Would-be racers the world over have had a dream for as long as there were dreams to have: A real, legitimate Formula One car for the street. Many have tried and failed (often in flames) to bring the Formula experience to public highways. Those that haven’t caught fire broke down. Those that didn’t break down crashed from lack of downforce, and those that didn’t crash never got driven because they rode like a pile of rocks in an avalanche. It seems, though, Britain’s BAC has finally cracked the code on bringing us true open-wheel fun for the street, without the nightmares of endeavors gone by.

In this video, Jay Leno test drives one of the first BAC Monos to reach our shores. Britain has enjoyed the Mono since 2011, and almost immediately The Stig chose it as his personal Car of the Year. Some say it’s because the Mono’s face reminds him of his mother’s. Others say it’s because it’s the second fastest street car ever to lap the track, behind Pagani’s Huayra. All we know is, it’s one Hell of an automobile — even if this "Formula One Car for the Street" is a lie, but an utterly brilliant, perfect one.

Continue reading about this beast.

BAC Mono

The video opens as Jay explains what makes the Mono different from most other supercars: the lack of a second seat. That seems like a rather relevant omission for a $200,000 automobile, but perhaps it would have been $400,000 doubling the number of seats. Still, the idea isn’t unprecedented, as Jay mentions the original Gordon Murray Rocket. Like the Mono, it was a single-seater, with all the racing style and drawbacks you’d expect. Prime among drawbacks is that, unlike two-seat track cars like the Lotus Exige, you can’t scare your friends to death driving them around the track.

So, what’s the rationale? Why make it a single-seater? Weight? Balance? Race personality? Sort of. American BAC distributor, President of Sector 111 Imports Shinoo Mapleton sheds a little more light on BAc’s thinking.

"[BAC] really wanted to focus on a single-seater. Obviously, the two-seat space is, ah, pretty crowded with great cars. And there’s very, very few single-seat cars."

In other words, "It’s a lot easier to compete against Ariel and Caterham than Ferrari."

Further on in the video, we get into the Mono’s specs, starting with the 280 horsepower Cosworth pulled from the Mono’s 2.3-liter Ford Duratec engine. That should be some source of pride for us Americans...and it probably {}would be, if not for the fact that the Duratec was actually designed by Mazda and produced in Mexico. In this application, the Japanese-Mexican engine mates to a Hewland six-speed semi-auto sequential with pneumatic shifting and howling straight-cut gears.

Obviously, 280 horsepower isn’t a massive amount, but it’s plenty to push a car that weighs under 1,500 pounds to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. Which, if you’re keeping track, is only a few tenths off of an actual F1 car’s pace.

That’s especially impressive considering a little off-the-cuff exchange between Jay and Shinoo at about the 4:20 mark. Discussing the car’s fuel tank size and range, Shinoo says "just under ten gallons," and "about 200 miles." So, this blazing little track car with acceleration to match anything on the planet can do so while delivering about 20 mpg. Try pulling that one off, Ferrari.

Discussing the car’s styling and architecture, Shinoo mentions the seating position — a recumbent posture that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s ever fallen asleep in a recliner. That pays exactly the dividends you’d expect on the road too, as even Jay’s aged posterior finds the Mono’s cockpit perfectly suitable for long-distance cruising.

That in itself is something of a triumph. While one or two manufacturers have managed to deliver an F1 experience in a road car before, the penalty with all others (aside from bursting into flame or crashing) has been a driving experience you wouldn’t wish on a hated dog. In this case, though, even Jay seems surprised by the Mono’s on-road comfort. He says he could easily see driving the car on a road trip, provided you ship your toothpaste in advance. That’s an incredible testament to the Mono’s engineering philosophy...and it also gives a hint as to the dirty little secret of the Mono’s success.

It isn’t the "Formula One Car for the Road" that BAC says it is.

There’s a reason nobody’s ever managed this trick before — building an open-wheel Formula car that didn’t explode, crash or beat the driver to death. F1 cars crash at low speed because they need downforce to handle; this car doesn’t. They need ultra-stiff suspensions to provide the absolute highest levels of grip. This car doesn’t. They have highly strung, living-on-a-knife-edge engines, which require all of the life support and intensive care that most people do after driving those exact cars for more than three minutes. The BAC Mono doesn’t. Because it’s not an Formula One car for the road.

It’s a Formula 3 Car for the road.

Look at the size and overall proportions. Note the driver’s position, and the size of the tires. Note most of all that the 2.3-liter Cosworth Duratec is very similar in spec and displacement to the engines used in the Formula Ford F3 series. The Mono is, in these ways and many more, a Formula 3 car. A "beginner’s series" spec racer, meant not for winning world championships, but for providing neophyte drivers all the fun and experience of the big leagues, without all the death, danger and expense. In that respect, F3 is a brilliant match for exactly the kind of car weekend racers really need, if not the one they’ve convinced themselves they can handle.

So, nevermind any of BAC’s talk about having designed an F1 car for the road. They’ve done something much, much smarter than that.

They’ve simply built a car that they know people can use.

And it works.
Thanks to those ever-pragmatic Brits at BAC, we in America finally have a real, practical, useable Formula racer for the street.

2011 BAC Mono Track Car Exterior
- image 395952
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