From £180,6409

Momentously fast single-seater's competition DNA runs far deeper than its distinctive track day looks

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Superlatives get wheeled out for the latest supercars, but the rapier-like creation before you offers an experience so indisputably different to the norm it’s difficult to know where to begin.

A coffee might have been nice, but after watching the Mono roll off its transport the caffeine seems unnecessary. This car’s footprint is extremely small – it sits within that of a Fiesta ST, with the steering wheel at knee height – but everywhere you look are the sort of aggressive, intricate details that give it an inflated, combative presence. It’s a skeletonised watch with numerous complications, all designed to help either achieve or deploy a Veyron-matching power-to-weight ratio of 525bhp per tonne.

There is nothing at all prosaic about the way a BAC Mono goes down a road once your confidence and familiarity has reached a certain level

In the case of the Mono, of which Liverpool-based Briggs Automotive Company now constructs nearly 40 each year despite having started the ball rolling only in 2012, those complications are mouth-watering. First you notice the entirely exposed rear suspension, which like so much about this ‘A-to-A’ offering is pure track-car with a pushrod-activated double-wishbone design and two-way remote-reservoir dampers from Sachs ensconced within race-spec Eibach springs.

At the front the same set-up remains artfully exposed through tightly cropped apertures in the carbonfibre body panels, but then again everything affixed to this carbon-steel spaceframe is impossibly neat. The dazzling Dymag wheels are carbon, too. Or at least the 17in rim is, with an alloy billet centre-section. They save 2.5kg at each corner and were a world first, says BAC. They’re also a £12,000 extra – an ultra-lightweight forged OZ Racing piece is standard. Composite brakes, as fitted to this car, save a further 20kg, and cost another £12,000. This isn’t the last time you’ll raise a pecuniary eyebrow, but what an entrance.

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Inside the Mono's cockpit

And so you slide in, eager to discover everything, and here there is process. Many owners have the fixed-position carbon Tillett seats (it’s the pedal-box that slides) made to measure and so removing the quick-release steering wheel (also moulded to the hands), placing it atop a useful deck of all-weather ‘suede’ in front of a trivial windscreen and sinking deep into the cockpit will be a case of hand meets glove.

BAC has widened the carbon safety cell by 56mm since the early days but it’s still snug in here. Not so much as to require bodywork cutouts for the driver’s arcing knuckles, a la Adrian Newey’s Red Bull F1 cars, but cosy enough to make accessing the useful zippered side-pockets a contorting experience. You’ll be grateful to have somebody on hand to encase your strangely low, reclined torso in the tight Willans five-point harness. And I do mean tight.

By now your heart is really beating. Not only is the ambience unfamiliar but so are the details. Set within the fastidiously aligned matt-carbon panels are dials for brake bias and a five-stage traction-control system, which at its most draconian entirely locks out the limited-slip differential. We go for the mid-way setting at first. There are also buttons for a plumbed-in fire extinguisher and one to prime the fuel pump and other electrical systems.

The 290mm wheel itself is relatively straightforward and achingly pretty. Just like a Ferrari, it houses all the controls a road-car might need. Jutting into the edges of your vision are wheel arches sheltering custom-compound 205/40 Kumho tyres. You just hope they’ll be up to the job on a wet, leaf-shrewn day in Cambridgeshire.

If you’ve remembered to remove your helmet from the narrow 80-litre front boot, now’s the time to don it. Then open the AP Racing clutch, fire the engine via a starter button dead ahead, hold down the Kermit-green neutral button with your left hand and pull the right-hand paddle to engage first. With a firm but mercifully linear clutch action the featherweight Mono then eases into motion with all the drama and inertia of a leaf blown off the pavement. Loud? Very. Intimidating? Surprisingly not, but also unequivocally distinct from anything else with licence plates.

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What the Mono feels like to drive

Allowing the Mono’s 2.5-litre Ford Duratec time to warm is your chance to grasp the more prosaic elements of the driving experience. Over-the-shoulder visibility would be superb if only the harness would permit such an act. T-junctions are therefore tricky. The tiny wing-mirrors, held out on stalks, are useful at a trundle but the car’s ferocious, high-frequency vibrations, which also find their way unfiltered into your sternum, render them largely decorative as the pace quickens. Using them is like trying to sip a cup of tea whilst running.

This car’s competition DNA is also detectable in the unassisted steering’s 1.7-turns lock-to-lock, and so five-point turns are the norm. Also important is to dip the clutch when changing gear at lower engine speeds (don’t fret: flat upshifts will ensue), just to give the Hewland-sourced six-speed sequential a bit of help. It is, after all, pneumatically operated and lifted straight from a Formula 3 car, for which the body and suspension take-up points are still easily visible.

There is nothing at all prosaic about the way a BAC Mono goes down a road once your confidence and familiarity has reached a certain level. In fairness this doesn’t take long, because the precision shot-through the controls and the car’s resulting range of responses gives you the unmistakeable impression of a device that’s geared 1:1. You call, it responds.

It’s noisy, and there is wind buffeting, but even next to something as pure as a 911 GT3 RS the Mono feels astonishingly lean and alert, which seems a ridiculous comment to make but one that is undeniably true. Very quickly you appreciate the wonderfully articulate way in which the conversation between that 305bhp motor and such an exact suspension set-up plays out. As the driver you feel you play the puppeteer – a sensation amplified considerably by the airborne feeling sitting so close to the road and in full bathtub repose.

Mind you, on a day like this the Mono certainly isn’t a car in which to go blithely chasing the throttle and an 8000rpm red line. Grip levels are high but the chassis’ inherent stiffness means the front can struggle for purchase in the wet; failure to rev-match on the way into slower corners can also see the lightning-quick gearbox initiate a brutal clutch-kick that spits the rear axle sideways. So much of the car’s mass is inboard so any weight transfer is incisive, and just waiting to catch you out. Such a tight steering rack also demands considerable accuracy with throttle inputs when you’re pressing on. This is is a task made simpler and more enjoyable without the corrupting effects of turbocharging, but the point is that while the Mono is a toy, you need to respect both the machine and the conditions underwheel.

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Outright performance? Mind-blowing, at 2.7 seconds to 60mph and 170mph flat-out, though the Mono never feels quite as quick as the latest, turbocharged Atom. Granted, that’s like stating Van Halen never quite matched up to Jimmy Page. Both are blisteringly fast – enough to leave you literally gasping – but if the Ariel’s handling is also the more expressive on the road then the single-seater’s method is that much more intense. Pedals, paddles, steering: each is beautifully positioned and weighted. It means the economy of movement achievable at speed is not only absorbing but also an utter joy, and can flatter the driver with the impression – false or otherwise – that you’re really working a formula car.

On a dry circuit, away from the corrupting influence of ruts and cambers, away from the mud smears, your slack-jawed fellow motorists and the need the keep things reasonably sensible, the Mono must be sublime. It’s something we’ll look to confirm with a full road test and track telemetry next year. On this evidence, no hypercar’s lap time looks safe.

Is the Mono the best blend of road and track?

The BAC Mono costs £167,940 before options, but because the conception is so extraordinary you’ll struggle to find a less expensive alternative. A second-hand Formula Ford qualifies but you’re limited to trackdays. And though both are single-seaters, in terms of finish the striking Mono is chateaubriand to the racer’s burger-van patty.

A Caterham 620R or the Ariel give nothing away in performance but don’t mentally teleport onto a formula grid every time you climb aboard. A Ducati Panigale? That’s the thrill level we’re taking about, but this is Autocar. Best start saving.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.