Double Exposure: Two Rare Marcos GT Coupes


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Story and Photos by John Webber

The guys in the battered Ford F-150 pickup were rolling along Route 19 on Florida’s west coast, minding their own business, when a white Marcos coupe flashed by. Trying to get a better look, they nearly sprained their necks. And before they could recover, they spotted a blue coupe close behind.

Maybe they thought they were seeing double.

And why not? Only a handful of these rare British cars still roam the roads in North America, and seeing one is an occasion. But two Marcos coupes inhabit this corner of Florida, and their owners exercise them regularly–so the locals often think they’re seeing double.

Meet Larry Meadows and Ron McLeod, two enthusiasts who never met a Marcos they didn’t like.

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White Coupe: Back from the Dead

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In 1971, a Miami doctor bought a new 3-liter, Volvo-powered Marcos GT. After only 7553 miles, he bounced it off a utility pole so hard the impact sheared off the top. His insurance company totaled the car, and it ended up sun-baking in a Florida salvage yard.

A year later, Larry Meadows was living in Tampa, where he worked for a boat manufacturer. An energetic man with many talents, he had been a sheet metal worker in the Coast Guard, where he also picked up welding and engineering. He loved to repair cars and had restored his Model A Ford. He also ran a home-based business doing car interiors, which led to another sideline: replacing the wiring and interiors of burned-out Corvettes for Ed Garlitts, brother of drag racer Don Garlitts. And since Larry got his materials at a discount from the boat company, he also started doing fiberglass repairs.

Aware of Larry’s skills, a friend approached him about rebuilding a junkyard Marcos–the very one wrecked by the Miami doctor. Larry’s friend had bought it to restore, but then reality set in. He knew he needed help.

So Larry crawled over the mangled Marcos–which had been exposed to the elements for months–and came up with an estimate to restore it. Hearing the number, his friend stepped back, swallowed hard, and suddenly decided to sell. Larry offered him $900.

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Larry had never driven a car like this, but he liked the dramatic looks of the low-slung GT. “The styling is the most outstanding feature to me,” he says. Of course, like any car guy falling in love with a project, he was looking past the broken top, shattered fiberglass and bent frame, the gutted interior and missing parts, and the years of hard work ahead.

Once he removed what remained of the body, Larry discovered that the crash had pushed in the right-side frame rails nearly to the transmission. He spent weeks cutting the damaged sections apart and welding in new tubing. Then he took the completed frame to a shop and had it trued.

In those days, the Marcos factory in England was still operating, so he ordered a new right door, doorframe and windscreen. “They were friendly and helpful,” he recalls, “as long as I didn’t catch them at tea time.”

Like any project, this one had setbacks. Deep into fiberglass repair, Larry made a startling discovery: The sides of a Marcos are not symmetrical. He explains, “I spent a week making a mold off the left side of the body, cut it into sections, reversed the station templates, and made an opposite mold for the right side.” To his horror, he found that the right side differed so much that his carefully crafted mold could not be used. “I called the factory,” he says, “and after I was told to call back after tea, I finally talked to Jem Marsh, who told me the sides were indeed not opposite.”

To overcome this problem, Larry used body filler to shape the areas he needed, waxed those with mold release, and pulled molds. He then laid up sections in the molds and spliced these sections into the damaged areas, a task that added weeks to the project. He later learned that a lack of symmetry is not uncommon in handbuilt fiberglass cars of that era, along with less-than-precise panel fit.

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Since most of the wood-framed dashboard was damaged or missing, Larry had no idea how it should look. His brother, by chance spotting a Marcos GT on the highway, chased it down and explained the problem. The car’s owner graciously let Larry disassemble his dash and make a mold. (This enthusiast was so impressed with Larry’s workmanship that he later had him do a three-year, back-to-factory-specs restoration on his car.)

Despite the car’s low mileage, the mechanicals had suffered at the salvage yard. The engine had been open to the weather, and some components had been removed. Larry performed a valve job, replaced missing parts, and gave the mechanicals and hydraulics a complete overhaul.

To improve performance, he replaced the original Volvo automatic transmission with an M410 four-speed with electric overdrive. For lower cruising rpm, he installed a modified TR8 rear end with 3.05:1 gears and added cruise control. To protect the electrical wiring and switches, he added relays throughout the car.

Few Marcos coupes were equipped with air conditioning, but this car had dealer-installed a/c, which Larry updated with a compact R134 compressor. He says that even with the large window area, the a/c makes a summer drive bearable–and during cooler parts of the year, the system can “frost us out.”

