Ariel Atom 300 Supercharged 2006
If you’re going to do the road-legal go-kart thing then why do it in half measures? For all the stomach looping, neural stimulating pleasure you can take on a Sunday Afternoon, look no further than the Ariel Atom
- Model: Atom 300 Supercharged
- Year: 2006
- Other info: This rather toy-like work of brilliance you are currently gawping at is Somerset’s answer to the Caterham and much like the girls at the surrounding seaside resorts you’ll find it at, it is rather beautifully exposed. Funny really as you’d expect the West Country to be mainly full of old-timers who play bowls and do afternoon tea but don’t be fooled. Although it’s generally a slower pace of life down in those cider swigging hamlets, it seems that Somerset people have got it the right way around. Their leisure time is where they put a lot of their passions and whether it be power-kiting, abseiling, dirt bike riding or taking to the open roads in some hair-raising machines, outdoor activities is very much part of the country culture.
It stands to reason then that some of the most extreme means of transport are dreamed up in sleepy villages by motoring enthusiasts themselves. The Atom’s rival, the Brooke Double R, also originated from the West Country. Even the Caterham has its roots in rural Surrey, where the roads are clearly built for ‘just for the sake of it driving.’ Of the three though, the Ariel Atom is the most radical both in its design and in its demanding nature.
It was back in the mid nineties that the Atom began development. For quite a while before this Ariel had been used to designing cars for other people. However when the Atom was dreamed up it seemed that no mainstream manufacturers were ready for such a unique lightweight sports car. They either didn’t have the budget or it didn’t fit in to their company philosophy. That’s when Ariel saw that they had a lot of scope to go it alone. As a low volume manufacturer Ariel didn’t have to conform to the same rigid guidelines as the big fish who could never get away with making cars without all the creature comforts, central-locking and airbags. But without these extras the Atom could be a hell of a lot lighter as well as less expensive to build. The labour is also cheaper because Ariel Motors is contained to a small workshop in Crewkerne. They employ a small team of engineers who do a job they love and one they know best.
The Atom bases itself around the same recipe as the original Lotus 7 but of course it is equipped with high quality modern-day components and built with some day-to-day practicality in mind. For instance the higher nose gives it more ground clearance so you can take it on the Ferry without scraping the front end. It’s even got waterproof connectors that will withstand the snow and the rain if you feel so inclined to brave the elements without a roof, doors or a windscreen. Of course having a Honda iVTEC unit and gearbox makes it much more appealing to enthusiasts who want to drive it rather than fiddle around with the internals every other weekend. Also due to its weight – or lack of it; it is less likely to cost you in tyres and brakes so you’ll be the envy of track-day goers.
All those exposed parts may be a bit of a worry if you live in a neighbourhood where even your Levi’s have to be tightly belted through fear of a fly-by snatching. However everything aside from the engine and transmission have been specially designed for the Atom so flogging them wouldn’t be that easy. The car as a whole is obviously immobilised so it’s unlikely the little toe-rags would get far on a joy-ride and even if they did, the Atom is hardly a motor that goes unnoticed.
It’s this raw eccentricity that is inevitably going to attract the attention of dreamers, enthusiasts and racing drivers alike. Although it looks pretty infantile, it is actually a car that takes the art of driving to a whole new realm. It knows how to pull in a crowd too, yet unlike the reactions you get driving many other highly desirable sports cars, the Atom seems to stir up a lot of admiration. This is perhaps because it’s not a car that spells out money and status but rather more pure unadulterated fun. Just ogle its fine ladder chassis, fancy pipe work and flat streamline design that is only interrupted by a Formula One racing style air-intake and incorporated roll bar. True, for the price it may seem a bit emperor’s new clothes but drive it and then tell us it’s not worth the nakedness! You won’t get a car in its price range that will match it in performance. It even pips the Bugatti Veyron from 0-60mph, achieving this in just 2.8 seconds. It is however just a smidgen slower than this mighty super car from 0-100mph. But then in fairness the Veyron is over £800K more expensive.
Atom enthusiasts also benefit from stupidly low insurance premiums and very strong residual value figures (sometimes they even sell them for more than they paid for it brand new). The latter stands to reason because there are only around 80 built a year and the demand is even higher; unlike big manufacturers they won’t bring out a new model every three years as its striking design is the very essence of the Atom. It may get a few upgrades but it already has its fundamental ingredients. What you do get is a very large options list so you can customise it to your exact requirements. Generally speaking if you have a specific need, Ariel will try to accommodate it, whether that be a full roll cage, bubble windshields or even 4 seats.
Other than personalising it with extras to suit your lifestyle, you really wouldn’t want the recipe changed at all. This is because the Ariel Atom Supercharged 300 sure does do exactly what it threatens in the name; allows you to ride on the cusp of immortality. It’s a battling transition for a while as you cross from thoughts that lead you from blind fear to a state of euphoria. At first it’s the being at one with nature that awakens the senses. In with this concoction of speed is the potent organicness of the countryside, the unexpected blaze of September sunshine and the wind tugging at your helmet from all angles. Although enclosed in a very comprehensive work of welding you all too aware that your rear end is virtually skimming the tarmac and your body a squishy mass of nerves. However within minutes your brain is immersed in so much stimulus it’s like England winning the world cup final, a £200K tax re-bate and stepping in to a hot tub with Scarlett Johansson all happening at once.
