Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - WORDS BEN OLIVER PHO­TOS BARRY HAY­DEN

Ben Oliver has no friends and a beard full of horse­flies

THERE’S a dif­fer­ence be­tween driv­ing without speed lim­its on a race­track and on a pub­lic road. On a track you’re still po­liced by mar­shals with a some­times over-en­thu­si­as­tic at­ti­tude to your health and safety. You can mostly drive as fast as you’re able, but in tightly con­trolled con­di­tions and only in cir­cles.

A derestricted road is dif­fer­ent. Your ve­loc­ity is the prod­uct of a con­stantly shift­ing bal­ance be­tween the abil­ity of your car, the con­di­tion of the road, your con­fi­dence and your duty of care to oth­ers. The sense of pure, un­po­liced per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity is as thrilling as the speed. You can ex­plore the edges of your car’s abil­ity rather than be­ing con­fined deep within it. And when you find the edge you can stay there, if the road is long enough.

Other than the au­to­bahn, I drove like this on the NT’S Stu­art High­way back when it was still derestricted, fly­ing halfway around the world from my home in the UK for the priv­i­lege. But I’d never been to the se­cond most-fa­mous venue for limit-free driv­ing, de­spite the fact that it’s con­sid­er­ably closer. So when BAC rang and asked if I’d like to drive the Mono on the Isle of Man, I gave them an in­sta-yes.

The op­por­tu­nity to drive a Mono is even rarer than the chance to drive on derestricted roads. Brothers Neill and Ian Briggs have built more than 90 cars since 2012 at a fac­tory near Liver­pool, but BAC is not yet rich enough to run a fleet of its own cars. There’s one de­vel­op­ment hack with the old en­gine and chas­sis, and one owned by a client who lends it back to the brothers for test drives and events. This would be my trans­port when I joined an event on the is­land with a group of pay­ing Mono own­ers.

The Isle of Man is one of the few places un­con­quered by the flat white. It isn’t part of the UK but it rev­els in its preser­va­tion of a Bri­tain which has faded away al­most ev­ery­where in ac­tual Bri­tain. Its coun­try roads have stayed derestricted not be­cause of a na­tional de­vo­tion to hooning, but just be­cause they’ve al­ways been that way, and be­cause without the free-spend­ing driv­ers and bik­ers who come here for the TT races and the open-limit roads, the is­land’s tourist trade would dwin­dle even faster.

We’re met at the ho­tel by In­spec­tor Mark Newey, the is­land’s chief traf­fic cop, who has come to give us a ‘friendly brief­ing’ be­fore the driv­ing starts. It’s odd to hear a cop tell you that you can drive as fast as you like on his roads, but Mark is still here to tell us to obey the law: there are just slightly fewer laws. Ex­ces­sive speed where there are lim­its, or dan­ger­ous driv­ing any­where will still get us prison time and a five-year ban from the is­land.

The cars are parked out­side the ho­tel and are draw­ing a crowd. You’ll sel­dom see seven to­gether. In­di­vid­u­ally, they are sur­pris­ingly beau­ti­ful for such a func­tional ob­ject. The body­work is pulled taut be­tween the hard points of the chas­sis like a desert no­mad’s tent – there’s enough skin to pro­vide the nec­es­sary cover, and no more. In plan view the Mono looks like a teardrop, or a tad­pole; the broad front body­work ta­per­ing sharply to al­low you to step into the sin­gle seat in the mid­dle, then nar­row­ing to a point over


the en­gine. It has no sides to speak of – the air rushes straight through the front wings to a pair of ra­di­a­tors an­gled be­hind the driver’s back, and be­hind them there’s just the en­gine and the gear­box.

