The most devout performance purists (you know who you are) are never satisfied. They moan about cars being too heavy. They whine about transmissions being too slow. They complain that modern sports cars are tainted by compromises every automaker invariably succumbs to—from electric power steering setups that sap feedback or turbochargers that rob engines of character, this rabid cult leaves no inch unscrutinized. This not-so-silent minority consider themselves passionate supporters of a cause, but their nirvana of tightly tuned, featherweight sports cars generally seems best suited to an alternate reality where Federal safety regulations and market demands do not exist.
Well, purists, this is your lucky day. There exists a car (sort of) that’s tailor made for those who believe windows, roofs, air conditioning, sound systems, and a passenger seat are superfluous. It’s called the BAC Mono, and this single-seat formula racer for the road is nothing short of bonkers. The Mono is assembled in Britain and imported in pieces, only to be reassembled in Temecula, California, by a lively chap named Shinoo Mapleton. It’s powered by a 2.3-liter Ford Duratec engine massaged by Cosworth, which is trucked in from the L.A. suburb of Torrance. Only 21 of these $200,000 sleds exist in the world thus far; Mapleton is the sole BAC importer for the United States, and is in the process of building another 5.
Mapleton is one of those aforementioned devotees whose business happens to zero in on zippy four-wheeled haiku like the Ariel Atom and Lotus Elise. Get him started, and he’ll gush about how he managed to shed even more mass from this already anorexic 1,980-pound two-seater that already weighs half as much as the average car—in other words, he’s the man.
Because getting a car street legal in the States involves wicked expensive crash tests and vexing details like airbags and crumple zones, the Mono squeaks by as a low-volume specialty vehicle.
In the flesh, the Mono is a looker, with a knee-high stance and tantalizing cutaways that reveal lurid peeks at mechanical components like pushrod suspension coilovers and carbon fiber engine cam covers. Almost every button and control needed to operate the car can be found on the squarish steering wheel, and are arrayed like candies around a bright LED screen. Despite its sparse industrial design, the narrow cockpit is lined with Alcantara that wraps around the top of the open-air cabin—a velvety touch in an otherwise hard, carbon fiber cage.
Climbing into the cockpit is almost impossible to do without an awkward bend and twist, despite the fact that the steering wheel is removable to help accomplish the contortionist task. Once ensconced, your legs project forward into a dark cavern that houses three pedals. The feeling inside the cockpit is cocoon-like and a bit eerie, especially if you’re not an avid kayaker. The startup ritual fuels the boy-racer fantasy: Click into the five-point racing harness, reattach the steering wheel, engage the master kill switch, activate the steering wheel by pressing the start button once, and then hold it down again to fire up the engine. Once it comes alive, the 280-horsepower Cosworth screams like a banshee mere inches from the base of your skull, and only gets more raucous when you tip the tiny aluminum accelerator pedal.
The immediacy of the living, combusting beast behind your head plays a central role in the experience of driving the Mono. You see, while regular vehicles use pliable engine mounts to dampen vibrations, the Mono’s naturally aspirated powerplant and transmission are bolted directly to the tubular steel frame. The effect is not dissimilar to pressing your head against a blender and pushing the liquefy button, which has a way of flogging your inner ear just so at certain frequencies. I picked a terrible day to forget earplugs.
With a curb weight of around 1,500 pounds—a thousand pounds less than a Mazda Miata—the Mono requires little coaxing to launch, turn, or stop. As such there’s no power steering, traction control, anti-lock brakes, or stability control. There is, however, oodles of mechanical grip, which goes a long way toward keeping the Mono planted when dancing through Temecula’s undulating backroads. However, there is no subtle way to drive this thing: any time you’re shifting gears under 4,000 rpm, you’ll need to use the clutch lever next to the brake pedal. Above that, and the small paddle shifters at either side of the steering wheel trigger the pneumatically actuated Hewland FTR sequential transmission, resulting in near instantaneous POP-POP-POP gearshifts.
The engine’s power delivery isn’t exactly explosive—this four-cylinder’s buildup is linear and crescendos in a scream—but the al fresco buggy is still capable of punching 60 mph in a scant 2.8 seconds and reaching 170 mph, according to BAC. Does it feel that fast by the seat of your pants? Despite the engine’s even-keeled but insistent manner, the Mono is overwhelming because of its onslaught of sensory input. Like riding a motorcycle, the airflow builds up quickly with speed, requiring a helmet if you wish to push it hard for any meaningful amount of time.
When the road bends, there’s virtually no lag between the time your brain sends the impulse to your arms to turn the wheel, and the resulting lateral motion; the Mono moves as though the steering rack is directly connected to your frontal lobe. Attacking a winding road becomes an addictive game of left-right-right-right-left turns, flicking side-to-side with little perceptible body roll or heave. This is driving at its finest, all muscle and no fat, a focused exercise in momentum and precision that you can’t get from mega horsepower cars that spin tires at the drop of a hat. It takes strategy and precision to start exploiting the Mono’s capabilities, and its performance envelope is so broad that there’s only so far you can go on public roads before you’re forced to dial it back.
There are those who believe Ferraris, McLarens, and Porsches lack that certain something that keeps them from attaining automotive purity. If wind protection, passengers, and hearing seem like indulgences, boy, have I got a ride for you.
Base Price/Price as Tested: $200,000
Engine: 2.3-liter 4-cylinder
Curb Weight: 1,500 lbs (approx)
Horsepower: 280 hp
Torque: 207 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 2.8 seconds
Top Speed: 170 mph