Well, compared to other toolroom lathes, the Atlas is at the bottom of the heap in quality, rigidity, stability, etc. A South Bend, Clausing, Logan or other lathes of the late 40's to the 60's vintage are made with some refinements which are supposed to help preserve accuracy. The flat bed ways of the Atlas are scorned by anyone with a lathe which has inverted V ways (ie S.B.). Of course, when the inverted V-way bed needs to be scraped or reground, it is about 10 x more work than fixing the Atlas - so there is a tradeoff on that. The saddle of the 10" Atlas is awfully light, and the compound slide is ATROCIOUS! It is so lightly built that you can make it wiggle visibly with your hand. This is not looseness from wear, this is flexing of the light metal pieces! So, the compound rest is really the weak link in the 10" Atlas. The corresponding parts on the 12" Atlas are a bit better matched to the machine, especially the compound rest is much more sturdy than the 10".

The old style 'lantern' toolpost is a HORROR, and I was amazed at what a difference it made when I upgraded to a 'Phase II' quick-change toolpost, from Enco. This is a knock-off of the Aloris-type toolpost. I would strongly recommend you replace the lantern-style toolpost, if the machine still has one. For the Atlas, the piston-type toolpost is quite adequate, I doubt it will make much difference if you pay extra for the dovetail version.
The 12" Atlas lathe, with quick change gearbox.
The Atlas gives a good range of spindle speeds, which is better than quite a few lathes. From about 200 to 4000 RPM in 8 speed ranges, without the back gear. The other nasty part of the Atlas is the use of the horrible casting metal 'Zamak'. It is a zinc-based alloy, similar to that horrible 'pot-metal' that carburetors are (were) made out of. If it breaks, it can't be welded, soldered, brazed, epoxied, wired together or repaired in any way at all! Some people do claim to be able to make usable repairs with JB Weld, but I'd be pretty leery of an epoxy repair on anything highly stressed. The change gears, leadscrew direction box, leadscrew end support, leadscrew half nuts and all the nut mechanisms, the cross-feed power takeoff mechanism, and plenty of other parts in the lathe are made of Zamak. The handwheels are made of it, too. I've had to replace several parts, although the damage was either from running the carriage under power into the tailstock (A BIG NO-NO) or due to the lathe being in a minor truck near-crash while moving my shop. A Bridgeport landed on the lathe! The leadscrew nut engage lever was bent and the 'scroll' that engages the nut halves when the lever is pushed down was broken off. Actually, not bad for what happened. You should have seen my washer and dryer, however! They were what the lathe was pushed into when the mill slid into it! Wow!

So, anyway, the Atlas is a cheaply made, insubstantial, light-weight lathe. I paid $750 for mine over 10 years ago. It was babbit bearing, change gear, and had a 4-jaw chuck and faceplate. The guy also had a drawer full of morse taped drills, which we got included for that price. I had to get a 3-jaw chuck, a live center, and decent lathe cutting tools. I later added a quick-change box (after I busted up the reversing box and the 'harp' that the change gears go on, when the carriage hit the tailstock). I never did get a follow rest or steady rest, although I should get or make those. The lathe had been used for wood turning, and the spindle bearings were in bad shape, the lathe cut a taper of about 2 degrees before I reset the top bearing cap.

I would recommend that you not buy that Atlas for $950 unless :

1. It has both 3 and 4-jaw chucks in good condition.

2. It has Timken roller bearings, not babbit journal bearings.

3. It can be seen under power, and you can make a test cut with a workpiece in the 3-jaw chuck. Turn it for several inches of length, and then mike it for taper. If you have a dial indicator, that is even better. Place it (on magnetic mount) on the bed, and put the point on the side of the chuck. Try pressing the chuck to and away from the indicator, and see how much free play there is. Then place it on the face of the chuck, and push/pull on the chuck, showing end-play. Place the indicator on the carriage, and check forward/back play and up/down play of the carriage on the bed. One of the key measurements here is to make this measurement at the most and least worn places on the bed. If the free play is nearly the same everywhere, then taking up the slack with the gibs (and or shims) will make a tight machine. If the free play is, say, .005" more at the loosest place than at the tightest place, that means if you set the gibs to give zero slack at the tightest (least worn) place, you will still be stuck with .005" slack at the most worn place. If the differential wear amounts to more than .005" (as in the above example), I would only buy the machine with the plan that it will HAVE to be hand scraped or reground - you won't want to use it like that. Differential wear is about .001 - .002" on my WELL WORN Atlas.

4. Check the countershaft mechanism - It's not too complicated, and could be repaired with fairly standard parts, but if it is incomplete or looks like trouble, be warned.

5. Check the general condition of all the ways, looking for excessive wear, dings, chucks dropped on the ways, deep scratches, etc.

6. Move the cross-slide forward, then remove the cover over the back of the cross-slide, and you can inspect the cross-slide screw and ways.

7. If anything is broken off, missing, etc. - beware. Atlas parts are still available to some extent, but they are getting more rare by the day. Clausing still has some parts, and they are not too expensive, but there is probably less than 10% total part coverage from them at this time. If it is a frequently broken or worn-out part, they may have some for a few years (ie half-nut parts, and the associated mechanism) but as for the larger castings - forget it. You will have to settle for used parts. This is like keeping a 1966 Corvair running!

I should be able to think of more things to check, but I really can't. Don't worry about whether the bed is level where it is, now. The Atlas bed is so flexible, you will have no problem getting it level by adjusting shims or machine feet under the legs. I will recommend the 'Master Precision Level' that MSC, J&L and others have on sale every now and then for $79.00 or so. Mine, a Soviet-made one, is excellent. I suspect the others are also good, and you save about $400 over a Starrett. For the home shop, I don't think the Starrett can be justified.

If you have any questions about this, let me know. I know several places to get parts for it.