That dra­matic plan view means your per­cep­tion of the car changes with an­gle. Head-on, it looks wide and men­ac­ing, but as you move around to the front three­quar­ters the front wheel hides what lit­tle body­work there is, so the rear looks lighter than air; just a car­bon wing and the squig­gle of thin black pushrods and drive shafts con­nect­ing the rear wheels to the gear­box. And don’t con­fuse the Mono’s race-car min­i­mal­ism with any lack of thought – there are end­less clever de­tails, like the art­ful in­te­gra­tion of the rear lights into the wing, or the lit­tle suede plat­form for your hel­met ahead of the cock­pit. The hy­brid car­bon-com­pos­ite wheels and the use of graphene in the rear wheel arches are both world firsts. When it rains you can al­ways just look at it.

You step onto the weath­er­proof leather and suede seat and slide your legs down to the gor­geous alu­minium pedal box, hav­ing first re­mem­bered to take the wheel and your hel­met, if you’re wear­ing one, from the lit­tle locker in the nose. Cabin stor­age is a pair of tiny zip­pered pock­ets just ahead of your shoul­ders. There are no cuphold­ers. By your left knee there’s the iso­la­tor and a dial to ad­just the trac­tion con­trol, and by your right the ex­tin­guisher and the brake bias knob. But the F1-alike wheel car­ries most of the con­trols, in­clud­ing some that Lewis’s doesn’t have, like a park brake, in­di­ca­tors and horn.

If you think that we’ve be­come too re­moved from the oily bits of our cars, too ob­sessed with user-in­ter­faces and semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing, the Mono is the an­ti­dote. You feel, hear and smell ev­ery­thing. The four-pot nat­u­rally as­pi­rated Ford-block en­gine is now from Moun­tune rather than Cos­worth, dis­plac­ing 2.5 litres rather than 2.3 and with power up 19kw to 227kw. It wakes with an an­gry, dieselly clat­ter and be­cause it’s a stressed mem­ber bolted di­rectly to the Mono’s car­bon­pan­elled steel space­frame its vi­bra­tions buzz your back and bum, and pen­e­trate deep into your tho­rax when it’s work­ing harder. Same for the gear­box. You can hear the weird sucky noises of the six-speed Hew­land’s hy­draulic ac­tu­a­tors, and first gear goes in with suf­fi­cient force to jolt this 580kg car like it’s been rear-ended at 5km/h.

There are three ped­als down there but the clutch is only re­quired when pulling away – which you can do without the throt­tle – and to shift be­low 3000rpm, the slight­est dip of the left pedal eas­ing the gear in. It’s sur­pris­ingly easy to trickle the Mono around town – the Briggs brothers bill this as a road car and not a track-day spe­cial, con­fi­dent that it has the com­pli­ance to cope with pub­lic roads and know­ing that its per­for­mance will feel more ex­treme in the real world.

I was more wor­ried that even the derestricted roads of the Isle of Man might not cope with the Mono. I’d ex­pected them to be like a pub­lic day at the Nord­schleife, with ev­ery cor­ner pro­vid­ing a near-miss be­tween a coach or a diesel hatch­back and a red-mist lu­natic on a su­per­bike. But in fact they’re like most Bri­tish coun­try roads, your speed kept in check by Manx driv­ers for whom the nov­elty of open lim­its wore off long ago and now drive at 65km/h ev­ery­where. The roads are great, though; fast, scenic, open and of­ten as smooth as the race-tracks some of them be­come for a few days each year. I was there just be­fore the TT, the glo­ri­ous, per­ilous


in­san­ity of that race made ap­par­ent by the to­ken crash pads which were be­ing at­tached to trees and lamp-posts as I passed. They wouldn’t break your fall in the school high jump, let alone in a 300km/h crash.

This place can have sun­shine on one coast and the black­est storm on the other, and I mainly seemed to find the lat­ter. But I could still start to push on in the Mono, freed of the need to scan for cops or cam­eras. Like any other rac­ing car it only starts to co­here with speed and load, the gearchange be­ing the most no­tice­able ex­am­ple. Be­tween 3000 and 5000rpm you don’t need the clutch but each change still smacks you in the back of the head like a school bully. Above that it’s just slick and in­stant, your head giv­ing the cur­test nod, as if in agree­ment.

