As any fule kno, I am hopelessly old-fashioned, mired in the past (although I would prefer the latter to read “well-rooted”) and in general, an unbending foe of Most Things Modern.
In yesterday’s post about the non-spectator event formerly known as The Masters, I got sidetracked by following a train of thought along a branch line, all about driving a fast car around the exquisite Spa-Francorchamps race track.
…the “fast car” of choice being the excellent Caterham / Lotus 7:
This led to a side discussion in Comments, as these things generally do, during which Longtime Friend and Reader Nevikoff said:
“But… I think I’d pick something other than a Lotus 7 for it. True, the thing handles like an overgrown go-kart (about which I have, shall we say, “some advanced information”) and the true agony comes not from driving it but assembling one from a kit (don’t ask), but given that some spectacular Ferraris, Maseratis and the like have graced these pages, I’d think choosing from that list would be preferable.”
All good points. Here’s my thinking on the topic:
I grant you that there may be better cars than the Caterham / Lotus 7 for a joyride around Spa, but being the conservative Ole Phartte that I am, I would prefer to race around that track in the manner of Fangio and Moss rather than Vettel and Verstappen (or even Lotterer and Sarrazin).
For that reason, I choose the Lotus, because it’s the closest thing to this:
…which, while it is quite possibly the most beautiful F1 car ever to race, would probably kill me at the first corner.
So the Caterham it is; although if there are dark clouds in the sky — and it always rains at Spa — I might reserve the right to exchange the 7 for something with an actual roof (not a ragtop), not only for the cover from the rain, but also for the added protection it would afford me when I spin off at Eau Rouge (3 minute video).
For that, there’s only one car I’d consider for the task (as rebuilt and modernized by these guys):
Why modernized, Kim? I hear you ask.
Because I’d like to complete at least one circuit of the track without the thing breaking down. And in the rain and gloom, I’d also like the lights and windshield wipers to work at the same time, which is generally not possible with the original
…as installed by Lucas Electrical, the “Prince of Darkness”.
I might be old-fashioned, but I’m not that romantic.
And in Comments, let’s hear your ideal car for a jaunt around Spa, with reasons.
I had a 1969 Triumph Spitfire that had completely reliable electrics.
…because I tore out everything except the starter and the ignition switch, and replaced them with aftermarket parts.
Then the rear differential blew out.
A Spitfire would be a fun drive for a good course, though.
I agree the 7 would be an excellent choice – I’m just not sure I fit in them. Too tall…
The first criteria that came to mind is that it be reliable enough to make it round a few laps. I’d rather not spend time thinking about whether it’s going to quit on me when I could just be enjoying the drive. The second is that it shouldn’t be too far above my own performance limits. While driving a current racing machine would be amazing, my limited driving talents would leave most of the cars capability unexplored. I’d much rather be in something where I could be somewhere above 80% of the cars potential, because that’s what I consider fun in a sports car. Not terminal performance, but stretching into the performance I can use.
So, for me it’s a Honda S2000. Light, handles well, enough power, and a redline that reminds me of motorcycles. Boringly reliable….
I loved my S2000, and second the comment about motorcycles. I saw it described once as a “four-wheeled crotch-rocket.” 9000 RPM redline, 6-speed gearbox with a short-stroke stick, the kind of car you put on, not get in.
Oddly, the only car I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket in . . .
So of course, Honda doesn’t make them any more.
My Morgan +8 would give the Spa some hammer, it held the lap record at Brands Hatch twice, (not with me driving it, that was before I bought it, it was the London Dealers Morris Stapleton’s race car).
It was absolutely atomic but not really suitable as a road car, as it had a double servo on the brakes, (for racing purposes presumably), and one morning, when it was a little damp, I was dropping my younger brother in Central London and on the cobbles of Southampton Row, I slid sideways for 40 yards after just touching the brakes.
On a dry track, it was definitely in the running.
I have lots of stories of that one. Interesting times, and I was young!
Parking it outside the Norwegian YWCA in Holland Park was exciting too, two cops jumped out of the woodwork and pointed pistols at me, I said Eeek! I’ll come quietly… (I don’t know who they wanted but, I’m glad to say, it wasn’t me).
Bear in mind that Spa is spooky fast and any “off” is likely to be very expensive even if all you do is run thru the vast fields of gravel. A Seven is a fine choice as long as you realize you’ll be flat out most of the time, and remember that Chapman believed that race cars should be strong enough to finish an event but it was OK if they devolved into a pile of parts on their way back to the paddock.
…… and remember to bring your spare jar of Lucas Electrical Smoke to replace what leaks out over time.
To me the 1950’s and 60’s British sports car are the definition of sports cars, fast enough and nimble with the smaller ones great for small tracks with lots of turns and the larger E-Jag coming into its own at higher speeds. Compared to the heavy metal of American cars at the time the Brit cars really shined. My personal experience was with the Bug Eye Sprite which was light and fun, TR3A which was more powerful and could outrun its brakes, first production car with front wheel disc brakes, the Healy 3000 which was fun to sling around corners and they all tried to kill me one time or another, repairs on electrical being a weekly thing.
I had a revelation with my 1958 TR3A which I owned until 1990, strong motor with wonderful exhaust sounds running through the gears. I took off from a stop light one day accelerating fast using electric overdrive, shifting at just the right time, beautiful spring day and then I looked over, an up at a little old lady driving her Toyota Camry moving out faster than me, as smooth as can be, not racing me, just moving along in traffic minding her own business. I love the old Brit cars and would almost like to have another for a garage pet but I also appreciate my 2000 Toyota 4-Runner I purchased new at the end of 1999 and have maintained it over the years at 110K miles because my wife does not drive very far anymore that nice little SUV only requires oil changes, batteries, tires, and a tuneup every every four or five years.
