This month the topic is simple. Power! Raw, beautiful, brutal power. I simply want to talk about the fastest vehicle I have ever turned the ignition key of. As I am hoping pretty much all of you will know the key to performance is not purely enormous horsepower. If it was the following would be about a proven 850BHP R34 GTR I once drove. It’s not. As amazing as that car was it was beaten into a state of magnolia blandness by the vehicle I reference today. The key to performance is weight, or rather lack of. It is the fundamental reason motorbikes are so quick. So, let’s talk about a car where we combine the stability of having a wheel at all four corners, we strip away everything that doesn’t have a performance related purpose and we add 300BHP to the mix. Yes readers, today I want to share with you my first-hand experience of the supercharged Ariel Atom.
I never consciously considered where I thought the line stood for what was possible in a car. The limit of grip rubber can provide, the amount of stress a transmission can stand before it spills its innards downwards like a gutted fish. What the Atom does is take the assumptions you never knew you had and sets fire to them. For the limited few who can’t picture the machine it is basically a tubular chassis which is exposed to act as bodywork. No doors, no paint, no windscreen, nothing. Just a chassis, an engine and naked engineering. That really is the best way I can think of describing what you see…naked and unapologetic engineering at its best. Obviously, the objective here is lightness. The downside, definitely wear a helmet. I collected a stone in the centre of my forehead that was kicked up by a truck I was following and I thought I had been shot. Not enjoyable. Other downsides include being so cold I could cry and feeling as vulnerable as you do on two wheels but sat an inch from the road. These don’t deter. Not a daily driver obviously so get over it I hear you say? You’re absolutely right, this car is a toy. The best toy in the world! But still a toy.
On to the engine. Ariel use a Honda VTEC unit and bolt a supercharger to it. Genius really, as the Honda engine is bullet proof and loves to rev. With the supercharger being crank driven the available power is immediate. No turbo lag here! That horror film like howl that comes from the supercharger is addictive. Much like making waste gates chatter on turbo cars can encourage idiocy the supercharger does the same. It is the devil on your shoulder saying “go for it!” All the naked workings for suspension and braking just add to the experience too. Seeing everything doing its job for those like us who enthuse is enthralling. A front nose cone is plastic with a small area inside for a bag but basically you sit in a bucket seat where you are faced with a steering wheel, the usual indicators and lights and not much else. At first touch of the key the car isn’t loud. This lulls you into a false sense of security really because what is to come is nothing short of vicious. Steering is light and despite the car being so compact I am comfortable.
So, sat in the Atom I creep my way out of the road end. Sunglasses on my face and tootle off down the road. Urban roads so a good opportunity to wriggle around, get the harnesses comfortable and get used to the clutch and brake points etc. Because the Atom is so light it is very compliant. Everything you do feels like the car already knew and it almost rolls its eyes at you. Due to this connection you feel with the car, a confidence in your ability as a team follows quickly. So now feeling settled in the driver’s seat of the Atom, tyres and engine warmed we decide to get to know each other better as rural Yorkshire beckons us forward.
Forehead still hurting from the afore mentioned high speed pebble a gap now appears to scalp the offending lorry and get some clear tarmac in front of us. Third gear and just a flex of the foot produces acceleration with an immediacy like I have never felt. The torque from the supercharger is unreal and before I can whoop like a rollercoaster virgin we are long past the lorry and shift lights are blinking. “All that from partial throttle” is all I can think and my appetite grows. The lust to know what this thing is capable of is a yearning that cannot wait. After a few more goes at breezing past astonished road users I find a quiet strip of black top and stop dead. First gear, revs up and dump the clutch. Very little wheel spin as there is no weight to stop the tyres from catapulting me forward like I was being fired out of a medieval slingshot. The whine from the induction is deafening! Second required in a flash and over just as quick. The acceleration is ballistic! Third…rev limiter and ease back. Sweaty palms and a sprinters heart rate are now my world. My ears are thumping with the blood flow and my eyes are wide like a spooked child in a haunted house. The Atom is not a car, it is a “class A” addiction machine! Now making Whitney Houston look like a social smoker I am hooked. Like young love we are on the fast track now. Our relationship is evolving rapidly and I think I am in love! My Atom, my perfect drug has stolen my heart but overwhelming it with endorphins and adrenaline. The thing is laser guided and I feel invincible.
Thirty minutes later and I am in deep now. The tyres are like putty and the brakes feel like precision instruments I could perform an operation with. The throttle can only be described as a joy lever and I am in heaven. As a driving machine, it feels invincible…. flawless. Despite everything flashing by I am busy calculating how I can afford one and where I might keep it. No roof means a garage and I ponder how my wife might feel about keeping her BMW outside.
Unlike is often the case with me there was no downside that day. My new love and I frolicked around the countryside all afternoon blissfully unaware of anything other than the next leap to the horizon as another dawdler gets scalped.
I end my story with the Atom here glad that our brief love affair didn’t end in heart break. It merely ended with the conclusion that despite how besotted with the machine I was, it wasn’t right for me. The Atom doesn’t understand compromise and why should it. Trailer it to a track day and embarrass everyone no matter what they spent and it is the best value for money on this planet. For everything else, buy a car, not a toy.
THE Auto VIP.