Fantastically hardcore new Seven is a competition car with numberplates

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Caterham doesn’t need to build specific, rarefied versions of the Caterham Seven in order to homologate its racing cars, but if it did, the result would look like the Caterham Seven 420 Cup.

This unmistakable, caged and liveried new model is, in the words of its maker, “a machine built specifically for the race track” and as such takes its mechanical lead from the uncompromising Caterham 420R-based Caterham Seven Championship racer. It is, for all intents and purposes, a road-legal version of the slick-shod competition car, only with a little ‘luxury’ thrown in here and there and, usefully, a passenger seat. It’s also a concoction that Caterham employees have apparently been enjoying internally for a while, mostly at track days, where the package has been disguised as an existing Seven, to remain incognito.

Driving a 420 Cup is an assault at any speed, albeit an entertaining one

As a brief aside, you might argue that those employees deserve some fun: Caterham’s order bank currently exceeds its 500-car annual production capacity – so much so that the showroom at Gatwick is being converted into a second production plant. (The first remains in Dartford.) Business is deservedly good, although tough decisions lie ahead. Caterham lost access to Ford’s 1.6-litre Sigma engine last year and the 2.0-litre Duratec powering the bulk of the range is guaranteed until 2025 but can’t go on forever. Finding suitable replacements isn’t an easy task, and the spectre of electrification – anathema for an outfit that worships at the altar of lightness – looms.

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But that’s all for another time. Now that the 420 Cup recipe is available to the public, this is our chance to get to know it. Expect it to be spectacular, but spectacular enough? At more than £54,000, the asking price is going to make even hardcore Seven acolytes pause for thought. After all, this isn’t even the fastest Seven Caterham offers. The supercharged Caterham 620R, with which the naturally aspirated 420 Cup shares its gearbox and dashboard, remains the true supercar slayer in the range, toting almost a third more power than the new track-day star. However, it is the 420 Cup that promises the most intense Seven experience achievable on both road and track. Time to find out if it delivers.

Range at a glance

Caterham’s range of Sevens has surprising breadth, given every car sticks rigidly to the same lightweight template. The entry-level 170 uses a 660cc Suzuki triple, although every other model is powered by a version of Ford’s 2.0-litre Duratec unit, which is supercharged to more than 300bhp in the 620. Gearbox options are limited to a five-speeder by Mazda or,  at the upper limits of the range, a six-speed sequential by Sadev. Most models are available in either narrow-body or widened SV-body guise. S trim is standard on most Sevens, with the racier R spec a cost option. Factory-built cars cost £2595 more than build-at-home kits on everything below a 420 Cup.

Caterham Seven 17084bhp
Caterham Seven 360180bhp
Caterham Seven 420210bhp
Caterham Seven 420 Cup*210bhp
Caterham Seven 620310bhp

*Version tested


02 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 side pan

You’ll not find anything revelatory in the layout of the Caterham Seven 420 Cup, and neither would you want to. The basic Seven design, laid down by Colin Chapman in the 1960s, remains timelessly appealing and all that’s left for Caterham to do is to optimise the character of its various flavours of Caterham Seven with expert tuning and careful choice of hardware.

That said, the firm’s new track-day tool is not your typical Seven, which is perhaps why this is one model that doesn’t come in kit form for assembly at home. For one thing, this is the first-ever Caterham Seven to feature adjustable suspension, something brought about by Bilstein dampers, whose rates can be moved through 10 ‘clicks’. This not only allows the handling balance to be altered during track days but should also prove useful if you ever needed simply to get from A to B on a wet day, when the softest rates would come into their own. In terms of fundamental suspension geometry, the 420 Cup doesn’t have quite the same level of adjustability as the Caterham Seven Championship racing car but there’s good scope nonetheless and you can also specify aerodynamically optimised wishbones, for less drag.

Caterham has explored larger diameters in recent years but the 420 Cup uses 13in wheels and looks all the better for it. Three choices of tyre: road-ready Avon ZZS, standard-fit ZZR and competition-ready ZZR Extreme.

