I wasn’t a fan of Bananarama back in the day, but they hit the nail bang on the head when they sang (with no harmony whatsoever, as I recall) ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’. Cast your mind back to when you had a Mini. Oh, come on, you must have had a Mini, surely. I don’t mean BMW’s gargantuan misnomer that is the size of the original Range Rover, I’m talking about the real deal, the Austin Mini. It didn’t matter much whether you had the 850cc, the 1000cc or, like me, the boy- racer 1275cc engine, they all took until your next birthday to reach 60 mph, and if you ever managed 100 in one you’d either driven off a cliff or you were a liar. But these little pocket-rockets made you feel alive, and when you put your foot down there was nothing (and still isn’t) that generated more smiles per hour. An AMG Mercedes estate, on the other hand, reaches 150mph in less time than it took to wind down the window in a Mini but, truth is, you’ll have droopy lids by the time you hit the ton.
Modern supercars are undeniably rocket ship-quick, but the plethora of electronics that keep all that power in check has homogenised them, blunting the experience and reducing it to a video arcade-thrill that stimulates the brain, but rarely the soul. Caterham, Lotus, Ariel and others have successfully tapped the market for a purer, more wholesome driving experience, but I was recently invited to test a car that rewrites that particular rule book.
When Neill and Ian Briggs started the Briggs Automotive Company in 2009, they set out to create a driving experience like no other. The Mono, their first and to date only offering, concerns itself simply with the business of driving, and does away with anything surplus to that requirement; i.e. a boot, a roof, windows and doors for example. Oh, yes, and a passenger. The Mono, you see, is a road-legal single-seater, and is as close as you can get to the ludicrously improbable dream of driving a Formula One car to the pub. All for just £125,000 + VAT (say it quickly and cough at the ‘plus VAT’ bit and it seems less).
It is built around a steel spaceframe chassis exquisitely clothed in carbon fibre. A Duratec 2.5 litre 305 bhp power unit sits amidships for near-perfect balance, with a 6-speed sequential Hewland racing gearbox bolted to the back. The performance figures – 0-60 in 2.8 secs and 0-100 in 6.7, while nothing short of spectacular, are just the tip of the iceberg with the Mono. It’s the way it makes you feel when you drive it that leaves the most lasting impression.
The test was due to take place at the race circuit on Anglesey, and the torrential rain that fell relentlessly on the marathon journey there didn’t bode well. Come back traction control, all is forgiven, I began to whisper as torrents of water washed across the Welsh roads. But by the time we arrived the clouds had parted, the sun was shining and this deliciously challenging seaside track was all but dry.
We were introduced to the car in a pit garage by the racing driver responsible for honing its handling characteristics. But as he talked us through the intricacies of the F1-style steering wheel, he might as well have been reading the shipping forecast, for instead of paying attention, my brain was gorging itself on this ultimate man-toy with its distinctive stealth angles, exposed suspension and McLaren-esque levels of build quality. It was a bit like a mate introducing his busty, bikini–clad girlfriend – not a lot of the chat went in.
Which is a shame, because when I shoehorned my 6ft, 13st frame into the Alcantara-clad cockpit ahead of my first stint I wished it had. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, because while the Mono is cutting-edge in all the important areas of engine, gearbox and chassis, it is fantastically old-school in the way the driver applies that technology on the road. Or in this case, the track. That the car feels as quick as a bullet is a given, but what is so exhilarating about the driving experience is the way it handles. Weighing in at just 580 kilos, its capabilities far exceed those of the average enthusiast and so it’s raw and it’s thrilling but you’d have to be a leaden-footed nutter for it to bite you.
A significant slice of a car’s out and out performance can be judged by its power to weight ratio. I have raced a Caterham R300 which, as its name suggests, delivers 300 bhp per tonne. And that is a properly quick car. The Mono has around double that. You get the picture. But at the end of the day it’s not about the numbers, impressive though they are. The Mono makes you feel (and look) like a racing driver, and for that I absolutely love it.