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The Cheap And Nasty Fairthorpe Atom

Fairthorpe Atom Image

Air Vice Marshal Donald Bennett was a brilliant pilot and war hero of the Second World War. His exploits included pioneering air to air refuelling, evading capture and walking across Norway to Sweden after being shot down on a raid on the German battleship Tirpitz, and becoming the youngest ever Air Vice Marshal of the Royal Air Force. His navigational abilities were legendary, which led to him being made leader of the newly formed Pathfinder force, which marked out targets for bombers, in 1942. He was not only a brave and intelligent man but meticulous and resourceful with extremely high standards too, which makes it all the more surprising that he built the Fairthorpe Atom and Atomata.

After a post-war spell of being a director of the British South American Airways and a short lived career as an MP he decided that what Britain really needed was a cheap car. The only problem was that he took the concept of cheapness a little too far.

His Fairthorpe Atom of 1954 was a two seater powered by a choice of rear mounted motorbike engines with lightweight fibreglass bodies which gave them a good turn of speed but pretty near nothing in the way of creature comforts. General standards of finish were pretty dire. This was followed by the Atomata which had a front mounted BSA 650 cc motorcycle engine or a Standard 10 engine; this also had a good turn of speed but sadly the build quality hadn't really improved one iota. These cars looked as though they had been made during spare time in the DIY owner's garage with the minimum of tools and using up any old bits of glass, fibreglass, perspex or door fittings that happened to be lying about. This was austerity motoring taken to a complete extreme.

A total of 44 Atoms are reputed to have been made and sold, no doubt, to thrifty buyers who were more concerned about shaving a few more pennies off the price than any semblance of quality or comfort.How many Atomatas were made and sold is not known but it cannot have been very many.

Happily later models produced by Bennet improved in quality and were good buys for motorsport enthusiasts. The Atom and Atomata faded into history however, and it is unclear whether any of them still survive, or if they do, why anyone bothered to hang onto them.