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Why the BAC Mono is the best weekend warrior

Best Cars of 2016: an open-top track weapon... in freezing cold and pouring rain

  • It’s 7:30am on the Isle of Man. It’s so cold, the snot in my nose has frozen solid, I’ve lost all feeling in my toes and icy rain water is leaking into my trousers. My mood should be lifted by the sight of the BAC Mono in front of me, but instead it fills me with dread. I’m about to set off in what amounts to a racing car with zero electronic aids on roads that are so wet they may as well be lined with banana skins.

    Photos: Rowan Horncastle

    This feature was originally published in issue 290 of Top Gear magazine

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  • I’m here because I want to feel what it’s like to ride the TT course, to cling precariously to a superbike nudging 200mph through villages as onlookers cheer me on. I haven’t taken my full bike test, so the Mono, in my eyes a superbike on four wheels, is the next best thing. Experiencing that rush isn’t exactly easy. It’s not, I discover, a car one simply hops into and drives. You need to spend a good three or four minutes viewing it from every angle first, soaking up the outrageous design. The latticework of rear suspension components converges on a central exhaust that looks like an afterburner. The front wheelarches flare so dramatically I imagine even Aston Martin’s design team might be a little jealous. 

  • It’s utterly beautiful. If Batman only had a CBT, he’d drive one of these. Getting in is, being frank, slightly tedious. There are no doors here, just a tiny opening you clamber into. I’m forced to remove the steering wheel, like an actual F1 driver, before pouring myself clumsily onto the rock-solid carbon-fibre seat. The driving position is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You don’t sit in a Mono, you lie in it, looking down your own nose at a steering wheel littered with buttons and switches. The Mono fires up with spite and idles at a volume that makes conversation impossible. Passers-by mouth words in my direction, but I can’t hear a thing. At first I shrug or point my fingers towards my ears whenever anyone attempts to speak to me. Eventually, I decide there’s no point trying, and tune out the world. 

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  • This latest version packs yet more power than the last. BAC has ditched the 2.3-litre Cosworth-tuned four-cylinder engine in favour of a Mountune-fettled 2.5-litre Ford Duratorq engine. Power has jumped from 280bhp to 305bhp, which gives the 580kg Mono a power-to-weight ratio comparable to a McLaren P1. 

    The numbers are impressive: 0–62mph in 2.8secs and 170mph flat out. Ordinarily, I’d be smiling at the prospect of unleashing every single additional horsepower, but in this weather those aren’t numbers to be impressed by, they’re to be feared. 

  • There’s a sense of looming inevitability as I reach the Isle of Man’s derestricted roads. I feed in some power, and that new engine sends powerful vibrations through my entire body. I feel like I’ve sat on a washing machine on spin cycle – a washing machine on spin cycle that’s hurtling through the air at breakneck speed. Accelerate hard, and there’s a certain inevitability about the rear wheels lighting up. I find myself short-shifting into second, third and even fourth, and each new damp patch excites the rear to the point it feels as if it wants to snap around completely. I spend several minutes of the drive trying to figure out whether yet more rain water has seeped into my trousers, or if I’ve had a slightly different accident. 

  • Once I’m confident enough in the grip levels, I press on. Above 70mph, falling raindrops feel like razor-sharp tacks piercing my face. The body of a flying insect explodes so violently against my cheek I think for a moment someone’s thrown a rock at me. 

  • I sneak a few slightly frantic glances at the speedo, but it’s pointless – I can hardly see. Above 70mph, the wind has started streaking behind my sunglasses, and the Mono vibrates so violently that the numbers on the steering wheel are now blurred. Double digits become triple digits and I subconsciously begin straining at the harness, eyes on stalks, wondering why nobody’s invented wiper blades for sunglasses.

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  • On a warm racetrack, this might be the stuff of dreams, but here it’s a challenge. Lying on my back, hurtling feet first towards the horizon in a 170mph rocket feels like the most alien thing in the world. 

  • Eventually, I make out what looks like a corner and attempt to brake as smoothly as I can. There’s no ABS in the Mono, so locking up would be bad. I scrub off what ultimately appears to be not quite enough speed and hope the semi slick tyres have enough semi in them to cope with the water on the road surface. They do. The Mono hangs on.

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  • Through lower-speed corners, it reveals itself to be surprisingly neutral. Yes, it’s all too happy to light up its rear rubber, but this is a very forgiving car. The Mono pushes progressively into understeer and gives me all the time in the world to dial in some throttle and transition, should I so desire, to oversteer. It’ll hold that attitude for absolutely ages, too. There’s an unexpected balance to this thing that makes it incredibly forgiving to drive – even in the wet.

  • Soon, I’m able to exploit more of the power. I’m a rocketship on the straights, fast through corners and (most importantly) confident it won’t spit me off a cliff. Yes, I’m nowhere near the car’s maximum performance: bad weather and the fact this is a public road mean I’m only enjoying a fraction of its ultimate pace. But it’s allowed me to experience a little of what it’s like to drive the TT.

  • Honestly, my preference is to share the excitement of a good drive with a like-minded friend, but there’s something to be said for tuning out the rest of the world and tackling a good road with a great car, for indulging in the purity of the experience and capability of this car’s single-minded approach to speed. For that reason, the BAC Mono is the Best For Selfish Sundays.

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