The Ariel Atom is a high performance sports car made by the Ariel Motor Company based in 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 model is the Ariel Atom 3 which is the most powerful apart from the V8 model. The latter is a limited production model with a 500 bhp (373 kW; 507 PS) V8 engine 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 windshield is available as an optional extra.
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.
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.
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 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 car 900 bhp/tonne.
Ariel claims this variant will accelerate from 0-60 mph in “less than 2.3 seconds”.
Ariel will produce just 25 this year. Prices are expected to be at least $160,000.
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.