By on January 5, 2012

The Ariel Atom: first a “race car for the road” in Europe, then a road car that can also be raced in a spec series. Like the Lotus/Caterham Seven and a variety of other thousand-ish-pound kit-style cars, the Atom has a very different set of dynamic capabilities from what one would find in, say, a Corvette. As a former owner of a Lotus Seven clone, I can attest that it’s easy to get in trouble on the street when driving a lightweight vehicle sans electronic helpers, and the penalties for making mistakes are higher than they are in an Escalade or Phantom.

Want proof? Look no further than the AutoGuide report that a journalist has been killed during a European test drive of the Atom 3.

Belgian lifestyle journalist Michael Cornette was killed when the Atom in which he was riding struck a grain silo at high speed. The driver, Mattieu Desmet, has been placed in an induced coma while the doctors figure out what to do with him. Details are hard to come by, but apparently the car was being “tested” for an upcoming feature, and the Atom was reportedly owned by an individual, not by Ariel. Mr. Desmet may or may not be a journalist — it appears to be a common name in Belgium — but for those of us who are forced to endure “driving partners” on press events, it’s a reminder: screwing up isn’t the only way to die in a press car. Sometimes, the fellow next to you can cash your check, as well.

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29 Comments on “Journalist Shall Not Kill Journalist. Or Perhaps He Shall...”

  • avatar

    0-60 in 2.6 seconds? No stability control? I don’t think folks have the proper respect for that combo. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been shot off the deck of an Aircraft Carrier or who rides a 1000cc sport bike can really understand those numbers.

    “Ariel Atom V8 is just under 3.1 pounds per horse, which makes it about equal to that of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 and twice as good as a Ferrari Enzo.”

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure the car was being operated in a responsible legal matter.

      I’ve never concerned myself with someone who commits suicide by ricerocket. I’ll not do it for these gentlemen either.

      Get in over your head, pay the consequences.
      Been there, done that.

      • 0 avatar

        I have a little more sympathy. If given the opportunity to drive an Atom, I would and I’d be very careful. But, I could imagine that the gap between responsible and prudent and death, is a fraction of a second of misapplied throttle.

        Also, you wouldn’t put someone who has never been on a horse on War Admiral, you wouldn’t teach someone to ride a motorcycle using a 1300cc Hayabusa, in that light, I think letting amateurs drive this is pretty irresponsible.

      • 0 avatar

        I DO have sympathy. Perhaps the passenger was just reaching the point of asking the driver to rein things in, wanting to ensure he could see his family again.

        And as for the driver, even though he was old enough to know better, one lapse in judgement does not mean he deserved such consequences. I’d prefer to have seen him lose control, recover, and then smarten up forever. The powers that be gave ME that chance, once. I’ll never forget it.

        Of course, assuming the driver survives, he will (and should) have lots to answer for in the court of law.

      • 0 avatar

        Lemmy, that reminds me of a time that I was riding in the 500 hp 1-ton large-tired diesel truck of an equally death-wishy buddy while he drifted back and forth through a farmer’s field at about 60 mph in 4×4. The two girls with us were drunk and seemed to be having fun – not foreseeing the potential consequences – but we also had a responsible family man buddy who just happened to be hanging out with us that night. As his requests to tone it down grew more serious and his voice began wavering a bit more, I decided to flat out inform the driver that he will almost certainly have a high-speed rollover if he continues doing this much longer. We reached a gravel road shortly after which he drove down in search of another suitable off-road area. He drove off the road toward a field and dropped his front tire right off an unseen 4′ culvert that was illegally built too close to the edge of the road and we slowly rolled over on the front right corner at about 3 mph. It was like slow motion; he even shut the truck off as we were rolling to avoid damaging the engine. Fortunately for our family man, there was no water there, because it took us a while to figure out how to get out while upside down in complete darkness. I can’t see him ever riding with the driver again. I imagine he was pretty relieved that it ended the way it did.

  • avatar

    My condolences to both. A high speed collision in the Ariel must be like crashing a small two seat, experimental aircraft – in this case, into steel framed grain silos.

    Knock on wood, looking at the Ariel, it looks to be more crash worth than an old Triumph GT 6 that I once launched into a corn field.

  • avatar

    The only time I have experienced an Atom is riding shotgun at a track lapping day, helmet in place. It was so capable that it didn’t feel all that stressed at full-tilt competition speed. Body motions were well controlled, and much of the sense of motion was the roaring air tugging at the bottom of my helmet.

