Away from the big shows, there’s no better place in Europe to see new metal, and nowhere else you can see cars in motion as you can in the South Downs every summer.
The timing, incidentally, makes it the ‘right’ time of year for a British show too: falling pretty much equally between the Geneva show and before the Paris/Frankfurt date. These days, we can’t afford to miss it as a news opportunity.
It was good, then, to spend a bit of time around the new Ariel Atom 4 and the people who engineered it over the Goodwood weekend. While the 4 is immediately recognisable as an Atom, see a picture of Atom 3.5 and Atom 4 together and it’s striking how dated the 3.5 suddenly looks. I think that’s partly the new, bigger wheels and tyres, and certainly the bigger frame diameter.
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There’s a greater muscularity to it. Ariel has a habit of getting things right. With the Atom, Nomad and, perhaps to a lesser degree, its Ace motorcycle, it hits on niches and fills them deftly, avoiding taking on multinationals and the big players head-to-head while it’s at it.
“You’ve got to do what they can’t do or aren’t interested in doing,” says Ariel boss Simon Saunders. It could be why, despite being announced just a day before the Festival began, Ariel had 50 orders for the Atom 4 by Saturday afternoon.
Some still think they can take on the serious opposition, mind. Every year at Goodwood – and at plenty of other times besides – comes a supercar or hypercar intended to go a million miles an hour and directly challenge cars whose makers have a billion quid a time to throw at a new model, and half a century of experience doing it.
Over the past 20 years, I must have seen 100 companies like this, of which maybe five have made a long-term go of it. The last thing an enthusiast with £200,000 to spend is going to consider is a car from an unknown or unproven manufacturer.
What people apparently aren’t interested in making is the car I’d want at that money. The power race is uninteresting. Top speed and acceleration are irrelevant.
I’d like a front-engined, rear-drive two-seat coupé, compact to about the size of a Toyota GT86, hand-built in very small quantities. I’d like an aluminium passenger cell, with strength in the middle so a passenger can get over the sills with dignity, a boot comfortably big enough for a couple of weekend bags, and an elegant aluminium/composite body over it all. I’d like it finished with class inside: a neat, flat dash with conventional dials, an infotainment display with phone mirroring and a decent sound output, and just enough insulation to make a trip to the opera or a weekend away as appealing as a Sunday morning drive.
I’d like it to ride well and steer beautifully on small tyres that don’t grip too strongly at all, with a limited-slip differential, even weight distribution, a six-speed manual gearbox and a 280bhp, 7000rpm, 3.0-litre V12.
Which is probably why I do not have £200,000, nor am I in control of a car company.