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Wednesday 7th September 2011


DRIVEN: BAC MONO

Sutters gets dribbly over new single-seat track star. Apparently it's quite good on the road...



So I'm going to come right out and say it, blow my load in the very first paragraph (so to speak). The BAC Mono is one of, if not THE most fabmungus road cars that I have ever driven, Ay-men. Game changed. Game over for its so-called competition, next.


It is so perfectly connected to the part of one's brain that gets excited by, and sometimes completely carried away with, the act of driving, I'm not sure quite how to describe it.

What I can tell you is that what happens when you first encounter this car goes, very roughly, like this. To begin with you just stand and look at it in awe. You drink in the details of its exquisite pushrod suspension, and maybe think to yourself; this car is both bigger and more beautiful than it appears in pictures. And for some reason the word Cosworth that's emblazoned across the engine cover looks a whole lot naughtier than you were expecting.


The entire car, indeed, seems so much more dramatic in the raw than you thought it might be. Having looked at the spec sheet and taken in the headline details (2.3-litre Cossie engine, 280bhp, six-speed manual gearbox) you hadn't been expecting to be blown away by it. Not in the era of 500bhp-or-forget-it fast cars.

Yet in reality what we are talking about is a machine with 520bhp per tonne, a drivetrain that's been lifted straight out of a Formula 3 car and a chassis that's more trick than those of many racing cars. All the body panels also happen to be fashioned out of carbon fibre, and although the tub itself isn't carbon it's strong enough to pass the exact same roll over tests that the FIA applied to F1 cars in 2009.


Crucially, it doesn't cost anything like as much to repair (as a carbon tub would) if and when it gets damaged in an accident. Which is good because, as sure as eggs is eggs, owners will get carried away by this car, and they will end up engaging with the undergrowth in it.

"Probably the most expensive accident you could have is leaving the steering wheel on the bar at the end of an evening" says the car's creator, Neill Briggs, through a smirk. "Do that and it'll cost you five grand. But then again, it's a lovely piece of kit" explains Briggs. "It's the entire dashboard of the car if you think about it, and all the functions have to go down just one little 16-point pin, which is why it costs as much as it does."


So, once you've ogled the Mono for a while and talked about why it is what it is, you climb up and snuggle down into its cabin. And that's when your imagination goes completely berserk - because when the steering wheel comes to life and all the various lights and buttons on it light up, it feels to all intents and purposes like you've climbed straight into a Formula One car. The fact that you can then legally take to the public road and begin driving the BAC Mono in among the Mundanos that clutter our roads is, of course, thoroughly amusing, and ever-so-slightly surreal, to be honest.

But it's also what makes the Mono driving experience so very special - because there is absolutely nothing else like it, anywhere. And maybe the most surprising thing of all about driving it is that it is not the mad little skateboard you might expect. In fact, I'd say it rides most road surfaces better than a Lotus Elise.


The fundamental compliance in the suspension is that good, the control of the car's 540kg mass is that well resolved; and the damping (which is adjustable front and rear in every which direction anyway) is that well tuned in to what the rest of the car wants to do.

And in a straight line it is cataclysmically rapid. To begin with the pure sense of acceleration doesn't actually feel that bonkers; it feels very fast, true, and the transmission appears to be able to shift up (or down) with about the same speed that it takes to think about saying the letter F. But what you don't ever get is the same terrifying, unhinged sensation of being sucked towards the horizon like you do in a high-torque, high-powered car.


Instead the Mono's high power, relatively low torque performance (it has 'just' 206lb ft) feels more balanced than that. If you want to go really fast you need to use big revs and work quite hard on the transmission. If you want to go fairly fast you use less revs and flick the upshift paddle a little earlier. And if you want merely to bumble along, it'll do that too. Only you'll get bored of doing so sooner or later, in which case faster-faster mode is but a flick of the finger away.

But the best thing about the Mono, what will send you into apoplexy if you are ever lucky enough to drive one, is the way it goes round corners. And the way it stops. And how much grip it can develop near the limit. And - biggest surprise of all - the way in which it so gradually gives up that grip if and when you push it too far.


Truth is, I'd expected the Mono to be a proper 'will it won't it' handler near the limit. Because you look at the suspension design, take in the fact that it develops 80kg of downforce over three figures and think: I bet this thing will bite me right in the you-know-what if I poke it in the wrong place.

But no, in reality what the Mono feels most like when you start to lean on it properly through corners is a great big go-kart; a car that you can, if you know what you're doing, play with all day long during the turn-in phase and get away with just about anything.

You can even use its naturally rear-biased inertia - plus the inherent sense of balance in the chassis - to unsettle the tail and back off on the way in to corners. And all that happens is that the rear tyres gradually start to slide, at which point it's up to you how handy you are feeling.


There are no sharp edges to the way the Mono behaves, in other words, no bad things in its repertoire with which to ruin your day. This car is all about how much fun you can have behind the wheel. And my word does it deliver - like no other car I've ever driven, in fact, not one that wears a set of number plates at any rate.

Factfile
Price £79,950
0-60mph 2.8sec
Top speed 170mph
Economy 35-40mpg (approx)
CO2 emissions n/a
Kerb weight 540kg

Engine layout 4cyl, 2300cc, petrol
Installation mid, longitudinal, rear wheel-drive
Power 280bhp/7700rpm
Torque 206lb ft/6000rpm
Power to weight 520bhp/tonne
Specific output 122bhp/litre
Compression ratio 13.1;1
Gearbox 6-speed manual sequential with paddles

Length 3952mm
Width 1800mm (ex mirrors)
Height 1110mm
Wheelbase 2565mm
Fuel tank 35 litres
Range 260miles
Boot 80 litres

Front suspension double wishbones, pushrod coil over adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension double wishbones, pushrod coil over adjustable dampers. anti-roll bar
Brakes 295mm ventilated discs, front and rear
Wheels 7.5jx17in (front), 8.5j x17in (rear)
Tyres 205/40 VR17 (front), 245/40 VR17 (rear), Kumho V70a

 

Author: sutters