2007 Caterham CSR 200
Caterham is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. There’s no better way to join in than taking one of these cars for a drive.
Words By: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Photos: Peet Mocke
Classic Collection Back to Basics: Caterham CSR 200
WHERE WE DROVE IT Zwartkops, Pretoria
If there is a country at the pinnacle of producing a variety of focused sports cars, it’s the United Kingdom. This is one of its specialities and has been for decades. The Brits have a professional and specialised automotive industry, which is reflected in the number of Formula One teams based in England.
Caterham is part of this industry. It builds cars for the true driving enthusiast and the regular track-day user or avid racer. Its history dates back to 1957 and is worth a read. If you think Caterhams look nearly identical to the original Lotus 7, you’d be completely right. Over the years, however, Caterham Cars have refined and developed these vehicles into modern versions of the Lotus 7 concept and, in the process, delivered a truly intoxicating driving experience.
This example is a 2007 Caterham CSR 200. It is rumoured this is one of just two in South Africa. The development of the CSR has an interesting back story as, during the development process of the CSR models (there was also a more powerful CSR 260), Caterham Cars was in the process of transitioning between owners. The result is there are interesting elements specific to the CSR. For instance, note the small winglets at the front, as well as the flat-top front wings and aerodynamically optimised suspension parts. When you climb in, the differences compared with other Caterhams become even more obvious. The tubular dashboard frame is a structural part of the chassis and is visible everywhere; it is completely different to the usual flat dashboard.
As expected, it is a tight environment, but the steering wheel is directly in front of you, with the stubby gear lever to your left. It has often been said – and the sentiment remains – that it feels like you are wearing the car, more so than any other sports car. You sit extremely close to the ground and if you put your arm out, you can comfortably touch the tarmac. In front is the louvred bonnet and at the end of each side are the wings over the wheels. This enables you to meticulously place the tyres where you want to without any effort. There are no luxuries in the cabin save for the necessary rev counter, speedometer and fluid-temperature indicators. The most luxurious element here is undoubtedly the temporary roof. It provides shade and allows air to flow freely, which limits wind buffeting in the cabin.
Drivers have to slide in and push their legs down towards the pedals. Clip on the harness and it’s ready for an exciting drive. As we drove from Zwartkops Raceway, slight throttle inputs resulted in a small but immediate burst of acceleration. The CSR tips the scales at around 570 kg and the benefit is that whether you accelerate, change direction or brake, the Caterham does it with minimal effort. The smallest input from the steering wheel and the nose of the car responds, and the gear-shift action is short and precise, with no delay or hesitation.
As the road opened, I pressed the throttle. The revs climbed past 6 000 r/min and I swiftly changed gear. The gears are closely stacked and the Caterham gained speed quickly – faster than some serious sports cars I’ve driven – but the joy is that it feels even faster. The engine revs with ease and it rarely taps off the speed as it goes through the rev range. The finely tuned 2,3-litre, four-cylinder Cosworth engine does not have to pull much weight, and you can feel it all the time.
It is a hard-core sports car that can be enjoyed only in select environments and on track (the owner does take it to track days), but it is not compromised in any way. As it is so light, the suspension does not need to be stiff and as a result, it rides better than I expected. It absorbed road irregularities much better than some more sophisticated cars.
Because the exhaust is close to your head, you do hear it, but this is all part of the fun. When the owner takes it for longer drives, he simply puts in noise-cancelling ear buds and it solves the problem. The owner is a true petrolhead, fanatical and well-informed, especially when it comes to driver involvement: “It is one of those cars: If you know, you know. I think people assume an almost classic and vintage type of driving experience. It is nothing of the sort. It is much faster and has modern road-holding and dynamics. So, it is a little under the radar. I don’t like motorcycles, but I think this is as close to the rush you get from two-wheeled machines. It makes me grin just to think how honed it is. After all, it is a 66-year evolution of a concept.”
- 01 A stance unlike any other car on the road.
- 02 Metal knob for the perfect short-throw shift actions. 03 Minimal buttons in the simplistic cabin.
- 04 Eagle-eyed Caterham fans will notice the unique additions for this CSR.
- 05 Tight cabin with the metal tubing from the chassis.
- 06 Covered exhaust pipe helps with aural pleasure.
- 07 CSR 200 badging at the rear. 08 2.3-litre Cosworth engine in all its glory. 09 “Wheels at each corner”, resulting in superb handling.
TECHNICAL DATA 2007 CATERHAM CSR 200
- Engine: 2 261 cm³, four-cylinder, petrol
- Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
- Max Power: 200bhp / 149 kW @ 7 000 r/min
- Max Torque: 165lb ft / 224 N.m @ 5 750 r/min
- Top speed: 140mph / 225 km/h
- Fuel tank: 41 litres
- Weight: 570 kg
- Manufactured: From 2004