It’s not just the speed that sends your pleasure neurons on over-drive though; it’s the Atom’s ability to corner like a single-seater race car. With its four wheels perfectly poised at each corner, its torpedo-like aerodynamics, low centre of gravity and the fact that it tips the scales at just 500kg, its handling and stability is immensely superior to other mass production sports cars. Due to having exposed connecting rods to attach the wheels to the chassis and also having the suspension struts laid horizontally to either side of the nose cone, most of the weight is taken away from the wheels and onto the main structure where it can be dampened and controlled.
Its 300bhp is 65% biased to the rear which makes it slightly prone to over-steer if you’re too vicious through corners but that’s a good reason to ease up on its limits before you’ve squandered your own. All the controls are very go-kart like and easy to get a feel for, the steering is quite weighted which you need at speed and the gears so slick they engage with an easy flick of the wrist or a nudge of the finger tips.
To start up the Atom, it’s a case of deactivating the immobiliser and pushing a button beside the steering column. As the supercharged Honda iVTEC rumbles to life, you’ll feel the vibrations from under the seat, a more personal invitation to feel at one with this purpose-built pleasure zone. Forget your helmet and you’ll be more of a fly trap than a still-steaming cow pat; your eyes streaming like a baby and the whistle in your ears echoing well in to next week. But then it will be the best shot you’ve ever had at convincing Wella you could be the next top model for their Shockwaves products. Seriously though if you’re going to do anything above 20mph in an Atom wear a helmet because if an insect hits you, it’s going to feel like a brick.
The helmet is of course one of the only luxuries you will have as there’s no Alcantara leather or heated seats in the Atom Supercharged 300, you may have paid £37,500 for it but that’s money purely spent on its hedonistic thrill. You won’t regret leaving your cruise control, head-up displays, follow-me-home headlamps, and convenient cup holders at home of a weekend though. The insane speed of an Atom evokes thrills we have buried so deep in our Freudian shame we imagined them irretrievable. You’ll soon forget the friction burns on your back, the very telling screeches from the supercharger and lack of servo assisted brakes when you even so much as titillate the accelerator. Even the mildest gesture of passion will fling you beyond the horizon like a Super Mario kart in supersonic mode.
This is why the Ariel Atom is so dangerous in just anyone’s hands; there’s no driving aids or traction control to assist you, you really have to respect it and not get too carried away. Just because the car is capable of overtaking 8 cars on a hill and cornering at 100mph it doesn’t make your own reaction times any faster. Get one of the guys that have built the cars to take you out and it’s tempting to want to drive it at that level, however learning the intricate capabilities of the Atom is all part of the fun.
The owners of Atom cars have also forged a community which is as good for picking up tips and sharing experiences as it is for socialising. Because Ariel is such an intimate company, you also get a very personal service where you can come along to see a pile of components transform themselves in to a radical lightweight sports car and even talk to the guy who has single-handedly built it. The company themselves have around 100 years of history behind them and attracted worldwide interest for their motorbikes and cars in the first part of the 20th century. Then in the fifties the high volume British Manufacturing largely died its death and Ariel started designing for other people. At the heart of their designs was a passion that far outlived the British Car Industry’s hey day and Ariel has proved it can revive itself again today as a worldwide name - albeit in a niche sector. Fortunately Britain still has a highly skilled workforce who have an extensive knowledge of the specialist market. The Atom then is a real showmanship of what can be achieved when thinking outside the box.
FOR: The sheer terror and euphoria that both hit you at once, even F1 drivers come away with a very big grin on their face.
AGAINST: The six month waiting list
CONCLUSION: Follow your heart - Buy it!
ENGINE: Supercharged Honda i-VTEC
POWER: 300bhp @ 8200rpm
TORQUE (lb/ft): 220Nm @ 7200 rpm
0-60mph (sec): 2.84
TOP SPEED: 155mph
TRANSMISSION: 6 speed manual close ratio gearbox, alluminium alloy casing, Limited Slip Differential, hydraulic clutch
SUSPENSION: Double unequal length TIG welded fabricated wishbones, Inboard Bilstein adjustable monotube dampers, High grade alloy steel two piece Eibach coil springs, all front and rear
BRAKES: Front: Alcon 290mm ventilated grooved disc, 4 pot calipers, Rear: Alcon 240mm grooved disc
WHEELS: Front: 7Jx15 5 spoke Dymag magnesium, Rear: 8Jx16 5 spoke Dymag magnesium
TYRES: Front: 195//50R15 Yokohama A048, Rear: 225/40R16 Yokohama A048
RIVALS: Caterham CSR, Brooke Double R