Ariel Atom

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Ariel Atom
ManufacturerAriel Motor Company
DesignerNiki Smart
Body and chassis
ClassSports car
Body styleOpen body two-seater
  • 1.8 L 190 hp Rover K-Series engine
  • 2.0 L 245 bhp naturally aspirated or 310 bhp (350 bhp in 3.5R) supercharged Honda K20Z4 i-VTEC
  • 2.2 L or 2.4 L 205-300 bhp supercharged General Motors Ecotec
  • 3.0 L 500 bhp Ariel V8
  • 2.4 L 245 bhp naturally aspirated or 300bhp supercharged Honda i-VTEC (US)
  • 2.4 L 230 bhp naturally aspirated or 365 bhp turbocharged Honda K24Z7 i-VTEC
  • 2.0 L 321 bhp turbocharged (direct injection) Honda K20C1 i-VTEC
Wheelbase2,345 mm (92.3 in)[1]
Length3,410 mm (134 in)
Width1,890 mm (74 in)
Height1,195 mm (47.0 in)
Curb weight612 kg (1,349 lb)

The Ariel Atom is a road-legal high performance open-wheel car made by the British 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 eight 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 one was made) Ariel Atom 3.5, Ariel Atom 3S, Ariel Spec:Race Atom, Ariel Atom 500 V8 Limited Edition (only 25 to be made), and the Ariel Atom 4. The limited production Ariel Atom 500 V8 featured a 373 kW (500 bhp; 507 PS) V8 engine. The Ariel Atom 4 uses a turbocharged 2.0 litre engine, also used in the Honda Civic Type R, with 3-stage boost.[2][3]

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.[4]

Design origins[edit]

The Atom began as a student project by Coventry University transport design student Niki Smart together with Simon Saunders, a senior transport design lecturer. After several sports car companies rejected his proposal, Saunders founded his own company in 1991 named Solocrest Ltd. to create the Atom, which was renamed in 1999 as Ariel Motor Company Ltd.[5]

Known then as the LSC (Lightweight Sports Car), the car was developed at the university in 1996 with input and funding from various automotive industry members, including British Steel and TWR. Simon Saunders' 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.[6]


Front spring, helper coil spring (in red), and shock

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."[7]

The Atom's suspension derives from single seat racing cars and is fully adjustable, requiring only a wrench. 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 Road & Track 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 0–161–0 km/h (0–100–0 mph) test by a clear margin at 10.88 seconds, ahead of the Caterham CSR 260 (11.41) and the Ford GT in fourth (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.[8] 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 110 km/h (68 mph) and started to get traction. The Atom was beaten only by a class nine 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 Toyota's test driver Olivier Panis dressed as Top Gear's driver The Stig.[citation needed]

The Sunday Times measured the time taken for the Atom to accelerate from 0 to 97 km/h (60 mph) at 2.89 seconds, making it the world's third-fastest accelerating production car then available, after the Bugatti Veyron's 2.46 seconds[9] and the Ultima GTR at 2.6 seconds;[10] the review was in 2005.

United States licensing[edit]

Ariel Atom 3

Brammo Motorsports of Ashland, Oregon, signed a deal with Ariel, Ltd to manufacture the Ariel 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. There was a limited run of 10 US-built Atom 2 cars in 2006–2007, which were powered by imported Honda K20As.[11] Brammo ceased production of the Atom in 2007 to focus on the manufacture of an electric motorcycle.

In January 2008, it was officially announced that licensed manufacturing of the new Ariel Atom 3, for the US market, would be undertaken by specialty motorsports manufacturing company TMI AutoTech Inc at a purpose-built facility at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).[12] Since 2008, all Atom 3 cars were powered by a Honda Civic Si drivetrain. In January 2016, TMI moved from its 20,000 ft/sq facility at VIR to a newly refurbished 60,000 ft/sq building in South Boston, VA.[13] To separate Ariel manufacturing from its thriving sublet manufacturing services, TMI started all Ariel brand manufacturing and marketing efforts under the Ariel North America name.

In 2011, VIR started the VIR Cup in which specialty designed track dedicated Ariel Atoms would compete in a series of races. This specially designed Atom was called the Spec:RaceAtom (SRA). The VIR Cup was managed and operated by the track club while TMI offered technical support for the race cars, the VIR Cup ended in late 2015.