    I bet they’re a hoot to drive. I also bet you also have to explore lofty limits to find their edgier thrills. Body roll, brake dive, and other ills of slowness are part of the fun of going “fast.” Otherwise, you’re just plotting a line through space at a higher velocity.

    The world needs loud, brash, silly fast things. That’s no fault of Ariel for offering them. Same lesson as always: just enjoy them responsibly, like at a track.

  • avatar

    Is that Leona Helmsley in that photo? Didn’t she die?

  • avatar

    The accident occurred in what looks like a fairly urban environment. (I learned this from clicking through to the article, which has a photo.)

    I mention this only because “struck a grain silo” gave me a mental image of winding vacant roads through farmland. This particular grain silo sits very close to a road that has 1 or 2 overpasses nearby.

    Also from the article: “Sources have said that excessive speed is the cause of the accident and that the force of the impact was so strong that the silo shifted 10 inches.”

    • 0 avatar

      I mention this only because “struck a grain silo” gave me a mental image of winding vacant roads through farmland.

      Agreed. I’m sure that Mr. Baruth enjoyed writing it, but it was sensationalized and misleading.

      Suffice it to say, the driver was driving too fast and hit a fixed object. The score here is typical: Fixed Object 1, Car and Human Occupants 0.

    • 0 avatar

      I mention this only because “struck a grain silo” gave me a mental image of winding vacant roads through farmland.

      Having driven a bit in Europe, I didn’t get that mental image. Also, I’ve seen silos close to the road even in New England. What jumped to my mind was that the driver hit something large, visible and stationary.

  • avatar

    but what the hell were they thinking? giving such a car to (probably both) “lifestyle journalists” (hardly car experts) in Belgium, in January, on a slippery road (look at the photo) and probably with semi-slick tires (90% of the atoms) that had never been experienced by the driver? WTF??
    I’ve been a passenger of a supercharged Atom 3, with a competent gentleman driver that had a year experience with the car, on a dry track, and if the car did not look vicious, it did not look easy either (in perfect conditions). So just as the preceding accident with an Atom (a French actor that killed himself last year, on a wet highway at high speeds), you cannot really blame the car for being, well, as described.

  • avatar

    Perhaps one of the most defining reviews of Top Gear is the one pictured. I wouldn’t know or be half as interested in that franchise without the character that is Jeremy Clarkson. So naturally I wonder what if the helmetless Clarkson had killed himself during that review.

  • avatar

    Having taken the reins of hopped up Suzuki motorcycles I can tell you the forces are numbing. And the line between life and death very thin. There are no safety considerations beyond the bikes tires on the road.

    • 0 avatar

      In the early 90’s, freshly back from the Gulf War, I took a friend’s Yamaha out for a spin down a flat Texas highway. My Come-To-Jesus moment happened at 120+ mph after barely missing a large armadillo crossing the road.

      It may not be true, but I’ve heard that more Navy personnel die from donormotorcycle accidents than all others combined.

  • avatar

    Michael Cornette was indeed a journalist with a local newspaper called “Krant van West-Vlaanderen”. Apparently, he was writing a lifestyle story about owners of fast cars. During the accident he was riding shotgun while the owner, Mattieu Desmet, was driving.

    Road conditions were not ideal that day as it was somewhat damp. The driver lost control on a straight piece of road. To me it looks like it happened at the beginning of a more industrial zone.

  • avatar

    This Atom 3 must have been the turbo. I owned an Atom2 with the Honda K20 motor for 2 years, and short of dropping the clutch to do a burn out, even full throttle application doesn’t cause the rear to kick out. The K20 doesn’t had enough torque. I drove mine on public roads and did countless full throttle acceleration runs, and never had the Atom even twitch. This guy must have been seriously hooning.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s more likely he got in over his head at speed and locked up the front brakes in a turn. Actually it doesn’t take too much speed to kill when it’s car vs. unmovable object. 40MPH will suffice especially with no airbags and open cockpit.

  • avatar

    Address for Google Street View is: Kanaalstraat, Harelbeke, Belgium
    Seems to be straight street between the canal and concrete factory (who owns the silos) with 2 bridges, one of which matches the one on photos.

  • avatar


    The driver of the car was definitely not a journalist. The Belgian media all state that the driver was the owner of the car on which Cornette would be doing a report.

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