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These days, Larry and his wife, Lynda, enjoy driving the coupe to shows and on short trips. He relishes the attention his Marcos draws and is always happy to answer questions. “Most folks think it’s a kit car,” he says, and even when he explains what a Marcos is, they still have questions. In the more than 40 years he’s owned the car, he recalls that maybe a dozen people have been able to correctly identify the GT.

With all his hands-on experience, Larry has become an accomplished Marcos expert, and he helps enthusiasts all over the world keep their cars on the road. Along with dispensing maintenance tips, he rebuilds parts, makes molds and patterns, and rebuilds interiors–he recently shipped a new one to an owner in Norway.

Blue Coupe: A Snowbird That Stayed South

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In 1970, Ron McLeod, who says he has always been a car guy, was living in the United Kingdom when he spotted a picture of a Marcos Mantis. “It was a stunning-looking car, and I immediately decided I had to have one,” he says.

So he went to the Marcos dealership in Manchester and ordered one. He specified left-hand drive (perhaps the only LHD car built of 32) and visited the factory several times during his car’s construction. When it was completed, he enjoyed the car in England and Europe before he had it shipped to Canada, where he now lives near Oakville, Ontario. He still owns this Mantis, which he believes is the only one still on the road in North America.

Some 35 years later, retired and spending winters in Sarasota, Florida, Ron was on the lookout for another Marcos, and he found a GT. “That way,” he explains, “I would have my Mantis to drive all summer in Ontario and my GT to drive all winter in Florida. I would never be without a Marcos!”

So he bought a “quite usable” 1970 3-liter GT in Ontario, changed the fluids, and drove it for the summer. It ran so well he decided to drive the car to Florida. After all, he reasoned, it’s only 1900 miles. Just a man and his Marcos. Should be fun, right? And it was, with a few anxious moments thrown in.

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His trip started out well enough, and he enjoyed good weather and scenic roads. But on the second day out, clueless drivers, apparently unable to see the low-profile coupe, backed into it–not once but twice–in parking lots. “This car is invisible,” Ron says. Luckily, the damage was slight. He pressed on, but with extraordinary care in parking lots.

On the Blue Ridge Parkway–which he describes as every Marcos driver’s dream–Ron really began to appreciate the car’s precise handling and stout brakes. He calls it a real driver’s car, and he enjoyed that stretch of the trip immensely.

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But by the third day, the Marcos started to use oil. On the final day, Ron had to add 4 quarts in 500 miles. “At the end, I was literally stopping to fill the oil and check the gas,” he recalls. Trailing a blue cloud, he made it to Sarasota, covering 1878 miles and averaging 28.4 miles per gallon–plus several quarts of oil.

A local expert examined the engine and determined that excessive piston ring blow-by was pressurizing the crankcase and forcing oil out every orifice. A teardown revealed gouges in the cylinder walls and pistons, plus scored and burned bearings and other damage. “The mechanic said it looked like someone had thrown sand in the carbs,” Ron says. So he had the engine completely rebuilt to factory specifications.

As it turned out, Ron’s “quite usable” Marcos had other problems, too.

Larry to the Rescue

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Although Ron and Larry had exchanged emails, they never met in person until Ron brought his coupe to Florida in 2007. They finally got together to evaluate Ron’s car and, well, one thing led to another.

Soon, Larry was removing the body from the chassis and making those unpleasant discoveries that can lead to a full restoration. They found that the long Canadian winters had taken their toll. The lower chassis tubes were badly rusted, and botched repair attempts with angle iron had made things worse. So the rotted tubes were cut out and replaced, and the chassis sandblasted, primed, sealed and painted the original blue.

The body, doors, hood and trunk lid were all taken down to the fiberglass, damaged sections repaired, cracks ground out and filled, and the windshield opening reshaped to fit the windscreen. The body was painted with a 1993 Cadillac Sapphire Blue base-coat/clear-coat combination.

Every piece of the suspension was revamped or replaced, and the electrical system was renewed with added relays to protect the circuits. The interior was completely redone, and all the instruments cleaned and calibrated.

In short, when they finished this two-year project, they had handcrafted a new Marcos. In fact, with all the improvements it was better than new, and Ron is quite pleased with it. “Larry is a true craftsman; everything he does is complete and correct in every detail,” he says.

