The headline for this piece came to me on my drive up to Donington Park. When I squeezed into the seat of Honda's record-breaking ‘Mean Mower’ it was still in my head. "I hope I don't have to remove the 'n't' from that headline," I thought as I went over the launch procedure one more time.
Perched on top of 109 horsepower the chance of 'doing a Hammond' seemed worryingly possible, especially when one of the guys from Honda said he'd seen the mower buck a couple of people off just pulling away. It's designed to go very fast in a straight line, so too much gas while the steering wheel isn't level and it's Buckaroo time.
In a previous life the Mean Mower was a HF2620 Lawn Tractor, happy to pootle about at a sedate 23kph cutting and sucking up grass – but then Honda let its British Touring Car Championship partner Team Dynamics loose on it, and as you might expect from a crew that turned a family friendly Civic Tourer into a 300hp, 242kph race winner, the end result isn’t really suited to gardening anymore (although it can still cut grass when required).
The mower’s engine has been replaced with that of a VTR Firestorm motorcycle; its chassis is custom made; the suspension’s bespoke; the wheels are from an ATV and, most surprisingly, the steering rack comes from a Morris Minor. Most importantly, it still looks like a lawnmower.
“Don’t worry, everybody stalls it to begin with,” said Tom Hunt, a junior engineer from Team Dynamics, as he fired up the 1000cc engine for the first time. It grumbled away like a generator while I knocked it into first gear by hitting a little red button on the steering wheel, and as I released the clutch and eased onto the accelerator pedal it started to move. It didn’t stall. It wasn’t the smoothest getaway in the world but it didn’t stall.
I headed out across what is essentially an empty car park at the rear of Donington; a huge Tarmac space big enough to get some speed up on this preposterous contraption and cautiously put my foot down. The acceleration was insane. It’ll do 0-97kph in four seconds, which is about the same as an Audi R8, and after a couple of seconds I had to lift off. I was doing what felt like 322kph and it just kept on accelerating. I wasn’t even out of second gear.
Heading back the way I came I braved another – slightly longer – squeeze of the accelerator. As the mower picked up speed it forced my upper body back, as if it was trying to fold me in half over the back of the seat. To counteract it I had to hunker down behind the steering wheel and lean into it, almost like a cyclist on a high-speed descent.
I blasted up and down, pushing it as fast as my nerves would allow me. Unfortunately the mower doesn’t have a speedometer so I had no idea how fast I went, but if you ask the part of my brain that looks after fear it was close to AAAARRRRGGGHHHHmph.
I never got out of second gear. I didn’t need to. The Mean Mower feels like it’s capable of accelerating forever, a bit like the gnarliest go-kart ever, or the offspring of a tractor and a Formula 1 car.
After a few laps of a small track and a failed attempt at some doughnuts on a nearby patch of grass it was time to hand back my helmet and leathers. As I left Donington I passed an auctioneers, its car park full of assorted farming machinery – and just maybe the next record holder.