From £25,9959
Trackday special bridges the gap between 420R and Caterham’s motorsport Seven

What is it?

So single-minded is any Caterham Seven that every model in the range feels like a would-be racer lacking only an opportunity.

But Caterham does offer dedicated racing Sevens, with none more focused than the cage-bedecked, slick-shod, windscreen-less Championship UK Racecar. Ignore the unromantic name: we’ve driven one and adored it for its remarkable ability to be fun and forgiving while feeling grittily raw and millimetre-precise.

Alas, it’s solely for the track, which is where the new 420 Cup comes in. Caterham wants you to think of this car as the ultimate road-legal trackday Seven, inspired by the single-seat Championship racer but with solid concessions to comfort and versatility.

Inside you’ll duly find Alcantara trim on the transmission-tunnel, and even the optional composite Tillett seats are heated. The roll-cage (of which there are three varities – Track Day, Sport and Race) is also only an opt-in element, though one you may want. This car has the Race cage, which as well as stiffening the body, comes the racer’s metal boot cover, and also acts as plinth for wing mirrors that give the Cup the competition-ready look. Mind you, it also rules out having a windscreen, which the lesser cages don't. As standard the 420 Cup comes with a trackday roll-bar, which is essentially a cross of metal behind the cockpit.

Other racing nods extend to the Schroth harnesses, central petrol-filler and a vented nose-cone seen only on the madcap 620R and the fabulous 420R Donington Edition of 2017. However, where only 10 of the Doningtons were ever made, the 420 Cup will be series production. Note, though, that even with Caterham’s Gatwick showroom recently being converted to a second production facility, the lead time for cars is approaching a year and earliest 420 Cup deliveries will be in 2023.

That’s the window-dressing. The true temptation of the 420 Cup is the driveline and suspension. As with the racer, the 620R and the Donington, the Cup comes with Sadev’s punchy (savage?) six-speed sequential ’box, which feeds an LSD in the De Dion rear axle.

Power is from the same naturally aspirated, dry-sumped 2.0-litre Duratec engine found in the racer, only with added oomph: 210bhp plays 175bhp. Peaking at 7600rpm, this is the same tune you’ll find in the regular Seven 420, and gives the 560kg Cup fully 375bhp per tonne.

The suspension is then controlled with something new for any road-legal Caterham Seven: manually adjustable Bilstein dampers that sit within Eibach springs. These are fairly simple 10-way units with an integrated adjustment for both bump and rebound but they imbue this Seven with proper adaptability.

For example, though semi-slick Avon ZZR Extreme tyres are an option, for trackdays you could easily go one step further and slip on some full slicks. Dial the dampers to their firmest setting and hey-presto you’re within touching distance of the Championship racecar experience. Equally, if it's a damp underwheel, for road-driving you might play it safe with the regular Avon ZZRs and set the dampers to reassuring suppleness. 

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What's it like?

Ingress is a matter of hoisting yourself atop the tubes that form the cage and then dropping directly into the sliding seat (and it is a proper seat, where the racer uses foam mouldings that recline you too aggressively for road driving). A quick-release mechanism for the steering wheel temporarily creates more space, if you need it.

Once nestled into the cockpit, your backside resting all of four inches above the road, your view forward encompasses the short carbonfibre aeroscreens, if you've optioned them for an extra £450, and the same 'satin carbon' dashboard found in the 620R, albeit with 420 Cup-specific dials. It's an uncompromising but, by Caterham standards, pretty polished environment. Comfortable too, though doing up the six-point harness isn't exactly the work of a moment and more or less rules out slick getaways in public.

Hit the engine-start button and the four-cylinder engine blusters in recognisable Seven fashion through its trackday-specific exhaust. Then yank the stiff gearlever once towards to you engage first and moving off the mark is straightforward. If the 420 Cup uses a sensitive racing clutch, you wouldn't immediately know it. 

Driving on a bone-dry Snetterton is dreamy. Flat-shifting up the gearbox at close to 8000rpm feels immediately instinctive and pretty intoxicating too. I’m not sure how naturally this Sadev ’box will translate to road use and today we don’t get the chance to find out, but on circuit it’s an absorbing bit of kit and one that doesn’t brook timidity. As for the suspension, the surface at Snetterton is excellent so we've gone all the way to max damping force.

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So set, the 420 Cup is as polished as you’d imagine. Turn-in is crisp, unified and if necessary the front axle is able to take enormous levels of lock before it very gently begins to wash out. The way to prevent any push is to rotate the car a little on the brakes during entry, and that’s not difficult because the suspension keeps the ride height so consistent and downshifts can be rattled off with almost thoughtless ease. It’s a car for neat steering inputs but very aggressive use of the throttle, and is so trustworthy. Just how trustworthy the car is becomes apparent as your entry speeds get higher with every passing lap, and the point at which you pick up the throttle in relation to the apex gets steadily earlier.

Suddenly you're flying along. The car's indulgent front-engine, rear-drive handling balance; the simplicity of gearshifts; the smoothness of any transition between grip and slip and back again; the linearity of the power delivery; the transparent precision of the steering rack; the deft quality of the damping. They all combine to offer a sense of intuitiveness in the driving experience that's almost unmatched, and they encourage you to drive with increasing commitment, in a manner even something as brilliant as Ariel's mid-engined Atom doesn't.

A couple of laps with the dampers at their most cushioning also shows just how freely the body can be allowed to move. The scope of control is clearly very broad. Note also that you can have the Cup with the wider SV chassis. We wouldn’t typically recommend it, as the car loses some natural agility, but in truth the difference is marginal and the larger pedal-box makes rev-matching downshifts a little easier (and you'll want them to be easy, because the sequential ’box means mutliple, rapid downshifts right at the end of the braking zone). The standard cage – rather than the race-cage – also makes getting into the car easier.

Should I buy one?

Caterham wants £55,000 for the 420 Cup, which is £6000 more than the regular 420R, even before options like the £900 race-cage or £1600 carbon seats.

So it’s not exactly inexpensive, and you can't save any money by DIY, because this particular is factory-build only. It means the car cost a little more than you'll pay even for an Ariel Atom 4 fitted with the major optional extras you'll want (Öhlins dampers, AP Racing brake kit, plus race-style adjustable TC system). Or, at the other end of the practicality scale for trackday cars, you can currently pick up a two-year-old S3 Lotus Exige for about the same money. The Caterham isn't without serious company.

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And yet for trackday regulars looking to extract every drop of speed from an authentically motorport-flavoured but also approachable and very usable Seven, this is a true cake-and-eat-it car – more so, perhaps, than those esteemed alternatives.

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