Rac­ing en­gines are as func­tional as a Honda gen­er­a­tor, their func­tion be­ing to make you go fast. Sound­ing good is an ac­ci­den­tal by-prod­uct and not guar­an­teed. This one hasn’t been for the ex­pen­sive voice-coach­ing an As­ton or Fer­rari en­gine gets. Its hard, me­chan­i­cal blare is ex­cit­ing, but mainly be­cause it’s so freak­ing loud, and be­cause the vi­bra­tions make you feel like it’s try­ing to eat its way into the cock­pit.

At a mid­dling pace you no­tice how com­pli­ant the ad­justable Sachs pushrod sus­pen­sion is – the ride doesn’t tire you, and you don’t worry about bro­ken sur­faces break­ing your trac­tion or mak­ing the front end skip. As you go faster you fo­cus on the vice-like me­chan­i­cal grip. The Mono is un­like any­thing else I’ve driven on the road. It arcs through cor­ners like that com­pass from your high-school days; you dial in the ra­dius and it draws it without de­vi­a­tion. It felt as if only my shoul­ders fail­ing would cause it to un­der­steer.

But I was still driv­ing mostly as I would in the UK, at the speed limit plus the tol­er­ance of a rea­son­able cop­per, my pace lim­ited on these high moun­tain roads by the thick bands of cloud that wreathe them and oc­ca­sion­ally race across them. But then, in the qui­eter south of the is­land, the clouds fi­nally lifted. I could see clearly out be­tween two tors to the mot­tled navy-opal blue of the Ir­ish Sea. The sun fell over the green-gold moors and the road – known as the Sloc – that runs across them. A se­ries of short, slightly down­hill straights are sep­a­rated by kinks and fol­lowed by a cor­ner lead­ing into se­ries of sweep­ing bends cut into the hill­side. It was empty and dry so for the first time I got all the way into the Mono’s throt­tle, hit­ting the lim­iter in se­cond and third along the straights. The noise and vi­bra­tion and blast of the air made it feel insanely fast, and I’m sure it was – I didn’t look down at the speedo. But I backed off in fourth way be­fore the cor­ner be­cause the pace was get­ting wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the road. Through the bends the Mono main­tains its death-grip on the road and lets you know it will go through here faster than al­most any­thing else with num­ber plates, yet so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity meant I was con­stantly feath­er­ing the throt­tle.

At the end of the day I parked up, switched the en­gine off and let the heat soak warm my back. I was the sort of tired my five-year-old gets when he’s been mas­sively over-stim­u­lated all day, like on his birth­day or at a theme park, wide-eyed and spent at the same time. I won­dered if I still wanted a Mono as much as I thought I did be­fore I drove it. De­spite the lack of lim­its, I’d got that same sen­sa­tion of forced re­straint and mild frus­tra­tion at not get­ting any­where near the edges of the bonkers, time-bend­ing, physics-de­fy­ing abil­i­ties of this car. The Briggs brothers are right – theirs is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily ca­pa­ble road car. But it’s al­ways more sat­is­fy­ing to ex­tend a car than re­strain it, and you’ll only ever re­ally ex­tend a Mono on a track.

And for all its clever en­gi­neer­ing the Mono is pri­mar­ily a func­tional ob­ject; a de­vice for go­ing fast. It has the price of a su­per­car, but not the fi­nesse. Mono own­ers won’t care, though. They al­ready have su­per­cars. This one is for days when the Fer­rari feels a bit too quiet, too soft in the front, too tame, too dull. And if it doesn’t feel that way now, it will af­ter the Mono.


DODG­ING WEATHER AND SLOWMOVING LO­CALS, A LAST-GASP RUN TO THE COAST DE­LIV­ERED THE BAC’S UL­TI­MATE THRILLS Model BAC Mono En­gine 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Max power 227kw @ 7700rpm Max torque 308Nm @ 6000rpm Trans­mis­sion 6-speed se­quen­tial L/W/H/WB 3952/1836/1110/2565mm Weight 580kg (dry) 0-100km/h 2.8sec (es­ti­mated) Econ­omy 6.7L/100km (EU) Price From £165,125 (A$310,000)

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