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Making the BAC Mono: An interview with the Briggs brothers: XCAR

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XCAR: Making the BAC Mono: An interview with the Briggs brothers

30:11 /

We sat down with the Briggs brothers at BAC to hear the story behind the Mono.

-My honest to God first memory of anything is being on my father's shoulders, watching the RAC Rally, and his head was about that big. Neill wasn't born, so I was less than three, about two and a half. I spent the whole day. I didn't even have shoes on my feet, [unk] this jacket, yeah, the hood of his coat up around me. I remember his ginger hair in front of me, , eating sandwiches, and I can genuinely remember that 'cause when we ran, we needed to walk along the stage and then you have to get to the side before the next car comes. When the whistles are blowing, we would get back down and run for the next place. And so, I can remember being kind of juggled around. I can remember we left-- we left bread and coffee for teddy talk 'cause that was-- that was the only reason I'd go because it was either a [unk] that book and then mom told me that this is where this [unk]. So, I went with him. So, I can genuinely remember that was the very first, must have been 1970. -The first car I can remember was a Mark 1 Cortina, being in the back of that. And I-- -I remember that. It was green. -Yeah. That's the first thing that I remember, but [unk] not particularly vividly. The vivid memory was in the next car which was a Mark 1 Escort green, vinyl roof. And it was actually sat in the boots within. When my dad was driving it around the local tip going sideways and I used to open the boot so we could see-- we could see all the smoke and all the-- all the gravel spitting out the back and obviously clinging on for their lives. So-- -And we got locked up. -Yeah, yeah, you probably would these days. For me, it was the 308 Ferrari. I used to have my bed in the corner with a lamp behind me so I could read Autosport most nights. And then, on the right-hand side, it was where I had my posters of the car. And I actually used to lie in bed with my head turned slightly so I could actually see the Ferrari when I actually fell asleep. And it's amazing that when I actually sleep now in a hotel or at home, I actually sleep with my head slightly to one side, almost as if I was looking up towards this poster. -I don't think there was any one particular car for me. It was-- It was more a type of car and I always like -- we used to go Oulton Park -- that the front of the grid of the E-types and Aston Martins, and at the back, there's a little Frogeye Sprite. Somewhere about two-thirds back was Lotus, but it was always a kind of an Elan or something right-- a lot for the Ford than it should be and it was always this David and Goliath and I always like this little 1,600-cc engine competing against these 4 or 5 liters and the way the crowd got behind that car slips through even down the straight, [unk] in the corner and then the fast car would come past on the straight and that always excited me and I liked the elegance of doing that with small power and with a compact vehicle. That was probably the 288 GTO. It was the first time I felt real desire for a car I saw in the paddock at Oulton Park, and there was a copy Autosport on the passenger seat and I just-- this guy is just, you know, [unk], you know. He's got the ultimate car. He's reading the Autosport. He's come here for the day, you know. -For me, there was a moment, I think it was Brands Hatch '84, I think it was, and I remember I was [unk] and Jonathan Palmer was in exact speed Formula One car at that time. And I just couldn't work out why he was so much slower than a McLaren, say, or center in the Lotus. And that interested me in terms of looking at the cars in the corner and wondering how the suspension and the tires were working with the downforce and the driver inputs. And usually every question that you ask your dad as a kid, he knows the answer to, you know, "Dad, why do you do this. And dad, why do you do that? And it was why is that car faster than that car?" And he couldn't answer that. And so, that was almost-- that kind of almost fueled it-- fueled an interest in mechanics, in vehicle dynamics, in suspension. You know, we come from pretty humble backgrounds really, and of course, motorsport has always been expensive. I think we were fortunate enough that our father took us to literally as many motorsport events as we physically could get to, so-- And being in the northwest, it was fantastic because we used to go obviously to RAC Rally, was based in Chester. Most of the stages were in Wales. My father had designed and built with our help a motor home that kind of, from the practical level and skills level, was something which we learnt from an early age, supporting him doing that. So, we used to get in the motor home and go up and watch stages all over the country. So, certainly, attending motorsport events was something we did, and in a way, it was-- it was good because it was always a dream-- it was always a dream to try and become involved in motorsport. -And if you knew my dad, the level to which we attended events, I mean, this [unk] the grandstand