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Timely snowfall and a Caterham Seven – evo Archive

How a timely snowfall enabled the capture of a new perspective on drifting

evo archive 286

Probably a tartiflette or something very like it. Oodles of melted cheese were definitely involved. Exactly the sort of comforting, artery-clogging lunch that you want to find in the mountains. Although Dean Smith was just happy there was no fish on the menu – he’s a reverse pescatarian, if there is such a thing. In fact he’s a surprisingly fussy eater all round.

Anyway, the meal was a slightly morose affair because the shoot hadn’t really gone to plan. We had arrived in France’s Massif Central two days previously with winter tyres and artistic dreams of taking wonderful pictures of a bright orange Caterham in the snow. But there was no snow. 

> Caterham Seven 170R 2021 review

The car was at least brilliant to drive. In fact, this specific Caterham – a Seven Supersport – is right up there among my favourite cars I’ve ever driven. It was completely pared back, with just an Alcantara-clad wheel for comfort. Its 140bhp was ample, especially on winter tyres, and the suspension set-up was tailored for fun. With the smallest available anti-roll bar on the front, a stiff one at the back and some geometry tweaks that the then press man, James Drake, took full credit for, it was wonderfully easy to slide, even in the dry. Even when the clutch broke. But there was no snow. 

‘Dean!’

‘Look, I know omega-3’s good for you but I just can’t stand the smell.’

‘No, I don’t care about the fish…’

‘You should. Ecosystems and all that.’

‘No. Look out of the window behind you.’

‘Holy mackerel!’

It was snowing. Big, white, fluffy chunks of the stuff. Like there had been an explosion in some heavenly pillow factory. There was no rush to down tools and abandon lunch as it was obvious it was settling and the scenery would only get better and better. So we had pudding. 

Dean took lots of fabulous shots during the afternoon but we were a little limited by the broken clutch, as to get going again I either had to park on a downhill slope or make sure Dean was around to give me a push. There was one particular photo that I’ll never forget, though. We wanted a POV shot with the Caterham oversteering, and in order to rig the camera Dean had to pin me into the driver’s seat with the tripod. This also meant he couldn’t sit in the passenger seat. It was too slippery for him to run alongside the car, too, even if he could keep up. And the remote triggers weren’t capable of being much more remote than that.

The only solution was for me to both drive the car and press the shutter-release button on the camera. This meant using my right hand to hold some oversteer while reaching across my body with my left hand to operate the camera. 

It was a challenge, but the snow and the car made things easier. The photo on page 92 of issue 168 was the result. It’s not the best, but it’s not bad. My right hand is upside down, thumb hooked into the wheel, clearly correcting the slide through a winter wonderland. 

It apparently looked too odd to one reader, though, because a couple of months later we got a letter from Australia complaining about an incorrect driving style. At the time we didn’t reveal the full extent of the palaver to get the photo, but, Jennifer, now you know why my hands weren’t at quarter to three.

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