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Automotive Industry News : Features and Editorials Last Updated: Aug 16th, 2006 - 11:01:00


The Ariel Atom Meets the USA
By Mark Sanew - Dezoris - Editor: Jaroslaw Szymanski
Aug 31, 2005, 22:57

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Story By: Mark Sanew - Editor: Jaroslaw Szymanski

There are few vehicles left in the United States that are about pure unhampered driving excitement. Most people would debate on what qualifies as a sports car in the sub 50k category. Additionally, responses would vary greatly depending on what region the driver lives in.

The question is: What makes a sports car? It’s difficult to answer subjective questions, but easy to generalize. The most common combination us Americans are concerned about is power and looks. If we go down the line we could discuss status, interior decor, creature comforts, cargo space, and transmission choice.

One minor detail has slipped past the average enthusiast since the new power craze has resurfaced. As horsepower goes up to new levels, so has vehicle weight. In fact, we took curb weights of 24 sports cars surveyed in the sub 50k range. The list was compiled from several automotive forums, where we had enthusiasts post what they thought were the best sports cars for under 50k. (See the side bar.)

To our surprise the average weight of these 24 vehicles was a hefty 3167 lbs or 1436 kg.
Recently we have found ourselves categorizing cars below 3000 lbs or less, light. Even the Mini is not so mini anymore. After reviewing the list of possible sports cars, there is a large spread, we had everything from powerful front wheel drive turbo charged cars down to a light mid-engine rear-wheel drive model. It is quite amazing what the consumer can get for their money with these vehicles.


Many of these cars would be track worthy right from the factory, and easily driven on the street. We talked to many gear heads about which models would be best suited for those weekend track trips. The consensus is that enthusiasts preferred the Lotus Elise, Chevrolet Corvette, and the Honda S2000.

These are great cars, and each have their own following, however how would they match up to a competitor like the Ariel Atom 2, soon to be produced in the US. We set out to find the answer to this question by visiting Brammo Motorsports in Ashland, Oregon set in the heart of Rogue Valley.

The Ariel Atom was conceived by Simon Saunders and is now in its second generation. The UK models are powered by Honda derived K20 power plants, the crown jewel being a 300HP Supercharged K20A-R Spec model hailed by the chaps from the foreign press.
The Atom has been made infamous here is the US, mainly from the series of UK based Top Gear videos showing Mr. Clarkson nearly blowing his face off driving the 300HP variation.

 

Interested in learning more about the Ariel Atom in the USA?

Atomclub.com
The Official Owners Website
Ariel Atom USA - Brammo Motorsports
The Official USA Website
Automotivetech.org
The Source of the Article
K20a.org
The Ultimate K20 Honda Motor Site

 

1. Ariel Atom 220 1300 lbs
2. Lotus Elise 1975 lbs
3. Mazda MX-5 2498 lbs
4. Mini Cooper S 2679 lbs
5. Acura RSX S 2769 lbs
6. Honda S2000 2835 lbs
7. Porsche Boxster 2855 lbs
8. Dodge SRT-4 2900 lbs
9. Saturn Ion Redline 2933 lbs
10. Chevy Cobalt SS 2991 lbs
11. Mazda RX-8 3029 lbs
12. BMW Z4 3042 lbs
13. Chevy C6 Corvette 3179 lbs
14. Merc SLK 3231 lbs
15. Mitsubishi EVO 3263 lbs
16. Subaru WRX STI 3298 lbs
17. VW R32 3409 lbs
18. BMW M3 3415 lbs
19. Mustang GT 3425 lbs
20. Nissan 350Z 3445 lbs
21. Audi TT Quattro 3.2 3683 lbs
22. Pontiac GTO 3725 lbs
23. Volvo V70R 3757 lbs
24. Audi S4 3825 lbs
25. Caddilac CTS V 3850 lbs


Total 76,011 lbs (excluding the Atom)
Average weight 3167 lbs

 

 

 

The demand has been slowly mounting for this car to be produced here. Ariel UK took the necessary steps to ensure that the manufacturing of the car in the US was in the right hands. After looking at many companies to do the work, they decided to go with Oregon based Brammo Motorsports. According to the owner Craig Bramscher, it was mainly due to the design of their own Super Car, fittingly named the “Brammo Rogue GT,” soon to be available in the States.

After months of preparation we were ready to make our journey from Chicago to Ashland, Oregon. We set a few goals prior to the adventure, the most important of which was to meet the crew at Brammo Motorsports and to get the Atom on the streets. Equally important to us was to find out if this car was going to be suitable for the American market.