that launched at that time at the Oulton Park to stop people sitting on the handrail at the very back of the grandstand. It was a square section, but they put it in, so it was like a diamond. So, my dad made the seats with clamps that fit to the diamond with a footrest and everything and it was like-- like a little sofa for the two of us and he set all the height that when he stood there, leaning against the handrail, me and Neill are at the same height, and he had the box with all the food and then, you know, everything if you're going to a rally. He's got the Ordnance Survey map. It's all been blowing up, the section we're going, he's measured how far is the work, compasses, all the rest of it, you know, the level he went to for the attendance of these events. And I think Neill is right, that's where the desire to create things came from 'cause he made everything in the house. He made sidebars. He made tables, kitchens. Even to this day, it still feels strange to come home and see your dad watching television, doesn't it? 'Cause normally, he was in the garage welding, cutting, shear forming, you know, planing a bit of wood. -He actually made me a wardrobe last weekend. So, even though, he's retired, throughout our entire lifetime of 40 or 45 years, he's still tinkering and making things. -I flew radio-controlled airplanes and so he built a shed in the back for me and I put a fairly flat table so I could setup the incidence angle of my wings and everything getting all perfect. So, I think we got a lot of this obsession with doing things right from him actually. Neill was always good at math, physics, those kinds of things. And it was if you wanna get into designing cars, it was-- they only saw that as car engineering actually. There's only one-- It turned out there's only one course in the whole of the UK and only two in the world that you could actually study automotive design rather than automotive engineering. So, I didn't even know it existed. So, I love cars but I also love design. And then, I went on to study architecture 'cause I just wanted to design things. And I just came across an article about the car interior design course in car magazine midway through my first year architecture. What's this? You know and there's always images of guys sketching and sort of stuff, I gotta do that. They said apply. I applied, got a place, and-- -Used my A-level art folder for reference. -That's true actually because I have to obviously make sure that if I didn't get a place, I had to to pass my first year exams. That's where the love of cars, the love of design all came together to car design. -I used to come home on the weekends. I worked behind the bar at Oulton Park. And one night, I sat there and my dad was saying, you know, "What do you think you're gonna be doing after university if you started to think of a career?" And I said, "Well, I don't know." And he said, "What are you interested in? And what are you good at?" And I actually had a copy of Autosport on one side of me and Autocar on the other side of me. And my dad said, "Well, why don't you just design cars then 'cause that's what you're interested in and your skill-set is leaning towards this?" And it was really a eureka moment for me. There was an opportunity for me to work for a consultancy that was based on the south coast and we're doing a lot of work for Reno actually on concept vehicles, composite structures, etcetera, which I found really interested. There was an opportunity to go out to Germany working in Cologne at the product development center there for Ford and it was working on the Ford Mondeo. Each vehicle line always has what's called the drive team. And I was exposed to being in that drive team. And my ability to get in a car, in a pricey car, and say what was right about it and what was wrong with-- what was wrong with it or what could be improved was something that the team every single time picked up on. And so, having been on the Mondeo drive team, under Richard Parry-Jones, I then was on the drive team for the Ford Ka. And so, that really was starting to tune me as a sort of a chassis expert for wants of a better word. And that coupled with a race career that started in go-karts and that was really the base foundation for me for what we would later create with the Mono here at BAC obviously. -So, at that time, Neill was in Cologne, I was in Stuttgart. And that's when I'd also-- we know we both found ourselves in the financial situation where we could start doing motorsport, so I was racing, karting as well but in Germany. There was a team ran by a guy called Frank Jelinski. He went all the way up to have to race against Jonathon Palmer around that time and he had a team of four drivers he'd put together to go on race in a 24-hour race at Le Mans. And we're driving through the night, and of course, this is a-- he's a rock star, you know, to us. So, I was kind of picking his brains about what's it like to drive. He's driven at Le Mans. He's driven F2 and he's driven NASCAR. He's driven everything. I was trying to ask him about how different cars are and he said, "If you're quick in a kart, you're quick in a formula car." I don't feel the same 'cause one is a half a ton and one is 70 kilo, but the way they respond and the way