Marcos GT

Marcos GT 1960s British classic sports car

More than most manufacturers, Marcos encapsulated English eccentricity. That was amply demonstrated by a succession of GT cars. ‘Marcos’ was an amalgam of the names of the two founders – Jem Marsh and Frank Costin. The new firm’s first product was a sports car – built mainly from wood. The race version was a stellar success. Jackie Stewart launched his career in one. Which possibly points to where Stewart first got a taste for ‘health and safety’ within the sport! From that ornate creation emerged the classic Marcos sports car. It was to see several shape shifts over the years. The formative lines were drawn by Dennis and Peter Adams. Unveiled in ’64, the Marcos wowed London’s Earls Court Racing Car Show. This time, the bodywork was fashioned from glass fibre – cutting edge, then, in every sense. Its chassis, though, still stood by wood. Suspension-wise, that first Marcos was fitted with Triumph wishbones at the front – and de Dion and Triumph arms at the rear. A Ford live-axle set-up followed in due course. Over time, Ford, Volvo and Triumph engines would be installed. So, it was already apparent that Marcos did not do predictable!

Marcos and motor racing go way back. In ’66, a ‘Mini-Marcos’ hybrid was the sole British entry to complete that year’s Le Mans 24-hour race. Equipped with its Mini motor, the Marcos car was cheap to campaign. Incredibly, one could still be sourced new right up to ’94. Two of Marcos’ Le Mans cars were aptly code-named the LM500 and LM600. Launched in ’94, they marked Marcos’ return to the famous French circuit.

The Seventies got off to a good start for Marcos. The mythical Mantis was released. As the decade wore on, though, the firm was much less visible. Indeed, it fell to Jem Marsh to keep the servicing and parts departments open. ’81, though, saw a Marcos resurgence. Power was supplied by Ford. With not a lot happening on the sports car scene at the time, Marcos’ revival was a shot in the arm not just for the marque, but the industry. 1983’s Marcos Mantula – powered by a Rover V8 – was a hit in the showrooms. Yet more plaudits followed two years later – with the arrival of the Spyder. Marcos moved into the ’90s with the Mantara – which saw a styling revamp. The Adams brothers’ original curves were still there – but suitably updated. ’97 saw a new model Mantis. Thanks to its Ford V8 engine, the Mantis GT thundered around race-tracks at more than 170mph. While Marcos were definitely ‘different’, those in the know have never taken the marque less than seriously. Certainly, many an eyebrow has been raised by a Marcos GT car over the years. Though one cannot help but suspect that was always part of the Marsh/Costin game-plan!

Noble M15

When it came to machines like the M15, Noble’s sports car credo was simple. Let the driver do the driving! That was in sharp contrast to many other manufacturers – who were happy to let gizmos have half the input. To Lee Noble, half the input meant half the fun! Founded in ’99, his firm shot straight out of the automotive blocks. The Noble M10 – released the same year – did 170mph. And with a normally aspirated engine! Its light plastic bodywork was key to that speed. The Noble M12 moved things up another gear. Its turbocharged Ford motor was really more racer, than roadster. Time to throttle back a tad.

The M15 was launched in 2006. Pundits – Top Gear amongst them – praised its performance. 185mph was on tap – with 0-60 coming up in 3.4s. The twin turbocharged Ford Duratec engine made 455bhp. And the power was smoothly delivered. As Lee Noble had clarified – his cars were about the total driving experience. The M15’s motor was mounted longitudinally. That evened out weight distribution – helping handling. The M15’s purposeful poise was propped up by a space-frame chassis. Topping things off was an integral rollcage.

The M15’s cabin was more than comfortable. There were electric windows – and sat-nav. Traction control and ABS, too. Did that border on computerised hand-holding? Possibly … but, then, Noble did have a duty to protect its customers! And their wallets, for that matter. By supercar standards, the M15 came cheap. £74,950 was loose change compared with some of its peers!