We arrived at Medford Rogue Valley International Airport on a Sunday. The skies were a brilliant blue, while the warmth of the sun was never overwhelming. The mountains and valleys were never out of sight, we immediately felt connected to the landscape. This was quite a change from the drab suburban flatlands we came from. Our loaner car was a 2005 Ford Focus ZX5 hatchback, which was perfect for our camera equipment helmets and other luggage. We spent the day exploring Ashland, talking with the locals, and planning our drive routes with the Atom. We were drawn to Dead Indian Memorial Road, a wonderful scenic path through the valley. The roads were twisty, uncluttered, and were in overall great condition. We later decided to map out and drive a portion of the scenic route HWY 199. This road takes the driver through a part of the Redwood National Forest, and to the coast into Northern California. We figured this would have been perfect for the Atom.

As we traveled back to our hotel, we discussed what we could expect the next day. Getting up the next morning was no problem, since we gained two hours from the time change. We arrived at 9am, and were greeted by one of the Brammo staff. We awaited Craig’s arrival and admired the scenery. The shop is actually located in the Ashland Science Works Museum, so it did not have the stuffy feel to it as most shops do.
The inside of the shop has an open feel and is extremely well lit. It felt more like a high- tech science lab than a fabrication area.

Craig finished up a few tasks and was eager to meet with us. He showed us around the shop, giving us a detailed explanation of the equipment they use and how they design and manufacture their parts. From the CAD driven pipe bending equipment to the specialty jigs, everything was there to make sure the parts were meticulously produced to perfection. This was highly evident in the frame and suspension pieces we saw on the Super Car and the Atom.
The current shop will not be large enough to begin production on all the orders they will be taking. In preparation for the increased demands, they have purchased a new building a few miles away, to make sure they are filling orders and meeting customer’s demands.

RE: Brammo Motorsports
"From the CAD driven pipe bending equipment to the specialty jigs, everything was there to make sure the parts were meticulously produced to perfection."

 

 

As we looked over the UK-produced Atom, which is what all our testing is based on, we discussed some of the changes to be made for US production. The most major topic up in the air is engine choices. According to Brammo, securing the Honda JDM K20A-R Spec motors seems bleak due to supply issues, and that if any motor from Honda will be supplied it will be the up and coming K variant of the 2006 Honda Civic Si domestically made. As of 9/5/2005 it looks like Honda will be supplying the K20z3 DOHC i-vtec motor, which should make at least 210HP or up to 230HP in stock form with a supercharged version as well. Equally important is that General Motors has been very helpful in supplying variants of the ECOTEC line up. The US made Atom will likely carry several versions, including a supercharged version of the 2.4L engine powering the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. There will be other options in the works as well. Aside from engines there were many minor changes to be made. One notable difference will be the wheel hub, to accommodate a more American friendly bolt pattern of 4x100 which is common on Mazda and Honda fittings. What this means is a better wheel selection and possibly more brake options. Another major change was the possibility of making the seat more easily adjustable. As it stands the Atom seat is a single assembly, the driver’s and passenger’s seat is one piece. The adjustment is done with an Allen wrench. The owner simply unscrews the Allen bolts, moves the seat in the desired position, and replaces the bolts. This may not sound difficult, however when switching drivers, spending 7 minutes adjusting the seat, and running the risk of cross-threading the holes can be daunting.

There may be other changes, however, those may just come with time. Most manufacturers find ways to make engineering improvements as production increases. Hopefully, some of these will be fueled by customer feedback. After we met with Craig, his associate Tom Smurzynski came out to prep the car for us. Tom’s attention to detail did not go unnoticed. While we discussed our route, he checked the tire pressure, fluids, and made sure the car was clean. Tom took the Ariel on the Players Run, a high performance driving tour in the US, similar to Cannon Ball, so he knows the car better than most anyone in the States.

After the car was prepped he explained how the immobilizer key fob worked.
Simply flip a switch, wave the wand to activate the fuel pump, and hit the start button.
The only hitch was that this car had a registration problem from the previous owner so we had to keep it local. As we found, on our research drive in the Focus, that the mountain roads in Ashland were picturesque and more than accommodating for an aggressive drive and photo opportunities.

Since the Atom’s fuel capacity read in liters, our American minds, not used to the conversion, were baffled when it was time to fill up. We immediately journeyed to fuel up the machine. In Oregon, state law prohibits motorists from pumping their own fuel. Needless to say, taking the Atom anywhere turns into a bit of a show. The attendant and owner of the local Mobil were eager to fill up the car, and equally eager with their questions. Meanwhile, we (the Atom) attracted a few locals equipped with cameras to get some photographic evidence of the scene. They also asked questions and were more excited to find out that the car they were so curious about would be produced in their hometown.

 

 

 

RE: Brammo's Staff
"The beauty of a small company like Brammo is that most everyone there has a passion for cars, which makes the operation shine."

 

 

The sense of excitement over the car, and genuine good nature of the people of Ashland, left one of the best impressions we have had of any town.