Ron is now enjoying his “new” Marcos GT. “People love it right away; it provokes questions and conversations,” he says, “and on the road it gets thumbs-up from drivers of Porsches, Corvettes and other wonderful cars.”

He, too, was drawn to the car by its extreme styling, which he explains this way: “This car is so low that I can drive into my community under the gate–no need for a gate opener.” As to the challenge of getting into his car, he says, “I tell people that they can get a feeling for it by putting a telephone book under the kitchen table and trying to sit on it.”

BEHIND THE WHEEL

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To drive a Marcos, one must first enter it–with a series of moves best suited to a gymnast. After a couple of false starts–feet first or butt first?–a wiggle here and an unnatural fold there, I’m in. “Once you’re in,” both owners insist, “it’s really comfortable.”

And so it is, assuming you get in without injury.

Behind the tiny wheel, I’m reclining, knees higher than chin (not really, it just feels that way) in a narrow, well-bolstered seat that does not move. To adjust for more or less legroom, I can twist the hand wheel on the dash to move the foot-pedal assembly a few inches. I can also adjust the steering wheel’s height, but that requires a wrench.

I cannot see my feet. The footwell is long and tight, and the center console high and wide. This cozy coupe is not for the claustrophobic, even with the Webasto sliding top open. I feel like I’m wearing this car.

But once I’m settled, the controls are all at hand, and the cabin is well appointed with wood and leather. The familiar Smiths speedometer and tachometer reside right behind the wheel, and a full array of gauges and rocker switches sit over the console, under a padded fascia. The overall cabin layout resembles an aircraft cockpit.

The sturdy Volvo starts with the twist of the key, and the clutch is light and linear. Low-speed steering is heavy but lightens up with speed. The Volvo shifter snicks through the gears with little effort, and the big-six displays an abundance of torque by pulling up to speed nicely. Once in fourth gear, a flip of the switch on the shifter kicks in the electric overdrive. The faster I go, the better it drives. Larry reports that at 70 mph in fourth OD, the engine is turning 2500 rpm.

The ride is firm but not bone-jarring, and quick cornering produces little body roll. In the 1970s, these coupes were among the best-handling cars an enthusiast could buy–and comparatively quick, too. I drive both cars, and they are evenly matched; I’d be hard-pressed to pick the better driver.

The owners tell me it takes a while to master the laid-back driving position without straining your neck to see over the long hood. Rear and side visibility is limited, and changing lanes safely requires vigilance. My main concern is to make sure other cars see me.

On an even road, these cars ride smoothly and quietly; I don’t notice the usual creaks and groans heard in many fiberglass-bodied cars of the ’70s.

The Marcos GT has a personality all its own and delivers a drive like no other. As Ron puts it, “It’s a very elemental driving experience. Once you get in the rhythm, you feel very much an integral part of the car.”

I agree. If I can get out of this thing, does anyone know a good chiropractor?

THE MARCOS SAGA

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In 1959, Jem Marsh and Frank Costin (whose last names combined to form the Marcos moniker) created a company in England to build fast, sporty fiberglass cars for road and track. Costin, using techniques he learned in the aircraft industry, constructed the monocoque-style chassis of laminated marine plywood, which proved to be extremely light and strong. The company used this design until 1969, when–to shorten construction time, reduce labor costs, and use more powerful engines–they introduced steel-framed models.

Like other small British automakers, Marcos installed engines, drivetrains and off-the-shelf parts from other manufacturers, including Standard, Triumph, Ford and Volvo. Over the years, Marcos built a bewildering array of models with names like Mantis, Mini Marcos, Mantula, Martina and Mantaray–more than 20 variations in all, most of which were not available in the U.S.

During a 48-year span, Marcos Cars was killed off, buried, and brought back to life so many times–and in so many forms–that this tiny automaker could have been cast as a character in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The final variation (we think) was Marcos Engineering, Ltd., which went into liquidation in 2007.

Today, Marcos Heritage Spares, Ltd., in the U.K. keeps the torch burning. In 2001, this company acquired Marcos’s original tooling, body molds and build records. They restore and build cars, sell spares, and provide other services for Marcos owners around the world.

RESOURCES:

Club Marcos International
clubmarcos.net

Marcos Owners Club
marcos-oc.com

Marcos Heritage Spares, Ltd.
rory.uk.com


This article is from a past issue of the magazine. Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it's published, and get access to our full digital archive, by subscribing to Classic Motorsports. Subscribe now.

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