Britain was once the go-to place for niche Sports Cars that defined the genre. Those glory days might be long gone, but every once in a while rare gems emerge. Marcos did that on many occasions with varying levels of success. Roll back the clock to 1968, and it was the turn of the quirky Marcos Mantis M70. Looks took a back seat in this awkward wedge.
Sadly, uniqueness doesn’t ensure success. Marcos, like dozens of other small carmakers, succumbed to financial issues. But every cloud has a silver lining, in this case, Marcos reached its halo moment with the TSO GT. How or where this rare sports car measured up against rivals remains unproven. Among gearheads, it’s TVR that comes closest with a heady mix of speed and insanity. Both adopted a hand-built theme offering fast front-engined cars devoid of driver aids. Yet, in a who’s who of bonkers rides, it’s TVR that cranked craziness up a few extra notches.
As for Marcos Engineering, resurrection plans are nothing new. On several occasions, Marcos looked set to return only to stumble at the what-if stage. For now, the Marco TSO GT stands as a reminder of another maker of classic cars that is no longer with us. Pity, the TSO GT had tons of potential.
9/9 Marcos Engineering And The Wooden Wonder
Founded in 1959, Marcos Engineering was a coming together of great minds. Based in North Wales, a location not noted for its car production. A brief stint in the back of beyond made way for a purpose-built factory in Westbury. However, by no means was Marcos a well-funded operation as was evident from its typical kit-car parts bin car line-up.
Yet, Jem Marsh and Frank Costin (MARsh & COStin) met with reasonable track success with the GT Xylon. In the early production years, plywood featured extensively in fabrication. A nod to Costin’s previous experience on Mosquito aircraft production?
8/9 The Marcos TSO GT Features High Tech Design And Racing Engineering
By 2004 and the announcement of the TSO GT, Marcos had embraced modern technology. In place of an old-school pen and paper, computers sculpted and refined the TSO GT’s body. Furthermore, modernization included fiberglass composites replacing wood for added strength and lightness.
Up until this time, Marcos built their chassis in-house. But to succeed, the TSO couldn’t rely on speed alone. Marcos instead outsourced the process to Prodrive, bestowing the TSO with sharp handling. Prodrive Who? The UK-based race car specialists were the ones behind the Subaru Impreza WRC team.
7/9 The Marcos TSO GT Is A Pure Driver’s Car
Adopting a pared-back approach, the TSO GT didn’t come with an extensive options list. On the inside, what pretty much all gearheads got were acres of leather and aluminum. The only creature comfort was a basic stereo set-up. If you’re in the market for a sports car with high levels of safety kit, the Marcos is not for you.
It’s a similar story beneath the skin. While the Marcos did ship with AP brakes, anti-lock technology is ominously missing. As is traction control, owners instead have to rely on a sensitive right foot and quick reactions. In place of bulky add-ons, the TSO is a pure driver’s car, free of nannying tech for the sake of it.
6/9 The Marcos TSO GT Is A British Sports Car Heads Down Under
In 2004 shortly after the TSO debuted, the timeline gets a little messy. In GT spec, built-in Britain you’d expect Marcos to pitch the TSO to its home market. Marcos had its sights set on Australia. Where the Aussie GT differs from its rivals, including TVR, lies under the hood.
Despite a British sport scar image, the TSO GT adopted U.S. V8 power. Under the hood, in various states of tune, Chevrolet’s 5.7-Liter LS1 engine cranked out between 350 and 400 hp.
5/9 European Spec GT2/GTC
Not to be outdone, European buyers received another grim level. The TSO GT2 debuted in 2005, aimed at hardcore sports car fans, and boasting a more powerful LS1 engine rated at 475 hp. Other tweaks included a revised front bumper and light assembly. But park the two side by side, and you’d struggle to tell them apart.
Why Marcos differentiated European clients from Australians doesn’t make much sense, more so given the brand’s low volume. But it didn’t stop there. Somewhere in the middle, adding confusion to the range, gearheads could opt for a GTC variant. Adorned with performance packs, power figures range between 420-462 hp.
4/9 The Marcos TSO GT Has Handcrafted Interior
Side-stepping the confusing model range, on the inside, all TSOs were much the same. Decked out in leather and aluminum, the TSO looked and felt like a premium product. Ahead of the driver, the leather Momo wheel has an unusual array of warning lights and indicators. Sculpted from aluminum, the TSO’s instruments are unique and haven’t appeared anywhere else.
Dials and gauges were present, but located above the transmission tunnel. It’s a neat, if slightly spartan, layout. But having the speedo and rev-counter away from the driver’s line of sight is a misstep.
3/9 Marcos Vs The Stig
The best measure of any sports car is a test track. While most carmakers resort to a Nürburgring test session, Marcos used a local venue. Loaning the £50,000 ($60,400) TSO GT to Top Gear was a huge gamble. Failing to impress in front of millions of viewers could make or break Marcos.
With the Stig behind the wheel, the Marcos lapped the Dunsfold test track in 1-min 28-seconds. In anyone’s book, that’s a quick lap, on part with the Elise 190, leaving Mitsubishi EVOs and the Dodge Viper in its wake. In theory, the Marcos would crack 60 mph in a little over 4 seconds.
2/9 How Many Marcos TSO GT Were Built
Now, for the bad news, Marcos, like so many niche carmakers, wasn’t the most successful. Even internal records are not sure how many cars the company made or sold. Given the TSO appeared in at least three trim levels, you’d think Marcos might have a firm grasp on numbers.
You’d be wrong. Depending on sources, none connected with Marcos Engineering, Jem Marsh, or Frank Costin. The best guess from 2003-2007 barely reached double digits. Fan pages allude to 10 TSO GTs of varying specs with a larger number of earlier TS250/TS500 cars.
1/9 The Marcos TSO GT: Final Word?
As late as 2007, Marcos Engineering was still plugging the TSO GT. Hints of a race-tuned variant turned out to be vaporware, leaving the GTC as the hottest model. It was a brave attempt to carve out a niche for itself that led to demonstration runs and public displays.
In 2007, attendees of the Goodwood Festival of Speed bore witness to the TSO GT’s speed with a blast up the hill. Behind closed doors, Marcos was beyond financial rescue. The carmaker’s name does crop up from time to time linked to a revival, but so far nothing concrete has emerged.
Source: Marcos Cars, Marcos Owners Club