Not a day-to-day car

The new Caterham is great on a track but rubbish for Tesco's, says Michael Booth

Would suit: Adrenalin junkies
Price: £36,500
Maximum speed: 150 mph, 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds Combined fuel economy: 20 mpg
Further information: 01883 333 700

Of course, it would be ridiculous to judge the new Caterham CSR 260 by the criteria of a day-to-day car, so that's what I've decided to do. After all, the company's slogan boasts they are "designed for racing, built for living" and, if you are paying over £37,000 for a car, you might reasonably expect to be able to use it a bit.

I have been lucky enough to spend some time driving Caterhams on tracks over the years; each drive is indelibly branded on my memory as having been breathlessly exhilarating, but not a little traumatic - kind of how I imagine people who have gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel must have felt, looking back. What makes a Caterham the car to choose if you plan to pull down the collective trousers of a field of Ferraris on a race track is its combination - honed to perfection over four decades - of a superlight, yet rigid tub (a plastic coffin, really); stiff suspension; and a reasonably powerful engine. Caterhams have roughly the power-to-weight ratio of a wasp, plus a hummingbird's agility and easily controllable oversteer (I say " easily controllable", actually one of my more traumatic Caterham moments came when I span one outside Buckingham Palace - which should be a great ice breaker when I eventually get my CBE for charity work, when I get round to doing some). And the CS-R should be even quicker with its new, Cosworth-tuned, Ford Duratec engine and independent rear suspension.

Stage one of my liveability test was to go shopping. Actually, no, stage one was getting in the thing. With the canvas roof in place this requires that you fold your limbs like some kind of circus performer and force yourself through the tiny door aperture, bum first. It's easier if you remove the roof, but that's like having a fight with a stroppy pterodactyl. Whichever way, the technique thereafter is to lower yourself slowly as if into a hot bath. Next you must strap yourself in with the four-point racing harness, then, realising you are strapped in so tight you can't reach the handbrake or breath, you must release it a little. Finally, you turn the key and press the red starter button in front of the handbrake. This is a deafeningly loud car, even at idle; accelerate hard and the noise is cataclysmic, with intermittent bangs and crackles like sausage fat falling into barbecue flames.

And accelerate you will, again and again, as there are few more addictive experiences than going flat out in a Caterham. Floor the pedal and within four seconds you will have broken every speed limit in the land, the scenery will look exactly as if you are sitting on a very fast roundabout and your head will be trying to part company from your neck. The thing will smell like the devil himself.

You won't notice that the seat is, essentially, a school assembly stacking chair with a couple of panty liners stuck on, or that, with nowhere to rest your left foot and part of the chassis forcing your left knee down, you will never walk the same way again, or that your face is aching as if you have posed for a hundred wedding photographs, or that the heat soak from the engine has melted your shoes.

And you will forget all about using this car on a day-to-day basis because every time you set off for the shops, you end up heading for the hills.

It's a classic: Lotus MkVI

The Caterham CSR might cost more than a Porsche Boxster but its origins lie in this humble little kit car, the Lotus MkVI.

Colin Chapman had formed Lotus Engineering with his wife, Hazel, in the early 1950s and produced several lightweight Austin specials before he had the idea for the MkVI. This was a radical two-seater soft-top built around a tubular space frame steel chassis on to which was welded an aluminium body.

Comforts were few, and safety features fewer, but it was a formula that Chapman would follow for years after with great success because, though the MkVI of 1952 only had a 1,099cc four-cylinder engine (originally a Ford unit) its combination of low weight, stiff body and relatively forgiving suspension meant that it was able to humble far faster machinery both on twisty tracks and hill climbs - often with Chapman himself at the wheel.

The MkVI was developed into the iconic Lotus Seven of 1957 which remained in production until Caterham bought the rights in 1973. Thanks to continual development since then the Seven remains a potent track-day terror to this day.

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