We were looking at the latest Ariel Atom specs recently and lamenting the fact that we’d heard that it is no longer street legal. GM cut off it’s supply of EcoTec turbo engines (something Jay Leno and Bob Lutz championed) and the Ariel Atom manufacturer lost the only means it had of inexpensively getting thru Federal emissions certification. So now the Ariel Atom is back to the Honda K series engine it was originally designed for – and (except for lack of street legal registration ability) better off for it. But also lost is the attraction of driving one of these on the street, surprising pedestrians, and having a great driving experience on back roads.
Then we were reminded that Ford had once upon a time dreamed about building a sportscar not unlike the Atom in concept and perhaps just a bit more sane (?) in execution. In fact, it pre-dated the Atom and was revealed in 1996. And it was powered by Ford’s own V-12 (which is still used by Aston Martin). Read on for more information.
The Ford Indigo was a concept car, designed with the possibility of limited – and legal – production. Note the windshield, safety bumpers, and full body. It’s inspiration was Formula 1 and Indy Cars. It’s creator was none other than John Coletti of SVT. In a Coletti-typical (and blatantly-orchestrated) bid to convince Ford bean counters that the creation of such an outrageous showcar was justified, and that production would provide benefits that could trickle down to “pedestrian” cars, much was made at the introduction that lessons were learned in this program and that a net contribution to Ford engineering capability was achieved. And remember that Coletti’s very enthusiastic sponsor was none other than Jacques Nasser, who at NAIAS two years later would be seen in a promotional film proclaiming “it’s about time we put an IRS on the Cobra” as he was driving a ’99 Cobra prototype around Ford’s Dearborn test track.
The Indigo was created at the high point of the original SVT organization. Ford management had not yet realized that SVT products were seriously flawed in their engineering and durability testing – and the accounting of the full costs of warranty claims had not yet come to light. They probably missed the recall of the ’96 SVT Cobra and blamed it on the similar recall of the ’96 Mustang GT. They probably accepted the recall of the ’99 Cobra and blamed it on Team Mustang, since that separate organization had responsibility for launch. But they couldn’t miss the disaster of the 2003 Cobra, with it’s flawed tuning and widespread engine replacements. And then came the Ford GT – which at the time was labeled by Ford as “the pace car for the entire company” (an all-too-true prophecy). The production and quality disaster this became - detailed here - was probably the final straw, leading to the virtualization of SVT, the distribution of it’s personnel back into the general workforce, and – very possibly – to the abrupt departure of John Coletti. We’ve talked to some of their former SVT workers who managed to survive, including one unlucky individual who was relegated to suspension design of the stillborn Ford Ranger replacement.
But as a high point, the years that saw the creation of the Boss 604, the Super Stallion, the Indigo, the GT-90, the Tremor Concept (all of which we encountered in press unveilings), and the production Ford GT and Cobra R were probably the all-time high of the former SVT organization. Flaws and aggravation aside, this author bought 4 of them, high speed open-tracked them all to the max, and had great fun with them when they weren’t in the shop getting warranty work.
It’s hard to imagine that Ford would ever have approved the Indigo for production, but if they had it would have made a very unusual and powerful high speed open track ride. A 2300 pound car, with 435 naturally aspirated horsepower and an optimized suspension would have done very well against Corvettes (+1000 pounds, poor suspension), the Ariel Atom (-900 pounds and an even more race-like suspension), and assorted Loti (same weight, great suspension, little buzzy Toyota motor with no torque and it’s own over-heating issues).
What’s become of the Indigo concept? Ford sold it (along with a lot of other concepts and showcars) to help pay off it’s debts and it’s currently sitting in a private collection. It can’t be licensed for the street, but perhaps it’s new owner will bring it to a Ford enthusiast show someday.
For your consideration, here are the specs of the Indigo, the original press releases, and full size copies of the brochures. We were fortunate enough to attend the original press unveiling, and even have several copies of the original brochures in our library. We remember walking around and looking at details of the car at the unveiling, scarcely believing our eyes. There was nothing like it from GM and Chrysler; they were incapable of such a creation.
Click on the thumbnails below for a full-size image.
The Indigo has been reported to be on display at the Spirit of Ford in Dearborn.
Brochure Copyright Ford Motor Company
A new video on the Ariel Atom, as manufactured in the United States. This post is follow-up to my post of last month, where Jay Leno was spotted driving his own Atom (the first built in the United States). The US version is powered by the GM Ecotech 4-cylinder engine, which Jay Leno labels as “the small block of the future”.
Hmmm… it’s a dull engine, without much in the way of revs. I’d rather have the Honda engine that is used in Europe in the original Atom. Regardless, the Ariel Atom is one of the fastest cars in the world with the top of the line supercharged engine – if not the fastest. And it’s certainly the most visceral drive imaginable.
Not familiar with the Atom? See the article on “How Stuff Works”: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/ariel-atom1.htm
Brammo Motorsports builds the “Ariel Atom 2″ for United States customers: http://www.arielatom.com/ You can build a car via the configurator, and also get a FAQ document.
Here’s my Atom, as configured on the site, setup for track driving:
|Item Description||Price ($)|
|GM Ecotec 2.0 Liter 300hp 250 ft/lbs Supercharged||47,125.00|
|Ceramic Coated Steel Header & Exhaust||0.00|
|Track Brake Package||3,375.00|
|Koni 2-Way Adjustable Race Dampers 2812||3,750.00|
|Billet Aluminum Bellcranks (Rockers)||850.00|
|Billet Aluminum Steering Rack||0.00|
|Red Body Panels||0.00|
|15″ Front / 16″ Rear – 12 Spoke – Silver||695.00|
|Yokohama AVS ES100* – 195/50VR/15 Front, 225/45VR16 Rear||410.00|
|MasterLube Accumulator System – Ecotec Engines||1,200.00|
|Roll Protection Bar||1,195.00|
|Remote Brake Bias Adjuster||250.00|
|Wing Package – Carbon Fiber||6,250.00|
|Towing Eye Kit||215.00|
|3″ Competition 6 Point Belts||325.00|
|3″ Competition Seat Belt Pads||70.00|
|Passenger footrest & Driver Deadpedal||325.00|
The Masterlube system is certainly a good idea, and not just because it’s a GM engine. The track brakes and Konis are also appropriate for track use. I’ve selected some billet peices add strength in places where you’d see stress in track usage. The belts are for track use - as long as they have a safety cert and are properly mounted. The Roll Protection Bar is ungainly… I have to wonder if something different could be designed. But it’s a requirement as track groups across the country are cracking down on convertibles and similarly open cars (at some point, ‘verts won’t be able to be used without an add-on and certified rollbar). This is a concern, however the Atom 2 folks are working with groups such as NASA to get the cars approved for use there.