I Drove An Ariel Atom Killer Built From Spare Parts

Bits of rubber and gravel rocks are pelting me. The January cold is mercilessly whipping me from head to toe. Tears are streaming down my face. All of the sudden, that Top Gear episode where Clarkson has his face ripped off by an Ariel Atom is profoundly less funny. I'm riding shotgun in one of the wildest vehicles you'll ever see, and my only thought is one usually reserved for triathletes and WWI fighter pilots: "Damn, I really wish I would have worn goggles."

What in the world is this thing? It's certainly not some backyard spit-mobile thrown together by a kid with a pint of Jack and a MIG welder. No, this is a legitimate automobile, carefully assembled by master fabricator and BMW technician Mike O'Mara, who calls this feral beast "The Coyote."


"We got so sick of people talking about that honey badger YouTube video," Mike told me before we went out on a test drive, "Everyone was saying 'Oh, the honey badger don't care about this!' and ‘Oh the honey badger don't care about that!' We looked it up online and do you know what honey badgers hate? Coyotes."

Mike owns Nocturnal Motorsports in St. Peters, Missouri. He's always been a vehicular MacGyver of sorts – formally trained but well versed in tinkering with a flair for the weird and wild. His shop mainly does unconventional motor swaps and full-custom drift car builds, sharing workspace with engine importer JDMHookup.

He says the Coyote was conceptualized over (a few too many) beers and the usual automotive banter amongst some local friends. Their goal was to build "something radical" in 30 days using spare parts lying around the shop. Mike got to work using a ‘91 Nissan 240SX frame, which he shortened by 2" and modified to ride lower, all while maintaining the OEM suspension geometry.


Because of this, it's able to employ aftermarket 240SX coilovers with their stock mounting points. The Coyote has solid frame rails from the motor mounts to a hacked 240SX rear subframe – no rubber bushings, not one. The fuel tank is a cylindrical unit, custom tapered to run down below one-half gallon reserve without any fuel starvation from the Walbro 255lhp feed pump. Juxtaposing the gas tank is a standard battery, pressed-in slightly below the rear driver wheel to compliment weight distribution, which Mike says is, "Damn near perfect."


Most impressive, however, may be the cleanliness of the layout itself. Along with the entire exhaust, every single wire, brake line, fuel line, and battery cable is integrated into the frame. More custom fabricated bits include the full tube chassis, firewall, switch panel, floorboards, pedal set, and steering column. A welded differential is tucked neatly into the rear cradle, along with a factory modified driveshaft and NISMO clutch.

The Coyote's heart is simple and effective. Mike runs the revered two-liter turbocharged SR20DET engine from a Japanese Silvia X-Type. Non-OEM components are limited to a tubular manifold, Greddy blow-off valve, front-mount intercooler, and an HKS wastegate actuator set to 15psi.


The result is a modest 280hp, which may seem relatively innocuous. But when attached to the 1,400lbs chassis, this SR makes the Coyote lethal as a battle-axe; one horsepower is produced for every five pounds of burden, affording a power-to-weight ratio roughly equivalent to a Bugatti Veyron.


Spinning tires in third gear along the industrial park road outside of Mike's shop, I can testify to this accomplishment. The Coyote is somewhere between a drift-spec KTM and an unhinged dune buggy. I've driven (and ridden in) some very quick cars in my career, but this thing is on a totally different level. It's more of a sensory assault vehicle than an open-wheel sports car. Around the first corner, Mike kicks the Coyote sideways, smoke spilling off the rear tires, rev-limiter pounding my ears almost as hard as the wind is pounding my eyes. Getting angle with so much exposure to the elements lends a completely different sensation than anything else you'll experience. The chassis is impossibly smooth, sliding gracefully, while everything else is utterly chaotic. It's the sensation MX-5 owners lust after, but fulfilled in a much more raw and honest package.


Mike stays in the throttle turn after the turn, finally catching traction in the top of third gear, hurdling us towards the cul-de-sac at an alarming rate – we're running out of road very, very quickly. Jabbing the Coyote's brakes, each of the racing harness' four points press into me like a garbage compactor as my esophagus tries to jump out of my throat. The tires lock up momentarily, sending up punctuated smoke signals from the font wheels before we violently turn at the last moment, do a perfect donut, then slide out into another straightaway. The only person with a bigger grin than me is Mike. Who can blame him? With access to a 280hp go-kart, expertly hand built from spare parts in one month, I'd be in good spirits, too.

Heart still pounding, I turn to Mike and ask half-jokingly, "How do you get any work done with this thing parked out front?"


He downshifts, spooling up the turbo, then looks at me and smiles.

"Some days I don't…"

A Missouri native, Max Prince is a graduate student and aspiring auto journalist who lives in the United Kingdom. He starts as an intern at Evo Magazine in March. Photos credit Jeff Le.


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