Classic & Sportscar Magazine Review
The idea was to challenge the fairly widespread belief among classic car fans that so-called 'modern classics' have no soul. The obvious way to do that was to get together three truly great drivers' cars, those that
set a benchmark for driver appeal and entertainment when they were new. The added bonus, of course, is that none of these cars cost a kings ransome when new, and all are affordable today - at least in comparison with supercars of similar performance.
2. Why include the 21 particularly?
The 21 provided something of a counterpoint to the other trio in the test. It follows a similar philosophy - lightweight chassis with composite body and powerplant borrowed from a mainstream manufacturer - but attacks the
problem from a different angle because it stuck with more conventional front-engine/rear-drive formula rather than the fashionable mid-engined route.
3. Had you ever driven/sat in a 21 before - what about 7's? (If you have,
I'm not sure I'd ever even seen a 21 in the glassfibre before, certainly not outside of a Motor Show. I have, however, had plenty of experience in Sevens, from an early Caterham 1700 to Superlight R, R500 and R600 in my
time on Autocar magazine - and I'm a huge fan.
4. What did you expect from the 21 in terms of the level of how well "finished" the car would in relation to the other models, and given the low production volume. How did your expectations compare with the actual drive?
Are there any aspects of the car as a complete product that you think would have benefited from more development?
I must admit that my expectations about the 21's level of fit and finish were blown away. The road tests suggested the car was well put together, but I had my doubts about how it would have withstood a decade of abuse. I'm not sure whether it's unique to David's car, but the Caterham seemed to
me a world away from the TVRs of that era: the level of luxury exceeds that of all others on the day and it really does feel very well screwed together.
5. As an experienced driver of other people's cars - impressions of the look of the car and the drive itself? Compared to the "7" end of the market and the Elise end? Had the car "aged" well over its 11.5 years - both in terms
of the design and the complete package of engine/box/brakes/handling? (not in terms of wear and tear - it's had a rebuild)
It's a great-looking car, for sure. Perhaps a little thinner than I would like - which accentuates the length of the nose, but in profile it looks fantastic and there's none of the thrown-together feel that you often get
in low-volume sports cars that, through necessity, have to use parts from mainstream makers. As for the driving experience, it loses very little in comparison to the
Seven. The steering is not quite as sharp - and not as light and feelsome as the Elise's - but the turn-in is still ridiculously agile and it's easier to lean on the front tyres than it is in a Seven because of that
extra front track. The ride is far superior to the Seven and nearly up with the Elise, and it feels a far more complete car than the Seven, but I guess the traditional layout does inevitably mean that it feels more like a
traditional sports car than the mid-engined cars: they give a totally different sensation through corners - and not always for the better!
It's an incredibly involving car - both in a good way and a bad way. I found it a real thrill to drive, with a brilliant chassis, but it requires plenty of concentration when you're really on it because its responses are so honed.
6. What DIDN'T you like about it? What would you change to solve it?
At the risk of annoying David, I have to be a bit practical here. Now the Elise - and VX220 - are generally acknowledged to be a nightmare to get in and out of, particularly with the roof up. I thought the traditional
layout would give the Caterham an advantage here, but the door aperture is so tiny and the hood so close-fitting that it's even trickier!
And once in it really does feel cramped. There's not much that can be done about that I guess because of the car's roots and the need for the transmission tunnel - which the middies don't need - but I'm 6ft 3in and I'm not sure I could live with it - certainly not every day.
And, yes, it does irritate me that the windows don't drop!
7. During the day, you commented that the car was an odd blend of the most practical out of the set and "bonkers" elements to it. Care to elaborate? I guess I've answered that to a certain extent in the last two questions.
It's practical in that it has a proper hood - which, David tells me, works well - a well-trimmed interior with proper gauges and weather protection, a decent boot and a generous fuel tank, so it's perfect for a
run to Le Mans or a blast round the Lakes with a tent. But it's also the most bonkers - certainly in the case of David's car - because it has a
truly outrageous engine, track-car responses and few concessions to driver
8. Finally - if you had to boil the drive down to 4 words?
Loud, fast, fun... and a bit scary.
Classic & Sports Car