If there's something that Tom Cruise and the Ariel Atom can teach you, its that you really shouldn't judge a person by their diminutive stance. They hold their own, even triumph over, the hunks of their respective worlds. The Ariel Atom can easily smoke cars like Ferrari 458 Italia and even the Lamborghini Aventador around corners with evident ease. It's not about size, dude, its about you-see-me-now-you-don't.
The Ariel Atom is a road legal high performance sports car made by the Ariel Motor Company based in Crewkerne, Somerset, England and under licence in North America by TMI Autotech, Inc. at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia.
There have been four Ariel Atom incarnations to date: Ariel Atom, Ariel Atom 2, Ariel Atom 3 and Ariel Atom 500 V8. The current models are the Ariel Atom 3, and the limited production Ariel Atom 500 V8 with a 500 bhp (373 kW; 507 PS) V8 made from two Suzuki Hayabusa engines.
The Ariel Atom is unusual in that it is exoskeletal — the chassis is prominently visible from the outside — and therefore lacks a roof, windows and other features normally found on road cars although a small windscreen is available as an optional extra. The chassis design leads to a relatively high drag coefficient of 0.40 in comparison to more aerodynamic road cars.
The Atom began as a student project by Coventry University transport design student, Nik Smart. Known then as the LSC (Lightweight Sports Car), it was developed at the university in 1996 with input and funding from various automotive industry members, including British Steel and TWR. Ariel Motor Company boss Simon Saunders was a senior lecturer whose responsibility for the project was primarily as financial manager and design critic for Smart, whom he described as "The best all-round design student I've ever seen." The car was first shown publicly at the British International Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham in October 1996.
- 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h): 2.8 seconds (manufacturer's claim)
- Top speed: 155 mph, 250 km/h
- Power: 245 bhp (183 kW; 248 PS) @ 8,200 rpm (300 bhp supercharged)
- Torque: 210 N·m (150 ft·lbf) @ 6,100 rpm
- Weight: 612 kg (1350 lb)
- Transmission: Honda six-speed with reverse or General Motors six speed with reverse
- Engine: 2.0 L Honda K20A1, four-cylinder, i-VTEC, 2.0 L supercharged, General Motors 2.2 L supercharged, 2.4 L Ecotec four-cylinder, 3.0 L 500-bhp Ariel V8
- Manufacturer: Ariel Motor Company Ltd
- Length: 3,410 mm (134 in)
- Width: 1,798 mm (70.8 in) / 1,828 mm (72.0 in) with 225 Tyres
- Height: 1,195 mm (47.0 in)
- Track: 1,600 mm (63 in) front and rear
- Wheelbase: 2,345 mm (92.3 in)
- Designer: Nik Smart
The Atom suspension setup was tuned by the engineers at Lotus. Edmunds "Inside Line" noted that "anyone who has driven a selection of Lotus-tuned cars, such as the Elise, the Aston Martin Vanquish and the Opel Speedster, will notice a common feel or signature, and it's replicated in the Atom."
The Atom’s suspension is derived from single seat racing cars and is fully adjustable, requiring only a spanner. Both front and rear double unequal length wishbones and inboard, pushrod-operated dampers contribute to the Atom’s dynamic racecar-like handling. Adjustable suspension rod ends feature inboard rubber/metal bushings to promote a more comfortable road-going ride. The front and rear Bilstein dampers are also adjustable. Stacked helper coil springs and main coil springs produce a low spring rate for minor deflections and a higher rate for large ones.
In 2005 Track and Race Car magazine published the results of a comprehensive test of a range of cars, from the Porsche 911 Carrera S, Ford GT, BMW M5 to the Caterham CSR 260. The Supercharged Ariel Atom 1 won the 0–100–0 mph (0–161–0 km/h) test by a clear margin at 10.88 seconds, ahead of the Caterham CSR 260 (11.41) and the Ford GT in 4th (13.17).
The following year, the Atom won Autocar's 0–100 mph challenge as the new Ariel Atom 2 300 bhp supercharged edition achieved a time of 6.86 seconds, and then stopped from 100 in 3.8 seconds. At the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, the Atom broke the indoor speed record. The high gloss floor that the cars ran on was only 220 m (720 ft) long, with an open door at the end of the hall. The driver of the Atom launched in fourth gear and still had wheelspin until the car reached 70 mph (110 km/h) and started to get traction. The Atom was beaten only by a Class 9 Autograss car powered by a 2.0l Lexus/Toyota touring car engine which set the official indoor speed record, beating the previous record held by a Toyota F1 car driven by Top Gear's driver The Stig.
The Sunday Times measured the time taken for the Atom to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) at 2.89 seconds, making it the world's third fastest accelerating production car then available after the $1.3 million, 1,001 PS (987 bhp) Bugatti Veyron at 2.46 seconds, and the Ultima GTR at 2.6 seconds; the review was in 2005.
United States licensing
Brammo Motorsports of Ashland, Oregon signed a deal with Ariel Ltd to manufacture the Atom in the US starting in late 2005. In the US the Atom 2 was available with the supercharged GM Family II Ecotec engine, which was introduced in 2004 on the Saturn ION Red Line and is also used in the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. A limited run of approximately 10 US built Atom 2 cars, manufactured in 2006-2007, were powered by imported Honda K20As. Brammo Motorsports ceased production of the Atom in 2008 to focus on the manufacture of an electric motorcycle.
In January 2008, it was officially announced that licensed manufacturing of the Ariel Atom for the US market would be undertaken by TMI AutoTech Inc at a purpose-built facility at Virginia International Raceway. TMI started production by building Honda-powered Atom 3 cars. TMI AutoTech Inc is also associated with Trak Motorsports Inc, the company that operates the Ariel Atom Experience trackdays in Canada and North America.
Ariel Atom 500
Ariel announced in February 2008 its latest Atom variant, the Ariel Atom 500. It features a 500 horsepower 3.0 litre John Hartley designed V8 engine, carbon fibre body panels and aerofoils, chromoly aerofoil wishbones, integrated function steering wheel, Alcon four-piston brake calipers, and Dymag magnesium wheels. The engine weighs 90 kg (198 lb) and is coupled to a Sadev 6-speed sequential gearbox to cope with the increased power over the Honda unit. During the development process the RS performance engine was replaced by a unit prepared by Hartley Enterprises giving the final production version of the 550 kg (1,213 lb) car 900 bhp/tonne.
Ariel claims this variant will accelerate from 0-60 mph in "less than 2.3 seconds".
On 23 January 2011, the Atom 500 set the lap record around the Top Gear test track, with a time of 1:15.1, making it the fastest road-legal car to go around the track - a record that stood for just over two years, until the Pagani Huayra completed a lap in 1:13.8 on 27 January 2013.
The Ariel Atom was unofficially used by Wrightspeed as the base of a one-off prototype called the Wrightspeed X1, which is a proof of concept of the company's all-electric powertrain.