15 minutes of fame
MINI-MARCOS LE MANS 24 HOURS,1966
It was an unlikely endurance triumph: a hastily glued-together kit car from Wiltshire, crewed by a team of amateurs, takes on Le Mans and not only finishes but wins a trophy. Well, all but the last bit.
Towards the end of 1965 Jem Marsh launched the Mini-Marcos, and on the eve of the following June’s Le Mans classic, he learned that Jean-Louis Marnat had managed to get an entry for one of the cheap-‘n’-cheerful kit cars which he would share with future pro-driver Claude Ballot-Lena. Marsh wasn’t altogether pleased: “I had nothing to do with the preparation of the car and was horrified when I saw it. I didn’t think it would last a lap. I went off to the Motor hospitality unit convinced that it wouldn’t finish, and did my best to distance myself from it.” Not that he was the only one: “I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that Alec Issigonis was appalled at this funny little egg-shaped Mini and went home. Anyway, at 3am the car was still going and by this time I’d had a bit to drink so I changed my tune completely, saying how great the Mini-Marcos was.
“In the early morning it started raining heavily and one of the drivers was really erratic: his lap times were all over the place. Off I went to the pits to beg them to slow him down in order to ensure that he ran the distance…”
It worked – they finished 15th.
“Some months later I was at the Steering Wheel Club and Gregor Grant told me that the car only registered as a finisher by a lap because it had been going so slowly! Thing was, we should have received the Motor Trophy as the first British car home: it was the only British car home. But we had French drivers so weren’t eligible, apparently.”
There would be a further Le Mans outing for the Mini-based tiddler. Marsh entered a works car with aero mods for 1967, sharing it with famed Morgan-tuner Chris Lawrence: “We didn’t finish the race because one of the needle-roller bearings that supported the idler gear packed up. That retirement was one of my biggest disappointments in racing as we had been officially clocked at 141mph down the Mulsanne Straight – bloody quick for such a small car.”