I guess my point is that the Brits were at the top of their game 60 years ago in designing great cars with crappy parts and they lost out to the Japs and the Krauts over the years while Americans continued to make crappy cars and learned out to make decent light trucks and SUVs. If I could find into a Caterham /Lotus 7 it would be delightful to spend a day on that track just running through the gears.
It might be fun to try an Ariel Atom around the course. I am not a very fast driver or very skilled at all the racing moves to compete with, well anyone. But that might be fun, and quite quick even with limited skills.
I probably would rather try a new Corvette C8 with air conditioning on and playing “Radar Love” really loud as a motivating song. (Prepares for scathing response from Kim)
Old Texan, it was 60 years ago that the English were in their heyday of sports cars, jeez.
…when he was still a spotty-faced teenager, in other words.
Those are over-rated.
Not for me.
I’m all about the presentation:
The Caterham/Lotus 7 is the kit version of the venerable Lotus 6, the chosen mount of “Number 6,” the character played by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner; the epic, anti-authoritarian television series of the 1960s, and it was featured in the opening credits.
As far as the Jag-u-ar goes, a classmate of mine and her father restored a Series 3 E-Type, all twelve cylinders and FOUR carburetors of it. I asked her why she never drove it to school to show it off. She said that “Some cars are rated in miles per gallon. This car is rated in repairs per mile.”
She carried enough tools in the boot to outfit an ASE Master Mechanic.
Mmmm, a girl who loves vintage British sports cars AND knows how to turn a wrench. Be still my heart. And she was pretty hot, too.
The girl, and the car.
And you let her get away?
Sadly, I was married at the time . . .
Nah. Just let a bunch of us on the course with bumper cars!
Shelby Cobra 427 c.i. Daytona.
Oh yeah. baby!
And when it rains…?
When it rains at least the Cobra has a windshield, just keep the speed above 50 or so and you won’t get wet until you hydroplane off the road.
I loved driving my bug-eye sprite and the TR-4 , But I never understood why British sports cars had such terrible wet weather protection. Must be because it never rains in the UK.
How about a Robin Reliant, just to see how many times you can roll it?
You mean, like this.
Good grief… this episode should come with a warning.
I hacked up a lung at 7:26
[stops video to sustain stability by holding wall while gasping “I can’t breathe.”]
Interesting question… so I gave it some thought and happily arrived at the conclusion that although I’ve seen my first 2020 Corvette and drooled on it (but it would kill me), have always lusted for a V12 Jag (neighbor had one when I was a kid, I just thought he liked to tinker…), I’d go pull my S2000 out of the garage and run it. Enough grunt to have a blast but keep me in my skill envelope. And if it rains… fastest top around. And with 94,000 miles in it I sort of know what we can do. Glad others think along the same lines.
I had a hard top for my S2000, but I rarely used it. I used to tool around during the winter with the top down and the heater going full blast. It was quite comfortable, even when the temperature was near freezing. The looks the other drivers gave me were priceless.
And you’re right, that electric top went up like lightning, and it fit very well. I never had any water leaks and there was very little wind noise (for a ragtop).
I test drove one out of curiosity while my wife was picking up her car from service. “Just gonna drive around the block, honey . . .” It went home with me.
The salesman told me he never had to sell one. “If they drive it, they buy it.”
Honda really needs to bring this one back.
Damn. I love the E-type. But there’s something to be said for Porsche. A 911 Cabrio, to be specific.
Or a garden-variety Mazda Miata…British design principles, Japanese detail design and build quality.
I can’t disagree with you on the Eagle-ized E-type, Kim.
A Lotus Elan 26R with the LeMans hardtop for those who aren’t Sanforized.
If rain doesn’t faze you: a Lotus 23!
I managed to wander through Uhersky Brod without knowing the CZ factory was there, much less touring it. I did drink a lot of Uhersky Brod beer, so there’s that.
I also wandered through Caterham on the way from Gatwick to London without knowing this: https://www.caterhamcars.com/en/hire/introduction, despite my oldest son telling me about it. Repeatedly. My wife says I’m an idiot and she wants a red one for our next trip. 199 pounds for a day? Seems cheap at twice the price.
Nigel’s Cossy powered John Player Special. Yep, Lotus car. Loved it as a kid.
Having driven Formula Fords thirty years ago, and being forced to conclude that my best performance as a race driver outside of auto cross would always be “embarrassingly slow”, I have to admit that racing around Spa has never been an option for me.
Accordingly, I’d choose a car that would be a great drive at the fastest that I’d be capable of, as opposed to what the car is capable of, so I’d choose the car I’ve just put in my “never going to own” file: the Porsche 911 Carrera 4.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the British sports cars through the late ’60s or so but I was too tall to drive my Dad’s MGA (coupe), an MGB, a Sprite, and a Triumph Spitfire that friends owned and let me sit in. It was just not going to work. Miatas have the same issue; they are not made for tall folks.
I would like to try either a Trans-Am modified American muscle car as would have been used late ’60s to maybe 1971, but there was one series of super touring sedan racing in the early 2000s that made the cars they were driving appear quite fun to drive. I don’t recall the name but taking a turn on a track with one of those sedans would be pleasing.
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