your body instinctively reacts to how they respond, it's all the same bloodline. At that time, I was doing track days in a Lotus or at least I was racing go-karts. And that was the moment, that journey, that nighttime drive, that was when I started thinking, I want a-- I want a single seater. That's the goal, and Neill and I thought about it. Neill found the idea really exciting as well. And-- So, we used to meet in Frankfurt and we did it, you know, once every couple of weeks and did have some sketches or some pictures or some ideas and things and it was just a chance to sit together and get through it. And of course, back then, it was-- we didn't really know how we're gonna get from A to B, but there was a desire and that's where the desire really started. -You look at it and you're obviously working on a vehicle that's just complex as a Mercedes or a Ford or whatever you think what actually this car could be really simple. And there's a chance that we could actually do this. After the work that I'd done on the Ford Focus, I was basically the chief engineer on the Focus RS and part and parcel of that being a Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz' rally car on the road was understanding what had [unk] World Rally Car. There was-- There was the Focus RS project. And at that particular time, I was also racing, so I just won a British Championship in the UK which was a motorbike engine, Caterham, very similar to Radical. And it's very interesting all the way and I had had a conversation with Frank Jelinski, during his karting days, about how different cars fell and how they drove, I was feeling that on the racetrack. So, these cars have moderate amounts of downforce, they're super light, didn't have a great deal of power. So, it was all about momentum. It was all about being smooth, and it was all about chassis engineering, dynamics in making the most of the package that you've got, but the next major step for me was to race V to V which effectively is like an LMP3 Series in Europe and raced against some pretty serious Ferrari and Formula One drivers now. But they're very, very heavily relying upon downforce. And from a driver's perspective, they weren't particularly formed to drive. They're very physical. The transition from grip to a slide was very, very aggressive. And so, you start then to learn about downforce in a car and how that could or couldn't work for this type of a project. It was due to practical experiences of, you know, hobbies and racing and also in business that we were slowly but surely putting the building blocks together. -We had no idea what it was gonna look like, didn't know if it was gonna have side clutches and be kind of a tube, whether it was gonna be full body work like a Le Mans. I mean, it could have-- it could have at that stage. It could have become anything actually. -The question then was obviously, from an aesthetic perspective, what the influence was. And Ian and the guys went off in pretty much three different directions really. It was a very, very sort of divergent approach. -If it had to have an exposed chassis, it'd be like an atom. If it'd have full body work like a Le Mans, it'd be a baby Le Mans car. We didn't want it to be like anything. It deserved more than that. It's a new product. It's a clean sheet of paper design. It's this type of product that's not existed before. So, it should look like something from the future, not kind of trying to hark back to the past. So, you know, we wanted this kind of something you might see in a Tron movie, you know, science fiction film, that kind of a thing. As a designer, I try to imagine how I feel when I see it. And once I'm clear how I should feel, then that's the kind of emotional checklist to recognize elements as you develop the vehicle that give you that feeling. And that's why the whole influences around there are important because, you know, [unk] to the project, it'd be quite easy to kind of go off track. And so, it's always important to look back and remember those images that gave you the right feeling and "are we there yet." And even, you know, things like from headlights or details that were never in the clay model but came really late on -- the steering wheel and the headlights and the rear lights and things like that, that was done in early 2010. So, that was three years after we started. Neill and I were talking with Murray and the guys talking about the headlights and our influence was this Björk video which you probably know. And if you look at it, you've got these organic surfaces, very thin. They don't create volumes. They only create surfaces. So, they look light, and built beyond it, you see the mechanical elements. And so, for us, it was that robot wouldn't have a recess with a light in it and the lens and all of it. It just doesn't fit, you know. That robot, you would see all the little elements that control the light and you'd see the wires going in and you'd see a very simple machine part which where the light would come from. And so, even three years later, that initial influence with steering, the way the solutions were forming around the car. -'Cause anything can look cool. It's how relevant it is to the product and actually what we're about. And so the minute someone saw for the