Doctor, I have a problem. It’s almost a month since I drove an Ariel Nomad and I’m still obsessed. I lie awake at night wondering whether, if I sold this, pawned that, gave up the other, I could afford one. Just for a while.
Just so that its remarkable driving characteristics were always waiting at the end of the garden. So that any time I brought a needlessly crashy, thumpy-riding car home from work, I could wheel out the Nomad and it would make it all better.
But more than that: I can’t stop thinking that the Nomad’s suspension points to a different way. Perhaps a better way. A way where compliant suspension is cherished and nurtured, where a car’s body movements are not just allowed but encouraged. Where dips, crests, potholes and road lumps are isolated from a car’s cabin yet it remains brilliantly composed and perfectly damped.
The more I think about the Nomad – and I think about it a lot – the more I sound like a deranged evangelist for a cause that’s noble but unviable. The Nomad is, I should accept, an exception. It sits alongside sandrail buggies and specialist rally cars in having a wonderfully limited brief: to provide great fun on any terrain.
And its mechanical complexion reflects that. This is a car that weighs only 670kg, so it’s feasible to give it chunky tyres and pliant springs and dampers without its body slipping way out of control.
Try the same with 2.2 tonnes of Porsche Cayenne and see how that goes. Or any car whose body-in-white weighs about as much as an entire Nomad. Simple physics dictates that you’ll be needing stiffer springs, stickier dampers and lower tyre sidewalls if you want to prevent the whole caboodle from heaving and rolling like Homer Simpson’s stomach. Cars are fat.
Okay, they’re getting lighter, but cars, generally, are still plump because we like them that way. We like thick, soft interior surfaces and powerful engines and audio and communications systems and comfortable seats and space for the dog. Yet we also still expect a decent driver’s car and some composure. Soft suspension doesn’t fit that brief.
I fear, then, that the Nomad’s compliance, which I hoped might become some kind of template, will instead remain a wonderful exception. Perhaps that’s okay: the Nomad will just exist, be wonderful and maybe spawn interest in light all-terrain cars.
I’ve just bought one. In the absence of a Nomad, I’ve got a 1972 Volkswagen Baja Beetle, not a lot over 800kg, at the end of the garden. I’m hoping it’ll satisfy my obsession, or the pets go up for sale.