There is a road that runs to nowhere, coursing underneath a leafy canopy, in a hurry without a destination. Beyond the trees, craggy mountains ring the valley, gazing down in impassive majesty.
They wear their fading snow like tattered rags, stone giants in ragged, shrinking finery. There are those who climb them, out touching the void, finding that there is little room on the peak for anything beyond what the senses can hold. No room for error. No room for the mundane. Nothing but the howl of the wind, the searing beauty of the landscape, and a heart full to bursting. It is the most elemental of pursuits.
Down in the green valley, a similar asceticism, a paring away of layers until nothing but the core remains. A fragile aluminum hood flexes in the slipstream, the four-cylinder Kent crossflow rika-tik-tiks underneath it like a sewing machine. There are no doors, no roof, no respite from the sensation of speed. We are as low to the earth as a skipped stone, but the feeling of soaring freedom is higher than the peaks that loom but cannot hem a soaring spirit in.
Corner. My left foot comes off the footrest, a sliver of drilled aluminum the width of a medical bracelet, and dips down to hover over the clutch in anticipation. Brake, clutch-in, the merest sideways flex to tap the ribbon of steel serving as an accelerator, and the 84-horse 1.6L zings up in the rev range. Fourth to third is a mere wrist-flex for the absurdly stubby gear leaver, and then it’s through the corner with the Escort-sourced live axle skipping over the rough stuff, the tiny three-spoke steering wheel chattering away excitedly.
“Give it some welly, lad!”
This is Driving. There are faster cars, more dangerous cars, purpose-built track specials and tarmac-crushing high-speed warriors. In a Lotus Super Seven, however, there is no room for anything but the drive. Conversations are shouted. If you’ve forgotten eye protection – as I have – you squint against a furious headwind. Modern compact cars look like semi-trailers. Semi-trailers look like escapees from the Mad Max prop department. It is a world of danger, raised heart rates, and forced sensation: simplify, and add methamphetamines.
God I love this thing. It’s just distilled, cask-strength automobile. No pretense of luxury or even basic concessions to personal safety (we don’t even have a roll bar), just the uisce beatha high-proof evaporate-off-your tongue essence of travelling far faster than human beings were ever meant to.
Spiritual Brother: Quick Spin: Caterham Super 7 Hayabusa
The car is a 1969 Lotus Super Seven, one of just 340 Series 3 cars built between ’68 and ’70. The shape will no doubt be familiar to many, but these factory-made cars are quite rare. This one was one of a handful delivered to a local dealer, and is entirely original from Dunlop wheels to paint.
It belongs to David Ellis, who is just the second owner. As compact and spare as his car, David hunted this car for some time before he got his hands on it. “It was just a little tired,” he said, “So I’ve gone through and refreshed a few things.” Most recently, that meant a gearbox rebuild, and today the little Seven is pulling like a lion. It feels happy, and that’s perhaps not always the case with British machinery.