It’s the looks that define a Marcos GT, and have done since its launch in 1964. Stylist Dennis Adams’ genius was in creating a car that resembled a schoolboy’s fantasy doodle on an exercise book but then making it real. A hit with the ‘in crowd’ in the 1960s and early ’70s – film director Sam Wanamaker had one, as did Rod Stewart and many other celebs – it’s always appealed to people who want to be seen in something different.
But, crucially, it is also a true driver’s car, one that evolved from the race track. The basic design endured for more than three decades and evolved to cope with over 500bhp in its very last incarnation. Here we’ll focus on the earlier, more ‘classic’ versions; but much of what follows has relevance for the modern cars, too.
Which one to buy?
There’s a truly worldwide following for Marcoses, and cars are coming out of the woodwork all the time. As we all know, the classic car market has been growing in recent years and there’s been a slow but steady increase in Marcos values along with it.
A Marcos is not for everyone though. Some will find the styling a little too dramatic, while the panel fit is never going to cause Bentley craftsmen sleepless nights. And just getting in and out of the thing may prove a challenge.
If none of the above is a problem for you, the Marcos could be an interesting (and rare) alternative to more obvious candidates such as Morgan and TVR. And – dare we say it – it will probably be a damn sight more reliable than the latter. Some Marcoses have racked up huge mileages, even though few are used as daily drivers today.
While the 3-litre offers serious performance, many reckon the original 1800 is the nicer car to drive, due to its lighter engine, which translates into better handling. Needless to say, all the V8 cars have power in abundance, and later chassis were much better protected against corrosion. If you’re buying a steel-chassis car, it’s vital to check its condition, whatever the age – Marcos Heritage offers fully galvanised replacements.
The 1800s are in a class of their own because of their eligibility for historic racing. 3-litre cars come with either a wooden or steel chassis, and with a choice of Ford or the Volvo engines, but your decision will most probably be limited to what is available on the market.
Performance and specs
1971 Marcos 3-litre
Engine 2979cc Volvo straight six, two Stromberg carbs
Power 140bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 192lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual plus overdrive
Top speed 125mph
Dimensions and weight
• Famously, the Marcos GT has a wooden chassis – at least, it did for the first five years of production, after which a more conventional tubular steel spaceframe was used instead.
• The first steel Marcos chassis were much more prone to rot away than the wooden structures they superseded. However, any wood will deteriorate if exposed to damp or oil for long periods of time; check out the rear bulkheads and boot floor in particular.
• The outer glassfibre shell is bonded around the three-part sills. Usually it’s the inner member that suffers most, through water dripping off the doors. To repair, you have to cut away the glassfibre between the front and rear wheelarches – but it’s still straightforward to repair.
• The body itself is all glassfibre and subject to the same kind of chips and stress fractures that affect any GRP car shell; bonnets are the most frequent casualties due to that long, vulnerable nose. In the event of a bad smash, Marcos Heritage can provide any panel required, since it owns the moulds.
• Mechanically, the cars always used proprietary power units and running gear from big manufacturers, so the parts supply is still very good. Front suspension is Triumph Herald on ‘classic’ GTs, Ford MacPherson strut on later cars; the very earliest 1800s had unique de Dion rear suspension, but this proved too fragile for competition use and was soon replaced by a conventional live axle.
• Access to the coupés can be tricky for the more mature driver, but once inside there’s a remakable amount of head and legroom – Jem Marsh was a tall chap, unlike Colin Chapman. Uniquely, the Marcos has an adjustable pedal box rather than movable seats, which is screwed towards or away from you by a large knob on the dashboard.
• Interior trim could be in leather or vinyl; for the latter, Marcos Heritage can supply the correct-pattern material. Some early switchgear is hard to find now but, again, Marcos Heritage can help out.
1959: Marcos founded by Jem Marsh and Frank Costin.
1961: Costin leaves Marcos; Dennis Adams takes over as stylist, working with his carpenter brother Peter.
1964: Adams-styled 1800 (or GT) is launched, with Volvo B18 engine, wooden chassis and glassfibre body. First 33 cars have de Dion IRS, soon changed to Ford live axle.
1966: Volvo engine is replaced by Ford 1500GT engine (1600GT from ’67). Alongside GT, new Mini Marcos is introduced, based around FWD Mini mechanicals.
1969: Ford 3.0-litre V6 engine is offered. First 115 cars have wooden chassis, changed to steel chassis in late ’69. US-market cars are fitted with Volvo 164 straight six to satisfy emissions regs, and it supersedes Ford V6 for UK in 1970. Some GTs also built with Triumph 2.5-litre ‘sixes’, and some with 1500cc Ford V4s. Production is moved from Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire to nearby Westbury.
1972: Problems at home and abroad cause Marcos to fold.
1982: Marcos restarts production of 3-litre and 1600 in kit form.
1984: New model, the Mantula, is launched with 3.5-litre Rover V8, again supplied in kit form.
1991: Mini Marcos MkV is reintroduced, along with new low-cost Martina kit, based on Cortina running gear.
1993: Marcos starts producing fully built cars again.
1993: Mantara makes its debut, with 3.9-litre Rover V8.
1993: Mantara-based GT Le Mans spearheads Marcos’s move into serious racing: at Le Mans 1995, Marcos finishes seventh in class.
1997: Mantis is launched with 4.6-litre Ford Mustang V8, giving 325bhp and 0-60mph in 4sec.
1999: A ‘less aggressive’ version of the Mantis, the Mantaray, is brought out with 230, 290 or 340bhp versions of the Rover V8.
2000: Massively powerful Mantis GT has supercharged Mustang V8 developing over 500bhp. Only ten examples are made before Marcos Sales Ltd goes into receivership; Marcos Heritage buys company assets.
2002: Marcos Engineering is revived by Jem Marsh to produce V6-powered Marcasite TS250. It’s followed by V8 TS500, then 5.7-litre Chevy V8 TSO.
2007: Marcos Engineering closes.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.clubmarcos.net - Club Marcos International
• www.marcos-oc.com - Marcos Owners Club
• www.rory.uk.com - Marcos Heritage Spares Ltd
Summary and prices
The 1800s are highly sought after thanks to their historic motorsport eligibility, with one now costing between £25,000-35,000. In contrast, a 1500 or 1600 is only worth up to £15,000.
All of the 3-Litre models are in the £10,000-20,000 bracket. Cars made from 1982 onwards can be hard to value because they were often assembled by the buyer, but they start at about £10,000.