first time, our race wear that we've developed, they said, "Wow, you know, it looks like a Stormtrooper." And for us, that was job done because that was almost, you know, the Stormtrooper with the sort of, you know, Björk video of the '80s, sort of '70s or '80s for us. It was Ian's reference that stuck in my head. It was that the car should represent a car design of the 21st century, but look equally at home at a racetrack in a race environment with other race cars on a track as an example. It represents the future of possible race car design, but also when you see it on the road, that it doesn't look too out of place that it represents supercar design of the future. And I think getting that, striking that balance was ultimately the-- one of the biggest achievements in terms of the way the car looks. -This idea that it's a single seater, you know, given that we closed-- enclosed the front wheels and was still wanting to make the point that it is still only a single-seater. And so, this whole idea of, we later called it the car, it's just that there's a man-shaped car to the vehicle inside there that I can see past, it shows me that all the body work is lightweight. I see the structure, but-- -[unk] structure. -Yeah. But then I see this car in the central of the vehicle which is the mass of the vehicle. I like the way the Formula 3000 cars looked [unk] ran that open engines at the rear-- -Yup. -and I've always kind of liked this idea of some things at the front, you know, doing its function of getting through the air. And as that function becomes less relevant towards the rear, there's just less of it, so like on a motorbike, a modern superbike. You look from the front, you see mostly fairing. As you look at the vehicle, from the front to the rear, there's a transition. As the aero function becomes less relevant, you see more of the machine and that was also something we wanted to capture in Mono and also the fact that we've gone through what's clearly the most optimized solution of a longitudinal engine, longitudinal gearbox and that gives a very elegant thin rear end and so we wanted to make a point of that in its design language as well. So, showing those elements and then the whole body work, culminating in that rear. -And it's very important for us from an attribute perspective, that all the attributes were in harmony, so how the car looked, how the car performed was very, very important. And my challenge or my team's challenge was to make sure that the car drove as well as it looked. We didn't wanna have a scenario where you're in your overalls and helmet and you're driving down the motor at 130 miles an hour and-- -In Germany. -in Germany and someone's passing you in a Golf Diesel in the Autobahn. So, for us, it was important that the car how the supercar credible top speed and that's why a lot of the work was done on aerodynamics. It was to make the car the aerodynamically efficient and reduce the drag. -I remember the EVO Magazine cover that the guys-- -Yes. -did for my birthday-- -Yes. Yeah. -for my birthday in April 2008. They did a cover of EVO magazine and they put one of the final sketches of Mono that was gonna go on the wall as we started to do the clay model. And you'll see it's very close to what we ended up with. And it said something like-- 'cause my daughter had just been born as well, Mia. So, the car at that time was known as Mono Mia 'cause we felt it kind of needed to be a double barrel name for some reason, but we dropped the Mia part eventually. Mama Mia is the Mono Mia, a single-seater supercar puts the competition to shame, something like that. We didn't write it. Someone wrote it as a birthday present, but-- -Little did we know four years later that Steve Sutcliffe would say in his end-of-year review in 2011, it makes me get shivers when I think of it. -Even the Lamborghini-- -even the Lamborghini Aventador-- -Even the Lamborghini Aventador was shaded by the extraordinary BAC Mono. -Yeah. -And EVO, the edits [unk] said, "No car collection the world is complete from today without a BAC Mono." And so, you do get goosebumps when you read those things because a lot was done in a light hearted way back in 2008. And it was what we were aspiring to, to just do something that would, you know, kind of a game change. -And the culmination of that really was effectively a concept showing of the car in March 2011 at the Retro Classics Show in Germany and it was the same weekend as Geneva. We kind of thought where we take the car there and, you know, there are probably a couple of-- a couple of friends would come and have a look at the car and contact some people that we know. It'd be a little bit off the radar really. And it was just an absolute explosion. Ian managed to work with the show organizers to have-- to have a VI-- to have the car at VIP opening on the press day, and there was about 1,500 people. I thought there was only gonna be sort of 50 friends and family that would turn up and it was like 1,500 people. Ian stood there and we'd had all these forms printed 'cause, you know, the sort of preparation, you know, that our father instilled into us, have all these customer forms and have everything ready as people are gonna come and talk about the car. And Ian came over and he was