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The Carchive: The Marcos Mantara

Chris Haining September 16, 2016 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 21 Comments

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After what feels like it’s been an incredibly swift week, it’s time to slit the foil from a chilled bottle of liquid history, pop the cork of wisdom, sip and savour the bubbly golden loveliness, and then stare at the grape must of motoring past. Lets decant those dregs and celebrate ’em. Welcome back to the The Carchive.

Last week we had a long, lingering look at a Playboy.  Today we’re back in Blighty,  looking at another specialist manufacture of high repute. It’s 1993 today, if you didn’t know, and we’re heading to Wiltshire to spend some time with the smashing chaps at Marcos Engineering.

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“In an age of computer aided design and and robotic manufacture, it is refreshing to know that there is still a place for quality, craftsmanship and traditional skills.”

Damn right!  A pox on your complex CATIA systems. Autocad? Munch my bunch. Pencils. Magic Markers. French and Flexible Curves. Magic markers, biros and artist’s gauache. Lighter fluid and ink, polystyrene foam models. Hour long rendering sessions and a wastepaper basket full of ideas that didn’t make it off the drawing boards. Decisions made without a sniff of consumer clinicking. This was the world of design I dreamt of launching myself into – creating things like the Marcos Mantara, and working out whether there was a business case for it later.

Marcos had always lived in the shadows a bit. Jem Marsh and Frank Costin were visionaries, for sure, and sometimes they struck gold. The Mini Marcos became a cult vehicle, but the bigger machines seemed rather harder to shift. I reckon folk just thought that the Marcos product was just that bit too eccentric. Their Essex V6 powered coupé started life with a plywood chassis. Plywood was chosen because it was the right material for the job, but the company soon and grudgingly reverted to tubular steel just like everybody else, for ease of production. Not because they wanted to, but because they needed to survive.

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“More than just a very fast and unique sportscar, the Mantara is also eminently practical. With a spare wheel that tucks neatly into the bonnet, the spacious boot is large enough to hold two sets of golf clubs, two travelling cases and more… something few other cars of even remotely similar specification can boast.”

The nineties brought with it a kind of renaissance for Marcos, though one that never exactly exploded with fanfare and celebration. The Mantara was a careful, deliberate and studied evolution on the core Marcos theme that had run for a whole generation. With a Rover V8 tuned to 300hp, an idiosyncratic bodystyle and a stubborn resistance to change, Marcos had more in common than just an initial letter. TSW Evo wheels from the factory, too. How cool is that.

The customers loved ’em, though. And their loyalty was soon rewarded with the monstrous, swollen and deeply awesome LM500. Celebrity endorsements came next, including the estimable Maxi Jazz of trip-hop troubadours Faithless, who campaigned one in series racing, with mixed fortunes.

Eventually, though, history consumed the Marcos name once and for all. On 9 October 2007  Marcos finally ceased production, entering voluntary liquidation.

While the nation didn’t exactly mourn, it did at least become a little less colourful.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Come back Marcos. Seriously. Come back)