26/02/2008 00:00 | By By Henry Biggs

Revealed: 550bhp V8 Caterham

Caterham RS Performance Levante (© image © Caterham/RS Performance)

A 2.4-litre V8 engine, carbon-fibre cockpit, Kevlar seats and sophisticated launch and traction control systems.

No, not one of the cars that will be lining up on the F1 grid in Melbourne in a fortnight's time but the latest, wildest offering yet from Caterham Cars in association with RS Performance.

GALLERY: Caterham RS Performance Levante

Caterham RS Performance Levante (© image © Caterham/RS Performance)

The Seven celebrated 50 years in production last year and has enjoyed continuous refinement in that period - if that word can really be applied to such a Spartan product - and has seen some wild variants, not least the Superlight series and the hi-tech CSR cars. The new car however moves the game on to an unprecedented, perhaps even terrifying, degree. The R400 Superlight we drove last year is so named because of its power-to-weight ratio of 400bhp-per-tonne; the new Levante - named after a wind that strikes the coast of Fuerteventura - boasts more than 1,000bhp-per-tonne, twice that of a Bugatti Veyron.

Caterham RS Performance Levante (© image © Caterham/RS Performance)

Based on the slightly wider and longer SV chassis, but surprisingly not the independently suspended CSR, the Levante uses a supercharged V8 developed by Russell Savory, the man behind the initials of RS Performance. With an engineering background stretching back more than 30 years and encompassing turbo-era Formula One, running Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki superbike teams and even TT wins, Savory began developing the RST-V8 15 years ago. Today it reliably puts out 380bhp in naturally aspirated form at a screaming 10,000rpm or 550bhp when supercharged. Torque figures are 190lb/ft and 300lb/ft respectively while the engine with ancillaries weighs just 90kg.

Caterham RS Performance Levante (© image © Caterham/RS Performance)

Sevens don't exactly abound with heavy, power-sapping options but the Levante takes the weight saving to the extreme with a fully carbon-fibre cockpit, although with the sort of sweaty palmed moments this car is sure to induce, we aren't sure whether using such a slippery material for the steering wheel was wise. At least the Kevlar used for the seats should prove as grippy in the corners as the Avon CR500 tyres wrapped round the 15-inch lightweight alloys, which at the rear are close to a foot in width.

Caterham RS Performance Levante (© image © Caterham/RS Performance)

Thankfully to prevent them spinning themselves into oblivion a couple of pieces of modern technology have made it into a Caterham for the first time; namely traction and launch controls while paddle shift control for the six-speed sequential gearbox is an option. Driving the de Dion suspended rear wheels via a limited slip diff, the Levante's 40-valve V8 will allow the 530kg car to crack 0-62mph in 'less than three seconds' while top speed is limited to 150mph. The price for the stripped down, supercharged psycho Seven will be in excess of £115,000. Only eight will be made - surely one less would have been more appropriate - although the non-supercharged model will be built to order.

Driven: Caterham R400 Superlight
Driven: Caterham CSR260
Caterham R400 Superlight v Ariel Atom 3


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