Atom-ic Energy

Can the new Ariel Atom 3 top the AA 2?

Ask Franz Forman. He knows.

Franz and wife Emily own Forman Motorsport, 22515 N. 19th Ave. in Phoenix, the only authorized dealer in the Southwest for the Ariel Atom 3, an asphalt rocket ship that will contort your face with astronautlike g’s — and still make you smile.

“The Ariel Atom 3 is really about creating a true sports-car experience for the driving enthusiast,” says Franz, whose north Phoenix shop also showcases select late-model, pre-owned imports such as Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lamborghini as well as distinctive upgrade packages for these and other highline marques. “To have access to essentially a supercar, with the performance figures that the Atom 3 generates, without the need to spend half-a-million dollars or more: That’s simply amazing.”

The performance of the 1,350-pound Ariel Atom 3 is seat-rippingly, head-throwingly, hand-tighteningly spectacular. The Somerset, England-based company uses a DOHC Honda 2.0L K20 powerplant, which produces 245 brake horsepower for the naturally aspirated version and 300 horsepower for the supercharged — if you dare — optional version.

The Ariel people say the Nik Smart-designed car in its supercharged form will do “naught to 60” mph in 2.9 seconds and, as we say here in the colonies, zero to 100 and back to zero in less than 11 seconds. That’s faster than just about any production car — even Ferrari’s and Lamborghinis at many times the price. The weight-to-power ratio: phenomenal for the standard 245 bhp-version at 5.7 lbs/bhp, and outright nuclear for the supercharged car, 4.7 lbs/bhp. For the latter, by the way, that’s better than the legendary Ferrari Enzo.

In fact, the Ariel Atom, equipped with the supercharged option, won the Autocar 0-100-0 Challenge at Bruntingthorpe Circuit in England in August 2008 — for the third year in a row. Ariel says the car was driven from Somerset to the circuit and then driven back again after repeatedly performing best-of-competition runs.

Some Very Quick Reviews

The show Top Gear liked the Ariel Atom 2, as did Jay Leno. “It can accelerate faster than cars costing 10 times as much (like the Ferrari Enzo), has catlike reflexes and goes from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye,” The Tonight Show host and car collector wrote in Popular Mechanics. “What more do you want?”

So, too, did British autophile Ian Dickson, on MSN UK Cars: “Within an instant my brain has been turned into scrambled egg and we’re warping across the Somerset countryside like a low-flying fighter jet. Bury your foot in any gear and the engine responds instantly; I now understand why no supercar would stand a chance against an Atom across roads like these.”

Jeremy Clarkson, of The Times Online needed plastic surgery after piloting the normally aspirated Ariel Atom: “The supercharged version . . . won’t ripple your face so much as tear it off. We’re talking motorbike performance here.”

With a long history dating from 1870 — the company produced a 48-inch front wheel bicycle, with the first patented tensioned spoke wheels — Ariel has always been keen on innovation and quality. The North American version of the car is manufactured in the Virginia International Raceway Complex near Alton, Va. With extensive amateur and professional motorsport experience, the company producing the car owns the North American license and manufacturing rights for the Ariel Atom brand. Forman Motorsport is the exclusive dealer in Arizona and will service the vehicles at the north Phoenix shop.

In North America, the exclusive use of Honda engines differentiates the Ariel Atom 3 from the previous Ariel Atom 2, which used a GM Ecotec engine. The new chassis is also slightly modified for more interior space and lighter weight, which adds to the improved third-generation performance figures.

The base price of an Atom 3 is $65,000, with the supercharger option adding another $8,500. Most clients are also equipping their cars with a variety of other performance and aesthetic options that are bringing the average ordered car to around $85K or so, Franz explains. The order-time for a new Atom 3 in the United States is about four–six months. Compare that with the UK orders, where the wait is already at least a year to 18 months. After all, only a limited number of cars are produced annually.

Facts That Figure in the Atom 3’s Favor

“This car isn’t so much about replacing your Porsche, Lamborghini, or Ferrari,” Franz explains. “Those are great cars that do many things well. However, when you are in a mood to drive fast, and you want to feel the sheer amazement of supercar cornering and acceleration, the Atom 3 is the car that you will leave the house in.” And return a changed person every time.

Each Ariel Atom 3 is built to your specifications; you add options such as a parking brake and a lighting kit including headlights, turn signals, brake lights and horn. A new windshield option is also now available. In addition, you can outfit the car with weight-saving carbon fiber panels, braking and suspension packages and a roll bar for extensive track use. Franz notes that you can register the Ariel Atom 3 at any state department of motor vehicles, provided you order the lighting kit and a parking brake.

Innovatively, the chassis is the exo-skeleton of the car, with powder-coated bronze-welded steel tubing and aluminum bulkheads. Body panels are, to your choice, fiberglass or carbon fiber, and you can choose from standard colors as well as request customized finishes.

The Honda transmission is a rugged six-speed close-ratio syncromesh — the same proven system used in the Civic Type-R in Japan but in a car some 1,500 pounds lighter. The standard brakes are Wilwoods, with four-piston calipers, or you can upgrade to track-proven Alcons. The extraordinarily tight suspension is double unequal-length fabricated wishbones, with adjustable components such as rod ends and push rods. Choose from tuned or two-way adjustable Bilstein shocks. Steering is quick-ratio rack and pinion.

“I am an enthusiast who enjoys hanging out with car nuts who share my passion for brilliant vehicles,” says Franz, who, from his first Porsche 944 back in Indiana, has loved great drivers cars. “But nothing I have driven, on track or off, surpasses this extraordinary vehicle. It’s an Atom alright: absolutely explosive, just pure fission.”

Forman Motorsport LLC, 623.879.9767, and www.arielatom.