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Ariel ready to drop V8 Atom bomb

2009-05-29 07:40
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Ariel
Model Atom 500 V8
Engine 3l V8
Power 373kW
Zero To Hundred 2.5 seconds
Power To Weight 735kW/t
British niche performance specialist, Ariel, is close to producing its completely insane V8 Atom.

Italians do supercars, the Gemans do super saloons and the British are renowned for their lightweight, minimalistic performance cars – thanks to Lotus founder Colin Chapman's heritage.

The sheer number of manufacturers gives rise to severe competition, which leads to some ludicrous bouts of one-upmanship, of which Caterham and Ariel are the latest cases in point.

Superbike-powered British lightweight specials are nothing new, nor are V8s being shoehorned into these diminutive little track day beasts. When the V8 engine in question is a spliced superbike four though, it becomes a tad more newsworthy...

And so, Ariel’s V8-engined Atom is a counter of sorts for Caterham’s similarly powered Levante that, despite being priced at £115 000, effortlessly found owners for the entire eight car production run in March.

Feeling bullish about prospects for the Atom 500 V8, Ariel is aiming to build three times as many cars (plus one development model), or at least, as many as engine builder Russell Savory can power.

The power broker

After nearly three decades in the engine building business, stretching from speedway to superbikes, and even a stint with Brian Hart’s concern in the early 1980s F1 turbo era, Russell Savory’s engineering expertise, which made the Levante a reality, is beyond reproach.

Savory has spent the last sixteen years perfecting diminutive V8 engines. He started off with 2l capacity V8s, featuring five-valve, double-overhead camshaft valve gear.

These original 2l engines were created by splicing together two Yamaha superbike 1 000cc units. Essential to the performance of Savory’s V8’s has been a switch from Yamaha's chain-driven camshafts, which originate in the centre of the engine, to a more conventional end-on belt-driven system.

For Caterham's requirements Savory increased capacity to 2.4l and bolted on a supercharger. With each cylinder only displacing 300cc, the RS sourced V8 revved to engine speeds of 10 000r/min, producing 373kW and 407Nm at a heady torque peak of 8 500r/min.

Ariel wanted something a little more traditional though.

It started off life in the 1990s as two spliced Yamaha superbike 1000cc in-line fours. For Ariel's 500 V8, capacity is swept up to 3l. Dry sump lubircation is key, aiding compactness and ensuring the crankshaft is not churning away power into an oil base.

Naturally aspirated

From his RS Performance headquarters Savory obliged, stretching capacity by 600cc and binning the forced induction.

The result is a 373kW, naturally aspirated eight-cylinder engine, configured in a 75-degree V and gas exchanged by four-valves per cylinder instead of a bike-like five.

Sitting on a workbench the engine weights only 90kg, and considering the Atom’s tubular chassis features only scant bodywork, mass should factor in at under 500kg. Power to weight ratio figures shame Bugatti’s Veyron and ran the Caparo T1 awfully close.

Performance figures are of the cartoon variety, with a 0-100km/h time of around 2.5 seconds and 160km/h passed in six seconds dead from standstill. Sadev’s bespoke six-speed sequential gearbox is a vital cog – no pun intended – within this V8 Atom’s capabilities.

An exoskeletal tubular chassis is carried over from the standard Atom, although Ariel says dampers, aerodynamics (an Atom with aerodynamics?) and brakes will all be specialised 500 V8 items. All we know currently is Alcon, the Staffordshire based brake specialist, will be supplying the stoppers.

Considering the standard Atom already features front and rear double wishbones supported by inboard, pushrod-operated dampers, one wonders how much more trick this 500 V8 can get?

Although there is no word on price yet, you can be assured Ariel will sell the entire consignment of 25 Atom 500 V8, even at a retail point way beyond £100 000.

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