He owned, among other things, a micrometer that makes a nuclear reactor core look flimsy, a hand plane of such absurd heft and forged metal splendor that my manliness literally trebled by holding the thing aloft to look at it, and an ancient yet functioning electric drill that started its life on the line at de Havilland, boring holes in the balsa wood and birch that made up the monocoque of a Mosquito fighter bomber.
Being a glorified typist, I have no practical use for any of this, of course – but the build quality, tonnage and overt imperial magnificence of the collection mean that I now own it all. And it is that magnetic wistfulness, I think, for the glow of the long-dead furnace at the core of Britain’s prewar and post-war workshop, and of the molten exceptionalism that it engendered for decades afterwards, that characterises the appeal of cars like the Seven Sprint.
It is a trick, frankly, that Caterham has too often overlooked in its compulsive reflex to make its single product go ever more indulgently (and profitably) quicker. But 2017 has given the company good reason to look back as it marks 60 years since the Seven made its debut at the Earl’s Court Motor Show.
The Sprint bears little resemblance to the model that actually adorned Lotus’s stand that year. With its flared front wings, powder-coated chassis, wood-rimmed steering wheel and polished hub caps, the car is meant to celebrate the essence of the age rather than its substance. Underneath, it’s unchanged from the current entry-level 160, driven by an 80bhp, 660cc Suzuki three-cylinder engine and its corresponding five-speed manual gearbox.
But that’s fine. Much like the imagination-capturing Morgan 3 Wheeler, the hark-back theme hits the spot not just because you can have it in one of six special contemporaneous colours but also because the Seven itself still retains so much of the original car’s conceptual brilliance.
Its designer, Colin Chapman, was a product of his age as well. Unquestionably and quixotically brilliant, and endowed with the savage drive and single-mindedness to make those qualities meaningful, he left a mark on motor racing that’s well known and rightly acclaimed.
His throwaway idea for an open-top sports car was not intended to last six decades – and not just because he eagerly offloaded it to a savvy car dealer when the time came but also because he lived so self-righteously and necessarily in the present anyway.
The Seven’s gossamer spaceframe and stressed aluminium panels, pioneered in the even more threadbare Lotus Mark VI and perfected in the racing Lotus Eleven, was an elegantly engineered solution to the immutable predicament of kinetic stress and structural load. It was also relatively cheap and easy to make – ideal attributes when you’re selling a kit for someone else to build.