December isn’t typically the best time of year for seeing rare cars on the road, so when I noticed an unusual green shape in my rearview mirror last week, I had to slow down and see what it was. As it approached, I recognized the shape as a Lotus Elise, but as if that wasn’t remarkable enough, I noticed what was following. The next two vehicles included a Caterham (being towed) and the unmistakable profile of a Ferrari.
Coincidence? Probably not. I’ll make the wild assumption that these three cars were travelling together. I was heading out to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with my family for hiking, and my guess is that these three drivers were headed to the same region for driving on twisty mountain roads. Let’s take a brief look at each of these three unusual sports cars.
The first to pass us was this 2005 Lotus Elise. If I were to quickly name a “pure sports car” made in the last 20 years, the fiberglass-bodied, mid-engined Elise would come to mind. The Elise is a modern embodiment of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s mantra that “adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” Powered by a Lotus-modified Toyota 1.8-liter VVTL-i engine as used on the Celica GT-S, this Elise produces 190 hp… all to power a car that weighs 2,000 lbs. (even for a federalized version like this one).
To say this is a “driver’s car” would be somewhat of an understatement – it has little in the way of luxuries, but can reach 60 mph in about 5 seconds and can attack curves like a race car. In fact, the Elise is quite possibly Lotus’s purest sports car since the classic Lotus 7. Speaking of which…
This is what followed the Elise. First of all, have you ever seen a Ford Focus towing another car? I surely haven’t, but this is a Caterham Seven 420R, which makes the Elise seem downright portly, weighing only about 1,250 lbs. Lotus made the original Seven from 1957 to 1972, after which it sold rights to produce the car to Caterham Cars, which has produced Sevens in various forms ever since. As is probably obvious, this is a minimalist sports car.
Caterham has sold cars in the US on an on-and-off basis in recent years, and this appears to be a newer US-market version. US-bound Sevens are imported in pieces, and assembled Stateside, thus falling into the kit car category… and this is one fast kit. The featherweight Seven corners like an F1 car and is powered by Ford’s 2-liter Zeta engine that develops 210 hp… which can propel the Seven to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. And if you consider the regular Seven 420 too broughamy, you can order the R package like this one, which brings the “sport suspension” (yes, the regular ones have a “road suspension”), racing seats, and other goodies that justify the R moniker.
I understand its owner’s desire to tow it – driving a race-package Seven on an Interstate would be a… punishing experience.
And then we have the Ferrari. Although this particular car is a 1992 512TR, 99.5% of people would call it a Testarossa. Ferrari enthusiasts likely cringe at folks calling these cars Testarossas – after all, there were hundreds of changes between the two models… everything from revised front end styling to 40 more horsepower (the new flat-12 cranked out 421 hp). But the continued presence of those remarkable side louvers ensures that it will always be connected with that name. A total of 2,261 TRs left Maranello between 1992 and 1994, with 408 of those destined for the United States.
In my opinion, the back end of this car is not its best angle, but then I was never in Ferrari’s target demographic – maybe if I was, the ultra wide and low design would appeal more to me. Regardless, the years I spent obsessively reading 1980s car magazines left an indelible mark on my conscience, and I would love the chance to drive one of these just once. Not own, mind you, just drive.
As these three fortunate drivers vanished into the Blue Ridge’s blue haze, I could only guess as to the fun they would all have that day. I was tempted to tag along, but somehow I think my minivan might have been left in the dust somewhere.
Photographed on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County, Virginia in December 2020.