Graham Bell tries out the car you asked for
When we reviewed the Duratec powered Marcos TS250 just over a year ago, there was a certain inevitability about the ensuing posts on Gassing Station saying ‘they should put a V8 in it’. Well, you can’t accuse Marcos of not listening, because a few months later they announced that they were doing just that.
Actually, given their recent history, Marcos fitting a V8 probably didn’t surprise many PHers, though I suspect their choice of V8 did, because rather than go the modern quad cam route they decided to go for an engine based on the venerable – and now obsolete – Rover pushrod unit.
Now we’d better get this straight because Marcos are a tad sensitive about it - the TS500 does not have a Rover engine, it has a Javelin engine. Although it is based on the Rover block there are a lot of differences, though exactly what these are Marcos aren’t saying. What they will say is that the Javelin engine is made exclusively for them and that availability has been guaranteed for as long as they want.
The reason Marcos chose the Javelin engine is that it provided a proven, cost efficient way of getting what they were after – namely lots of grunt. Although more power was available (and indeed is available if you want it) Marcos were after a fuss free unit capable of providing relaxed touring rather than outright power, so the TS500’s 5 litre engine produces a conservative but still very potent 320bhp.
If you were at PistonFest last year then you’ll have seen the TS500 (the very car shown here in fact). Although it looked finished, the reality was that the car had hardly been run, the engine mapping hadn’t even been started and a whole load of detail development was needed before it was ready for production.
That’s why it’s taken so long to bring you this road test, which even now it can’t be a definitive report because the development prototype tested still wasn’t quite to production specification. However, because we’ve been trying to arrange things for so long and had numerous delays, Marcos didn’t want to put us off yet again and arranged a slot especially in between continuing work on the car.
Although at first glance the TS500 looks just the same as the TS250, there are in fact various changes besides the engine. For a start, the front air intake has been widened to increase air flow to the radiator, which in turn has necessitated moving the driving lamp recesses further out, and there are different door mirrors.
There are interior changes too, some of which will be carried over to the TS250 and some of which won’t. One that thankfully will is that the dashboard is no longer marred by visible fasteners, while one that definitely won’t is the different dashboard design. The TS500 also has revised door trim with pockets rather than the TS250’s armrests, which some found too intrusive in the narrow cabin, so this may be carried over too. Not surprisingly, Marcos’ trademark fixed seat/adjustable pedal arrangement remains, though these days it comes with fully adjustable steering column too.
No surprise either to discover that there have been no major changes mechanically – apart from the engine and gearbox obviously. After all, the chassis and suspension are effectively the same as used on the Mantis and LM models where they’ve proven themselves capable of coping with even more powerful V8s on both road and track, so why bother?
In fact the only significant mechanical change compared to the TS250 apart from the engine and box is the fitting of larger 325mm Hi-Spec brakes on the front, and other than that it’s just minor revisions to the suspension settings and general development work.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that Gem Marsh has now finally retired for good (again) and that company admin and product development are in the hands of Alan and Mark Wallace, who joined Marcos from Noble where they were heavily involved in the M12 programme.
While the Marcos was a good, proven product, Alan and Mark felt there was still room for improvement in some areas, including the chassis, which now has its brackets positioned more accurately than ever and also benefits from some extra gussets to increase its strength. Further increases in overall stiffness come from having the previously separate floorpan and outer body mouldings bonded together to form a semi-monocoque.
Overall quality and refinement have come in for attention too, with work being done to ensure that the gaping panel gaps and dodgy alignment found on some older Marcoses are a thing of the past. There’s also a revised hood on the way with improved sealing round the door glass, and while this wasn’t ready in time for this test drive it should be ready for the first customers’ cars going out.
Another change due for the first customers’ cars going out is the replacement of the wheels shown with some new multi-spoke Khan alloys fitted with the latest 215/40x17 Bridgestone RE050s, which will provide yet another distinction between the TS500 and its V6 sibling.
The most telling distinction between them though is the exhaust note. The TS250’s is pleasant enough, but fire up the TS500 and you’ll get the sort of roaring thunder that only a big V8 can provide. This is no Euro-emasculated, noise abatement society approved ninny, but a rumbling, grumbling bruiser that’s as loud and proud as a V8 powered sports car should be.
So it talks the talk – but can it walk the walk? Well with 320bhp and 350ft lb in a car weighing just 1025kg it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion really isn’t it? Because we got to test the TS500 before any of the magazines, it'd never had any timing gear fitted to it so Marcos don’t have any proper performance figures, but expect 0-60 to be comfortably under five seconds.
While I can’t provide any actual figures, a couple of standing start runs made at a local airfield (before we got kicked off!) duly confirmed that the TS500 is extremely quick in a straight line. I had it nudging 150mph in 4th and there was clearly more to come, but thoughts of suddenly running out of road dictated otherwise.
In the event the TS500’s brakes proved equally impressive at slowing the car down and pulled us up with plenty of room to spare. Like the TS250, the TS500 has no servo, though you’d be hard pushed to tell from driving it because the brake pedal requires no more effort than your average family saloon. It’s a beautifully weighted system that (on dry tarmac at least) only locks up during full-on stops, and even then you can simply feather the pedal to ease the excess pressure without losing braking altogether.
Also worthy of praise is the Marcos manufactured linkage on the R380 5-speed box, which has a lovely short, precise throw that makes rapid gear changes a cinch. Not that you have to continually stir the cogs in the TS500, because with that big V8 there’s plenty of low down torque (maximum 350ft lb is at just 3,750rpm) so it pulls strongly from low speeds in any gear.
The result is that the TS500 is a car that can slip seamlessly from frantic, roaring sports car to lazy, comfortable cruiser - and back again – as the mood takes you.
In cruising mode on light throttle openings that wonderful deep exhaust note is amusing but not obtrusive, there’s negligible wind buffeting with the hood down and side windows up, and those unique fixed seats feel comfortable enough for a long continental trip – for which there’s probably enough luggage space in the boot.
In frantic mode the TS500 sounds like thunder, offers stunning acceleration and braking and those unique fixed seats keep you firmly located during rapid cornering. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances on the day (too much slow traffic for one) I didn’t really get chance to explore the TS500s handling, but a couple of rapid roundabout manoeuvres indicated loads of grip and nice neutral balance. Such manoeuvres are helped by that tiny wheel and a rack with less than 2.5 turns lock to lock, which confer the TS500 with lightning quick steering response.
When we arranged this test Marcos asked me to make allowances because I’d be testing the development prototype which was being constantly mucked about with. For example, the exhaust system had just been hurriedly refitted after being used to make patterns, and both that and the wiring loom were due to be replaced with new production items days later. However, there wasn’t really much need to as the car was very well put together with none of the rattles, squeaks or loose bits that hard worked development prototypes can suffer from.
I think that the quality of both construction and of the driving experience exhibited by the development prototype bodes very well for both car and company, while the extra refinements due to bring the TS500 up to production spec can only make things even better. And with the standard spec model selling for £34,950 it’s keenly priced against the competition too.
Marcos haven't confirmed attendance for Pistonfest yet, but you’ll definitely be able to see the production spec TS500 at Goodwood, as well as at the Motor Show – where Marcos are due to unveil something special too…
Graham Bell © 2004