If there's a people's champion in the extreme automotive performance marketplace, it's the Ariel Atom. Conceived as the LSC (Lightweight Sports Car) for a student project at Coventry University UK in 1996, the now commercialized bare bones sportscar has been winning direct comparison tests with the world's fastest production cars for more than a decade.
The latest 3.0 liter V8 Atom shares the top performance bracket with the Bugatti Veyron Supersport, Koenigsegg One:1, Hennessy Venom GT, La Ferrari and McLaren P1 ... at around 10 to 20 percent of the cost of the others in the category.
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... so that's where JayDee started
Jeff David (JayDee) is not your ordinary car enthusiast. Much of his early history involved motorcycle performance and engineering, but he's been an automotive development engineer gun for hire for 40 years, offering a range of services that includes bespoke supercharging, ECU conversions, traction control installations, data logging and analysis, dyno tuning, shock absorber re-valving, but anything highly technical he can sort for you. He does it all in-house in a facility on his property outside Melbourne, Australia. He can also fabricate custom internal engine components and carbon fiber anything.
He's a can-do kinda guy and it took several discussions and many hours before I got him talking about his regard for computers.
"The digital revolution has enabled the JayDee Atom to evolve very quickly, but more than that, it really enabled everything I have done, because this project really goes back 15 years and at that time, the tools weren't available at an affordable price so it wasn't happening at all – I had to shelve it until the tools became affordable.
"The Desktop revolution has enabled me to go so much further than I could otherwise afford to. It gave me affordable CAD, it gave me affordable finite element analysis that enables you to work out the structural strength of every component, and we didn't have Computational Fluid Dynamics, which means I could do the bulk of the work inside a computer and ... there isn't a rolling road wind tunnel in Australia. I could put the car in a static wind tunnel but what's the point, as it doesn't provide anything useful.
As my initial discussion with Jeff at Motorclassica went on, I began to see him more as an applied research scientist than an engineer.
In one of my previous lifetimes as a motorcycle magazine editor, I'd heard of JayDee's legendary ability to re-valve suspension on competition motorcycles so they became much easier to ride fast. A lot of elite competition riders swear by his expertise in making both road and dirt bikes behave with poise at racing speeds. The knowledge gained in developing suspension for hundreds of roadracing, enduro and motocross bikes was the primary reason for choosing the Atom as a testbed for his automotive vision.
"I wanted to build a car that handled well on the roads you encounter in the real world, not just a billiard table smooth racetrack," said Jeff.
"I wanted a car with the speed of an R1 Yamaha sports bike, but with all four wheels on the ground and all the electronics to make it easy to drive really fast."
"To get a decent supercar, you're looking at a million dollars, and even then, it's not as good as a motorbike. Because of my motorcycle development background, I wanted to see what I could do with a car, and the Atom appealed to me because it is a lot like a motorcycle experience.
"I wanted something much quicker than your average performance car. If you're used to motorbikes, whether it's a dirt or road bike, most four wheelers, even high performance supercars, are pretty mundane. The power-to-weight is half that of a bike in most cases so the acceleration is less than half, and they're very expensive as well.
"An open class motocross bike generates far more extreme acceleration forces and that's what I'm used to. The exhilaration available in riding it is immense, with it standing up and wheel-spinning and dancing around underneath you the entire time, and that's what I'm used to, so I felt that if I was going to build a car, I wanted to start with something that was already really quick.
"It also had to be registered for the road, and so I started with the Ariel Atom and got to work. As it progressed, the more I investigated each aspect and as various difficulties arose, rather than being a sensible and giving up on the process, those difficulties just made me more determined to overcome them and I continued onwards."
There's almost nothing on the car that hasn't been modified, strengthened, re-engineered and improved, several times. When JayDee purchased the Atom it produced a claimed 245 hp at the crankshaft (JaydDee measured it at 180 hp at the rear wheels on his dyno), but with the new custom-built Honda engine it produces 594 hp on E85 pump fuel at the wheels, or around 640 hp at the crank.
"We created all the data acquisition on the car to understand the handling, a computer model to simulate what the car was doing at all times, then gradually evolved the computer model and then we were able to build the new chassis based on the original chassis, and the engine development process continued throughout that time and ... it was a long journey, with me cramming 40 years of knowledge and thousands of hours of development into it, and this car is the result."
Next step - the Quantum
"It's a really good car but the next step in the journey for me is the development of the Quantum. The JayDee Atom was the development mule for the Quantum and now it's time to let it go and continue the journey with the Quantum."
At this point, it's worth considering the power to weight ratio of the JayDee Atom 600 to the rest of the world. We discussed the power and weights of a variety of cars, such as the Koenigsegg One:1, Hennessey Venom GT, Koenigsegg Agera R, Ariel Atom V8, LaFerrari, McLaren P1, Bugatti Veyron SuperSport, Lamborghini Veneno and Lamborghini Aventador, but that doesn't provide the full story.
"The problem is that most of those claimed weights and horsepower figures are only claimed, and you don't know whether they weighed them wet or dry or even without the five liters of coolant," Jeff explained. "When we weighed the Ariel Atom I started with for road registration purposes, it tipped the scales at 620 kg. It was claimed to be 540 kg, and there are many other brand new cars I have weighed that suddenly weigh a lot more than the brochure.
"I measure horsepower at the wheels, where it counts. Those other cars almost always measure engine output at the crankshaft, and you often lose more than 10 percent getting that horsepower to the tarmac. What we were able to calculate is that the Jaydee Atom 600 is behind only the Koenigsegg One:1 and Hennessey Venom GT in power-to-weight ratios.
"I'm already deeply into the development of the Quantum and having benefited from a clean sheet, it should evolve just as far again. We're planning to boost the turbo from 19 psi to 30 psi shortly. Does it need more horsepower? No. Is it worth trying?"
"Yes", he grins, "so the new journey is well underway."
JayDee's Atom is for sale with an asking price of $185,000 AUD (US$140,000). Not only is it outrageously fast, but incredibly well balanced and "sorted" and fully compliant in every respect for road registration, and can be delivered that way to any country, including the conversion from right to left hand drive.
As the publicity material for the huge Motorclassica event proclaimed, it's the fastest road car in Australia. The truth though, is that the Quantum GP700 in the carpark, Jeff's new car, is probably a fair bit quicker already. It weighs 700 kg and produces 700 hp, and ... we'll report on that soon.
Jeff David can be contacted via email (Jeff.David@quantumpv.com.au).