What's blue, does 155mph and scares pigeons? A Caterham CSR, that's what. Scares its driver too. I should explain about the pigeons, which I didn't mean to scare, exactly, but a blip on the Caterham's throttle produces a backfire that is so spectacularly burbly and loud that it's like the noisiest Guy Fawkes night that you (or indeed a pigeon) have ever experienced.

You sit very low in this rare little British sports car (only 500 a year are made), and the exhaust is fitted to the side of the car, inches from your ears. Like those distinctive looks, it's fun, that racket, in a bird-frightening sort of way, but you have to get very used to the attention it attracts. It gets photographed a lot.

The problem with this Caterham, though, is that it doesn't look the part. To most people, I reckon. I think it looks wonderful. It represents the opposite of silly, fussy "styling". This is about function. There's a powerful Cosworth engine, some sophisticated suspension bits, four wheels and, er, that's about it, except for the glass-fibre tub for the two occupants ( if you're big-boned think carefully about the sacrifices you'll have to make if you want to enjoy the Caterham experience). By the way, there are no "driver aids" such as antilock brakes or stability control - you're on your own out there.

The "bodywork" is just the closest wrapping of metal (mostly aluminium) they can get away with legally. Note the absence of doors, for example, replaced by detachable plastic flaps. No wings either, or even a proper boot. The roof is a canvas hood top riveted to the body and which, with a little practice, ought to be easy to use, but it defeated me more than once.

No suprise, this minimalism, because the CSR is a descendant of the original Lotus 6 of 1953, as developed by the legendary Colin Chapman, and his slightly more civilised Lotus Seven of 1957. Rights to the Seven were sold to Caterham cars in 1973. Funnily enough, the Caterham firm was itself recently bought out by ex-managers from the Lotus Group and production will soon be moving to better premises, but still near the old factory. But even though this car has got every possible bit of modern technology, from its inboard F1-style front suspension to the carbon-fibre seats, it looks old-fashioned. Not archaic like a Morgan, but a bit quaint.

Now, those who know their cars know that this can devour virtually any Porsche or Ferrari or TVR, but I'm not sure it's sending that message out visually to the non-cognoscenti. The Caterham looks the business all right, but it doesn't look as aggressive or brutish as its competitors. The Caterham's bug eyes look just a little bit too cute, too much like a 2CV, say, to suit the pit-bull generation.

Which is a shame. A few years ago Caterham tried to reclothe its sports car and the attempt, which was called the "21", flopped. If it only wants to sell 500 cars a year, and it can sell these CSRs for £37,000 a pop, I don't suppose that lack of modernity matters really. You get 260bhp and a 0-60mph sprint in three seconds and that's enough to justify its existence.

I'd prefer the 1.4 version, which gives you most of the thrills for considerably less, about £15,000: a fine alternative to the dearly departed MG TF.

It might frighten the odd pigeon, too.

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