Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A Spartan Weekend

Last Sunday, Mr Clarkson gave us his thoughts on the new 2011-model Nissan GTR. It is loaded with every bit of technology available to sport-cars manufacturers, built to the finest level of precision that is currently possible, and the result is a car which comprehensively outperforms supercars that are two to three times the price. Clarkson loved it. He loved its ability to produce stupendous performance, enough to drag his (albeit somewhat flabby) features off to one side of his face as it drove him round corners and impossible speeds, inflicting impossible levels of g-force, faithfully monitored by the on-board g-trace screen.

I would hate it. OK, if you offer me a test drive, I'll gladly take it and I'll have fun for a few hours. But there's no way I'll buy one.  There's no way I'll want one for keeps.

Why? The hint is in my first paragraph. The GTR drove Clarkson round the corners. Not the other way round. Now, Clarkson is a skilled driver (whatever you think of him), and so he should be - he's had enough practice by now. But he didn't need that skill. He just needed to turn the wheel and the car did it for him. Then the car produced a wiggly line on a computer monitor for him, so that he could see how well the car was doing.

But, it strikes me that if you're really concentrating on driving a car to its limit, you won't have time to look at a monitor on the dashboard. So if there is a monitor to tell you your g-trace, that tells you that you're not the one doing the work. You weren't the one with the skill. You aren't the one that should be proud of a lap-time. If I may be crude and Clarksonian for a moment, it would be like being proud that your wife is satisfied because you were the one that bought the massive vibrator and held it there for her.

I know this because last weekend I borrowed a proper sports car.  One that is not provided with electronickery to do all the work for you.  One that just has what it needs - a chassis, an engine, steering, and brakes.  There you go, say its makers, now get on with driving it.  What was it?  Well, it was a Caterham:

I know Caterham don't have many models, but let's be specific and say that it is a 7:

In particular, a Caterham 7 Roadsport:

No, not the SV, I may be middle-aged but I can still fit in a standard 7, thank you.  That is, of course, the first line of thought that strikes you when you first encounter a 7 - isn't it tiny! Will I fit in?  And if I do fit in, how exactly am I going to get into it?  (Only later do you start to wonder how you are going to get out.)

But that is the 7's hidden advantage.  It is tiny, therefore it is light, therefore it is fantastic to drive.  Also, that is the one way in which it is practical - it could (for example) be squeezed into a garage that already had one proper car and the garage-clutter of a family of four:

Who are you looking at?

Just squeeze into this half-space, here...

To illustrate my point about the equipment levels, this 7 was fully loaded with all the options.  Yes, this one had a roof!  In its own bag - look:

The interior is spartan, bereft of fripperies.  But there is nothing that you really, really need in order to drive the car that is absent:

The interior is, err, snug:

but has all it needs to keep you there:

BMW would call this interior "Piano Black", and they would hide the rivets.  But that would just make it pretentious and slower.  And why do you need anything more secure for the door than a leather strap with a popper?  After all, it's not as if there's any room in there to leave anything valuable behind...

Yet I loved it, and I loved the aesthetics.

and, joy of joys, it has a big red button which you press to start it:

Who could fail to love a machine with a big red starter button?


  1. I haven't read this, obviously. But the two photos in the garage ("Who are you looking at?") reminded me of one of the Gumdrop books. As I recall, the elderly car is trashed and eventually used a tractor .

  2. Can you get a couple of carp rods and a bedchair in it?

    I'd go for a GTR if I could afford the fuel - OK and the motor - safe suits me, too easy to get carried away in a fast car.

  3. Can you get a couple of carp rods and a bedchair in it?

    Yeah, no problem. There's loads of headroom.

  4. I agree Mr Patently. I like to feel in full control of a car, even if that means it isn't as comfortable or "safe".

  5. Yes, that's the nub of it, BE. You are in control, which focuses the mind. The knowledge that it is up to you to stop the car slithering off the road backwards (etc) and that there is no clever box of tricks there to save you, means that you keep a careful eye out for things that might cause you to slither off the road backwards (etc) and avoid them...

  6. Not that I have ever driven a powercar, apart from a slow spin around the block in a mate's TVR.

  7. Come & help me build the Caterham, I'll see what I can do ;-)

  8. Careful, don't make threats you can't go through with!!

  9. Big boys' rules apply. You bend it, you mend it. :-)