Impressions of the Marcos 3-Litre
When the Marcos two-seater coupé first appeared nearly five years ago I thought it was one of the best looking cars this country had produced, and today it has lost none of its appeal. It was designed by Dennis and Peter Adams for Marcos Cars Ltd. and demonstrated to other small production specialist car manufacturers that there was no need to rush off to Italy and the Turin Motor Show to achieve striking styling. Jem Marsh, the Mar of Marcos Cars, designed his car into the fibreglass shape, using the basic Marcos principles of a chassis structure built from marine-ply wood with a steel sub-frame in the engine compartment and carrying the front suspension. The front wheels are independently sprung on a double-wishbone and coil-spring layout, and there is rack and pinion steering. The rear axle layout started as fully independent, but Marsh felt that the cost and complication was not justified and reverted to a single-piece live rear axle spring on coil-springs and located by two radius rods on each side and transversely by a Panhard rod. The original Marcos, in what might be called the Adams Brothers series, was powered by an 1,800-c.c. Volvo engine and later this was superseded by a 1,600-c.c. Ford engine. Neither model seemed to take full advantage of the potential of the car. but like all small-production firms Marcos were forced to rely on the availability of engines from big manufacturers. When Ford introduced their Vee range, and in particular the 3-litre V6 unit there was a flurry of activity among the small firms such as Marcos and a basic Marcos was soon modified to take the 3-litre V6 Ford engine and gearbox. The only outward modification needed was a lengthening of the nose in order to keep a good line along the bonnet, which had to be slightly higher to clear the carburetter air filter.
The Marcos has always had a reclining driving position with a built-in headrest, with the steering-wheel practically in a vertical plane at the arms-outstretched position. Having settled on this body position the seat is fixed and built-in as part of the body-structure so that the driver's head is fixed relative to such important things as windscreen, windscreen pillars, door window, mirror etc. As most differences in height in the human being are a question of leg length, the Marcos provides for this by the simple-expedient of mounting the three pedals in a cluster on a screwed rod, and moving them backwards and forwards over a range to suit most people, by turning a knob mounted under the instrument panel. The steering wheel can be moved forwards or backwards on a spline, but this involves spanners under the bonnet, though it is not a long job. When you first get into a Marcos and shut the door you are very conscious of the top of the screen pillar and the roof being just above your right eyebrow, but as soon as you realise that you do not drive with one eye cocked upwards you forget this closed-in feeling. As it is a car in which you lie back and point to where you want to go, rather than physically steer about the place, you soon get accustomed to the driving position, which is in the modern "racing idiom" rather than "vintage'', I had not gone far before I decided that the driving position would be ideal for me if I could raise myself up on the seat a little, so I stopped to see if there was anything in the boot that I could use as a cushion. There certainly was, for in the boot was a special padded seat cushion, of the same material as the interior of the car, and it not only fitted into the driver's seat but also right up the shaped back-rest as well. Mr. Marsh is some inches over six foot in height and is very conscious of the fact that some of us are barely up to his shoulder, so this shaped seat cushion is a standard optional extra. Feeling much more comfortable and very much more in control I gave three cheers for Marsh and started motoring.
When you are only a small manufacturer and have to make do with other people's engines and gearboxes you are bound to suffer and while the V6 Ford engine is excellent the four-speed and reverse gearbox attached to it is rather horrid, having a nasty feel to the gearchange and most uninspired gear ratios. The Marcos has an electrically-operated overdrive on third and top gears, with a switch on the gear lever, but I find such arrangements tiresome and not at all satisfactory, compared to a five-speed gearbox, if your engine needs it, or a well-designed four-speed. The torque from the Ford V6 engine is such that the Marcus would get away with a well-designed three-speed gearbox! Having to use the Ford bell-housing and gearbox the gear lever on the Marcos is cranked forwards and is not a success, the movements being awkward and the change from third gear to second gear being horrible. However, once out on the open road you can do all your driving in top gear and over-drive top and then everything is very simple and pleasant. The car rides very flatly, showing no visible signs of roll on bends, and the Avon 175-13 inch radial tyres on the optional extra Marcos 5½ J alloy wheels not only look good but hold the road as well. The feel of the steering on any car is a matter of personal opinion, but for me the Marcos is much too "dead", there is no feed-back from the front tyres to tell you what is going on, and it is distinctly on the heavy side. In short, I didn't like the steering at all, but it wasn't so disagreeable that it spoilt the driving of the car.
Just before driving the Marcos I had spent some time with a Lotus Europa so in consequence, I was very disturbed to find that the rear-vision was almost nil. After the Europa I had found the E-type Jaguar rear-vision almost claustrophobic, but what I could see was at least sharp and clear. On the Marcos the rear window suffers terrible distortion and the mirror jiggled about on its mounting so that the shapes behind were very fuzzy and blurred and on our police-infested roads good rear vision is all-important, unless you are in a really potent machine like a GT40 for then you can throw caution to the winds. The Marcos would appear to get its good cornering ability and flat ride by having hard suspension and at-anything under 80 m.p.h. the hardness is too much; over that speed, things start working and improving, but there are far too many bangs and thumps coming from under the car, reminiscent of an E-type Jaguar. The spokes of the steering wheel tend to obscure the two main instruments, the speedometer and the tachometer, especially the latter when you are nearing peak r.p.m., but the limit of 5,500 r.p.m. is easily reached, giving over 120 m.p.h. in overdrive top gear and 110 m.p.h. in normal top gear. You can accept that the everyday maximum speed of the 3-litre V6 Marcos is 120 m.p.h., with 125 m.p.h. as the absolute maximum under favourable conditions, such as having a hot Lotus Elan on your tail.
It is a natural tendency for cars to develop characters that can be directly attributed to the factory surroundings, which is why some cars built in the Motoring Midlands are ideally suited for taking the directors from the board-room to the nearest expense-account restaurant, while others built near Italian Autostrada are only happy when they are flat-out. The Marcos is built in the west of England, at Bradford-on-Avon, and is really at home on the pleasant sweeping open lands of Wiltshire, wafting along in a very effortless manner, for once you get into overdrive top the Ford V6 engine is very smooth and quiet. In the East End of London it is not the best thing at all, but in the West End it certainly looks striking and can stand alongside any exotic and expensive Italian car without blushing.
I would sum it up by saying that the 3-litre Marcos is a nice car, but not necessarily a good car, by 1970 standards, for after all we are just entering the next decade of fast motoring. While I enjoyed driving the Marcos I did not feel I wanted one for myself, as I have a very similar car in the E-type Jaguar, but whereas the E-type is rusting away after 100,000 miles the fibreglass and wood Marcos will not suffer from this. It would be nice to say that the Marcos 3-litre is the poor man's E-type, but unfortunately Wiltshire economics are not like those in Coventry so the Marcos is expensive, though you can buy it in component form for £1,770 but by the time you have all the desirable optional extras it starts getting expensive. However, if you are different and want a car that is different the Marcos 3-litre should be on the short list, and I still think it is one of the best looking cars to emanate from England.—D. S. J.