kind of smirking and smiling. Look at this guy, he wants to buy a car. He kind of couldn't really hide his excitement really of, Christ, you know, someone actually wants to buy the car, you know. Literally, it's this guy is interested and he's interested and this guy is from the press in Germany and he's from Switzerland, he's from Austria, and slowly but surely, it was this certain realization of God, this thing has really arrived now. And we thought it was gonna be off the radar, but it was anything other than off the radar. -It's always a bit of a worry when you develop something behind closed doors for such a long period of time. You'd never really know how people are gonna respond. Someone walks up to it. You'd have an opportunity to explain why or what it's for or anything like that. You just-- They just walked up, and I remember these guys that Neill and Guy had driven through the night from here to Stuttgart, I live there, so I'd gone on the plane the night before, got everything ready with the show-- -Designers-- -Phones have gone dead in the middle of the-- -Engineers still driving through the night. -Phones have gone dead in the night, so I can't call them in a truck which we'd own for a few days, so I'm on pins through the whole night, wondering if they're gonna show up. Finally, the phone rings, we'll be there in half an hour. Brilliant, they've made it. So, we got up to the show and then it's cleaning the car, get it on the stand. Neill and the guys, you know, they've all-- they've just done it all night sort of cleaning the car. And literally, as the doors open and the press come in, Neill and Guy are kind of exiting stage left looking like death wall on dock, you know. And I stood there in the seats on and very first guy, it was-- it was a journalist and a photographer and he got within about 5 meters of the car and he's nodding his head and he turned to his car and then he said and he said, "This is what the crossbow should have been." And it was that moment, I get goosebumps now when I think of it, I thought, good. We got it right, you know. -You know, it always gets an incredible reception, whether it's male or female, old or young, the first thing people do is take out their mobile-- mobile phone and take a picture because everybody knows someone who's a car nut, who they'll want to send the picture to or whatever. So, that's been a real big highlight for me. And then, of course, the number of people that have driven the car whether it's journalists, customers, or whatever, everyone gets out the car with a huge smile on their face and that's a given. But they always give the impression when they get out the car that they're almost a better driver than when they got in. And what that means-- what I mean by that is that the car, they've-- they pushed themselves to their limits, they've maybe gone over them slightly, but because the car is very benign, that car's looked after them and that's not because of electronic aids, it's just by its design and by the way that the car works. They got out thinking, "God, yes, I can slide a car and I did feel like a racing driver. I didn't just have the belts and the helmet on and sit in the middle and feel like a racing driver. I actually drove like a racing driver and I pushed my limits and I feel that now I can perhaps get in it and go even faster again on the second time." And of course, that's very addictive in any sport or any-- or any activity. If you do something and you feel like you're making progress whether it's tennis or snowboarding or skiing, you feel like every single time yo do it, you're getting slightly better then you're gonna wanna do it even more and it's really addictive. And I think that's the underlying thread with everyone who's driven the car. -Well, 'cause we had spoken about that it does have to work on a B road and it does have to work on the track, and I remember I was even having that talk about superbike saying, "Modern superbike, you could take it on a B road and know where the bike could keep up with it. You take it on a track and it would be quick." They'd found that balance in a modern superbike-- -Yeah. -and I drove it in a street race in Poland called the VERVA Street Race. It was the first time I'd ever driven the car actually apart from the night before in a carpark in the dark. And I came in and [unk] gone quite quick there, but I didn't feel like I was, I didn't feel like it was gonna do something to surprise me, the trust that it build. You have this feeling that the car looks after you 'cause it tells you everything. It's not 2 tons of million-pound supercar that you think, "God, what's gonna happen when thing starts sliding?" It's always communicating with you. You don't feel frightened of it. I have to remind myself to kind of enjoy it and to see the good side of it. It's not there was a bad side of it, but it was a sense of climbing a mountain and I can see-- I think I can see the top, and I thought the top was designing-- deciding what this car is gonna look like. And then as soon as you decide that, you realize there's actually-- it goes actually a bit further now because we've gotta do Class A surface and we're gonna turn it into a real car. And then, there was the-- the moment you get it on a show