Used car buying guide: Ariel Atom

It was built from 2007 to 2018, gaining updated 3.5-litre and insane V8 versions along the way, and it still commands extremely strong money; £36,000 buys a 13,000-mile 2009 car, while a V8 will set you back more than £170,000 – if you can find one.

So this is an apex-hunting track toy that you can drive to the shops; what’s not to love? Well, the outright cost, for starters, but there’s also the upkeep to consider. Unless you live next to Cadwell Park or on the Côte d’Azur, you’re unlikely to use an Atom for more than a few days per year, but it has to be stored and kept in good working order regardless.

Servicing and repairs are no DIY job, so most owners take their Atoms back to Ariel for regular check-ups (“Who better to work on your car or bike than the people who build them?”), and you can’t skimp on any necessary replacement parts.

Buying an Atom is a commitment and very much a ‘lifestyle choice’. Do it properly, though, and it will be a lifestyle that you thoroughly enjoy.

How to get one in your garage

An owner’s view

Matthew Pennock: “Once you’ve found an Atom, call the factory and they will tell you if it’s a car they look after and if it’s a good buy. It’s like a family, and they just want you to have a good car. My talk with Ariel confirmed everything the seller had said about the car, and they had just had it in for a service. It had been serviced only at Ariel, and I have it booked in there for the 500-mile round trip for its next service shortly.”

Buyer beware…

■ Engine: The Rover K20’s notoriously weak head gasket isn’t a problem in the Atom because of the uprated cooling system, but make sure the cambelt has been changed every three years. Later, Honda Civic-derived engines are characteristically resilient, but knocking noises suggest it has been driven hard with low oil, so steer clear.

■ Gearbox: Go up through the ’box a few times on your test drive to check for smooth shifting, because the synchromeshes on fourth, fifth and sixth gears have been known to fail on later Atoms. Most have such low mileages that the clutch shouldn’t pose any problems, provided it hasn’t been subjected to too many full-bore standing launches. Replacement is an engine-out job.

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