We continued on our drive towards Dead Indian Memorial Road. Mr. Sanew was the first to drive the car, and he noted immediately: “Driving the Atom was almost exactly like driving a go-cart.” The car has no power steering. With its quick steering and 1.5 turn lock to lock even the slightest movement of the wheel had it changing course. Missing are the 20 or so different rubber bushings, evident in standard cars, that numb steering feel, so the driver is completely connected to the road. The suspension on this vehicle had threaded body Bilstein adjustable shocks with Eibach coil springs, in addition to helper coils.

The purpose of helper springs is to create a more comfortable ride for normal driving. They provide initial load bearing before passing off the duty to the main single rate springs which are extremely stiff. This package is exceptional, for anyone who wants the best of both worlds with no sacrifice in ride quality, both on and off the track. Not to be misleading, the car is still extremely stiff and bumpy. Most of our friends from atomclub.com, the definitive Atom owners’ site, agree with us that first gear starts or using first gear at all in this car is counterproductive. There is so much torque available, in any gear, that starting in first is actually slower if you want to accelerate hard, and believe us, the car beckons that. We would have to agree second gear starts in the Atom were like first gears starts in average sports cars.

Driving around normally in high gears was exceptional. There was no need to ever downshift, unless the driver wanted to pitch the rear end sideways a bit. The Atom’s engine simply wound up in any gear as if we were driving on jack-stands.

We decided to wear helmets, not because we had to, but because the idea of getting cracked in the head or face with a rock was not an aspect of the car we wanted to explore. For those not used to riding motorcycles, with a helmet on, the wind gently blows through the air vents, making it feel like someone installed a hard top and rolled down the windows. The engine drone through the intake behind the seat was fairly loud, and could get annoying after a few hours of driving at cruising speeds. The instrument cluster was simple, and with the road pack you get turn signals, horn, rear tails, and headlamps.

The control for the turn signal was like toggling a circuit breaker on and off, and with no auto-off, it’s likely the average motorist who will be driving with them on during the day.
The horn button is exactly the same geometry and texture as the start button, get hasty and an unfamilar driver will grind the starter. There are some obvious ergonomic issues with the console and interior for daily driving, however these all melt away when it’s time to really drive.

 

 

RE: Ariel Atom
"We decided to wear helmets, not because we had to, but because the idea of getting cracked in the head or face with a rock was not an aspect of the car we wanted to explore."

 

 

When we arrived back from our ride in the valley, we spoke with Tom about our driving impressions. The car was cleaned up and prepared for our last round of photos. We mentioned to Tom that the car was incredible when driven aggressively, but going even 7/10ths in the car on the street gets extremely nerve racking. We wondered how it would behave on the track, more importantly in a medium speed autocross setting.

Tom’s eyes lit up, he told us that he might be able to help us with that. He did not make any promises however. He invited us to the Jackson County Sports Park the next day, home of the regional go-cart clubs and the Siskiyou Sports Car Club. We were incredibly grateful and said our goodbyes. That evening we took a further tour of Oregon on the scenic drive to the coast, past the Red Woods and down to California. It was a long drive, but again we were amazed by the beauty of the mountainous landscape. The trees were so large that we felt like Lilliputians among an army of Gullivers. We later stopped for some food and admired the ocean. As amazing as it all was, we wanted to get back at a reasonable hour. We had yet another long day ahead of us.

At the crack of dawn we rose, made our equipment ready, and checked out of our lodgings. We met at Brammo Motorsports and followed Tom as he drove the Atom. We took a quick detour for breakfast, during which we learned some of his history as a fabricator and business owner, and also how his family factored into his happiness. His wife and daughter share his motorsports passion. His zeal for driving started with carts, and his daughter has gone down the same road. As luck, or rather, as skill has it, she is extremely talented.

We followed Tom to the track where his daughter Mallory met us. He took us for a few sprints in the car to show us the track, and then took Mallory for a ride while we set up our equipment to film and capture the vehicle in motion. After a few laps of testing the limits we were ready for some hot laps. Despite having a host of driving schools, track days, and countless auto crosses under our belts, nothing prepared us for driving this car full out.

For starters, like any high performance machine, you need to be 100% ahead of the car. Fall behind for mili-second and you will lose it at higher speeds. Throttle lift when it gets edgy and the driver best hold in the clutch because the Atom is going to go sideways. If the pilot carries too much speed in a sweeper, the car will snap around before you can count to three. Push it into a turn too hard and the car will understeer. Throttle out too hard and you will power oversteer. The car exhibited every handling dynamic, but was always neutral when staying ahead of it. Although the equipped Bridgestone S03 is an incredible tire it is showing its age for this type of driving. Tom’s daughter Mallory commented on how the car could be pushed much further with a set of stickier tires, namely in the sweeper. We hope that Brammo will take into consideration the newer powerhouse street tires, such as the Falken 615 and the Hankook RS2, when building wheel/tire packages.


