Sam Philip29 February 2008

Somerset psycho

Be afraid, Caterham RS: Ariel's 500bhp Atom is out to get you

Ariel Atom 500

We thought the Caterham RS from earlier this week was a shoe-in for Maddest Car of the Year. But, just a couple of days later, Ariel drops this little beauty through the Top Gear mailbox, in what can only be viewed as a gauntlet-throwing challenge for that crown.

This is the Ariel Atom 500. That's 500 as in horsepower. From a supercharged 2.4-litre V8 - the same bike-derived engine, in fact, that powers the Caterham. Like the Caterham, the Atom should weigh in around 500kg, which means it'll top the magical 1,000bhp-per-tonne figure.

And be bonkers quick. Ariel is staying coy on exact performance figures, but says that - given the right road and conditions - the Atom 500 will hit 60mph in 'significantly under' 2.5 seconds and 100mph in less than six. That means it could be faster-accelerating than the Bugatti Veyron - indeed, Ariel director Simon Saunders is keen to organise a head-to-head between the Bug and the Atom 500.

There's some pretty serious aero to keep the Atom 500 on the road: a monster wing out back, and an F1-style nose cone at the front. However, Saunders insists that it'll still be driveable on the road, and easily be capable of scaling even the loftiest speed bumps.

Price? Ariel is aiming to keep the Atom 500 'below six figures' but admits that won't be easy when even the car's sequential paddle-shift gearbox costs £15,000 on its own. A production run of some 20 cars is planned, with the first 500s arriving in the late spring ('when the roads get a bit drier', according to Saunders).

Top Gear nobly volunteers to towel down all the tarmac in Somerset to get an early drive.

 

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