Thursday, July 19, 2012 13:31
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to legally drive a Formula 1 car on the street, now you can. Well, almost. The Ariel Atom looks like a Formula Ford SCCA racecar with two side-by side seats. It’s so fast, it will scrunch up your face better than any fun house mirror. It will give anybody something known as “The Permagrin.”
Jay Leno has two of them (check out the photo gallery at Jay Leno's Garage). I watched him on a rerun of “My Classic Car” over the weekend. There he and Dennis Gage were, tooling around Los Angeles in one. He’d gas it every time there was a little open road up front and no coppers in sight. Gage said it messed up his trademark handlebar mustache.
The Atom originally began as a student project by Coventry University transport design student, Nik Smart. Seems Smart’s name fits. He is one clever dude.
The Atom doesn’t have much bodywork. There’s a piece of aluminum (maybe carbon fiber) on the nose over the pedals and an air box behind the roll hoop. You have a choice of engines, but the one Leno drove on the show had a 260- hp supercharged Chevy Ecotec four-cylinder engine. “A little tweaking,” he says and it will add another 100 ponies. Don’t laugh, the Ecotec makes enough grunt to propel the Atom to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Take that, Mr. Gold Chain Lambo or Ferrari driver. Plus the blower makes a nice whine as it winds up. It reminds me of my supercharged Cooper S.
If that isn’t enough, the Atom is also available with a 500-hp V-8. The Stig clocked the third quickest time of all the cars Top Gear has tested to date. It was bested by two limited production half-million pound supercars, except the 500-hp Atom is a fraction of the cost of the two faster cars. The base model on this side of the pond is $39,000.
Okay, you have to give up few things for bargain basement ultra speed. You wouldn’t want to drive it in the rain, it doesn’t have a leather interior, it doesn’t have a six-speaker sound system (although the blower whine is music to car guys), and it doesn’t have a windshield. I’m bringing my custom painted Simpson Super Shark if I get the chance to ride in one. Ariel Atoms are made just up the road from me at Virginia International Raceway. I might even have to let out a long “Yeeeeeeee ha” behind the face shield. www.arielatom.com