Marcos — The story of a Great British sports car, by David Barber. Cedar Publishing Limited, Newnham-on-Severn, Glos, £19.95.
‘Overtaking the hard way’ was one of Rodeo Rod’s early accomplishments. It involved driving a 750 Special right over the top of a Ford V8 Pilot within the confines of an arena, and if any of the amused fairground spectators happened to go to Silverstone the next weekend, they might have seen the same 750 competing in a sports car race.
That driver was Jem Marsh, alias Rodeo Rod, dedicating his life to the pursuit of business and pleasure combined! Some of the most dramatic pictures in Jem Marsh’s book are not from the race tracks at all, but from his exploits in the Hollywood Motor Maniacs rodeo.
Jem Marsh’s biography, which might have been subtitled “car manufacturing the hard way” was written by David Barber, a businessman, faithful Marcos customer, friend, and a pacey writer too. It’s an easy read, full of anecdotes and lively stories, and difficult to put down before you get to the 156th and final page. Marsh has had a rollercoaster life, and thankfully the Marcos company has never been more secure than when he reached his 65th birthday in April. After serving nine years in the Royal Navy he joined the stunt circus and built his first 750, in which he won the 750 MC’s Goodacre Trophy. In 1959 he and Frank Costin built their first Marcos (a combination of Marsh and Costin). The wood-hulled gullwing car may not have been admired for its beauty, but it was light and it handled well enough to launch the careers of Jackie Stewart, Derek Bell, Jack Oliver and Jonathan Palmer, to name but four.
A fertile period in the late 1960s included the launch of the Mini-Marcos, an ill-fated trip to Le Mans with the Volvo powered 1800, the construction of a utility saloon on behalf of Standard-Triumph, intended for production in Israel, the fearsome Repco F1-powered XP, and the Mantis.
The ‘wooden wonder’ chassis was finally phased out in 1969 in favour of the square steel tube frame on which today’s models are based, and much credit is given to brothers Dennis and Peter Adams, freelance stylists who drew the timeless 1800 and influenced its successors.
There were bad times, a recession leading to the collapse of Marcos in 1971 and its acquisition by Formula 1 entrant Rob Walker. Five years later Marsh and Marcos were back in business at Westbury, its present base in Wiltshire, and Jem was wily enough to avoid all the pitfalls of the last recession… and to see the fraudsters coming! This is not only a history of Marcos, essential reading for all who’ve ever owned one, but also a highly personalised account which has the reader chuckling at asides on every page. Industry watchers will appreciate a commentary on the fickle fortunes of the specialised car builders in recent times. It is available in the shops, or from Marcos Cars Limited (add £3 p+p). M L C