Like the ultraviolent teenager Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the future, this Caterham Superlight has the raw appeal of the aggressive British antihero with the agility of a Manx cat.
Many ec readers will be familiar with the Caterham. Colin Chapman’s philosophy of subtracting weight to add power has been faithfully continued by the company that took over Lotus’ reins years ago.
While the original svelte roadster had questionable looks at best, the newer version, like the one pictured here, cleans up well with slightly less boxy lines and carbon-fiber front cycle wings as opposed to the duck bill style of the earlier versions.
This particular model is a Superlight R400, and it has more than a few items and upgrades that set it apart from the standard Caterham. For starters, the rollbar that sticks up just above head level is a sign that this Caterham is meant to see some track time. In fact, it’s been said that on any given weekend the bug-eyed British roadster is the most often raced car in the world.
Snoop around the black powdercoated interior a bit more and you come across a few aesthetic additions like the carbon-fiber dash and the aluminum handbrake lever, as well as adjustable leather seats. But underneath those seats is where the fashionable additions end and the functional ones begin. For one, there is a heater to keep your bottom toasty on those nippy jaunts through the English countryside or through the Hawk’s Nest near New York, which is where this car resides now. The current owner had it built in Colorado before shipping it out east. Which is when we had a chance to put this particular model through its paces, but more on that later. The floors have been lowered on both sides to make even more room for the six-foot-tall owner, as the frame is an increased dimension chassis. Last but not least, there is a pushbutton starter. Depressing this button not only makes you feel like James Bond, but more importantly fires up the surprisingly ferocious-sounding motor. Surprising because it’s a mere two-liter.
Of course when the entire car weighs close to 1200 pounds, about a quarter the weight of an American behemoth like the new Camaro, one can afford to run a two-liter, especially when it makes close to 100 hp per liter.
At around $3,000, the motor is actually one of the least expensive parts of the Caterham package. Purchased through Ford, the Duratec motor is both cheap and plentiful, especially compared to the $50,000 it costs for the rest of the base kit. Actually, in this case, the entire kit came closer to $65,000 with the various aforementioned extras like the rollbar and others, such as the engine upgrade kit. This includes larger fuel injectors, a reprogrammed ECU and roller barrel throttle bodies. These trick components allow for the fuel-injected motor to behave like a carbureted one by rolling open a port that literally dumps fuel into the combustion chamber, and Ka-Blam! The heat is on. While these upgrades increased horsepower from 210 to a claimed 220, the other engine upgrade available is the dry-sump system. This helps the motor cope with the extra power but more importantly keeps it lubed while the Caterham is attaining the g’s it can while it’s in the corners. And when you’re driving this car you want to go through those as often as possible. Program my GPS to roundabouts, please.