03/11/06 The Atom has been in the works for some time, ever since my trip to the Brammo facility in Ashland back in November of last year (see page 2 of my M5 log).
The test drive I took back then sold me on the car. I drove a 220hp Honda-engined version and at the time I was convinced that it's enough power for such a light machine. Of course that was before I really got to use the M5's full 500 horses and got addicted. Turns out there's no such thing as too much power and therefore I want all I can get. Also, since then Brammo decided to stop offering Honda powertrains and concentrate on GM Ecotec motors in various states of tune up to the current max of 300hp.... Never being one to do things the normal way, even on as abnormal a car as the Atom, I eagerly volunteered my chassis to be the testbed for a few tweaks and mods (some of which I may have a hand in creating) that may, if proven successful, find their way onto the regular option list. To that end I recently took another trip to Ashland to check out the progress on the cars, facility and plans. There's also some dp1-related business but that is a separate story to be told when there's something to tell...
The amount of investment, both in terms of money and effort, going into the Brammo facility is impressive. Since I was last here there are more people, more buildings, more tooling and machinery. And of course more Atoms being built, with the first customer car being readied for delivery to Jay Leno (his may be the first but mine might be faster if all goes well ;). At any rate, the facility is first-class and Craig is definitely doing the right thing by bringing all the manufacturing capabilities inhouse. We spent some time sharing our experiences with vendors and outsourcing and our conclusion is the same. He's thankfully in a much better position to do something about it than I am and he's moving forward full steam. All the tubes are CNC laser cut, the chassis are welded on custom-built precision jigs, all carbon work is done to a beautiful finish (currently by Pacific Composites but this work is being moved inhouse also). There have been many structural and detail improvements on the original Ariel design and a lot of thought and effort has gone into the car and overall company capability. By now I may be sounding like a commercial for Brammo but the simple fact is that I'm very impressed with the operation and the car. This is how I would hope to do it if I had the necessary resources. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment recommending the Atom to anyone looking for a great toy (just don't go thinking it's a 'real' car - it isn't because it was never meant to be!). In spirit, it is the modern Lotus 7. See their site for details.
New is a massive 5-axis CNC machine that is big enough to do composites tooling for a full-size car. Craig has big plans for future projects, the Atom is just the beginning.
My chassis is tentatively due to be welded up mid-April at which point I'll most likely make another trip south. The completed car is targeted for early June, a birthday present to myself in keeping with a long-running tradition. I can hardly wait!
07/06/06 On the way down to ThunderHill in the MINI I stopped by Brammo to drop off a couple things, check on the status and generally say hello. As I've mentioned before my Atom has quite a few 'experiments' in it so it is taking longer than anticipated. Currently hoping for some time in August but we'll see. It'll be worth the wait - I think Jay Leno will be jealous ;)
Quite a few things have changed in Ashland since my last visit. The Atom portion of the business now has its own facility and customer cars are rolling off the line at about 2 a week, with 10 or so having been delivered so far.
Pretty cool! Of course the wait is killing me (as is the fact that the summer and the track season is slipping away) but so it goes. I chose this, afterall :)
The rollbar design (middle picture above) is quite well integrated, it's the first time I've seen it in person. For anyone who intends to track their Atom it's a must-have item since the standard 'hoop' is unbraced and therefore is more for cosmetics than anything else. And, in my opinion, anyone who doesn't intend to track their Atom is very confused ;) But hey, what do I know.
07/27/06 I hope someday I'm allowed to tell the story of how my Atom came to be - it's full of trials and tribulations, like so many things I do :) Let's just say I will have earned it, when it's done. If it works, or rather when it works because all issues are surmountable. Not a complaint by any means since not only did I choose this, but I'm also fortunate to have the support and participation of capable and willing partners, which is very rewarding in itself. I just want it in my garage already :) Sigh... Won't be till the end of August, at best.
In the meantime however I did get a chance to drive a 245 hp Honda-powered Atom at Pacific Raceways (thanks again, Rob!) - see also the Mini page. My car will look essentially the same, except it won't have the bubble screens or carbon fenders:
Of course running it at the same track as I ran the M5 and in light of my earlier comparison of the Monster and a 220 hp Atom on a back road (coincidentally that Atom was previously owned by Rob also), I thought a comparison on the track would be fitting. Especially since I have video and GPS for both. Now keep in mind that just like on the street earlier, on the track I was not pushing the Atom very hard. This is partly because in both cases it was not my car and also I don't have much Atom seat time. So the Bimmer has an unfair advantage in both cases. That out of the way, when I compared them on the street my subjective opinion was that the M5 is just as fast and a lot more civilized. At that time I thought things would be different on a track, the Atom having a clear advantage... Well, not quite. First, the data. On the plots below I moved the lap marker to more or less coincide with the start of the videos. The results are surprising - M5, 1:39.32. Atom, 1:44.37 - a full 5 seconds slower!
It's clear that a lot of the difference comes from top speed, the Monster being almost 20 mph faster down the front straight. This illustrates my point that above 100 mph it's not power/weight that matters, it's power/drag. The Bimmer is at 8 lbs/hp (4000/500), the Ariel is 5.3 lbs/hp (1300/245) yet the former simply walks away in acceleration once above 100, no contest. So those who roll their eyes when I say light weight is not everything, here's your proof :) It's just a part of the equation and you really have to look at the whole vehicle before deciding how fast it's going to be. The other factor in the lap time difference is of course the fact that I was braking later and harder in the BMW. This is just because it was mine to do with as I please, no need to respect the feelings of an owner sitting next to me. Yes, I think the Atom in the configuration I drove can potentially match and maybe even beat the M5 lap time but it would have to work hard for it. The fact that it's on track tires and trick suspension makes the performance of the totally stock M that much more impressive. Here is a video of a lap in the Atom and a video of a lap in the M5. Funny part is the Atom LOOKS faster but the clock says otherwise. All this is interesting information to consider as I make design choices for my current and future car projects. Hmm.....
09/06/06 Another Ashland visit, to assess the progress and make a list of things that remain to be done. The chassis now exists, VIN and all. It's sitting there awaing the test-fit of the various bits and pieces before it's off for powdercoat. Brammo certainly did a great job with the production process - the quality and precision of the build are first-rate. The delays are all my doing of course (could have had the car over a month ago if I were normal). It'll be worth it.
By the look of it, completion is about a month away still. If all goes smoothly, that is.
In the meantime I've come up with a name for this beast - Bikini. I wonder how many people would get the real reference (not the obvious one, although of course that applies too)...
I'm also contemplating a different color scheme than originally planned.
There's still at least a couple weeks to make a decision so I'll ponder it some more. Might be cool.