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 seven Ariel Atom generations to date: Ariel Atom, Ariel Atom 2, Ariel Atom 3 (including the Ariel Atom 3 Mugen Limited Edition and Honda Racing Edition - of which only 1 was made) Ariel Atom 3.5, Ariel Atom 3S, Ariel Spec:Race Atom, and Ariel Atom 500 V8 Limited Edition (only 25 to be made). The current models are the Ariel Atom 3 (US), 3.5, the more powerful 3.5R, the 3S (US), the Spec:Race Atom (US), and the limited production Ariel Atom 500 V8 with a 500 bhp (373 kW; 507 PS) V8 engine
The Ariel Atom features a prominently visible chassis (i.e., an exoskeleton, no roof or windows, a small optional windscreen) and a drag coefficient of 0.40.
The Atom began as a student project by Coventry University transport design student, Niki 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 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 Lotus 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 derives 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 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 2 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.
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 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 also operates the Spec:RaceAtom Series at VIR.
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 909 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 3.5R is the upgraded version of the Ariel Atom producing 350 bhp from a 1998cc supercharged Honda engine which propels the 550kg car to 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds and to a top speed of 155 mph.
In June 2014 a 3.5R was presented to Avon and Somerset Police, the force local to the Crewkerne factory, to support a local motorcycle safety initiative. It has pursuit lights and carries police livery.
In October 2014, TMI AutoTech, Inc. announced the arrival of an all new Atom for the US market, the 3S. This turbocharged upgrade to the Ariel Atom 3 produces 365 bhp and over 300 lb/ft of torque, propelling it to 60 mph in under 2.8 seconds.
Featuring an all-new cockpit adjustable traction control system, JRi adjustable dampers, and a choice of three transmissions (including a new SADEV 6-speed sequential race inspired gearbox with paddle shifters), each Ariel Atom 3S is hand built by TMI AutoTech at their facility at Virginia International Raceway.
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.
In mid 2012 it was announced that for the first time in the UK, the Atom would have a dedicated single make race series called 'Atom Cup'. The series would feature on Jonathan Palmer's MSVR program of racing with 8 race weekends featuring 16 races. Absolute Taste were announced as the hospitality partner. The cars were 245BHP naturally aspirated, 3.5 chassis with an MSA approved welded roll bar protection system. The standard suspension was replaced with Ohlins racing suspension. An FIA approved fire extinguisher system was also installed.