Generations and variants[edit]

Ariel Atom[edit]

The first Atom arrived just in time for the new millennium with 190bhp from a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre Rover K-series engine.[14]

Ariel Atom 2[edit]

Launched in 2003, the Atom 2 that followed had as much as 300bhp courtesy of a new supercharged 2-liter Honda Civic Type R (for the 220) and Type-S (for the 160) engine.[5]

Ariel Atom 3[edit]

The Atom 3 appeared in 2007, utilizing new Honda Civic drivetrain and a smoother "KZ" Type-R motor.[5]

Ariel Atom 500[edit]

Introduced in February 2008, the Ariel Atom 500 features a 373 kW (500 hp) 3.0 litre John Hartley-designed V8 engine, carbon fibre body panels and aerofoils, chromoly aerofoil wishbones, an 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 six-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 678 kW/t (909 bhp/tonne).[15]

Ariel claims this variant will accelerate from 0–100 km/h (62 mph) in less than 2.3 seconds, making it the fastest accelerating production car when initially released.[16]

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[17] – a record that stood for just over two years, until the Pagani Huayra completed a lap in 1:13.8 on 27 January 2013.[18]

Ariel Atom 3.5R[edit]

The Ariel Atom 3.5R is the upgraded version of the Ariel Atom producing 261 kW from a 1,998cc supercharged Honda engine which propels the 550 kg car to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds and to a top speed of 249.45 km/h. 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 police livery.[19]

Ariel Atom 3S[edit]

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 hp (272 kW) and over 300 ft lb (407 Nm) of torque, propelling it to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds (100 km/h 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.[20]

Ariel Atom 4[edit]

The Ariel Atom 4 was launched at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July 2018. It features the latest Honda Type R turbo engine with 239 kW (321 bhp) as standard, a new chassis, suspension, steering, brakes, bodywork with significant aerodynamic improvements, new seating and instrumentation together with a host of design improvements and changes.[21] The new car also features a thicker frame, separate seats and a revised intake. The car has been reviewed by Autocar[22] and deliveries started at the start of June 2019. In 2020, Autocar selected the Ariel Atom 4 as Britain's Best Driver's Car.[23][24]

Wrightspeed X1[edit]

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.[25]

Atom Cup[edit]

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.[26] The series would feature on Jonathan Palmer's MSVR programme of racing with eight race weekends featuring 16 races. The cars were 183 kW naturally aspirated, 3.5 chassis with an MSA approved welded roll bar protection system. The standard suspension was replaced with Öhlins racing suspension. An FIA approved fire extinguisher system was also installed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Ariel Atom 3R". Ariel Motor Company. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  2. ^ "More details emerge on V8-powered Ariel Atom 500". 11 August 2010. Archived from the original on 1 October 2010. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  3. ^ "Ariel Atom V8 price". ZerCustoms. 8 June 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Technical specifications and performance data of Ariel Atom (2002)". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "Ariel Atom buying guide". evo. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  6. ^ Steve Cropley (1996), 'Your Starter for £10k', Autocar, 16 October 1996 pp74-77:

    "The project had its germination as a project for 100-odd students of Coventry's School of Transport Design"

    "As senior lecturer on the Coventry course, Saunders fell naturally into the role of financial manager, enabler and chief critic"

    "Most of the LSC's primary design is Smart's"

  7. ^ Alistair Weaver, European Editor, Edmunds Inside Line, Published 29 April 2005, Ariel Atom: Honda-Powered Road-Legal Racecar[1]
  8. ^ Joseph, Noah. "British mags set indoor speed records", Autoblog, 18 December 2006.
  9. ^ Frankel, Andrew (17 November 2005). "European First Drive: 2006 Bugatti Veyron". Edmunds. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  10. ^ "Ultima Crowned Triple 0-100mph-0 World Record Holders". Ultima Sports Ltd. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  11. ^ "2006 Ariel Atom 300 Supercharged". CoverCars. 16 December 2006. Archived from the original on 8 January 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  12. ^ "Ariel Atom, Ariel Nomad, Ariel North America History".
  13. ^ "TMI AutoTech to relocate in SoBo".
  14. ^ "Ariel Atom 4 review". Autocar. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  15. ^ "5V8 ARIEL ATOM GETS 900BHP PER TONNE". Pistonheads. 8 September 2010. Archived from the original on 11 September 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  16. ^ "Ariel Atom V8 (2010) First Official Pictures". CAR Magazine. 8 September 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  17. ^ "Top Gear – 16x01 – 2011.01.23". Top Gear. 23 January 2011. BBC.
  18. ^ "Top Gear – 19x01 – 2013.01.27". Top Gear. 27 January 2013. BBC.
  19. ^ Jones, Matthew (3 June 2014). "This is an Ariel Atom police car". Top Gear. BBC Worldwide. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  20. ^ "Ariel Atom 3S". TMI AutoTech, Inc. 17 October 2014. Archived from the original on 13 November 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  21. ^ "Ariel Motor Co | News". Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  22. ^ "Ariel Atom 4 First Drive | Autocar". Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  23. ^ "Autocar Awards 2020: Ariel Atom 4 named Britain's Best Driver's Car". Autocar. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  24. ^ Lane, Richard. "Ariel Atom 4". Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  25. ^ "2006 Wrightspeed X1". TopSpeed. 12 October 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  26. ^ "Atom Cup announced". 17 July 2012.

External links[edit]