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Lightweights…

There are two ways to make a car quicker, lose weight or add power. The “usual” way is to add power. Three-quarters of the hobby of Hot Rodding seems to revolve around adding power. Manufacturers seem to make their cars heavier every year. They add power, but a lot of buyers demand more candy… power windows, power doors, power seats, navigation, DVD players… you get the idea.

Ariel Atom, a unit in the Danville, California...
Ariel Atom, a unit in the Danville, California Fourth of July Parade (2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t get me wrong, we have a minivan that has every bit of it. The kids can watch a movie while we listen to satellite radio in the rest of the van. We can open and close doors from the key fob. And the 4.0L V-6, with a 6 speed automatic transmission is pretty quick. But at 4,500+ pounds, the 251hp is really working it.

Imagine what that same power would do if it were packages in a car that weighed in at 2,000 pounds. The 0-60 times would drop from about 8.5 seconds (respectable…) to something like 5 seconds. That is blindingly quick. From a boring minivan engine and trans. A little weight loss could put it in Corvette/Viper/Ferrari territory. But, dropping 2,500 pounds isn’t a weekend diet.

Enter the Ariel Atom.

It is a Honda powered rocketship. There are some other powertrains, too… but with weight around 2,000 pounds and up to 300 hp, they can launch to 60mph in under 4 seconds. That is “superbike” territory.

DSCN8933
DSCN8933 (Photo credit: lane.bailey)

Imagine the boost to a manufacturer to have that kind of performance available from one of their platforms.

The Ford Taurus EcoBoost V-6 puts out 365hp. Package that in an ultralight, and it could be amazing. To top it off, the powertrain has an all wheel drive option, which would take a little work, but it could be built as a rear engine vehicle that sends power to all for wheels… like some Lamborghinis… Imagine.

In addition to the Ariel Atom, there is another famous ultralight… the Lotus 7. Some versions weighed as little as 1,500 pounds. And the acceleration, handling and braking were all incredible. Enough that 45 years after ceasing production, there are companies making copies.

And there there was the 427 Cobra. Big engine, light weight. Not quite an ultralight, but for its time, almost 50 years ago, it was MASSIVELY over-powered and underweight. And still has performance that is only touchable by elite supercars.

In the case of the Lotus and the Ariel, the side benefit of the light weight and “de-contented” cars is the lower cost of production… LOTS of power and performance at a lower price. In the case of the Ariel Atom the price is under $100k, but the performance compares to, or puts down, cars that cost anywhere from $300k to almost $1m. Makes it look like a bargain…

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