As manufacturers look to diversify rather than put all their eggs in one basket, one-product companies are fast becoming less commonplace than they once were. Even more rare, are the one-product companies with a half-century of success behind them. With car buyers increasingly being drawn to super-brands and their expansive product ranges, it is refreshing to re-visit little gems like Caterham Cars. Dedicated to producing one product - the Caterham Seven specialist lightweight sportscar - this small Surrey-based company has stayed relevant despite its basic design dating back to nearly 50 years.
Originally the brainchild of Lotus design chief Colin Chapman in the late 1960s, the Caterham Seven has steadily improved from its humble beginnings, despite remaining refreshingly simplistic when compared to its peers. Distilling the driving experience down to its purest form is no mean feat, especially on crowded modern roads, but Caterham's ability is such that it appears to have bottled the formula for four-wheeled entertainment.
Wallpaper* took to the wheel of the Caterham Supersport Seven, a road-going version of the lightweight track variant of the Seven, with additional fine-tuning and updated springs and dampers to suit today's highways. It's the first addition to the Caterham range in recent years, complete with all of the race performance essentials one would expect, including composite race seats, four-point race harness and a modest sliver of a windscreen.
Given the vehicle's extreme svelteness (it weighs in a meagre 520kg, far less than half that of a MINI Cooper S), its Motorsport-tuned 140bhp 1.6-litre Ford Sigma engine provides more than ample power. It's also important to stress that the Supersport is not an everyday car; the Seven tends to be a second, third, fourth, sometimes even a fifth choice car for its owner. Simply climbing into the cockpit and buckling up in anticipation for a spin takes both time and effort and the distinct absence of weather-proofing, luggage space and other creature comforts mean it's best sampled on the track.
The Supersport's low centre of gravity, outstanding handling and abundant power plant make for an unadulterated driving experience. The squat stance and windscreen free cabin enable the driver to enjoy an exposed involvement rarely found in modern day motoring. It even has a pleasingly lightweight price-tag (£22,995 factory built, £19,995 in component form if you're handy with the spanners), making the Supersport as accessible as affordably indulgent. A 0-60mph time in a fraction below 5 seconds and a top speed of 120mph are more than ample and disgrace cars costing many times the money.
From its Lotus origins, to its complete Caterham buy out in 1973 - when the company acquired the rights to the Seven - the firm turned a form of full circle earlier this year when it was bought by Team Lotus. Not to be confused with Norfolk's Lotus Cars, Team Lotus is a racing outfit eager to make the leap back into manufacturing. With the fierce-looking SP/300.R sports car concept waiting in the wings, the new owners promise to expand distribution and expose the brand to new markets. But even though the iconic Seven is just two years off its 30th birthday, it's unlikely to disappear any time soon.