I collected the Marcos from the Westbury factory in April 1984. The original target was to be registered and on the road by the end of August that year. So what went wrong?
Well, it’s a long and complicated story. So if you are interested here it comes…
Why buy a Marcos?
At one time I believed that I would never drive a car, motorcycles were the one right way to travel. Who needs a car? I was pro-bike and anti-car from my first Puch GP50 moped in 1976 through to a wonderful Kawasaki GPZ550 which I owned until 1982. But then I just lost my nerve I found that I was unable to handle the fast and slightly reckless style of riding that I had previously enjoyed.
So I sold the Kawasaki and passed my 4 wheel driving test, but what to drive? My first car was an accident damaged Datsun 180B SSS. I repaired it, gave it a nice set of Dell’Orto carbs and a full respray. Very fast but truly awful handling. I needed something better that didn’t object to going round corners.
I was pretty certain that a nice new Ford Escort XR3i would be the perfect replacement for the Datsun. But just to be sure I decided to Visit the 1983 Motor Fair at Earls Court in London.
Well, the XR3i was quite nice, but not really exciting for the price. The new Peugeot 205 had just been launched but the GTi wouldn’t be available for a while, then just as I was about to leave I discovered the Marcos stand. The beautiful light blue metallic Mantula was in a different class to anything else in my price range. OK it would have to be a kit, but Jem Marsh told me I could have it on the road in six weeks…
A few weeks later I travelled up to Westbury for a test drive. I wasn’t allowed to drive it myself, this was the only Mantula, so it was far too valuable to hand over to just anyone. I got the impression that I was seen as a time waster, so I had to insist on being taken for a drive. Oh but what an experience! Jem Marsh does not hang around, so the drive was over in double quick time. Even now more than thirty years later I can still remember every minute of it.
Before that test drive however I was having second thoughts. The Marcos ‘factory’ was, to be honest, a bit of a dump, and these beautiful cars did not look quite so great under the skin. I saw cars in preparation and it all seemed a little amateurish.
But despite my misgivings how could I really miss a chance to own a true classic? I paid my deposit and arranged for delivery in April 1984.
Preparing for the build
While I waited for the delivery day there was plenty of time to look for all of the donor parts. I bought a running Triumph Vitesse for the front suspension and steering the rest of the car was scrapped, which was perhaps an act of vandalism on my part. It would be considered a classic by some now, but at the time it was just a quaint, old fashioned means to an end. I wonder if I can re-use the registration (JDL 16 E) for the Mantula?
Original Rover V8
The engine was a Rover 3.5 litre automatic from a Rover P6. It was still attached to its automatic gearbox. On the outside it looked very clean. I later found that the inside had seen better days having run up at least 180,000 miles. The receipt for the engine stated 80,000! Never mind, I had the engine re-bored, the crankshaft re-ground and I fitted new hydraulic lifters. The camshaft was replaced as the original had only a slight indication of where the lobes should be for the rear two cylinders. The valves hardly opened at all!
The engine rebuild was successful and I had it running in the car where everything worked perfectly. Oil pressure was perfect and water temp within limits. Unfortunately the car never moved under its own power because the brakes weren’t working at the time.