Ariel's Amazing Atom - Spirit of the air
PUBLISHED: 13:38 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 17:54 20 February 2013
Sophia Moseley paid the Crewkerne-based Ariel Motor Company a visit and found a company proud to represent Somerset in the world of British industry
At the time of the launch there were three people working for Simon at his North Perrott home, and production numbers reached a dizzy 40 cars per year. But the reputation of the Atom was well established and each car was snapped up by people eager to own what will undoubtedly become an icon of the 21st century.
Simon started looking for the ideal place to start his own business and it was Somerset that ticked all the boxes when it came to beautiful surroundings combined with excellent road and rail links to the rest of the country
When you meet Simon, you soon realise he is gifted with the kind of wisdom and dedication that many of us can only strive to achieve and he very much practices what he preaches. Simon refers to the companys growth as an organic process and he will not start anything that he cannot readily afford, and it was only when funds allowed that he embarked on his expansion programme.
After just three years in operation they needed to move to bigger premises and whilst the world was his oyster, Somerset continued to offer everything he wanted. Simon is also very patriotic about the county and for that matter the country. So he bought a site just outside of Crewkerne, previously home to a Murco petrol station. It had deteriorated into a shabby overgrown eyesore; not a very welcoming site to anyone entering the town from Yeovil.
By the end of 2005, having designed the layout himself, Simons premises were ready for occupation and production began in the new workshop, with the design studio remaining at North Perrott. Then, in 2007, as the popularity of the car increased, they were able to extend the premises yet again, creating space for a showroom and an even larger workshop and repair centre.
I was privileged to be given a tour around the factory, although I use the word factory very much in the generic sense, as there is nothing even approaching a production line here. As an Atom buyer, you are treated with the sort of reverence that existed in generations long passed. Your relationship with the builder of your car is as important to them as it will be to you. The car is going to be the personification of you, as it is only after the parts have been chosen from the options list that a build sheet is created to your own specification.
Walking through the doors of the workshop is more like entering a very expensive hospital ward, where the patients every need is tended; each technician has a workstation, in front of which is their own bay, which holds the body parts for someones Atom to be meticulously and lovingly constructed.
The skill and craftsmanship that goes into each car is exceptional; the welding of joints has a perfect symmetry and pattern that show the painstaking process of joining each section of the car together. There is even a small plaque on the chassis, with the name of the person who built your car.
Just three years on, and to coincide with the 10th anniversary, Simon has reinvested and added the final phase to his ambitious, but at the same time restrained, business plan. The latest building extension, housing a full design facility, will bring the company back on to one site, which will also be home to another world first in bespoke Ariel vehicles an all new Ariel motorcycle that promises to be just as exceptional as the sports car.
With the design team moving from North Perrott, Simons aim of a seamless operation from the initial idea through to the final product is going to be realised. It also means everyone who works at Ariel can alternate their work schedule by moving from the Ariel Atom to the Ariel bike and it is this level of staff care that is intrinsic to the companys success.
The continued demand for this extraordinary car during a period of world recession is testament to the companys excellence and, rather fittingly, having started with the worlds first spoked bicycle wheel, the Ariel motorcyle will undoubtedly be another first in the world of motorbikes, and theres nowhere better to ride it than here in the beautiful Somerset countryside.
The Ariel Atom Sports Car has been described as a motorbike on four wheels and driving nirvana by Jeremy Clarkson, and in true entrepreneurial style Ariels design team, who won the Somerset Business of the Year 2009 award, have created not only a 10th anniversary Atom X model but also a specially designed limited edition version of the Atom the V8. But before you rush off to get your cheque book, you may be disappointed to learn they are making just 25 of the V8 models and 20 have already been sold!
But what led to the meteoric success of the Ariel Motor Company and what role did Somerset play in the achievements of this distinctive and highly successful private British company?
During a period of world recession, the continued demand for this extraordinary car is testament to the companys excellence
The Ariel Motor Company was originally established in 1870 by James Starley when he secured the patent for the worlds first spoked wheel and designed the ordinary bicycle, giving rise to the first Ariel (Spirit of the Air). You may be more familiar with the name Penny Farthing that was derived from the distinguishing features of the bike.
Starleys company went from strength to strength, specialising in motorcycles after the First World War. The company was taken over by BSA in 1965, but it was a lack of investment and management in the 1970s that led to the ultimate demise of what was once a great British company. That was until 1999, when Simon Saunders, owner and manager of Ariel, reawakened the values of the old company and decided that Starleys philosophy of creating distinct and exceptional machines matched his own ideas, and he set about recreating the joy and excitement of a hand-built car, the Ariel Atom (so called because it moves very fast!).
Simon Saunders studied Industrial Design at the Central School of Art in London followed by several years with GM and Aston Martin. His idea of a car that had the appearance of Formula 1
but the reliability of a Honda was first conceptualised in 1996.
Whilst working as a consultant designer, Simon started looking for the ideal place to start his own business and it was Somerset that ticked all the boxes when it came to beautiful surroundings combined with excellent road and rail links to the rest of the country. His search brought him and his family to North Perrott, a typically beautiful South Somerset village. With a purpose-built design studio and workshop, Simon was able to embark on his journey to turn his dream of making a high performance sports car into a reality.
It was rather appropriately at the dawn of the new millennium that Simon unveiled the all-new Ariel Motor Companys Atom, the ultimate lightweight sports car a delicious cocktail of art, engineering perfection and total fun.
The essential feature of this car is being able to drive it easily at low speed, over road humps or in traffic, just like an ordinary car. But where the Atom really comes into its own is being able to drive to a race track and put pedal to the metal, safe in the knowledge that you will be able to drive it back home at more normal speeds and without problem. With its 6-speed (and reverse) close-ratio gearbox and hydraulic clutch, you can go from 0-60mph in less than three seconds, or just as easily pop down to the local shops.