TMI AutoTech manufactures the Ariel Atom 3 supercar in the Raceplex at Virginia International Raceway.
Before we get into the actual meat and potatoes of this review, please know that the absolute absurdity of the Ariel Atom 3 is not lost on us. It starts out as a sordid collection of mild steel tubing and a somewhat unassuming 2.0-liter K20Z four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual, both pulled from the Honda parts bin. Throw in some fiberglass and a smattering of carbon fiber, four wheels, two lightweight racing seats with four-point harnesses, a steering wheel and some pedals, and that's just about it, save the optional windshield.
Getting into the driver's seat of the Ariel Atom is an interesting exercise. The car has no doors, no roof and no hood. It's like climbing into a four-wheeled jungle gym. Because of that, it's necessary to step on the driver's seat (wipe your feet, please) after throwing your leg over the high, unmovable latticework of tubes that make up the Atom's basic structure. However, once you learn the routine, it's not too difficult, and the payoff – something we've been aching to sample for more than a few years – is assuredly worth the effort.
So with visions of Jeremy Clarkson's misshapen face dancing in our brains, we unleashed the clutch in the Ariel Atom 3. And promptly stalled it.
Those who weren't among the half-dozen anxious souls who had an Atom on order as its former U.S. builder, Brammo Motorsports, closed its doors are excused for missing the track toy's one-year hiatus. The builder's baton has since been passed to TMI AutoTech, a recently formed U.S. subsidiary of Canadian firm Trak Motorsports, which ran the Ariel atom Experience [Upfront, October 2007] and, in March 2008, set up operations in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse on the grounds of Virginia International Raceway. The first Atom emerged in January from TMI's facility, where the steel-tube frame is bent and welded and the car is painstakingly hand-built by the company's five employees. TMI plans to produce 50 cars this year and with additional staff, 100 the next.
This latest Atom 3, as distinguished from the first model sold here, Brammo's Atom 2, is now essentially identical to the version built in the U.K. and sold in the rest of the world. Changes include Honda-only powertrains—the majority of Atom 2s were powered by the Chevy Cobalt's supercharged 2.0-liter—as well as seemingly small but important tweaks such as specifically tuned Bilstein shocks that replace the off-the-shelf Konis, and slight modifications to the frame, suspension, and seats.
The base price has increased significantly, to $65,000, and the options list, as before, is long. Our car had most of the performance-enhancing goods, including Alcon four-piston brakes ($3975), 10-way-adjustable shocks ($2720), and one of the most popular options, a nonintercooled Jackson Racing supercharger ($8500) that adds 7 psi of boost and 55 horsepower.