21st Century : Cars : Ariel Atom
No doors, no windscreen, no roof. If it doesn't need it, the Atom hasn't got it.
A true minimal sports car with race bred construction and components, the Atom is the first new vehicle to bear the Ariel name for 27 years and has been designed purely for ultimate driving performance and serious fun on the road or track. Weighing only 500 kilos (approximately half of a Ford Fiesta) and featuring a 1.6 or 1.8 Rover K series engine (Lotus Elise, MGF) the 2 seater Atom is unique in combining race car dynamics, road car safety and motorcycle levels of performance.
Priced from around ú14,500 the Atom outclasses any other vehicles in its field and has the ability to embarrass practically any other road car, regardless of price, in terms of performance. Founded in 1898 Ariel is one of the oldest names in British motoring history producing early Grand Prix cars, but best known for their motorcycles such as the famous Square 4 and highly regarded for their technical innovation and advanced engineering. The Atom is just the first of an exciting range of vehicles from the new Ariel Motor Company designed to build on the tradition and values of the original.
The Atom is the brainchild of Simon Saunders (46), Director of Ariel and a consultant automotive designer. Originally working on motorcycles, before designing for GM and subsequently Aston Martin, Saunders is uniquely placed to understand the requirements of the enthusiast who is looking for a pure performance vehicle. "The Atom is designed to give the thrill of a single seat racing car or motorbike while remaining safe, legal and practical," says Saunders. "The growing interest in 'track days', where you can drive on race circuits at high speed in safety, helped focus our concept of a race derived road car that was equally at home on the road or on the race track." With a philosophy of form following function and minimal complexity to save weight and cost the Atom is a truly new, exciting and original piece of automotive design.
Basis of the Atom is the exposed, large diameter, bronze welded tubular steel space frame. Designed using sophisticated computer modelling and testing techniques the chassis provides safety levels that are exceptional on a car of this kind which are reinforced by integral front and rear rollover tubes giving a driver and passenger safety cell. "Safety is often a low priority on vehicles of this type and we were adamant that primary and secondary levels of safety on the Atom were kept as high as possible," says Saunders. All cars are also equipped with 'E' or FIA 4 point full harness seat belts.
The minimal bodywork, developed in the wind tunnel, consists of several composite panels to reduce weight, expense and repair costs. "Exposing the mechanical components allows most adjustments, including suspension, to be made easily and quickly without removing any body panels" says Saunders, "but passengers are also fascinated to watch the steering, suspension and wheels working as you drive." The adjustable composite twin seat unit, offering high lateral support, has been designed for as wide a range of drivers as possible to solve the interior space problems often encountered in vehicles within this class.
Unique on a road car at this level and reflecting the Atom's race bred design, suspension is by double unequal length wishbones and inboard, push-rod operated dampers front and rear, usually only found on single seat race cars. Fully adjustable dampers and suspension geometry allow the Atom to be quickly set for road or track use or to individual preferences. The Atom also incorporates many other features usually only found in racing cars, such as adjustable front/rear bias brakes, PC compatible instruments and an adjustable 11 turn, lock to lock, competition steering rack. "Adjustability is a key word in the Atom. We know it will be used hard on the track and no road car will succeed there without the owner being able to experiment or make necessary adjustments," says Saunders.
The Atom is sold as a basic track car to which can be added road or race packages. Road packages have been designed to European Type Approval standards, including seat belt mounts, steering column safety, exhaust emissions and lighting (quick release headlamps, stored inside the car, are yet another simple and unique Atom feature). The Atom is subject to SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) and race packages conform to FIA and RAC rules.
Available with a variety of options, mostly performance related but some cosmetic, the Atom allows owners to specify a car to their exact and individual requirements or to tailor it for a change in use during ownership. Engine tuning options include those developed by Rover Power Train for the K Series to take the engine to 140bhp and 165bhp or right up to a race specification 190bhp, as used on Lotus Elise R190 and MGF Cup race cars. Further tuning packages to take the engine to over 220bhp are currently being developed for release shortly. Options of a close ratio gearbox, competition brakes, race dampers and various wheel and tyre configurations are available to complement the engine packages.
The emphasis for performance of the Atom is geared towards acceleration and handling as top speed generally becomes more academic on today's roads. Weighing only 500 kilos the power to weight ratio of the Atom, even with the standard 1.8 engine (250bhp/tonne), exceeds that of a current Porsche 911. With a tuning package it betters that of any Ferrari or Lamborghini and with the 190bhp race engine (380bhp/tonne) the Atom reaches levels only found in professional racing cars.
The final key element of the Atom design was to keep prices low and to make ownership as easy as possible. "The whole essence of the Atom is about the driving experience, having fun and also being able to afford to keep one in your garage," says Saunders, "I think we've proved with the Ariel Atom that supercar performance and sensational fun is within the reach of anyone who wants it."
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