Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics. As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.
Ariel Atom 2000-Present- Once, this kind of thing would only be possible in study hall, dreamed up by bored adolescents instead of doing homework. The Atom is, in essence, a go kart for grown-ups. It is an exo-skeleton onto which only the absolute necessities have been hung. It has an engine, transmission, full perimeter frame, suspension, steering wheel, two seats, seat belts, and that’s it. Nothing extra, nothing frivolous, nothing that needn’t be there, and that is the whole point. By having only what is absolutely necessary, the Atom is able to keep weight to a bare minimum. Supplying the power is a 2.0 liter, 245 hp Honda VTEC motor that rockets the Atom from a dead stop to 60-mph in a breath-taking 2.89 seconds. Only a few cars are quicker, and those will all put a considerable dent in your retirement fund. The Ariel is also the fastest car you can get for 0-100-0 duties, completing the task in a scant 10.88 seconds. The 2004-2006 Ford GT needed 13.17.
Pros: Fast, light, small, easy to see nearly every part means it is easy to work on. The Ariel Atom is cheap enough you could save it for a strictly track-day car, but why on Earth would you want to? This thing is a blast at any speed, a motorcycle for car people, a grown-up go kart, with performance which is eye-opening to the most jaded of performance car owners. You’ll be the only person with one in your neighborhood.
Cons: Weather of any kind will make you long for the outer skin of your daily driver. There is no room to carry anything. There is barely a windshield (don’t smile while driving unless you really need grasshopper protein). This car will give you a permanent smile, but nobody will be able to see it because the wind will have permanently disfigured your head and face. This car is for fun outings only, and lacks almost any semblance of practicality.
Verdict: If you can get one, do it. Few other cars will make you feel so much like a kid again, or so much like you are doing something illegal when you are doing nothing of the sort. It is a hoot, a blast, fun every day, the cherry on top of life’s sundae.