Southern Manufacturing

Ariel Develop Lightweight Performance Atom Sports Car

14 January 2005

Ariel have developed a lightweight sports car with a defining tubular steel structure.

Atom, the first Ariel production for 27 years, has been designed purely for ultimate driving performance and weighs only 500 kilos (approximately half the weight of a Ford Fiesta).

Ariel, founded in 1898, is more widely known for their famous square 4 motorcycle and early Grand Prix cars and highly regarded for their technical innovation and advanced engineering.

The Atom is the brainchild of Simon Saunders (46), Director of Ariel and a consultant automotive designer. Originally working on motorcycles, before designing for GM and subsequently Aston Martin, Saunders is uniquely placed to understand the requirements of the enthusiast who is looking for a pure performance vehicle. ""The Atom is designed to give the thrill of a single seat racing car or motorbike while remaining safe, legal and practical,"" says Saunders.

The design of the Atom is based on the exposed bronze welded tubular steel space frame, which has been designed using sophisticated computer modelling and testing techniques and developed in a wind tunnel. The chassis construction also provides improved safety levels, being reinforced by integral front and rear rollover tubes.

""Safety is often a low priority on vehicles of this type and we were adamant that primary and secondary levels of safety on the Atom were kept as high as possible,"" says Saunders. All cars are also equipped with 'E' or FIA 4 point full harness seat belts.

Bodywork has been kept to a minimum, but does consist of several composite panels to reduce weight, expense and repair costs. ""Exposing the mechanical components allows most adjustments, including suspension, to be made easily and quickly without removing any body panels"" says Saunders, ""but passengers are also fascinated to watch the steering, suspension and wheels working as you drive.""

The composites used for the car are all non-structural and primarily made up of cladding using polyester chopped strand mat. Saunders suggested to NetComposites that they would consider using carbon fibre panels in future production models especially with a view to keeping the weight down.

Saunders added that use of carbon fibre for the Atom chassis was ruled out, certainly at this stage, as the Atom’s iconic reputation is based on its unusual tubular steel structure, which they would be reluctant to change.

”The problem with producing a similar tubular chassis, made from carbon fibre for example, is that there are research and development costs in producing a single carbon fibre mould, which they would need to get right pretty much first time. Such and exercise may prove to be too expensive a venture for small companies and too much of a risk.”

Saunders added that any further development of composites would be with a project other than the atom.

One other key element of the Atom design was to keep prices low and to make ownership more attractive. ""The whole essence of the Atom is about the driving experience, having fun and also being able to afford to keep one in your garage,"" says Saunders, ""I think we've proved with the Ariel Atom that supercar performance and sensational fun is within the reach of anyone who wants it.""

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