TVR Cerbera Speed 12

The TVR Cerbera Speed 12 further developed the Project 7/12 prototype. The latter was named for its 7.0-litre V12 engine. The 7/12 had wowed the crowd at the ’96 British Motor Show. It did the same at racetracks. Hardly surprising really – since 0-60mph arrived in around 3s. In the debit column, the 7/12 was far from forgiving, handling-wise. That was all to the good, so far as motor racing fans were concerned. The combination of the 7/12’s prodigious output – and hairy handling – made for some splendid spectating. In effect, the 48-valve V12 was two 6-cylinder motors combined. A 6-speed ‘box did what it could to transition power smoothly to the rear wheels. All of that was wrapped up in a TVR Tuscan modified chassis. So far as race-goers were concerned – with 800bhp flowing through what was essentially a souped-up sports car – the 7/12 was the gift that kept on giving!

But, there was more to come from the Project 7/12. In 2000, a new version was unveiled. Rebranded as the Speed 12, it was everything its predecessor had been – and more! TVR had used the McLaren F1 supercar as a benchmark. Which pretty much said it all. Flat-out, the F1 did 231mph. The Cerbera Speed 12 was about to top that. It was reputedly good for 240mph. That was in no small part down to the Speed 12’s weight – or lack thereof. TVR engineers had pared it down to just 1,000kg. Not only was the Speed 12’s bodywork breathtaking to behold – it was hyper-light, too. Optimal aerodynamics, then, were a gimme.

Sadly, just three Speed 12s were built. Without doubt, TVR – based in Blackpool, England – had built awesome performance into the car. But on the open road, that could be a double-edged sword. In the hands of the unwary, such poke might prove fatal. ‘TVR’ had been founded by TreVoR Wilkinson. Now, though, a new man was at the helm. CEO Peter Wheeler was a seasoned and skilled racer of the company’s products. If anyone knew the capabilities – and potential perils of the car – it was him. Wheeler felt that the Speed 12 was simply too powerful to take to the roads. It was rumoured that the car might compete at Le Mans – which rather reinforced his point! After all, the TVR Cerbera Speed 12 served up some 960bhp. As for the roadster, a price tag of £188,000 had been mooted. Some prospective buyers might well have seen that as a steal!

Ford Shelby GT350

 

As motoring luminaries go, they do not shine much more brightly than Carroll Shelby. So – in ’65 – when the erstwhile racer trained his tuning sights on the Ford Mustang, the sports car community sat up. The first-model Mustang had been released the previous year – to great acclaim. It had impressed in every area … except one. In performance terms, the Mustang underwhelmed. Enter Carroll Shelby!

Styling-wise, the Mustang was fine. So, that was left alone – apart from new side-exhausts and stripes. Shelby headed straight for the engine – a Cobra 4.7-litre V8. He already knew a thing or two about it. He had, after all, been the catalyst for the AC Cobra. When Shelby picked up his spanners, the Mustang’s V8 made 271bhp. Ford had already uprated the original spec. Shelby, though, was sure there was more. He was right. By the time he put down his spanners, output had risen to 306bhp. That came, in the main, by modifying the manifolds. Though a Holley carburettor certainly helped. Top speed had risen to 149mph … with a 0-60 stat of 6.5s. Ensconced in their LA workshops, Shelby and his team had turned a meek and mild Mustang into a muscle car!

But, it would not have been a ‘Shelby’ without racing attached. It came in the form of the SCCA B-Production road-race series. The Shelby GT350R duly hit the grid. And went on to take the ’65, ’66 and ’67 titles. The R dished out 360bhp. While the roadster was not quite in that league, it was no slouch. Koni suspension was suitably solid. The chassis was well up to taking the strain. Front discs – and rear drums – provided safe and assured braking. Transmission was 4-speed. Carroll Shelby had done it again. Cut from the same cloth as the AC Cobra, Ford’s GT350 was already a thoroughbred sports car. And when a class act like Shelby got a hold of it, sparks were always going to fly. In a perfect trajectory, of course!

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