 

 

 

The car was near perfect, although we felt the brakes were too soft. That would be an easy fix, considering the bias can be adjusted front and rear. The race pads, calipers, and rotors did not offer enough initial bite, and even after heating them up, we found that we were braking much earlier than we wanted. Without ABS on these cars, braking is also more of an art. If the driver is sloppy with threshold braking, going straight off the course from a lockup will be common. Mark Sanew One LAP in the Atom Video 5MB

Last but not least, we will cover the car’s durability and fuel economy. Between the four drivers, we pitched the car off the course, spun it, flung it, put it sideways, and it never missed a beat, not once. The only item that did not survive was our car mounted camera, perhaps the g-forces were enough to put it to sleep. For a car built to race, even going off-road was not a problem for the Atom, driving it right back on the course was easy, and aside from picking up some major plant life, the car kept savagely dicing through every turn, every redline shift, and constant abuse. We did all this on 6 gallons of petrol, logging 150 miles. Try doing that in any other sports car.

The press thus far has suggested that the Atom is one of the fastest road cars on Earth.
In the US we will have to hold that opinion back until we are able to see them legally running on the roads. Every state has different rules about what makes a car street worthy. As of now we could drive the Atom in about 3 states. This is not an issue right now because Brammo has not started manufacturing them yet.

Since the Atom is not a kit car like the Caterham or Factory 5, it may be a bit more difficult to get registered in certain areas. Also, finding affordable insurance is something owners will likely have to deal with. With that noted the debate has begun, on where a driver can compete with the Atom. A driver competing against themselves gets tiring for most with a competitive spirit. If a driver has a need to compete against others in a like class, the Atom may be a disappointment. Initial owners are urged to push local clubs or sanctioning race leaders to get the Atom classed. Spec Atom racing seems to be the most likely outlet, but for now this will be up to the new owners to get started. The real world issues of owning an Atom in the US seem rather sketchy. With 7000lb SUVs, horrible road conditions, inclement weather, earthquakes, blizzards, road raging cell phone drivers, who would want to own this car?

The answer is fairly obvious; the true enthusiasts who want one of the best sports cars ever made, at a price the modern American can afford. No more drooling over cars that cost more than a house, or 2 generations of college funds. The Atom is a dream come true.

We will let the major American automotive journalists strap on all the high tech geek gadgets to tell us exactly how fast the car is, and how much better it is for anything in the price range, but for us, after taking a real world drive, followed up by 50+ laps of track time, we can honestly say that the future of sports cars has arrived to the United States.
Brammo Motorsports is accepting orders beginning on September 1, 2005

 

 

UPDATED 9/5/2005

The Ariel Atom US models now have target prices, and engine options specified. A configurator will be available to customers soon.

Surprisingly if the buyer is out for a budget model, that can be had for nearly $36,000. While Brammo speculates that higher HP numbers are possible even at 145HP the driver can expect to hang with a Porsche 911 Turbo up to about 100MPH due the extreme power to weight ratio of the Atom. Although, keep in mind all of these prices here are for vehicles configured with little to no options, such as the road pack.

 

Ariel Atom USA Honda 2.0L K20z3

This power plant will likely come out of the US production Honda Civic Si, along with the drive train. The benefits of this are clear, having service and parts available from the local Honda dealership is much easier than supporting an R-Spec motor from Japan not currently used in any production Hondas imported to the states.

Ariel Atom USA Brammo Tuned 2.4L ECOTEC w/ VVT

Since GM has been eager to assist in engine supply. Brammo will get a 2.2L, 2.4L and a 2.0 Supercharged version of the ECOTEC motor with variable valve timing. Many enthusiasts have scoffed these motors, however it is well known that these motors are extremely bulletproof, many being turbocharged up to 350HP with factory internals. Depending on the model, Aisin made transmissions will also be used. Aisin produces many of the 6 speed and 5 speed manual transmissions for Honda, Toyota, and even the 6 speed in the Honda S2000.

Ariel Atom US

   
Initial Engine Options and Estimated Prices
Est. MSRP w/ minimal options
All prices are not final nor are HP numbers.
GM Engines HP figures will likely increase by at least 5-10%
Brammo Ecotec 2.2 $35,000 145 HP/ 155 Ft./lbs.
Brammo Ecotec 2.4 $38,000 171 HP/ 163 Ft./lbs.
Brammo Ecotec 2.0 Supercharged $40,000 171 HP/ 163 Ft./lbs.
Honda K20 (k20z3 Not advertised however likely) $40,250 USDM K20z3 200-225HP
Honda K20 Supercharged $45,750 (K20z3) 290-300HP

For the Full Article Visit: http://www.automotivearticles.com/123/Ariel_Atom_USA.shtml


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