From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain was awash with low-volume carmakers churning out little sports cars, often wearing fiberglass bodies. They were usually better for racing at Brands Hatch than for driving to work, seeing that they were never very well built nor very comfortable, but that was always part of the charm. Sadly, most of these carmakers are no longer with us.
Some fantastic, if somewhat obscure, cars came out of that period, though, and the Marcos GT is certainly one of them. Marcos, which was founded 60 years ago in 1959, is a portmanteau from the names of founders Gem Marsh and Frank Costin, who built sports cars from 1959 until the outfit went bust in 1971. Jem Marsh then resurrected the company 10 years later and Marcos plodded along until 2007, but today it’s just another name on the long list of defunct English carmakers.
During the 1960s Marcos built some alarmingly ugly cars, namely the Mini-Marcos and the original Mantis, but the Marcos GT is a stunner. It’s one of those cars that looks fast just standing still. It looks cramped, too, at just 43 inches tall and with non-adjustable seats. Since Jem Marsh was 6’4’’ and the pedal box is fully adjustable, you don’t have to be Tom Cruise to drive one, either.
Aside from the unique swoopy lines, the Marcos GT always featured the usual British parts bin engineering, with Triumph suspension bits, Lotus or Vauxhall taillights, and Ford, Volvo, or Triumph engines. However, the chassis sets the Marcos GT apart. Frank Costin had worked on the De Havilland Mosquito, which had a largely wooden frame, during the war. Applying that concept to an automobile, he devised a chassis of bonded plywood which, in those days before carbon fiber, was rigid as well as lighter than steel and the car tipped the scales at under a ton. The first cars featured Ford or Volvo fours, but for 1969 the Marcos got a lot more punch under its long, low hood with a 3.0-liter Ford Essex V-6 or the Volvo B30 straight-six.
The same year, Marcos also transitioned to a cheaper steel chassis, but not before a few wood-chassis six-cylinder cars escaped from the factory. One such gorgeous, rare, and fast wood-chassis 3000GT is listed now on Bring a Trailer. Like many 50-year-old sports cars from the British Isles, though, it’s not ready to just turn the key and go. In fact, it’s a project car. Though it runs, the brakes and clutch need some work, and as a whole, it looks pretty worn out.
A ratty old car nobody’s ever heard of riding on a frame made out of termite food… it sounds like a nightmare, but it may actually not be so bad. Apparently, wood is good. David Mensh, restorer and current owner of two wood-chassis Marcos, argues that “the wood chassis is by far the more prized example of the marque… the steel chassis cars had way more problems with frame failure.” Mensh, who has inspected this Marcos in person, notes that while it needs a full restoration, “this car is exceptionally complete and the wood chassis is in very good shape to start. Big plus.”
So, the car is reassuringly complete, and since Marcos lifted many of its parts from bigger carmakers, most of the things that will need replacing are more readily available than you might think. Sounds doable.
Marcos GTs are catching a following considering how obscure they are, and condition #2 (Excellent) values for 3000GTs are up 37 percent over the past two years, to $27,800. But this car is far from a #2, so how much will it cost to put it right?
“If the purchaser has the skills to perform most of the mechanical and cosmetic restoration themselves, then another $10,000 beyond the purchase price will get you a pleasant example,” says Mensh. “You can double that (or possibly more) for a DIY concours result, and if a restoration shop is necessary for all the work, then $35,000 to 45,000.”
Regardless of cost, though, this car is worth saving. The world would be a better place with more of these low, lightweight wooden wonders out on the road.