Time for a change?

Never-ending faffing is hacking me off.

What do you look for in a car that you use every day? Aircon to keep you chilled in the summer, snuggly in the winter, and to defrost the windscreen whilst you scrape the side windows? Good economy for the regular motorway cruise? Airbags, crumple zones, and side intrusion bars to keep you and your dearest safe from all of the other idiots on the roads? Perhaps a decent stereo to while away the long, boring commutes? And of course, it's got to be a hatch or MPV so that there's plenty of space for carrying rubbish to the tip.

it takes longer than the duration of most short journeys just to fasten the seatbelt

Now take that list and find a car that has none of those features. No heater, never mind aircon, but demisting the windows isn't a problem, because there aren't any. Cruising at 80 mph means that the engine is buzzing at about 4,500 rpm. The combination of that gearing and having the aerodynamics of a pregnant elephant means you're really lucky if fuel consumption makes it over 30 mpg. There are no airbags, barely a thin sheet of metal between you and the other road combatants, no sound system, and to carry almost any baggage you have to use the passenger seat. Now add in that it takes longer than the duration of most short journeys just to fasten the seatbelt, and that once you're wearing it you can't turn around to see whilst reversing.

That's my daily-driver Caterham Seven. I've driven one for most of the past nine, nearly ten years. Why? I wanted the best-handling car that I could afford. I was single, didn't have to wear a suit for work, and didn't want to make any compromises.

Now that I'm getting older and am married with kids, I'm starting to think differently. I still love the driving experience, the hilarious acceleration, the joyful handling, but I'm getting fed up of the hassle surrounding it:

My thoughts turn towards a change every winter, but I think that I might actually do something about it this year. I haven't done any trackdays for the last couple of years so my focus should be on getting a really competent road car that can also be taken on track.

I love the Ginetta G4 but although the boot, windscreen and roof would be novel and practical, I fear that it would be as horribly noisy inside as a Caterham with the hood up. So a stereo would be out. The side windows don't wind down either.

As far as I can tell there are no modern, small, lightweight, rear-drive coupes with a high power-to-weight ratio. Hot-hatches are pretty swift these days, but having got used to a Caterham they're not that fast, and they're all driven from the front wheels. The Nissan 350Z and the Mazda RX-8 are both too big and heavy.

The main reason that I haven't yet bought some kind of practical car is that I know that, faced with the prospect of having to shuffle cars around, particularly on a cold and wet morning, the Seven would never make it out of the garage. I currently only really get to use my Seven for my commute, so with that taken away I may as well sell it. And I really don't want to do that, certainly not without having something else almost as fun to drive.

the prestige of a Vauxhall and the build quality of a Lotus

If you have any suggestions for a sensible, but exciting, car then please do let me know. Don't bother mentioning any kind of BMW, the under-powered Smart Roadster, the MX-5, MR2, S2000, MG-TF, Elise, or Boxster (I don't want a soft-top for my practical car). I'd consider a VX220 Turbo with a hard-top at a push but the big-wigs must have been slightly squiffy when they decided to build a sports car with the prestige of a Vauxhall and the build quality of a Lotus. A Lotus Elise 111R (again, with a hard-top) would probably be ideal, but used ones are still too rich for my wallet.

Nigel V7 Marston, off of the Sevens list, has been having similar thoughts, but he's actually gone as far as selling his Seven. He wants to do list tours with his wife and sprog, in reasonable comfort, and the Seven obviously doesn't cut it. He's set his heart on a Spyder Lotus Elan +2 which does look like a lovely car, but a well-finished one is way out my price range.

Another re-engineered Lotus is the Banks Europa. I don't think that Europas were ever beautiful, but I've had a soft spot for them since I was a kid because my dentist (who lived just up the road) had a JPS one. Banks can fit a better chassis, suspension, engine and transmission. Unfortunately if you do all of that then they too are out of my price range, and there don't seem to be any used ones for sale.

I guess that I'll end up buying some new waterproof over-trousers (ones that actually stop water from getting inside would be good), and braving another winter in the Seven. It's difficult to beat those frosty mornings when I'm togged up like the Michelin man, with the sun low in the sky, the visor cracked open to stop it misting, and the engine gulping down the cold, dense air.

This page is http://www.strangely.org/diary/200510/change.html. It was first published on Tuesday 1 November, 2005 and last updated on Saturday 5 November, 2005.