The Ariel Atom is one of the finest mo­tor­ing cre­ations, says Neil Lyn­don

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Life, as a whole, ought to be more like an Ariel Atom. Its ap­pear­ance barely changes from year to year, from decade to decade – yet it keeps get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter un­derneath. Mean­while, the Atom re­mains one of the purest con­cep­tions and finest cre­ations hu­man hands have ever wrought in the name of point­less plea­sure. If you didn’t know, you would never guess that the lat­est ver­sion dif­fers from the pre­vi­ous one by 90 per cent (chiefly, ap­par­ently, in things like sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, engine mount­ings and such ob­scure de­tails). It still looks like noth­ing on earth. Its ex­oskele­tal tubu­lar chas­sis and its min­i­mal body panels still give it the ap­pear­ance of an ex­trater­res­trial in­vader. See­ing the new one for the first time last week at the Bed­ford Au­to­drome (where it had been brought spe­cially for me to drive alone on the track), I could hardly spot any dif­fer­ence be­tween this lat­est, 310bhp su­per­charged Atom and the one I first set eyes upon at this lit­tle com­pany’s Crewk­erne works and drove around Somerset lanes in the mid Nineties. At that time, Si­mon Saun­ders – still the guid­ing spirit be­hind Ariel – had only re­cently put his money and his man­age­rial en­ergy be­hind the fan­tasy that had been cre­ated by Nik Smart, a stu­dent at Coven­try Univer­sity. Saun­ders him­self donned a leather fly­ing hel­met and came with me in the open two-seat cock­pit of that orig­i­nal car as I pi­loted it on what was then the near­est ex­pe­ri­ence I had ever known in a road-go­ing car to a sin­gle-seat race car or a high-per­for­mance mo­tor­bike. Like ev­ery­body else who drove those first Atoms, I was blown away by ac­cel­er­a­tion that would pin your ears flat to your head if you weren’t wear­ing a hel­met and by steer­ing and brak­ing al­most as un­cor­rupted by me­chan­i­cal pro­cesses as thought it­self. Then cost­ing around £20,000, the Atom could be kept in a garage at home and driven on pub­lic roads to a cir­cuit where its lucky owner would have the plea­sure of putting Porsches, As­ton Martins and Fer­raris in their lowly place on own­ers’ track days. Prices still start at £29,870 (though the bespoke su­per­charged ver­sion I drove would set you back at least £37,500) and for £70,000-odd you can have a full pro­gramme of rac­ing in an Atom pre­pared by the fac­tory, de­liv­ered for your plea­sure to all of that year’s Atom one-class races at dif­fer­ent cir­cuits and handed over to you as your own per­sonal prop­erty to keep for­ever at the end of the sea­son. What price match­less de­light? Chief in­struc­tor Rob Jenk­in­son kindly buck­led me into the har­ness in one of the 10 245bhp Atoms that PalmerS­port keep at the Bed­ford Au­to­drome and, on in­ter­com from the pas­sen­ger seat, gave me a few laps tuition in the cor­rect lines and brak­ing points for the cir­cuit. Then Tom Siebert from Ariel handed over the su­per­charged ver­sion with its Honda Type R two-litre engine and I was off scream­ing around the track. And when I say “scream­ing”, I should add that was, in fact, your own cor­re­spon­dent you prob­a­bly heard – not the shriek­ing su­per­charger. With­out ABS or trac­tion aids, this Atom is as sen­si­tive as a neu­rotic race­horse and power has to be fed in del­i­cately com­ing out of a cor­ner if you are not to spin like the blades in a food-pro­ces­sor. When the throt­tle pedal does fi­nally meet the me­tal plates that pass for a floor, how­ever, the lu­nacy of bed­lam breaks out in full voice. It is si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­hil­a­rat­ing and evis­cer­at­ing. I had to come in af­ter a few laps be­cause name­less dread had me in its grip. “If I go on much longer, I shall be way past my lim­its,” I ex­plained to Rob. “That’s pre­cisely what this place and this car ex­ist to dis­cover,” he an­swered with a wicked grin. Price (as tested): £39,950 Power: 310bhp 0-62mph: 2.72sec Top speed: 155mph Aver­age fuel con­sump­tion: about 25mpg CO2 emis­sions: Euro IV com­pli­ant In­sur­ance: by spe­cial ar­range­ment Star rat­ing: KTM X-Bow Street “R” Price: £50,864 For: as won­der­ful as any mo­tor­bike Against: looks like a mo­tor­bike Rat­ing: Cater­ham Seven 2.0 Du­ratec R500 Price: £41,000 For: more a force of na­ture than a car Against: iron maiden dis­com­forts Rat­ing:

Crea­ture fea­tures: the Atom looks like an ex­trater­res­trial be­ing

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