Marcos Mantula 3.5
IT IS on occasions like this that I ant glad that MOTOR SPORT does not always publish road tests. We are careful to call some of our assessments, “Road Impressions”. The difference, I suppose, is that a road test should be rigorously quantitative. It should be able to tell you to the nearest cubic inch how much boot space there is or, again, the height of the rear seats. Tests of that sort can be extremely liseful but a car like the Marcos Mantula should be approached in a different way. I have to start by admitting a bias. On first seeing a Dennis Adams styled Marcos nearly 20 years ago, I fell in love with it and the ardour has never cooled. Even had it not been an excellent car under the skin, it would still have been one I’d have considered buying for its beauty. It was clear mine was not an isolated opinion for the Marcos quickly established a reputation as a “bird puller” second only to an E-Type. Since I was first a student on a grant and then making my way up the ladder of a profession and earning a pittance, I could only admire the Marcos from a distance. Still, I had the consolation that any girl who rode in my Ford Popular was likely to be sincere. Jem Marsh tells me that I fit the typical profile of many of his customers since he revived the car. We desired one a long time ago when it was an impossible dream but now in our middle years, we’ve made our way, have a saloon to accommodate the
offspring, and wish to indulge ourselves by reviving an old passion. This is why, try as I will, this account can never be completely objective — a mundane conversation with a beautiful woman is alway memorable.
The Mantula, though, is not mundane. The carburettered Rover VS engine gives a top speed of 135+ mph and accelerates from 0-60 mph in six seconds. It has brakes, handling and roadholding to match. Everything complements the promise of its looks. ‘the car I drove was Jem Marsh’s own and was interesting in that he had built it up in much the same way that many buyers might do. The engine, for example, came from a 1971 3.5 Coupe, the gearbox too was second-hand and the radiator came from a
Rover 3500S. One would never have known, though, without being told.
Entry is surprisingly easy for such a low car (you look spat Minis) for the doors are extremely wide. Once seated in the extremely comfortable, supportive, leather seat, the first thing to do is to adjust the pedals for comfort, for the seats are fixed. This is easily done by turning a knob behind the steering wheel. Drivers up to 6 ft 7 in tall can be seated in comfort though short drivers would probably have to have their seats modified.
Marcos offer four engine options, Ford 2.0. rad 2.8-litre units and both the carburettered and injected versions of the 3.5-11tre Rover V8. The Rover engined cars are known as Marcos Mantulas tddlf the Ford-powered can, sunply “Marcos”. Below at the carbureuered engine of the Mantula test car.
The main instruments are clearly seen through the small steering wheel (only the main beam indicator light was obscured by my normal driving position). There is a row of (Triumph) rocker switches in the centre of the dash to which one needs some acclimatisation. The test car was fitted with air conditioning which worked extremely well though I would have liked more speed options from the heater fan. With items such as electrically operated windows, the interior exuded an air of luxury not normally found on a car of its performance with a nominal value of only £14,000.
The first impression when driving was a false sense of size. The Mantula is not a large car, but the sensuous sweep of the front wings makes it appear so to the driver and it takes some time before one develops a sense of the car in its space. Similarly, the sharply raked back makes parking a little fraught at first, for the rear is completely invisible. Rear visibility when driving, however, is excellent thanks to the wide interior mirror and the exterior mirrors which are mounted at eye-level. This is as well for the reclining high-backed seats discourage head turning. On the road the car is sheer magic. The ride is a perfect compromise between tautness and comfort. The steering is precise and one normally needs only to give little flicks of the wheel yet the turning circle is thirty feet. The over-riding sensation is one of security: the car is stable under all conditions, it feeds information to the driver through its Avon Turbospeed tyres, the brakes (the front discs are ventilated) have not only stopping power but feel, and the roadholding is such that you’d have to be a hooligan to explore its limits on a public road. The engine adds to this sense of security for the car contains the power. Apart from the fact that it will beat almost anything in a traffic lights grand prix, it gives one enormous confidence when overtaking. One of the best memories was driving along a country road in fourth gear (from five)
behind traffic moving at about 45 mph, finding an opportunity to overtake and simply pressing accelerator, allowing the torque of the engine to do the rest. We wafted by the traffic without fuss. Road noise is minimal though, on the car I drove, wind noise becomes noticeable at 70 mph and was a little excessive by 90 mph. Like most sports cars, the luggage space is not an outstanding feature but there is space enough to take the luggage for two for a
fortnight’s holiday provided you don’t insist on taking evening dress.
To explore the limits of the car in safety, Jem arranged a session at Castle Combe circuit. It was wet and slippery but even wheal became over ambitious on one corner and my knuckles shone white, yet still it forgave though I deserve to have finished as a tyre wall. She’s not only lovely but has impeccable manners as well.
The longer I drove the car, the more relaxed I felt. Most cars reveal themselves in under an hour of driving, some within a few minutes. The Mantula is one of the few that you wish to explore slowly and you feel it will surprise and delight for a long time. When the time came to hand it back to Jem, I found myself muttering about delivery dates, cost etc against the day I replace my GTI. I’d like to get to know the new two-litre version which should offer an excellent compromise between performance and economy (the Mantula averages about 20/21 mpg) and which would match my everyday requirements very nicely.
The styling may now be 20 years old, but the car still turns heads like few others. It took me two decades from being first smitten by a Marcos to driving one. I was prepared to be disappointed but was not. This is one ravishing beauty with a heart of gold. The passion continues unabated.
— M. L.