2007 Caterham CSR260

There's no radio, of course, or air-conditioning. The turn signals are operated with a toggle switch on the minimalist dash. (For conventional steering-column stalks, choose the optional interior package.) The CSR260 will run you about $67,000. Caterham USA plans to start offering cars with detuned Duratecs for about half that price. Still, I'm starting to think that this is an awful lot of money to spend on a car that's so thoroughly unsuited to the exigencies of everyday transportation.

Then again, the Caterham would have been par for the course back in the '50s, when virtually every big name in American road racing competed at Palm Springs. The program for the March 1955 races includes a rookie listed as "Dean, Jas." entered in a Porsche. In one respect, the racetrack is still there: Races were contested on a circuit cobbled together from runways and taxiways at the local airport. But aside from a short stretch of pavement just south of there, I can't find any signs of the original racecourse.

Fortunately, Palm Springs still has one treasure to offer road-racing fans-Highway 74, a twisty up-and-down two-lane featuring spectacular vistas and challenging corners in equal measure. I experiment briefly with ditching the side curtains. Not a good idea: The turbulence is so fierce that I can hardly breathe. But with the side curtains back in place, the Caterham is nothing short of spectacular. It carves around hairpins, blasts through sweepers, and gobbles up straightaways, always feeling perfectly planted and making the exhilarating noises you expect from a racing car.

And that, in the end, is the most impressive feature of the CSR: It makes you feel like a hero even if you're just a wanker. The beauty of the car is that you can sneak up on its prodigious limits without scaring yourself silly, which is something you can't say about most supercars. Sure, a Z06 has a higher top speed, but going ten-tenths in one isn't a job for the faint-hearted. The Caterham, by way of contrast, isn't always threatening to kill you, and long before you're on the verge of wrecking it, you can sense the chassis politely suggesting that you slow down and start behaving yourself.

Bottom line? The CSR260 isn't a car for going from point A to point B unless one of them is a racetrack. But if you're looking for something that will reconnect you to the visceral thrill of spirited motoring, whether on two-lane twisties or during a track day event, then life doesn't get any better than being in the cramped cockpit of a Caterham.

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