New cars: Mantis and Manta

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The Marcos Mantis

Every manufacturer, it seems, wants a share of the blossoming 2+2 segment of the sporting car market. After three years’ work Jem Marsh of Marcos Cars has put the Adams-designed four-seat Mantis on to the market. The Mantis is a substantial vehicle at a corresponding price, featuring the Triumph 2-1/2-litre fuel-injected TR6 engine conventionally mounted at the front and a number of luxury features as standard equipment. Much of the new car’s equipment comes from Triumph and Marsh says he is delighted with the co-operation received from the BL Division.

Until this year Marcos were always associated with a picturesque factory which appeared to belong to 19th-century West of England. Now Marcos cars, the Mini GT, and that sleek coupe powered either by 2-litre Ford V4, Volvo 3-litre Six (I.h.d. only at present) or the ubiquitous Ford V6 of the same capacity and the new model, are all constructed at a modern factory on a trading estate just outside the fictional-sounding town of Westbury in Wiltshire. This fresh development allows the company to manufacture their own fibreglass bodies, tubular steel space-frames (used for all complete cars nowadays, wood being relegated to the role of strengthening or for hanging trim on), spraying, interior trim, direct customer service and a final assembly area. The whole operation has an air of Lotus about it, but scaled down slightly to meet an even more specialist demand.

The Mantis will initially only be produced at the rate of two a week. The customers will be purchasing a car that weighs in at approximately 100 lb. less than a TR6, with the same lusty 150-b.h.p. power unit and a rather sleeker line than the BL product. The engine is mounted well back in the box tubing space-frame, which is sensibly provided with sturdy outrigger sections, and is attached by self-tapping screws to the fibreglass body. The gearbox (with overdrive for 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears) and clutch also come from the TR6, while the double wishbone front suspension and disc brakes are based on the GT6. The rear axle is from Ford’s 3-litre Capri and incorporates a 3.23-to-1 final drive, giving effortless m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. figures with o.d. fitted. The live axle is located by two box-section trailing rods to the underneath and an A-bracket to the top of the differential. Bearing in mind where the axle came from, one naturally accepts the presence of drum rear brakes.

Other useful mechanical details are the adequate boot for a car of this type, 17-1/2-gallon fuel tank offering a claimed range of 350 miles, three turns lock-to-lock rack-and-pinion steering, Marcos alloy wheels, shod with those 185 by 13 radials at present, though Marsh is currently looking into that aspect with a view to a 205 section if at all possible.

Seated inside (unfortunately there was no mobile demonstrator) we found that imaginative and sensible use had been made of the dashboard layout, with its large scooped moulding flowing boldly out from the front scuttle. The rocker switches and instruments are all set in TR6-like wood and it made us think that the whole inside had been conceived as a practical styling exercise for future BL sporting machinery. We found the rear seats too upright for our taste and headroom a little restricted in the rear (the author is 5 ft. 10 in.), but doubtless W. B. will be offered a road test shortly and these points can be more fully discussed.

The Mantis’ price is fixed at £3,185 (tax paid).—J. W.

The Opel Manta

In last month’s issue of Motor Sport, D. S. J. gave his very favourable and enthusiastic opinion of the Opel GT, which he considered to be an earnest and successful attempt on the part of Adam Opel to impart a sporting image into the name of General Motors. No sooner had he reluctantly returned this model, than we were invited to visit Opel’s superb test track in Germany to drive their latest model to be introduced on to the British market, the Opel Manta.

The Manta will be available in this country, when shipments commence in November, in two versions. The Manta de Luxe, powered by a newly developed 1.6-litre four-cylinder overhead camshaft engine, which is basically a variation of the power unit used in the Opel Rekord, and the Manta Rallye, which as its name implies is a fully equipped model using the 1.9 s.o.h.c. engine as fitted to the Opel GT.

The Manta is the latest design to come from the drawing-board of Chuck Jordan, who until recently was Director of Styling at Opel in Germany, and his new baby, as well as being functional in performance and handling, is perhaps one of the best-looking cars produced by General Motors for a long time. In appearance the Manta is not dissimilar to the Ford Capri, which will be one of its biggest competitors in 1.6 form, the actual dimensions of the car being 14 ft. 3 in. in length, 5 ft. 4 in. wide and 4 ft. 5 in. high. Readers of Motor Sport will obviously be more inclined to favour the Rallye version which, with its well-tried 1.9-litre engine, full instrumentation, twin exhaust pipes and the matt black bonnet, together with fatter tyres on 5-1/2J rims, is the more acceptable of the two models to performance minded drivers.

The interior of both models is quite pleasing without being particularly outstanding, with three large dials directly behind the steering wheel which indicate speed, engine revolutions and a comprehensive “all-go” type dial which gives readings of temperature, fuel, lights, indicators, etc., whilst the three smaller dials situated to the right of the driver and slung under the dash (we were driving l.h.d. cars), indicate oil pressure and amps, with the remaining dial being a clock. Great emphasis is placed on safety both internally and externally with many new innovations all of which are designed to protect the driver and passenger in case of collision, but one of the most important safety aids, the seat belts, falls down badly when a tall person is occupying the driving seat. To obtain a comfortable and safe driving position it is necessary to adjust the seat as far back as possible so that one’s legs and arms are at the required distance from the controls, but when this is done and the car is in motion the shoulder strap, anchored below the rear side window, falls off the shoulder, to dangle uselessly halfway down one’s arm.

The test track in Germany simulated every conceivable driving surface and the handling of the Manta was indeed excellent in most respects, but above all the factor which impressed us most was the disc/drum brakes which were really superb in halting the car in a very short time without the wheels locking up.

At the time of going to press no prices have been fixed for the Manta, which with the 1.6-litre engine reaches a claimed top speed of 102 m.p.h., and the 1.9 with a 106-m.p.h. top speed, but providing the prices are reasonable then the Manta will be yet another Continental model which should enjoy great popularity in this country.—H. G. W.