Generations Timeline, Specs and Pictures
While the Atom started as an ultra-light open roadster fit for two and powered by a naturally-aspirated four-banger, the 2011 Atom V8 was a different kind of animal.
In 2007, the Atom was powered by a humble, naturally-aspirated inline-four, then customers asked for more power. Then it the Atom was fitted with a Honda Civic engine that boosted its power to 300 horses thanks to a supercharger. This time, the customers were pleased. But something was missing from that supercharged engine: a V-8 sound. That came in 2011 in a 25 units limited production run and a price tag that could match a Porsche Turbo or a Ferrari 458.
The Ariel V8 sported a new wing in the back that pushed the back of the roadster harder to the ground, increasing the traction. The carmaker placed two squared wide air-intakes for the engine on the sides, which differentiated the V8 from its inline-four siblings.
The Ariel Atom V8 was that little something that made a difference. Something like a meal with or without salt and pepper. It started as a one-off vehicle, an experiment when the factory installed a rev-happy 2.4-liter V-8 at the back of an Atom chassis. In the end, the carmaker rounded up the engine to a three-liter displacement capable of doing 10,000 rpm and squeezed 500 ponies out of the naturally aspirated V-8. The engineers paired it with a six-speed sequential gearbox, which featured a clutch that wasn’t needed while driving it hard, neither for the upshifts or the downshifts.
Thanks to that combo drivetrain, the Atom was capable of matching a Bugatti Veyron Supersport in a 0 to 62 mph (0-100 kph) run.
You probably haven’t heard of Ariel, a small British company with only 7 employees.
Or maybe more over the past years, but you get the idea.
Starting out as a university project, the Ariel Atom unveiled its first prototype in 1996 under the nameplate of LSC (Lightweight Sports Car).
The first Ariel Atom was released in 2000 and was driven by a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter engine that developed 190 hp.
It’s a bit inappropriate to describe the exterior design, as it was mostly the car’s chassis, the seats, the steering-wheel and the wheels.
The major upgrade was the chassis featuring a new diagonal side structure that allowed more interior room. The chassis’ width was increased by 60 mm .
A beautiful piece of engineering, the Atom 3 came with a new suspension and a Type R Honda-borrowed engine, the K20A. Ariel changed the 2.0-liter iVTEC’s mounts to improve the NVH level. The powerful unit developed 300 hp and was mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox that sent the power to the rear wheels.
Just imagine 300 hp on a 515 kg vehicle - doesn’t that sound scary? The small Atom 3 needed only 2.8 seconds to reach 100 kph.
For 2008, the Ariel Atom 3 featured a fly-by-wire throttle, a new gearchange, a new fuel system, a new ECU and a twin outlet exhaust.
As there was no windshield, driving at hight speed, even with a helmet, might have been challenging. To reduce the wind pressure on the driver’s head, Ariel used a simple deflector.
Following the successful 1999 Ariel Atom, the British carmaker considered that the car’s frame could provide more excitement with a proper engine, and that’s what it did.
While the first generation of Ariel Atom started based on a student project, the second generation was a different job. The car manufacturer took the same space frame that defined the roadster and brought a few updates.
The car’s exterior looked similar, with its side ladder-type exoskeleton already produced for the 1999 model. Ariel focused on other parts, including a pair of transparent bubbles in front of the seats, which diverted the airflow over the occupants. However, they still had to wear a helmet. Behind the open cockpit, a Formula 1-inspired hunchback featured a grille on the upper side for the engine’s intake.
Ariel installed two thin, carbon-fiber seats carried over from the racing industry. They were road-legal but with minimum padding and maximum bolstering. Keep in mind that the Atom could hold lateral g-forces of 1g, and the driver or its passenger shouldn’t slide out. In the instrument panel, the car manufacturer placed an LCD that displayed the speed and other relevant information regarding the engine or the car.
Behind the cockpit, Ariel dropped the 1.8-liter Rover K-Series engine and installed a 2.0-liter Honda K-series engine from the European Civic Type-R. To spice up things, the carmaker offered a supercharged version of that engine resulting in a 100 hp increase when compared to the naturally aspirated unit.
The extremely light Ariel Atom was the roadster that shook the supercar world with its amazing acceleration times and high cornering speeds.
Ariel took the light-weight concept to a different level. The British car manufacturer built a space-frame construction and added only what was mandatory on it, and everything started with a student project made for the Coventry University, in 1996, by Niki Smart, who later on became an exterior design manager for General Motors Advanced Design Team.
Smart built the concept with an exoskeleton design. The construction was inspired by the air industry. The designer added a nose-cone to improve the aerodynamic and protect the driver from winds. There was no windshield (although it was later on added as an option). Its headlights were barely visible between the wheels and the car’s nose. In the back, the car manufacturer installed the taillights directly on the chassis. Everything was exposed to the wind: the engine, gearbox, suspension, and, of course, the driver. There were no doors nor a roof.
The driver sat on a very slim seat built as thick and heavy as the rules required, but they featured high-bolstered areas so the driver wouldn’t slide out during high-speed cornering—the car supporter lateral accelerations of over 1 g. The instrument cluster featured two dials for the speedometer and tachometer and an LCD at the bottom.
In the beginning, the car was powered by a 1.8-liter Rover engine. Later on, the carmaker added more engines version, with the Honda Civic Type R K20 unit being the best known, especially with a supercharger on it which gave the Atom a 600 hp/tone ratio and a 0 to 60 mph (0-97 kph) time of just 2.9 seconds.