In terms of back-axle contact patch, the 420 Cup is as well endowed as any Seven you’ll find, with 215-section tyres matching those fitted to the racing car, with plenty of aesthetically pleasing sidewall permitted by the 13in wheels. Regular tyre options come in the form of Avon’s ZZS and ZZR and are typical Seven fare, but as a dealer-fit option, the 420 Cup can be had with ZZR Extreme tyres, which is a semi-slick (with more emphasis on the ‘slick’) that’s race ready. Our test car, geared up for both road and track, rides on ZZS rubber.  

As for the powertrain, this engine is the same dry-sumped 210bhp 2.0-litre Ford Duratec four-pot used by the regular Caterham 420R. It means the 420 Cup is a good deal more powerful than the Championship racing car yet is claimed to weigh the same 560kg. It gives the new model a power-to-weight ratio of 375bhp per tonne – more than that of the latest Porsche 911 GT3. Downstream of the engine sits a race-grade six-speed Sadev sequential gearbox, which in turn feeds a mechanical limited-slip differential in the de Dion rear axle. In line with the lap-time-hunting remit of the 420 Cup, Caterham’s trusty five-speed manual isn’t offered, although you can have the car in wide-body SV guise for an additional £2500.


09 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 dashboard

There’s a process you must undertake before even acquainting yourself with the Caterham Seven 420 Cup’s minimalist interior. Assuming you have the full ‘Race’ roll-cage like our car (less involved cages are available), you need to lift yourself onto the ‘roof’ of the car and then lower yourself carefully, threading your legs into the nose and onto the tiny pedals. (The contact patch of the accelerator is only the size of a 50p piece.) Once in, now is the time to lean forward, reach over the short carbon aero screen and grab the steering wheel and keys you remembered to place at the top of the bonnet. Squeeze the quick-release ring at the back of the wheel and slot it onto the steering column. Now, assuming you remembered to move the belts out of the bucket of the seats before climbing in, you can do them up. If not, climb out and do it all again, correctly this time. Then it’s a matter of turning the key, depressing the clutch and holding down the engine start toggle on the dashboard. Now you’re ready to rumble.

The distraction-free interior of the 420 Cup is much the same as that of the Caterham 620R. Unlike an Ariel Atom, with its race-grade digital readout, the Caterham stays analogue, with diddy dials and banks of toggle switches. It’s all intuitive enough, and visibility is very good, too, perhaps unsurprisingly. Along with the Race cage, our car is also fitted with the lowered floor, which is useful for taller drivers but for those of average height may mean the transmission tunnel feels too high and gets in the way a little. Option with care.

This car is fitted with the race cage, which has longitudinal outer members that make ingress and egress more involved. Most testers went in and out via the top. The boot cover on the 420 Cup is metal not fabric, and this is a reference to the 420 Championship racing car. The corners still unclip and come off easily enough.

The only other major decision you’ll need to make concerns the seats. Our car’s carbonfibre Tillett shell buckets proved comfortable all day long, but they cost £1200 with padding, rising to £1600 if you want them heated. Given the warmth that emanates from the transmission tunnel and the 420 Cup’s unsuitability for touring, we don’t see the need for heating.

With its new Alcantara and flashes of colour, the 420 Cup’s cabin is more characterful than the Seven norm but every bit as fastidiously uncompromising. You’ll either love it or hate it.


16 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 engine

The Caterham 420 Cup is another Caterham Seven that makes relatively modest power and torque outputs feel invigorating. Just 210bhp is less than you’ll get today from a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but short gearing and the fact that the power pushes against a mere 560kg is enough to result in acceleration times many serious mainstream performance cars would rightly be proud of. The 1.9sec taken to dispatch 30-50mph in third is an exact match for the Porsche 911 Carrera S. Despite its breeze-block shape, the Caterham’s tiny surface area also means less air resistance at higher speeds, and to 100mph the 420 Cup proved just 0.6sec slower than the 503bhp BMW M4 Competition. Finessing standing starts is also enjoyable, although our consistent best runs of 4.2sec to 60mph were short of the factory claim of 3.6sec, which was perhaps achieved with the more adhesive ZZR Extreme tyres.

