GRR

Twelve single seater road cars that are perfect for social distancing

05th April 2020
Gary Axon

In these challenging times, staying at home, maintaining good personal hygiene and self-isolating if you are unfortunate enough to have become unwell have rapidly become the ‘new normal.’ As we all know by now, keeping a safe distance of at least two metres from other people from not within your own household is also a crucial preventive measure from spreading the coronavirus.

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As well as respecting the Government’s ‘social distancing’ policy and lockdown, keeping travel to a minimum for essential purposes only is a must too in order to help protect yourself and others from the threat of this invisible enemy.

Whilst the vast majority of us Brits are being suitably sensible by staying at home and keeping off the roads, thankfully as yet no restrictions have been placed on the number of occupants allowed to share space in the same vehicle, unlike countries such as Spain where strict limits have been implemented to allow only one person (the driver) per vehicle with no passengers permitted.

After decades of being considered frivolous, weird and selfish niche modes of transport, the recent social distancing advice and restrictions are now making road-legal single seater cars more relevant. Single-seat motorised vehicles are almost as old as the automobile itself, with solo cars usually restricted to either strongly-focused performance machines, such as the BAC Mono, or laughable economy microcars like the infamous Peel P50.

Beyond the world of motor racing, cars with just one seat that can legally be driven on public highways have always been a rare breed, for understandable reasons. Road-legal cars with tandem seating (with room for a passenger behind the driver), such as the distinctive Messerschmitt ‘Kabinroller,’ Renault Twizy, Light Car Company Rocket,  Carver One, Yamaha OX-99, Tramontana R, plus many others, are rather more commonplace by comparison.

So, in these troubled times, if it is really essential for you to leave the house and drive, here are a dozen road-legal single-seater cars to consider to keep social distancing to the max.

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BAC Mono

Arguably the most widely-known, admired and successful of all single-seater road-going cars, the appropriately-named Mono was announced to shock and delight in 2011 by Liverpool-based Briggs Automotive Company (BAC).

Initially powered by a 285bhp 2.3-litre Cosworth Duratech engine, the ultralight (540kg) carbon-fibre composite Mono was upgraded to a 305bhp 2.5-litre motor in 2015, enabling a 170mph top speed, with 0-62mph appearing in just 2.8 seconds, to help further enhance the experience of the BAC’s sole occupant.

BAC was set to launch a new Mono R at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show, but due to the 11th-hour cancellation of this event because of COVID-19, the new 340bhp, 555kg Mono R should make its dynamic world debut at the postponed 2020 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard later this year (dates t.b.a.).

Peel P50

Claimed (incorrectly) to be the world’s smallest ever production car, the P50 was originally made on the Isle of Man between 1962-65 as a single-seat microcar with just one door. Power was provided by a 49cc DKW engine, mated to three-forward gears with no reverse, this maneuver being achieved by a handle at the rear of the P50 to lift the car into its desired position.

Peel popped a P50 into the Blackpool Tower lift and drove it around the observation platform in 1963 as a publicity stunt to promote sales, but less than 50 British buyers forked out the £199 purchase price for the three-wheeler before production ceased.

In more recent times, interest in the Peel has grown considerably. Jeremy Clarkson famously drove one into the old BBC TV Centre offices at Shepherds Bush on Top Gear, and an original P50 sold at auction for a staggering £80,000+ in 2013. This is a similar amount to that raised by a pair of entrepreneurs on BBC’s Dragons’ Den when they reintroduced the P50 with a choice of petrol or electric engines. The microcar remains in production today, with more 21st Century ‘replicas’ now made than the 1960s originals.

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Lamborghini Egoista

Possibly the ultimate automotive indulgence, the Egoista was a production ‘concept’ unveiled by Lamborghini for the supercar maker’s 50th anniversary in 2013.

Based around the Gallardo, the single-seat Egoista (aptly meaning ‘selfish’ in a number of languages) shared the same 600bhp V10, with the car’s unusual styling inspired by the cockpit of a modern fighter jet aircraft, access to the lone seat being gained via a canopy door. 

Bamby

First seen at the 1984 Ideal Home Show, the Bamby was an update of the Peel P50 concept two decades on, with a single seat, single (gullwing) door and tiny 49cc (Suzuki) engine.

Created by microcar enthusiast Alan Evans, the Bamby started life in Hull with a single headlamp, an improved twin light model soon replacing it. Few examples found buyers, however, although this hasn’t stopped Evans reintroducing the Bamby (as well as various microcar replicas) recently.

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Lotus Type 51 R

In 1967 Formula Ford (FF) was introduced as a new form of ‘poor man’s’ motor racing, an entry-level formula that would go on to prove hugely influential, with numerous ‘future’ motor sport champions cutting their teeth in this dominant single-seater ‘school room’ class.

Gifted Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman was quick to embrace FF, soon introducing his own FF chassis, such as the popular Type 51 for the 1968 racing season. In this crazy psychedelic ‘flower power’ era, Graham Arnold, the contemporary Lotus sales manager, along with respected CAR magazine motoring writer Nick Brittan, hatched a plan to build a road-going Type 51 FF, the 51 R (‘R’ for road) being the outcome.

Painted with psychedelic flowers, the first Type 51 R was fitted with headlights, indicators, a handbrake, mud guards and licence plates, and featured on the cover of CAR and extensively in colour inside the magazine, racing around London’s West End and frequently being stopped by the police for a closer inspection. Officially offered for sale by Lotus as a self-assembly kit at a sub-£1,100 price, just two Type 51 Rs were built. Ford revived the idea of a road-going FF-based car itself in 2012 with its Formula Eco-Boost, priced at c.$75,000.

