25th February 2000 at 00:00
What does your car say about you? Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford and author of Driving Passions - the Psychology of the Car, analyses the modes of transport found in school car parks.

"This obviously belongs to a bloke. Caterhams are basically replicas of the Lotus Seven. What you are doing is buying a racing car but pretending it's a means of transport. It's not really a car, it's a toy - and rather an expensive one.

"A lot of people who own these things take them to race tracks to try them out. This car has all the characteristics of a dragster. It's a bit like the 1930s, when people would take their Austin Sevens on hill climbs just to see how far they could get up the hill. Owners tend to be very competitive types.

"It harks back to the days of old-fashioned two-seater sports cars - it's in that mould. But it's almost like a big Scalextric model - in fact, I think you can buy miniature versions of these and have them whizzing round your own race track at home.

"You can get them as kits and make them up yourself with bits cobbled together from other cars. This gives you the illusion that because you have tightened every washer, nut and bolt, you are in control.

"I would imagine the person who owns this is a science teacher of some kind. These cars can be driven by anybody from their mid-20s to people in their mid-50s trying to recapturetheir lost youth. They are not easy to drive. They are not cheap either - but what you get for your money is a thrilling piece of entertainment. I think they are great - this is what cars should be about."

The car belongs to Ian Barkley, who teaches video and radio production at Chesterfield College.

"I think there is an element of it being a grown-up toy. It is something I wanted for a long time - ever since one appeared in The Prisoner on television in the Sixties. I bought this car professionally assembled about 18 months ago. Before that I had one which I built myself.

"But I only had it for a short time before it burst into flames. My partner and I were going along a country lane with the roof up at the time. It's extremely difficult to get out of with the roof up, but it's amazing how fast you can do it when flames are coming out of the bonnet.

"It is rewarding to drive because when you are driving a Caterham you are thinking of nothing else - you have to concentrate 100 per cent.

"I have taken it round Mallory Park race track and that's where it belongs. It does 0-60mph in about six seconds. But I use it every day - it's done 30,000 miles since I got it. I drive the 35 miles to work, whatever the weather, and I always have a big grin on my face when I arrive."

HARVEY McGAVIN. Wonder what your mode of transport says about you? E-mail. harvey.mcgavin@tes.co.uk.

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