February 27, 2008 When Jeremy Clarkson declares a car "without any doubt, the ultimate driving machine," and when that same car has a 30-year history of being banned from racing against the most expensive supercars because it routinely thrashes the pants off just about anything around a racetrack, you might suspect that car's got something going for it. So when a special edition is released with an all-new super-lightweight 500hp motor in a package that delivers more than twice the power-to-weight ratio of a Bugatti Veyron, for around a tenth of the price, it must rate as a significant moment in motoring history. Making around 1 horsepower per kilogram, rocketing to 60mph in less than 3 seconds, and yours for only UK£115,000, it's the RS Performance Caterham Levante.
Caterham's iconic Seven, in production now for over 50 years, has a well-earned reputation as one of the purest driving experiences available on the planet. Hard, harsh, telepathically responsive and incredibly nimble, they demand full attention at all times from the driver's seat, a welcome change from the clinically sanitized, electronically-assisted yawn-boxes that most modern cars have evolved into. These ultra-lightweight British screamers have been sold primarily as kit cars in the last ten years, to get around the taxes, noise and safety restrictions imposed on fully assembled new cars.
The light weight and top-rate componentry of the Seven resulted in a racetrack agility very little else could come close to - to the point where it was designated "too fast to race" as early as the 1970s and has since been blacklisted by the FIA, the Nurburgring 24-hour, and most other international production sportscar race series.
It's worth noting that even with an engine making only 200 horsepower, the Caterham is belting out a power-to-weight ratio 30% higher than anything Ferrari or Lamborghini are putting on the road. So you can imagine how it might get off at the lights now that RS Performance has fitted the giant-killer with a supercharged 2.4 litre V8 that makes in excess of 500 horsepower at 10,000rpm.
To put that in context, the barnstorming supercar du jour, the Bugatti Veyron, makes around 1000 horsepower to pull its kerb weight of 1,888kg - a power-to-weight ratio of about 530hp per tonne. The RS Performance Caterham Levante weighs in at a little over 500kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of around 1,000hp per tonne - the magic 1 horsepower per kilogram number only recently attained by roadgoing superbikes like Suzuki's GSX-R1000. Truly mind-boggling performance.
The gearbox is a sequential paddle-shift with limited-slip differential. Suspension on the exposed front wheels is handled by FreeStyle, the rear by Dedion with 3-way adjustable shocks all round. Brakes are simply listed as "Hi Spec" featuring brake bias adjustment, and everything that can be made from carbon fiber has been.
The engine is electronically limited to 150mph, which will be a blessing as there's no windscreen, and there's an optional fuel map adjustment system, complete with a "valet mode" to neuter the car's extreme performance when anybody but a driving god is behind the wheel.
Prices start at UK£115,000 for the naturally aspirated 400hp version, and you'd best be quick if you're interested in the 500hp Levante - only eight will be built. Congratulations to Caterham and RS Performance for putting together this driving enthusiast's dream car!