The Atom
The Atom

The Atom


The Aston Martin Atom is the important link between the pre and post war era's of Aston Martin. A prototype, constructed in 1939, it featured a space-frame superstructure of rectangular tubes in varying section depending on the strength needed in a particular area. When attached to the basic chassis frame, it made a very rigid cage onto which the aluminium body panels were attached. Designed by Claude Hill, it might have featured on the Aston Martin stand at the 1940 Earls Court Motor Show had such an event have taken place.

The Atom

Although stylistically unlike both previous or future Aston Martins, the chassis and method of construction was very much the basis for the post war Feltham cars starting with the 2 litre sports (DB1) right up to the DB Mark III in 1957. It might look a bit awkward to our eyes today but this was due mostly to the lack of availability of materials during wartime. To the people of the time, Atom would have looked very modern indeed.

Initially the Atom was fitted with a 4 cylinder 1950cc Single overhead cam engine with  Zenith carburettors from the 15/98 but by the end of the war, this had been replaced by a 4 cylinder 1970cc Claude Hill designed pushrod engine with twin SU carburettors. The engine was attached to a 4 speed Cotal self-changing semi-automatic gearbox with a pair of electromagnetic clutches, quite advanced for the time.

The Atom had a very active life of development during the war years clocking up over 100,000 miles, so that as soon as peace came, the company had a new product to sell to it’s customers. The problem was that although Aston Martin was, just for once, on sound financial footings and profitable, a considerable sum would be needed to develop the sort of car demanded by post-war, mostly overseas consumers. Thus AM owner, Gordon Sutherland put the company up for sale through a classified advert in The Times newspaper in 1946. David Brown, the Yorkshire based businessman and head of the engineering firm, the David Brown Corporation showed interest and Sutherland drove the Atom to his HQ in Meltham for his approval. DB drove the car and must have been sufficiently impressed as he went on to purchase Aston Martin, a company that he owned for the best part of the next 25 years. The Atom disappeared from view for quite sometime before turning up in France of all places during the 1970’s.

After being exhibited in French motor museums, including the famous ACO museum at the Le Mans circuit, it was returned to the UK in 1985, reappearing at many AMOC and prestigious international events. The 10 year restoration involved conserving as many original parts as possible rather than simple replacement . The grille on the Atom, if one can call it that, may, perhaps, be interpreted as the earliest expression of the distinctive Aston Martin shape we know so well today. To be honest, I’m not so sure, but the shape has a passing similarity.

Aston Martin Atom website

  • Body/Coachwork:

    Rectangular tube, 2.0 x 1.25 inches 13 guage and 1.25 x 1.25 inches of 18 guage with aluminium overclad panels.
    Fully patented box frame structure.
    Self tapping screws and nyloc nuts used for the first time on Astons.

  • Engine:

    (1940-44) 1950cc Single O.H.C, 78mm bore x 102 stroke, Zenith Carburettors
    (From 1944) 1970cc Claude Hill Pushrod 4 cylinder 82.55mm bore x 92mm stroke.
    Twin 1.50in S.U. Carburettors with thermo-choke.
    Inlet valves centred above pistons, exhaust valves angled in recesses to manifold. Direct drive water pump.
    Wet sump 1.50 gals. capacity.
    Coil ignition.

  • Transmission:

    Electromagnetic 4 speed “COTAL” semi-automatic gearbox.
    Salisbury hypoid bevel back axle.
    Top Ratio 4.55:1, Third 6.68:1, Second 10:1, First 15:1.

  • Wheels and tyres:

    5.50 x 17 inch tyres.

  • Suspension:

    I.F.S. with short trailing links and coil springs. Gordon Armstrong patented.
    Divided track rods providing accurate steering geometry.
    Semi-elliptical springs to rear.
    Gordon Armstrong hydraulic level shock-absorbers to front and rear.
    5.50 x 17 inch tyres.

  • Brakes:

    Lockheed hydraulic on 12 inch drums.

  • Dimensions:

    Wheelbase: 8ft 6ins
    Track: 4ft 2ins
    Steering: 2.25 turns lock to lock
    Weight: 24cwt (2,688 lbs)
    Petrol Tank: 17 gallons

  • Price at launch:

    One prototype built and never offered for sale