The Ariel Atom is a road-legal, high-performance sports car made by the Ariel Motor Company based in Crewkerne, Somerset, England, and under license in North America by TMI Autotech, Inc. at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia.
There have been five Ariel Atom incarnations to-date: Ariel Atom, Ariel Atom 2, Ariel Atom 3, Ariel Atom 3 Mugen Limited Edition (only 10 made), Ariel Atom 3.5, and Ariel Atom 500 V8 Limited Edition (only 25 made). The current models are the Ariel Atom 3.5 and the limited production Ariel Atom 500 V8 with a 500 bhp (373 kW; 507 PS) V8 engine.
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 with more aerodynamic road cars.
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 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.
In February 2008, Ariel announced its latest Atom variant, the Ariel Atom 500 V8. 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.
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