DRIVEN: BAC MONO ON THE ROAD
The ultimate track toy the BAC Mono must be rubbish on the road, right? Er, no, actually not
The 'adding lightness' bit
The Mono is definitely in the tradition of lightweight Brits. "It very much follows the old Colin Chapman philosophy of adding lightness," says Neill, "and that's how we get the performance. There's nothing there that isn't necessary."
Unlike with so many Lotuses, however, there's actually more than a smattering of practicality to the Mono. There are neat leather pockets on either side of the cabin, for instance, perfect for storing phones, wallets or keys, and even a helmet-sized lockable storage space in the nose.
"Ian and I both used to have S1 Elises, and we loved them," says Neill, "but there was nowhere to put all your stuff - it would just slide around the cabin. We didn't want the Mono to be like that."
And it's this aspect of its character that has brought us up to Cheshire to be the first hacks in the world to drive the Mono on the road.
Time for the open road
Now, you may recall Steve Sutcliffe tried out the Mono for us last year, and very much enamoured of it he was too. But he only got to sample it in the relatively sanitised environs of Chobham test track. We want to know what the Mono is like in the cut and thrust of real-life traffic, stuck behind trucks, trundling through towns, blasting down B-roads.
By all accounts the Mono ought to make a rubbish road car. Consider the ingredients. The engine is bolted directly, racing car style, to the chassis, constructed out of a steel safety cell wrapped in carbon composite in order to help keep costs down. The seat, formed straight from the tub itself, tips you backwards into a seating position perfect for weight distribution but not ideal for vision. And the Hewland sequential gearbox is straight out of the back of an F3 car.
The Briggs brothers know what they're doing, however. Their CV includes work on the Focus RS, projects with Porsche and numerous others non-disclosure agreements prevent them from telling us about. You don't need to know their past to realise their engineering talents, mind - it's obvious from your first few miles of driving the car.
Put simply, BAC has managed to pull off what ought to be an impossible trick: taking the racing car ingredients we mentioned just now and transforming them into a usable road car. Even with the trackday settings from the previous day at Silverstone the compliance over the rippling B-roads around Cholmondeley and Oulton Park is genuinely impressive.
The gearbox, too, is a magnificent thing. There's nothing BAC can do about the gearchange itself - that happens in an effing quick 35 milliseconds whatever - but BAC has tweaked the throttle mapping, and played with the GCU and ECU to ensure that, should you want it, the Mono can swap r
Tractable yet mental
Find an empty country road, however, and all that talk of tractability in town is forgotten as you wind the engine up into the 5,000-7,000rpm zone and the 285hp naturally aspirated unit really gets into its stride, allowing you to shift without the clutch and fairly flinging you down the road. It's not terrifyingly rapid, but it is darn quick.
Buying a BAC
At Oulton I meet with a couple of owners, one of whom, Rob Stanbury, is just shaking down his pair of Monos - the very first cars to be delivered. He's going to be renting them out to trackday goers. A pretty brave move given there won't be the safety net of an instructor alongside. Still, if the Mono is as approachable on track as it is on the road, he shouldn't have anything to worry about.
I see where Andy's coming from. And, aside from the purchase price, he's just successfully countered the only reason I would not buy a BAC Mono. Although I suspect my PH salary won't allow me to stretch to the £75K asking price without a fair bit of saving-up. And even then I'd have a bit of a wait, because the BAC boys are, at the moment, selling every car they can build.
Photos: Lawrence Clift
Engine: 2,300cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 285@7,700rpm
Torque (lb ft):207@6,000rpm
0-62mph: 2.8 sec
Top speed: 170mph
MPG: 35-40mpg (est)