24 July 2014
Aston Martin: Atom's Design was no small step
The mighty Atom changed the course of the company history of legendary British automaker Aston Martin.
Designed by Claude Hill, work to build the stunning vehicle began in the summer of 1939. The Atom project would be Aston Martin’s first attempt at a four-door sedan, moving away from the traditional body-building technique of using a hardwood frame.
During the Second World War, work at the factory changed to Ministry of Aircraft contracts, producing parts for the war effort.
Perhaps you could say that the company was lucky in having one employee who was a conscientious objector and would not do anything involving the war. And so this employee worked in the corner of the factory and built the Atom.
The chassis was an innovation that incorporated a space frame to hold the exterior panels, which were steel (the supply of aluminum had dried up due to the war), resulting in a geometric body that was very stiff.
The front suspension was independent and considered state of the art for the period, using Armstrong dampers and coil springs.
The Cotal electrically operated gearbox was connected to a Salisbury hypoid-bevel rear axle.
The finished car looked quite strange — one could hardly recognize it as an Aston Martin product.
The true test for the Atom came when David Brown took it for a test drive. He liked the car so much, he bought the company for a whopping £20,500 (about $60,000). That sounds a bit like the Victor Kiam Remington electric razor commercials of the ’80s!
With Brown’s chequebook, and Claude Hill still heading up the design department, the space-frame construction of this prototype became the basis for postwar Aston Martin cars up to 1957 with the DB3 MKIII.
The Atom has belonged to a collector in the U.K. for many years; the car is very occasionally displayed because of the cost of transportation and insurance.
The owner decided to offer the car for sale at this year’s Bonham’s Goodwood Festival of Speed Auction but the bidding did not make the reserve and was a no sale.