Car group tests

BAC Mono vs Radical SR3 SL

We take two wild track stars and put them through their paces on the road

During our Performance Car of the Year shoot-out, we tested the most focused fast road cars on the track. But we wanted to try things the other way around, too – so we took two of the most outlandish track cars ever to wear a tax disc, and put them through their paces on the public highway.

Which is how we come to be in the corner of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Peterborough, Cambs, on a drizzly Monday. This is the HQ of Radical Sportscars.

The company was founded in 1997, and now rivals Porsche as the world’s biggest maker of race cars. Each year it produces 250 cars, shipped to 21 distributors across the globe.

After a quick factory tour, we’re introduced to the outlandish SR3 SL – and just like Radical’s four track-only models, it looks every inch a bona fide Le Mans racer.

Suddenly, it dawns on us that we’ve got to drive this wild, uncompromising car on the road. There’s a mixture of excitement, trepidation and an urge to giggle, as the Radical lives up to its name on the public highway.

Around 150 miles away in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, our second car is waiting – and it’s equally eccentric. The BAC Mono is a road car with the feel of a single-seat racer, created by ambitious start-up Briggs Automotive. But before we see it, there’s the small matter of driving the Radical to Cheshire.

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So with no time to waste, we struggle into our waterproofs, slip on our crash helmet (always an odd sensation in a road car) and hit the A1, heading north. Sitting in the SR3, the view over the wheelarches is pure racer, and you can feel the double wishbone suspension moving and reacting to the tarmac.

The 300bhp 2.0-litre Ford EcoBoost engine is mounted right behind you, its turbo whistling and blowing like an angry dragon. You have to feed the power in gently – neither car has traction control or ABS – and watch for the gearchange lights to flicker across the digital race dash. Once you’re cruising at 70mph, the engine sits at a buzzy 3,000rpm, while the small aero screen does its best to minimise the buffeting to your head.

The one entertaining thing about driving a Radical on fast A-roads and motorways is the reaction of other road users, as occupants of passing cars can’t help but stare in astonishment.

After a short burst on the A1, we switch to flowing A-roads, which occasionally offer the space to explore full throttle and enjoy the brutally fast upchanges of the pneumatically activated six-speed sequential box. Into roundabouts, meanwhile, a flick of the left paddle gives you an angry blip of the throttle as you go down through the gears.

Once away from a standstill, there’s no need to use the clutch, but when trundling through towns we find a tiny dip of the pedal smooths out low-speed changes.

The novelty of driving the Radical hasn’t worn off by the time we reach Cheshire and the BAC. As design director Ian Briggs shows us round the Mono, a huge black cloud hangs over us – but we don’t care about the prospect of getting soaked as this car is simply stunning.

You’d buy the beautiful BAC just to look at it. The classic ‘Coke bottle’ shape is pure racing car, while the razor-sharp angles are a nod to the F-22 Raptor fighter jet that inspired the designers.

There’s beauty in the detail, too. The exposed pushrod suspension, the intricate shapes of the floor and the slender rear wing all look amazing.

Slide into the impeccably trimmed cockpit, and the laid-back driving position is pure single-seater. In true Formula One style, all the controls are on the steering wheel.

BAC says each car will be tailored to its owner’s size by adjusting the pedal box and steering column, but in this first prototype we’re short on elbow room. There’s no time to worry about that, though – the Welsh mountain roads are waiting.

If driving the Radical on the road felt alien, being in the BAC is positively surreal. You sit tightly encased in the chassis, with your hands clamped at the centre of the unobstructed view – it’s like being behind an F1 car’s on-board camera.

The spaceframe metal chassis is cloaked in carbon bodywork, while sitting behind the driver is a 2.3-litre Cosworth engine mated to a six-speed Hewland gearbox.

On the move, the Mono’s structure feels incredibly stiff, causing engine vibrations to fizz through your body. Yet as we hit the challenging North Wales roads, we realise there’s a surprising amount of travel in the suspension. This allows it to cope with undulating tarmac and ignore road camber much better than the lively Radical.

Like the SR3, the Mono’s paddleshift-controlled box slots each gear in rapidly, and we feel we’re not even scratching the surface of the car’s potential within the restrictions of a public road. So after some photography, a fuel stop and a drive-thru McDonald’s for lunch (which draws a big crowd), we turn on to the A5 and head for Anglesey.

With the sun setting, the SR3’s headlights reflect down the slender rear end of the Mono as its exhaust gives a lick of flame on the overrun. The Radical is a bit more comfortable than the BAC, as it’s got a heater and more space, but it’s still a relief to finally arrive at the hotel.

Day two dawns with rain and high winds, so any chance of this pair shattering the lap record set by last year’s Performance Car of the Year champ – the Ferrari 458 – vanishes before we’ve started. However, our duo were designed with race tracks in mind, so it’d be rude not to go for a spin.

Greasy conditions mean both need to be driven delicately and accurately, but they’re still loads of fun. The BAC’s central driving position and razor-sharp responses allow you to live out your Sebastian Vettel fantasies, while the SR3 gives you an insight into what it must be like to blast flat-out down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Yet both cars demand respect in the wet – the Radical’s explosive power delivery means we get wheelspin in fourth gear.

The lighter Mono has better low-speed mechanical grip, and laps a second faster than the Radical, although we’d want to try both on a dry track to be sure which was faster.

What really matters, though, is that both these cars show off British engineering ingenuity at its best. Driving them on the road isn’t for the faint-hearted, but they turn every journey into an experience. And while each one carries an eye-watering price and demands huge compromises, away from the circuit they deliver the sort of thrills that no other road-legal car can match.

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