Wooden it be good
With Marcos predominantly building race cars these days, it's easy to forget the long history and variety of cars that have been produced over the last forty years. Founded back in 1959 by Jem Marsh and Frank Costin (it could have equally been called Cosmar), the first cars were race cars too.
Frank Costin had worked in the aeroplane business and his influence can be seen in the fact that the cars employed a wooden structure, an idea drawn from his work on Mosquito figher-bombers.
This was no crude hunk of timber on wheels though. The car was actually a lightweight monocoque body and chassis. Styling was quirky but advanced for its time and the slippery shape certainly helped in the performance stakes.
In 1961 brothers Dennis and Peter Adams got involved with Marcos and helped produce a number of variations of the original racer, slowly evolving towards the unmistakable shape we can still recognise today. It was in 1963 that they showed the 43 inch high GT at the Motor Show to great aclaim. A great looking car, it has been the inspiration for a whole range of cars since.
1966 was the year that the Mini Marcos saw the light of day. A massive departure from the long sleek cars produced until then, here was a squat, dimunitive and odd looking fibre glass curiosity. It may have looked odd, but it was the only British car to finish at Le Mans that year!
1968 saw the first use of the Mantis name on a Marcos. A solitary car was built to house a BRM-Repco V8 in a mid-mounted position. Purely used for racing it too was very low with distinctly angular styling akin to the 'new-edge' Fords of the 90's.
The second car to bear the Mantis name was a 2+2. Bizarre styling didn't endear it to many, and few were sold. The spacious interior featured useable rear seats but lacked the styling balance of the Lotus 2+2's.
The late sixties saw the change to a more conventional steel chassis for the GT. This slashed valuable time off production and was also strong enough to cope with a three litre Essex V6. This took the car to new levels, a significant power increase on the early 1500cc versions.
A Volvo engine was adopted in the early seventies. With Marcos exporting to the USA, a cleaner engine was needed to conform with the ever more strict rules being introduced by the US Governent. The Volvo engine came fitted with the necessary paraphernalia to stop Americans choking.
As with TVR, increasing problems exporting to the USA, and the poor sales of the Mantis contributed to financial problems in the early seventies. By 1971 they were out of business.
Jem Marsh stayed involved with the cars and managed to regain the rights to the Marcos name in 1976 but it wasn't until 1981 that Marcos was relaunched. The Marcos V6 Coupe was sold in component form. The Rover V8 powered Mantula appeared in 1984 with a convertible Spyder following two years later. This was very similar in styling to the GT of the 60's.
The array of 'M' names used is certainly confusing for anyone trying to get to grips with the range of cars produced over the years. The little known 'Martina' is a Mantula with flared front arches. Under the skin however it's a different car with Cortina mechanicals (the wider front track needing the flared arches) being employed to reduce costs for those building the cars.
Mini Marcos Again
1991 was the year that the Mini Marcos was relaunched to the surprise of many enthusiasts.
However it was in 1992 that Marcos rejoined the motoring world as a full scale manufacturer, giving up the component car business and producing the fully assembled Mantara. The type approved car allowed Marcos to produce in limited numbers and sell through a dealer network. With a 3.9 litre Rover V8 it was just a hint of the hugely powerful cars to come.
Racing was still dear to their heart though and the LM versions of the Mantara were the first steps towards competing at Le Mans. Although not making it that far, they showed just how competitive the cars could be on the track. LM400, LM500 and LM600's were produced with Rover 3.9, 5 litre and 6 litre Chevy small block V8's fitted respectively. The LM600's are still to be seen today at the top level of GT racing with the inimitable bellow from the enormous engine.
Much like TVR have reused the Tuscan name to confuse the uninitiated, Marcos used the Mantis name for the third time in 1997. This road car has a quad cam Ford Cobra V8 under the bulbous hood making it one of the quickest and most charismatic cars on the road. It's a development of the LM series of cars with some styling changes. Marcos produce less than seventy cars a year so like most of their cars, it's a rare sight.
The Mantaray evolved from the GTS, still very reminiscent of the original sixties design, but now with a rounded off tail. Power options still included the 2 litre Rover units but now included the 4.6 Rover V8, putting it head to head with the TVR Chimaera.
Marcos' latest offering is the Mantis GT. Engine developments, most notably the supercharger have pushed power up to 500 bhp.
Marcos's direction remains unclear. With race car production having moved to Holland, the road cars are still produced in small numbers but remain too rare a sight. With the sports car market growing more competitive by the day, let's hope they can retain a presence on the public roads as well as on the race tracks.