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Sinclair C5

Known the world-over for its catastrophic commercial failure, the Sinclair C5 electric/pedal combo was launched (in the snow) in January 1985 as a bold attempt at affordable personal mobility. A one-person pedal-assisted ‘velomobile’, the electric C5 was fully-road legal yet could be ‘driven’ without the need of a driving licence.

With chassis engineering assistance by Lotus, and motor (and production) by Hoover, the C5 was the vision of successful electronics inventor Sir Clive Sinclair as a viable one person electric transport alternative to a car and/or bicycle.

At launch, the three-wheeler C5 was immediately criticised for its poor safety (low, unstable and vulnerable) and short range, these blighting sales potential. Within three months of introduction, production of the Sinclair was slashed by 90 per cent, with all manufacture stopped just months later after only 5,000 examples had been sold, making the C5 one of the most notorious examples of failure of the late 20th Century.     

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Hudson Free Spirit

The Hudson Free Spirit was a sole-occupant three-wheeled kit car produced for home-assembly between between1990 and 2000.

Created by Ray Webb of Norwich, the Free Sprit was based around the mechanicals of a Renault 5, with just 18 made. The single-seater Hudson was later joined by the tandem-seat Kindred Spirit three-wheeler and four-wheeled Mystic with more conventional side-by-side seating.

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Replicar Cursor

The brainchild of mid-1980s kit car maker Alan Hatswell, the Cursor was a simple three-wheeler car designed to allow 16-year-olds to drive legally on the UK roads with just a moped license.

A good-quality self-coloured fibreglass body clothed a tubular steel chassis which enclosed the complete back end of a Suzuki moped, including a single cylinder 49cc Suzuki CS50 engine, driven through a three-speed automatic gearbox with a chain to the rear wheel.

Produced between 1985-87, over 100 Cursors were built, each one costing £2,200, over twice the price of a conventional moped. The single-seat was accessed through a forward-hinged canopy, like the Bond Bug.

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Brütsch Mopetta

From the austere post-war era of tiny, affordable and frugal microcar runabouts, the fame of the single-seater Mopetta far outweighs its actual production numbers, with only 14 examples built, survivors now very rare, much sought and highly valuable.

Developed by German Egon Brütsch in the early-1950s with a fibreglass body, a basic steel frame, three wheels, a single seat, and a small windshield, the 89kg Mopetta was powered by a 50cc air-cooled two-stroke ILO-Motorenwerke engine. It had a pull-starter like a lawn mower, plus an integrated three-speed transmission to give a heady top speed of 22mph.

An example is fondly remembered for (slowly) lapping the Motor Circuit with its pipe-smoking driver content at the motorcycle-like handlebar controls as part of the charming pre-1966 microcar parade at the 2006 Goodwood Revival.

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MEV Atomic

Developed by the prolific kit car creator Stuart Mill of MEV fame, but now produced by SVE, the single-seat Atomic was designed with raw performance in mind for both road and track use.

The Atomic’s single seat and has the engine placed at the side of the driver for perfect weight distribution. The donor vehicle is a Yamaha R1 motorbike (1998-2006) which gives the Atomic an impressive power-to-weight ratio in the region of 400bhp/tonne.

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AC / Invacar Model 70

Built at the same AC Cars factory in Thames Ditton where the legendary Ace, Cobra, Greyhound, 428 and other notable AC classics where built, the bathroom-suite-blue three-wheeled Model 70 invalid carriage was branded as both AC and Invacar.

The single-seat Model 70s were leased to British disabled drivers as part of their disability benefit using a rear-mounted Steyr-Puch engine. Capable of reaching a scary 82mph (131km/h), over 55 control variations were available and it was equipped with automatic transmission, which made it possible for anyone with practically any disability to become independent.

A wide sliding door on each side of the car coupled with a sliding seat provided easy access and enabled the driver to load and stow a folding wheelchair to the side.

Thousands of these three-wheelers were made. They used to be seen everywhere and remained in production until the end of a final DHSS contact in 1977. On March 31st 2003 all Model 70s became illegal to own and drive on the British roads, with Government service centres kept busy crushing around 50 examples per month until they no longer existed. Thankfully a few privately-owned examples have been saved in museums and private collections as a piece of British motoring history.

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Dodge Challenger Demon SRT

The Dodge Challenger Demon SRT holds the distinction of being the most powerful car to ever come out of Detroit. This snarling, rubber-burning beast is equipped with a 840bhp 6.2-litre V8, with an optional ‘Demon Power Crate’ (costing just $1) unleashing even greater power potential and adding dragstrip-ready components such as skinnier front tyres and wider rear rubber, tailor made for smoking burnouts.

This makes the Dodge the world’s only production car capable of popping a wheelie. It can exceed 210mph too!. So why is this lively four-seater coupe included here in a list of single-seat cars? Well, the Demon SRT pack also includes the option of having the front passenger seat and rear seats removed to make the car lighter. Marvelous.

Lotus image courtesy of Bonhams. Hudson image by Butch-T. Brutsch-Mopetta images courtesy of R.M. Sotheby’s.

  • Axon's Automotive Anorak

  • Single Seater

  • BAC

  • Mono

  • Peel

  • Sinclair

  • Lamborghini

  • Egoista

  • Lotus

  • Type 51

  • Microcar

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