off the fabulously wide rear arches and the carbon fibre dash contains just two simple rows of toggle switches beside the dials. Thankfully, one optional extra has been fitted to this car: a windscreen.
A flick of the starting switch and there is a lumpy idle, soon cleared with a few blips of the throttle. The sequential gearbox takes some getting used to; pulling the lever back, there’s a satisfying mechanical clunk close beneath and then we’re away.
The straight-cut gears make their characteristic whine as they mesh; it is this distinctive transmission which provides much of the car’s sound track. The minuscule Momo steering wheel affords ample leverage and incredible feedback. Add the carbon fibre sports seats (to which the driver is tightly strapped) and the much-used adage of feeling at one with a car is really true with the 620 R.
Pulling back the firm lever for second gear and then again for third, the 620 R – 310 bhp on tap and barely heavier than a shopping trolley – claws away at the tarmac, hurling itself forwards. Despite the rate of propulsion, it is surprisingly easy to position in the road, aided by the gratifying view down the long louvered nose. The greatest revelation is with the car’s comfort and suppleness of ride. It manages a surprising balance, remaining crisp and agile yet rarely becoming unsettled by a poor road surface.
Slowing through towns and villages or in heavier traffic, the 620 R is more cumbersome; it dislikes being held on light throttle – tugging and eager – so it’s best to change down a cog or two. As soon as there is a clear space ahead, the cars behind disappear rapidly from view and it’s up, up, up through the gears – no clutch pedal needed when under load. 100km/h is dispatched before one can even utter ‘Caterham 620 R’, so the speedo requires almost as much attention as the road ahead.
The 620 R is both raw and brutal; all aspects point to its true vocation as a track car. There is never any expectation of taming the power; merely hanging on feels closer to the truth. Yet find a gentle sequence of bends and it is there one will enjoy the Caterham’s accomplished handling which is truly magical. It is a very special monster indeed.