stand, you think-- you'd think, "We're at the top of the hill kind of thing." But then that's the point when you realize, "This hill goes much, much further. We've gotta turn this into a production car. We gotta create a car manufacturing business." I feel like every time you come over a little rise thinking, this must be somewhere near the top now, like, "Oh, my God, it goes again." -We've had the revolution of the car. That was, you know, blank sheets of paper and it's, "Wow, where did this come from." And now, it's more about the evolution really of how we make the car even better than this. There's just some things that we've got coming through that if you think the car is fantastic now than literally six months' time, the next 12 months, there are some incredible things coming through that will make the car even faster and even more desirable from an aesthetic perspective, even lighter. And all of that will just translate into a car that's even more special. -We want the car to be the best it can be. We want it to be the best it can be today and we want it to be the best it can be in five years' time. And anything that saves us weight, anything that makes it perform better, anything that makes it a better product, I think it's fair to say there'll always be a Mono and Mono will always be represented today with that package and that layout. -I like, if anything, maybe too much detail and I particularly like the central spine area down here. It's really robotic. It's very graphical almost. And it's a real epitome of the car. And for me, this brake light high up here down the spine of the car is a fantastic idea. I think it's fantastically executed, and again, the way all this area gets smaller and thinner, I think that's a really, really nice detail. And it gives the car a unique signature because, of course, these lights are normally typically mounted across the back of a car, typically in the headlight there and this is almost like the heartbeat of the car almost, and as I say, gives it a real unique signature. If you didn't know that it was a BAC Mono when you see it instantly, when you do, when you see that particularly at night. -We could have just raised the body work over the-- over the air box, but everything starts sort of bigger and heavier and more swollen, and again, back to motorcycles, you'd see a cam cover just poking through the side of the fairing. It shows that the skin is pulled tighter over the-- over the machine. You know, an athletic body shows a bone and you have the feeling that the skin is tight over the muscle, you know, whereas an overweight body is just kind of, you know, smooth, kind of sausagy shaped and so-- -And volume. -and volume. And so, I think that-- that's-- that's the reason we were happy to let elements stick through. And then here, this whole area, we've obviously gotta get heat out. So, all of the stepping here allows us to have air gaps between all the panels. This is why this gap is bigger here than down here. It's to let air out. There's a slot here. And then, this whole rear area floats 10 millimeters away from what we call the spine to let all that heat out. The slot here, that is actually the exhaust and so that lets the heat out again here. So, this kind of layering effect, it adds to the lightweight, it adds to the technical look, but is all-- there's a function behind it. It was just to let the heat out. You know, there was a time when car design was about creating volume and you created more volume at the rear to make it look muscular and [unk] and all this kind of-- everyone talked about volumes and we went completely away from that. We wanted lightweight surfaces. I think something was perceived as good quality when it was solid. So, a good quality kitchen work surfaces with a big thick, solid, granite top or solid oval, you knock it, "Is that-- is that solid." And that was a sense of quality because just more material meant it costs more money. And so that was the sense of it being valuable. But I think, now, the 21st century, the thinner, the lighter -- if we build it with high-tech materials, a really elegant table will be a millimeter's thick or the better your phone is lighter, it's slimmer -- and I think that whole kind of evolution what inspired us. And Mono kind of epitomizes that, that it doesn't try to pretend there's any volume, it's all that they're clearly showing us the surfaces that hover above mechanical elements. And I think that aesthetic probably did inspire some of the designers. I certainly hope so, and you know, that lots of conversations with the designers and I know that there's Mono pictures up in lots of design studios, but you know, it's one of a thousand things that influence those guys. -I don't like to be too grand about this, but if Mono could become like a 911 in Safaris, the journey starts here and it's just-- everyone knows what Mono stands for, they know what it's about and who buys it, and what-- how it's used. There will be a new Mono at some point. I don't know when it will be, but there will be one and I would hope it will be a better vehicle as well. And within each new version, there'll always be a constant development to make it as good as it can be within.

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