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In Britain, there is a very small car company called Ariel, and they make a very small car called the Atom 2. Ariel has been building cars for since 1898— over 100 years— yet today they have fewer than 10 employees, and work out of a barn. But as small as the company (and their product) may be, this car has the horsepower and handling to make any grown man weep openly.

It’s design is brilliant and minimal, it has no more than is absolutely necessary. As the folks at Ariel say, “If it doesn’t need it, it hasn’t got it.” It’s chassis is gorgeously engineered, doubling as a protective exoskeleton. It has no doors, no roof, and no windshield. It does have a trunk, but it’s barely large enough to fit a portable defibrillator machine.

Watching this car move at high speeds is like watching a roller coaster in action. It grips the road with absurd tenacity, and accelerates from 0-60 at a a ludicrous 2.9 seconds, assuming you can shift through its six gears fast enough. It weighs 500kg (about 1,100 lbs), it sits atop a sophisticated race car suspension system, and it is powered by a 300hp supercharged Honda engine. This gives it a weight/horsepower ratio of about 600hp/ton.

In the first video segment linked below, which you must watch if you’re a self-respecting car enthusiast (even if only to see his pneumatic face lift), the host describes the Atom 2 as “driving nirvana.” He relates “Over the years, I’ve flown F-15 fighters, and done power slides in airboats, and strafed the desert from helicopter gunships… but for sheer excitement, this thing is off the scale.”

The first video clip pits the car against a Honda CBR 600 RR, which is one quick number as motorcycles go. I won’t spoil the ending… you’ll have to watch it to see how that turns out.

The Atom 2’s weight-to-horsepower ratio is better than the Ferrari Enzo and the Porsche 911, but perhaps the most important bit of information when comparing this car to others is the price tag… the Atom 2 starts at under £20,000, which is about $36,800 U.S. at today’s exchange rate. Compare this to the 911 at about $132,000, or the Enzo at about $645,000.

Unfortunately, all of this information is anecdotal— I haven’t been in an Atom 2 myself— but I’d give my left nut to experience it first hand.

More info:
Video of the Ariel Atom 2 in action
Another video (20mb)
Ariel home page

Updated 9/7/2005 at 11:33am: It appears that Ariel Motors has reached an agreement with Oregon-based Brammo Motorsports to build and distribute a modified version of the Atom 2 in the US… they just started taking orders a few days ago. The 145hp version is estimated at $35,000, and the theoretical 290-300hp version is estimated at $45,750. I’ll have to call them and see if they’ll take me up on my left-nut offer.

Details, and more great photos and video: The Ariel Atom Meets the USA