The Ariel motorcar, then and now.

The original tube frame Ariel Motorcar entered production in England in 1904, with a leather cone clutch and a top speed of approximately 30 mph. It featured one of the automotive world's first tube frame chassis, a full 30 years before the Italians coined the term "superleggera" when they incorporated tube frames into their highly successful race cars in 1937. The original Ariel chassis was very lightweight, and so afforded the car very good performance for its day. But the chassis was also unfortunately structurally inadequate, and did not compete well in the sports car market. Ariel scrapped the idea of a tube frame car in 1906 for the more popular stamped steel chassis. There are those who speculate whether Ariel might have done better in the automobile market had they succeeded with their tube frame innovations as they had with their invention of the pneumatic tire. As it was, Ariel made several more attempts at car design, including some noteworthy 2-seaters, but increasingly shifted focus to their growing motorcycle business, for which they abandoned the car market entirely in 1926.

Then, in 2000, nearly a century after the first Ariel tube frames came and went, engineer turned entrepreneur Simon Saunders revived the Ariel name with a hot rod version of the original Ariel. The result is sold as the Ariel Atom, a minimalist tube frame roadster true to the original in appearance, but with distinctly modern design elements, and a more than adequate (thank you very much) tube frame chassis.

Saunders' new Ariel factory didn't market the Atom as a replica car, but rather a road-going sports car. Its success in Europe and more recently the US hinged instead on its status as a minimalist, streetable sports car in its purest form. But its similarity to the original 1904 car has attracted the attention of a growing cadre of historic automotive hobbyists determined to drive a hotrodded piece of British automotive history. Simon Saunders did an excellent job replicating the tube frame theme, the open wheel design, the two seat doorless and roofless cockpit, and the spoked wheel pushed to the corners of the car. Since fewer than 100 1904 Ariels were made, and none
are known to survive, the resemblance of today's Ariel replica to the historical original roadster is lost to most people. But this modern replica is the inevitable next step of a new British invasion: the revival of the British historical sports car. From the redesigned new Mini Cooper to retro entries by MG and Morgan, to Caterham's Lotus 7 replicas, and now a hot rod based on the original tube frame Ariel, the market has shown resurgent interest in these retrospective marvels.

The most common question from curious onlookers seems to be "how fast does it go?". Depending on engine type, the top speed of 135 to 155 mph is soundly mediocre by today's sports car standards, so a more impressive answer might be its acceleration or cornering speed. But perhaps the best response to how fast the Ariel tube frame motorcar goes is this: 0 to 60 mph in 100 years.

- Researched and contributed by Atom enthusiast Toby (thanks!).  For additional information, check out the Ariel page on Wikipedia.