However, more meaningful than the numbers are the sensations this powertrain gives. Throttle response is pleasingly sharp, and the delivery of power linear, all the way to the 7900rpm redline. It’s well mannered, too, at least in terms of the delivery itself. Fling open the throttle at 1500rpm and the engine can stutter momentarily but this isn’t something you’ll ever do in the real world and the rest of the time the only rawness about this 2.0-litre unit is its outrageous intake gargle and booming exhaust (positioned below your right ear). The only issue you’re likely to face is the occasional incidence of ‘kangaroo petrol’, which usually rears its head at low speeds and comes from a combination of the throttle pedal’s sensitivity and road furniture that makes it momentarily difficult to keep your inputs smooth.

The Ford Duratec 2.0-litre engine is in naturally aspirated 210bhp trim here, redlines at 7900rpm and, as in other Caterham Sevens, sits behind the front axle.

As for the gearshift, it’s arguably the star of the show. In casual driving, it’s often best to help this notchy and firm-levered sequential ’box along by using the clutch, but clutchless redline flat shifts are awe-inspiring in their speed and precision. And often in their loudness. Between the clonking differential, the whining gears and the mechanical timbre of the shifts, driving a 420 Cup is something of an assault at any speed, albeit an entertaining and enlivening one. Just know that selecting reverse can be tricky: avoid three-point turns.


17 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 front corner

If you want to know how the Caterham 420 Cup really handles, and fully rewards its driver, you need to find a circuit (see Track Notes, below). It’s here that the free-revving, oversquare engine and gearbox also do their best work, because the most extreme track-day Caterham to date is nothing if not a car that craves being driven at nine- or ten-tenths. This isn’t a Caterham Seven 160, and neither should it be treated as such. It needs track-level commitment to come alive.

However, that isn’t to say the 420 Cup can’t be enjoyed on the road, because in shortish stints, when the weather and your mood suits, it absolutely can. Key to this is the adjustable suspension. The settings that work best on track are inevitably overblown on the road, but take the dampers down from, say, setting nine to setting five on both axles and you’ve got a different proposition.

The 420 Cup is a gloriously pure Seven but don’t be under any illusions concerning what it’s like on the road. Even with the dampers slackened, this car leaves you tired in short order.

The result is a Seven that will bob happily down B-roads with the kind of pliancy and phenomenal (and pleasingly visible) wheel control we expect from these cars. You can dial the dampers down further to unlock really quite generous body movements, and these allow you to feel like you’re working the car, even when you aren’t.

Moreover, and in stark contrast to supercharged Sevens, one thing you don’t really need to worry about on the road is traction, at least in the dry. (It didn’t rain during our road test.) So composed is the 420 Cup that, on circuit, it only ever starts to move about when serious weight transfer is factored in, but on the road, you’ll rarely if ever get to this point.

At the same time, this naturally aspirated engine simply doesn’t have the goods to unstick the rear tyres with anything less than a clutch-dropping standing start or with pretty ham-fisted cornering. It means the 420 Cup feels dependable, and you can get stuck into the driving controls without worrying which hedge you’re going to be fired into for enjoying yourself a little too much. And enjoy yourself you will, because the deft cornering balance, plus the intimate but iron-veined unassisted steering and, of course, the innate lightness of the thing, allow any Seven to serve up driving sensations few other cars could dream of offering.

Comfort and Isolation

19 Caterham seven 420 cup rt 2022 front corner with grass 0

The 420 Cup, more so in windscreen-less guise, wears its unwillingness to coddle occupants like a badge of honour. Now, it’s important to say that for track-day driving, there’s really very little to complain about here. The car is raw and all-encompassing but also comfortable enough that you could do a 45-minute stint and hop out feeling well exercised but reasonably fresh. The seats clamp you into place securely and at speed the lightness of the steering makes this chassis easy enough to flow through consecutive high-load corners.

However, the 420 Cup also has numberplates, so we need to address its on-road characteristics, which are uncompromising in the extreme. So loud are the straight-cut cogs of the gearbox that at anything below about 3000rpm they drown out the exhaust boom, which is hardly dulcet. Earplugs are recommended, even underneath a helmet, which will need to be full-face if you’re to avoid swallowing flies or, less amusingly, stones flicked up by vehicles ahead.

