Ariel is developing a titanium chassis for its Atom sports car that weighs 40 per cent less than the Atom's tubular steel frame, and is capable of reducing the car's overall weight by almost eight per cent.
Titanium is incredibly strong – it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal – but it's also extremely difficult to fabricate. If exposed to oxygen during welding, titanium combusts before it melts, hence the necessity for a complicated, argon-filled welding chamber.
The frame and the welding process have been developed alongside Frome-based Caged Laser Engineering, and part-funded for by the Technology Strategy Board’s Niche Vehicle Programme fund.
Ariel's Simon Saunders told Autocar that, when development is complete, "We'd like to do a limited edition. It would be a brilliant track car. The alternative would be to offer it as an option on the range."
With a naturally aspirated Honda engine and some other selected light components, the frame could help push a limited-edition Atom's weight below 500kg. "Our magic figure would start with a four," said Saunders, though he concedes that it would be difficult, and that 500kg on the nose would be a more likely target.
When it was launched, the Atom had a very lightweight Rover K-Series engine. However, the current range of Honda engines are heavier, albeit far more reliable.
As well as proving useful on the Atom, however, Ariel thinks the experience it gains in working with titanium will also be useful on its future products, possibly including its forthcoming motorcycle.