A Caterham encounter

June 9, 2016

In the fall of 2014, I had the immense privilege of living in Torino, Italy for four months. Torino is the Italian equivalent of Detroit: Fiat (now Fiat Chrysler) has called Torino home since its inception in 1899. My time in Torino is responsible for some of my most cherished automotive experiences. However, this particular experience occurred whilst visiting the sleepy seaside town of Santa Margherita.


Santa Margherita is located on the northwestern coast of Italy, a couple hours south of Torino in the Italian Riviera. After a relatively brief bus ride through the Italian countryside (during which a Ferrari 599 blessed me with a blast past my window), the city’s concrete crush had been exchanged for wandering streets, pastel buildings, lush hilltops, and the Ligurian Sea’s azure beauty. 


Being the intrepid explorers that we were, my pals and I chose to spend our last afternoon in paradise snorkeling. The convenient thing about snorkeling in Santa Margherita is that you can simply walk to a beach access point, strap on your snorkeling gear, and dive into the sea — which is precisely what we did. But I don’t intend to go in-depth about our aquatic activities (my pun game knows no shame). I’m here to spout nonsense about cars. 

The main road along the town’s waterfront is a sinuous strip of perfect asphalt, draped across the coastline’s every twist and turn. We strolled along this road after renting our snorkel gear. Once we’d passed the main lineup of storefronts, restaurants, and apartments (which you can glimpse in the above photo), the road curved to the right, disappearing from view as it caressed a tall rock face. We struck a leisurely pace along the sidewalk, with the rock face on our right and the sea to our left, shimmering like beaten silver. It was the most sublime of afternoons. 


Suddenly, an exhaust note’s raucous bark echoed forth from around the rock face. All traces of tranquility gone, I stopped in my tracks, eagerly awaiting the exhaust note’s source. I expected a modified Fiat, which were common sights among the streets of Torino. However, I was laughably wrong. After a couple expectant heartbeats, I beheld a Caterham in the flesh for the very first time. 


A Caterham is the ultimate expression of the mantra “light makes right”. It's essentially a road-legal go-kart from England, the epitome of an unfiltered sporting machine. It is without doubt one of the finest driving experiences money can buy. It is also visually arresting, an utter anomaly on any normal road. But with those characteristics comes the most niche of niche appeals — only the truly petrol-crazed would own a Caterham, which unapologetically sacrifices every creature comfort known to man in the name of driver involvement (and arguably, enjoyment). For these reasons, Caterhams are incredibly rare sights, and up until that point, they were mythical beasts that existed only on the internet. But here, coming directly towards me, was a Caterham. It was red. It was loud. It was love at first sight.


And then, as if to pinch me and tell me that yes, this was really happening, another Caterham came around the corner. 


And then another. And another. And then 20 more of them.


And suddenly, the entire street was backed up with a Caterham parade. They sat end to end in one glorious motorcade, resplendent in every hue imaginable, engines buzzing and crackling as they idled beside the cliff. There were some factory fresh base models, others that had been heavily tuned, and every variant in between. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever been thankful for a red light. 


The light went green, and the entire procession gradually pulled away, their engine notes drowning out every other bit of sensory information. The rasps, cracks, and snarls from their exhausts made my body vibrate like a tuning fork, and I laughed at the absurdity of it all, as if I’d heard the best joke of my life. It was the only reaction I was really capable of at the moment. I was witnessing the pure joys of motoring, in the purest iteration of them all: the Caterham. Or Caterhams, really, which only makes the whole thing even more outlandish. 


As the last Caterham disappeared down Santa Margherita's streets, I turned back up the road to rejoin my friends, who, not sharing in my obsession, had long since left me behind. But I didn’t mind in the slightest. Not everyone is content with staring at cars for a small eternity, and if I choose to do so, I’m most likely buying myself several moments of solitude. I’ve never once regretted it, and I most certainly didn’t in Santa Margherita.


I didn’t take any pictures of the Caterhams. I’m a haphazard photographer at best. If it’s picture-worthy, it’s probably more worth it to stay in the moment. But I did snap another picture from Santa Margherita — a classic Porsche 911 that waltzed along the street with its signature flat-6 opera. I only managed to snag its tail end as it drove past. But somehow, I like the photo all the better because of it. It represents to me the very nature of moments. They’re fleeting, ephemeral, stored in memory before you’ve realized they’re over. They pass you like a classic 911.



Such was my time in Italy, my trip to Santa Margherita, and my encounter with the Caterhams. But they’re experiences that I’ll never forget. Until next time…



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