You don't need to spend more than four minutes at the wheel of the new BAC Mono to establish how brain-bendingly excellent it is to drive. Or how pure the idea behind its creation seems.
Ideally, of course, you'd spend all week and possibly the rest of your life behind this extraordinary car's squared-off, digitized steering wheel – but the point is that you don't need to in order to “get” what it's all about. And what's perhaps most striking of all about the Mono is how correct the idea of its “single-seater for the road” configuration actually appears. Why, you soon wonder after climbing aboard and driving it for a while, hasn't anyone ever made a car like this before?
Who says you need friends when there's this much raw entertainment on offer from a mere machine? What's the point in having a second, third or fourth seat when, for much of the time, they simply aren't needed? And how often do you carry a passenger when going for it on an open road anyway?
The team behind the Mono, led by Neill Briggs and his brother Ian – hence the name Briggs Automotive Company – is convinced that there's a small but perfectly formed market for a single-seat road car. The fact that this year's build allocation of 16 cars is already sold out and there's a queue of people wanting to part with $123k for next year's run of 50 cars, too, would suggest that the team knows precisely what it is doing. As would the knowledge that Neill Briggs was the main consulting engineer on the original Ford Focus RS and has been involved in the development of “quite a few Stuttgart-based cars” in recent years.
Yet the Mono itself was the idea of brother Ian, a designer by trade who decided one day that he wanted to make “a road car with the same level of intuitive, direct control as a formula racing car.” Having been enchanted by the award-winning 1998 Björk video “All Is Full of Love,” Ian produced a series of sketches and, with a little extra influence from the F-22 Raptor jet fighter, the styling for the Mono began to take shape.
The result is a car that looks instantly beguiling in the raw, but also bigger and more complex than it appears in pictures. Its footprint is virtually identical to that of the Ferrari 458 Italia, although the overhangs are far shorter front and rear and the curb weight is not a lot more than a third of the Ferrari's, at just 1,190lbs.
Power comes from a 280hp, 206lb-ft version of the four-cylinder, 2.3-liter Cosworth engine that's also used by Caterham in the Seven CSR, among others. This is attached to a 6-speed Hewland gearbox that's lifted straight out of an F3 car and whose paddle shifters are hydraulically actuated. So, although there are three perfectly placed pedals down in the surprisingly roomy foot well, just as you'd find in any car with a conventional manual gearbox, changing gear merely requires a flick on one of the carbon fiber paddles – right to change up, left to change down. A big, green neutral button on the removable steering wheel completes the “F1 car for the road” impression.
Actually, that's not quite true – because the Mono's fixed carbon fiber seat and its ultra-trick pushrod suspension also play a crucial role in forming its personality. You move the entire pedal box and steering wheel toward you to alter the driving position, which sounds complicated but isn't. And the suspension system is similarly adjustable, with easy-to-reach knobs nestling within the carbon fiber body panels that allow you to set the damper characteristics to suit whatever road you might find yourself on.
And boy, does it all jell together beautifully on the move. Merely climbing into the Mono is an event in itself, but once you're ensconced, the lack of compromise in the single-seat design becomes immediately apparent. You press a centrally mounted button on the steering wheel and the digital screen comes to life – and, from that moment on, the driving experience has an impossibly strong whiff of F1 about it.
You wonder if it's actually legal to begin with, so obvious is the connection to the competition world. You also have to wear a crash helmet, seeing as there's no windshield whatsoever. Yet once you get going in it, the intimacy of the Mono's driving experience and the immediacy of its response – be that via the steering wheel, the gearshift paddles, the brakes or the accelerator – are such that you become totally immersed in the business of driving it. That makes this car unique as far as road cars are concerned.
And, amazingly, the suspension is not in the least bit skateboard-like on the road, as I'd half expected it to be. There's a real maturity to the way the Mono deals with poor surfaces. You can drive it with far more conviction along regular public roads than you might imagine. In fact, I'd say it rides better than a Lotus Elise for much of the time, which is little short of incredible when you consider how much grip there is through any given corner and how incisive the suspension feels at all times.
No Elise driver could even dream about matching the noise the Mono makes, or the way it goes and stops. To begin with, the acceleration doesn't somehow feel that nuts, considering that there's 520hp per ton and 0-60mph in 2.8sec on offer. Yet you soon realize that the scenery is disappearing at a rather ridiculous rate when you put your foot down, and that the engine seems to be on the rev limiter no more than a couple of seconds after each upshift.
But it's only when you start to lean on it through a fast corner that the genius of the Mono's chassis becomes truly apparent. The balance it displays mid-bend is absolutely epic, the steering precision near-perfect. And the way you can play with the tail end on entry provides the last and final piece of evidence about just how good – no, how incredible – this car actually is to drive.
Right now, there is nothing else out there quite like it – although something tells me that this might change when the word gets out.
• Click here for more information about the BAC Mono.