The Ariel Atom is a super-lightweight, scaffolding-constructed, 365-horsepower turbocharged animal. I am generously described as “bookish,” and my track experience is pretty limited. But somebody decided it was a great idea to mash the two of us together, and now I think I’m in love.
You’re probably wondering how we were able to drive the famously face-meltingly fast Ariel Atom 3S here in the United States. But the truth of the matter is that they’re actually license-built here by a company called TMI Autotech, which shoves the 2.4-liter four-cylinder out of a Honda into the super-light 1,350-pound track star. Except it’s not just any engine out of a Honda, as a turbocharger and intercooling system nearly double the power.
Formula One-style sidepods keep everything from overheating, Formula One-style pushrod suspension keeps everything in control, and a Formula One-style LCD display lets you know exactly what’s happening as you wrangle it down the street.
In short, it’s a delightfully demented maniac, and I was a delightfully demented maniac even for getting in it. This is a joy machine for people who take their fun seriously. I did not know that I was one of those people.
It really was sort of an accident that I’d be anywhere near the car (and yes, “car” is being generous. It’s more of an engine attached to some metal tubing and some wheels). We were invited to have a go in the Atom during Pebble Beach week in California, and naturally, Raphael was the first choice to drive it. He’s spent a lot more time on track than I have, and though we’d only be taking the Atom on public roads, it probably makes a lot more sense to have someone with experience hitting apexes behind the wheel of the race-ready beast, than a nebbish like me.
But for reasons that shall remain mysterious to the universe, he joked about not being enthused at the opportunity. And because I am bad at making jokes, I joked that I should drive it instead.
And because I am bad at making jokes, no one responded.
And because no one responded, just a few weeks later I was standing next to an Ariel Atom 3S, as the seat cover was unceremoniously packed with towels to make up for my stubby little legs and my stubby little torso, all while a man patiently explained the intricate three-step ignition procedure and I wondered how the hell everything in my life had all added up to this moment. Michael Roselli, our camera, audio, and editing wizard who’d be riding shotgun, looked worried.
I always try to be polite and considerate, and to always act appropriately. But putting me in a vehicle that can rocket to 60 miles an hour in 2.7 seconds, and counts a windshield and headlights as noteworthy standard features, was wildly inappropriate.
And I loved every second of it.
The little, perfectly-formed and unpowered steering wheel lets you feel absolutely everything. In a place like Pebble Beach, where LaFerraris are as common as much, the insectile Atom turns every single head. The massive intake right above your right shoulder makes every moment feel like the entire universe is being sucked right past your head. The racing-style clutch, which is weirdly heavy and functions a bit like an on-off switch, lets you bang in every gear with incredible precision.
Oh yeah, about that clutch. I may have stalled it a few times. But even remedying that situation was hilarious, too.