As for ride quality, slackening the dampers to their softest gives fine primary ride but it can’t mitigate the general jolts that come with driving what is essentially a bathtub on wheels. The pedal box is also cosy in the extreme, but at least the clutch pedal is firm enough for you to rest your redundant left foot on it while cruising.

Admittedly, the 105mm-wider, 250mm-longer (and 25kg-heavier) SV chassis and a windscreen would mitigate much of the above, but stray too far from the pared-back template and you miss the point of the 420 Cup, don’t you? Fact is this track-day hero of a Seven is not for faint of heart and neither should it be.

Track Notes

Caterham 420 cup track notes

The 420 Cup offers an unadulterated experience on track. The fact that there is no ABS or traction or stability control sets the tone, and this is a machine that requires assertive use of certain controls (gearbox, throttle) alongside delicate and considered use of others (steering, brakes). It makes for an immensely engaging experience and one that you’re never quite happy to finish, such is the endless scope for exploration of not only the car’s capabilities but also your own.

The car is an exceptional canvas in this respect – agile and in some ways ‘loose’ but also predictable and heroically well balanced. You really are getting the filigree responses of something light and mid-engined, only with the indulgent, forgiving handling traits of something front-engined.

Oversteer comes easily, but only when you desire it, and so effective is the sequential gearbox that redline upshifts into fifth hit home with vicious speed but no break in the flow. Just be sure to rev-match during those brilliant and breathless bouts of consecutive shifting down the gearbox, lest you lock the rear wheels.

Best of all, so light is the 420 Cup that it never seems to cook its cast iron brakes or its tyres, which were the tamest Avon ZZS option in this case. The more serious ZZRs would have let the car dip below 1min 10.0sec.


01 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 Hero lead

The Caterham Seven 420 Cup starts at £55,000 and it’s quite easy to break the £60,000 mark with some options. It therefore costs considerably more than the upcoming BMW M2 is expected to cost, so this very special machine really is only for the diehards who will spend the majority of their time on track. Even then, the rational case for buying one of these cars is tenuous. It’s possible to find a Championship racing car for far less than Caterham asks for the 420 Cup, so if you foresee yourself trailering the new model before you drive it, you might be better off sacrificing the road-legal element entirely.

If you do need the road-legal element, there are other options worth considering. An Ariel Atom 4 exposes you more to the elements than the 420 Cup but can be tamer when you just want to mooch along. It’s also cheaper, a three-year waiting list notwithstanding. Equally, lesser Caterham Sevens can be set up and equipped to deliver much of the 420 Cup’s unvarnished thrills. This is a special Seven, no doubt, but also a physical one that requires high levels of commitment both to use and to fork out for.

Don’t regard the wider SV body as a cop-out. You need to be able to heel-and-toe, and the narrow-body car can be pretty challenging in this respect for taller drivers. Full weather equipment is available for £1500.

More prosaically, fuel economy is good, and better than you’ll get from any supercharged Seven. Our average of 27.1mpg included plenty of track driving and, with the 36-litre tank, equates to a range of 215 miles.


20 Caterham Seven 420 Cup RT 2022 static

The Caterham 420 Cup may wear numberplates but Caterham expects most owners to trailer their car to circuits, and it’s not hard to see why. This is an awesomely serious and physical Seven – one with an authentic connection to Caterham’s top-tier racer and that, just like the competition car, needs commitment to extract its best. There are very few cars that make the prospect of an hour or two on circuit seem quite so delicious, and that’s because the 420 Cup pairs its hardcore make-up with true dynamic finesse and an immense depth of capability, so you’ll never tire of exploring what it can do. This new model also introduces fresh technology for any Seven. Adjustable dampers make the 420 Cup a more interesting and capable car on track and more amenable off it; we welcome them.

A comprehensive lack of refinement to one side, our reservation is the cost, particularly in relation to such narrow scope. The car costs almost double a Caterham Seven 360, even though the 360 supplies much the same intrinsic thrill. For £60,000, you could even do some actual Seven Championship racing, although how you spend your money is up to you.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat.