Marcos Diary - Trials and tribulations of living with a 25 year old car!

Subj: 1994

1994 looked as though it may be a quiet year for CLE 100H when I didn't get around to entering the Norwich Union run. However, I managed to get my act in gear enough to get an entry on the London-Brighton Classic car run, held in June.

Before that, though, I decided to go and watch the Marcos GT cars in action. I've been a sportscar racing fan since I visited Le Mans for the first time, in 1979, and the return of Marcos cars to the track was a perfect blending of my two obsessions. The race cars (LM500) are based upon the Mantara, which is based on my old thing, but they are very wide and feature breathed on 5 litre V8s! They race in the BRDC National GT championship, which is growing in stature, helped, no doubt, by the high profile of Marcos' sponsor, Computacenter.

By June, the cars were beginning to qualify respectably amongst the Porsches, so I decided to go and watch them race. Derek Mitchell has always said that Oulton Park is a good circuit, so I made the long trek 'Oop North' to Oulton to watch the cars. My efforts were rewarded by the team's first pole position, albeit without the presence of the Chamberlain Lotus Esprits. The progress with the cars had been helped no end by the drafting in of ex-Group C, ex-BTCC and sometime Rover Turbo and TVR Tuscan driver, Chris Hodgetts as a test driver. Although the cars hit minor troubles in the race, they still won their class, although a Porsche 911 (what else!?!?) won the race outright. I was fortunate enough to enjoy the hospitality tent provided by Marcos and Computacenter and had a long chat with Steve Foster, who owns THAT yellow LM500 convertible which has done the rounds of the motoring press (the race cars are Coupes, like all proper Marcii! :^)).

The following weekend, we set off for the London-Brighton Classic car run. We started from Syon Park, to the west of London (there was another start to the East) on a very hot morning. The weather didn't get any cooler, which is not a good thing in a Marcos with the engine and gearbox only inches from you!

This classic car run didn't seem to be as slick or well run as the others I've been on (see 1993's report), there being only one checkpoint along the way. In addition, many of the lanes which we traveled along were too narrow for the bigger cars on the event, which led to very picturesque, but frustrating traffic jams. This wasn't helped by the manner in which some drivers insisted on dawdling along in the middle of the road when a wider, straighter stretch did arise.

The route also took us up Richmond Hill, which, as many will know, features some fearsome speed bumps (like pyramids with their tips cut off!). The Marcos didn't take too kindly to those, being around 3 inches off the ground...

All was not lost, though, as the single checkpoint, Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, proved an interesting and attractive lunch halt. Essentially, this place is laid out as a turn of the century village, with equipped shops and working pottery, lace makers, etc. Worth a visit, I'd suggest, if that kind of thing is of interest and picnic-ers are welcome (Tip : Park at the top of the hill if you have a sticking electric window switch which flattens the battery...I really must fix that sometime).

The final leg of the journey took us onto wider roads and up over Ditchling Beacon and across the Downs. Finally, we arrived in Brighton and struggled through the heavy, June Sunday traffic. The car started making some very unpleasant noises from the rear as we crawled onto Madeira Drive and we only stayed long enough for a paddle in the sea and to say 'Hello' to the local MOC members who had a club stand there.

After crawling back through the traffic leaving Brighton (worse than that coming in earlier) we managed a pleasant journey home, although the car continued to make strange noises.

This year the 3 Marcos Clubs (Marcos Owners Club, Club Marcos International and the Mini Marcos Owners club) and the factory had set aside their differences and organised a 35th Anniversary rally, which promised to be good, so I quickly booked the Marcos into a local garage to investigate the strange noises. I hoped it was wheel bearings, but feared it was the axle. Sure enough, they reported that the diff was making the noise. However, they said it didn't sound too bad and suggested Slick 50. Given that the diff was on its way out, I decided to give it a try, although I chose Molyslip instead as it was something like half the price!

The Rally was spread over two days with an overnight stay in a hotel in Coventry. We decided to go for both days and so we set off on the Saturday morning with me in the Marcos and Mandy, Lauren and Mandy's sister, Rachael, in the Tipo.

Our first day was to be a track day at a sprint circuit called Curborough, not far from Coventry, which I'd never heard of. Our journey there was uneventful and we found the circuit in time to sit down and eat our picnic. It's a very small track shaped like a 9. The real competitors start on the tail, loop around and finish back at the tail, but, in the interest of insurance, we were only using the closed loop of the 9, with that being liberally slowed down with coned slaloms.

After lunch and chatting with some of the 30, or so, other owners there, I donned a crash helmet and set off for my first lap. I've been around Silverstone and Castle Combe in the Marcos, but never with the intention of setting a time and, although my first lap FELT slow, I had no idea whether it was good or bad. At least, I didn't until I got back to Mandy, who greeted me with a disgusted, "That was PATHETIC!". Apparently, the commentator had been generously saying that I was checking the circuit out. The first time I set was to stand as the slowest lap all day, excluding the person who span. Oh dear, bang go my hopes of being a works Marcos driver :^)

However, I got to have another 3 goes and I now had something to compare with. My second lap (each lap was a single lap from standing start to stop), started with a great deal of acceleration (the commentator commenting that I was obviously out to better my previous lap time) and, despite my seat belt coming undone and restricting my arms through the twisty slaloms, I knocked 9 seconds of the first lap time. The third lap was better still, although I stomped on the throttle in one slalom instead of the brake, which upset the rythmn a bit! By now, my times were respectable V6 times (although still a couple of seconds shy of the best) and I knew I could go faster on my 4th lap.

I was really fired up for my last lap and made a good start and was up the straight into the first slalom well. The slaloms were a problem as I could only go in hard on the brakes and then, more or less, coast through them, so I was losing time there, but I'd got used to my belts being in the way by now, so I got through it reasonably well. Next was the short burst to the short slalom on the start of the long left hander, into the slalom and then out as quickly as I could without provoking the tail out too much (more than one person was losing time here with wild oversteer) and round the long bend to another slalom on the back straight, then into a chicane, which you could accelerate through all the way, with just a left-right-left flick of the steering, but, again, too much steering would provoke the tail out and lose time (One car span here). Out of a final coned chicane and accelerate hard up the timing beam and brake hard to stop in the coned 'garage' (failure to do so, resulted in a 5 second penalty).

The lap felt good and, sure enough, was my best of the day and good enough to knock 13 seconds off my first, exploratory (shall we say? :^)) lap. This time wasn't as good as the best V6's but it was better than some (including a number with trick heads, carbs, etc), so I was fairly pleased. The main thing was that it was LOTS of FUN!!!!! The fastest time was set by a Swede with a Volvo 1800 engined, wooden chassised car. He races it in Sweden and is no mean driver, although the ease with which his car changed direction through the cones indicated that it is a very well set-up car, too.

Steve Foster had a go with his LM500 and, despite it's huge girth (this car's around 6ft wide), set some respectable times.

As a finale to the track events, an Aston Martin Test was run. I'd never seen one of these before, but, basically it consists of driving out of a coned 'garage', accelerating hard up a straight and into another garage (stopping as close to the end as possible, without hitting cones) spinning the car round and racing back down the straight to end up nose in in the original garage, again without touching the cones. Due to lack of time, we only got one attempt each.

It sounded impossible, but I thought I'd have a go,and was third to go. Lots of revs and away we went reaching third gear before braking hard into the garage. No flag to indicate I'd hit the end so reverse out quickly and turn the car around (this is probably possible as a reversed handbrake turn, but with the handbrake under my left knee, this wasn't the time to try it out), before squealing away down the straight and braking into the original garage. Wow, that's fun! To add to my enjoyment, I was fastest so far and had incurred no penalties! It didn't last long, but I beat a number of people who'd done this event before (including the Swede who'd won the track event and who's a bit of an expert at this event, I've heard) and of the cars that did beat me most incurred penalties, but the V8s accelerate much quicker.

Everybody had had a great day (wife, 20 month old daughter and 16 year old sister-in-law included) and the only damage any cars had incurred was a bizzare front suspension failure on a Mini Marcos, which was fixed with a new balljoint and a big washer from the local Les Smith's within an hour.

Next stop the hotel in Coventry. After getting lost in the Coventry one way system, we weren't expecting a mansion for 20 quid a head a night, but that's exactly what we got! The Royal Court Hotel is an old(ish) country house which sits in its own grounds and has a modern wing with extra rooms overlooking a large car park with (the key point in its selection) no speed bumps! Our room was in the old house, overlooking a large lawn, and had a bathroom of similar proportions to our bedroom at home!

30+ Marcii made an impressive sight in the car park all parked together and we managed to get virtually a whole wedding reception (Bride and Groom included) out to look at the cars. Everything from early wooden coupes (C. 1965) to the latest Mantaras were represented with a majority of V6s and Mantulas, and a few more cars turned up at the hotel in addition to those who'd been at Curborough. That evening we chatted with other owners, including a very pleasant couple from East Anglia who use their 1970 V6 as daily transport, whilst eating a carvery meal and then Jem Marsh gave a short talk on the current and future plans for the marque.

After breakfast the following day, we set off for the Heritage Centre at Gaydon (Rover's proving ground), where the main gathering of the cars and the concourse judging was to take place. The route to Gaydon, however, was in the form of a cavalcade/treasure hunt. Along the way (following directions in a route book) the drivers and passengers had to stop and take part in various tasks (such as guessing the pressure in two tyres and throwing different weight objects at a target). Again prizes were awarded for the best 3 drivers and passengers and it was a pretty entertaining way to spend the morning without being as frustrating as some treasure hunts can be.

When we got to Gaydon a lot of cars were already there and the organisers claim there were around 70. Certainly there are over 50 in a photograph I took late in the day, so the figure doesn't sound outrageous. This may not sound a lot to those of you used to attending MG or Mini meets, but it's unprecedented in the Marcos world where there must be a total of only a 1000 or so in existence. Some of the cars present were beautiful and, as usual, Richard Partridge's yellow V6 won best car. It was nice for us that one of the local owners took third prize in the post-80 section with his very tidy, home built Mantula.

Unfortunately, the weather decided to intervene on the Sunday afternoon. After being hot all day Saturday and Sunday morning, it rained (teemed may be a better word) for nearly two hours, whilst the concourse judging was going on, so it wasn't as easy to get to chat to the other owners as it might have been. However, it did force us into looking around the Heritage Centre. If you like motor museums, it's probably pretty good, but with a bored wife, sister-in-law and baby daughter in tow it was difficult to spend long looking and the totally BL content is a little tedious after a while (just how interesting can the 'last Allegro made' be? :^)).

It cleared up a bit for the journey home and guess what? All that hard acceleration had obviously worked the Molyslip around the diff, because it had quietened down to a level well below that which it been at even before the odd noises began. Hopefully, if the rally is run on a similar basis in 1995, we'll attend again.

The week after the rally, I attended the Loseley House classic car show and country fair. As in 1993, I attended on the Saturday and the Sunday, unlike most of the other exhibitors. Once again, attendance seemed to be higher than in the previous year, with a good selection of classic cars (and some bikes and commercial vehicles), including a good display by the Ferrari club, the TVR club and the Aston club. The men with the VW Beetle and the Berkley both arrived on the Sunday and they agreed that the show was, once again, an improvement on the previous year. It was better for visitors, too, as the price was held at £3.50 for adults (it seemed dear last year, but not this... I wonder why?). The only problem I had was running out of petrol TWICE on the Saturday, firstly on my drive as I got the car out of the garage, and later as I left Loseley, to return home. A kind person ran me to the nearest garage and back and with a new plastic fuel can full of 4 star, we were off home again. I suspect there may be a problem picking up the last gallon or so of fuel, but for the time being, I'll just steer clear of letting the tank get too low.

Whilst I was at the show, I got a radiator builder to give me a quote for a new radiator, as the car still runs hot. He had a book which gave details of the correct radiator size/rows for virtually every car built and it transpires that the Marcos has a radiator with about half the number of rows it should have. I'll try and arrange to get a new one built when I'm home for Christmas.

We've not been to Brands Hatch for a couple of years, so when the TMRG organiser offered us tickets for the next round of the BRDC National GT championship (with all the hospitality, etc thrown in), we jumped at the chance. The race was on the Indy circuit, which offers the chance to see a lot of the cars, but is a bit 'mickey mouse', so it would be interesting to see how the big, front(ish) engined cars went against the (theoretically) more nimble Lotus and Porsche entrants. We arrived in beautiful sunshine and made our way to the Computacenter tent, where we received our freebies and a drink. The best news was that Chris Hodgetts had been drafted in as a driver, to replace Andy Purvis (rumour had it that the sponsors wanted to see the cars winning and didn't feel Andy could achieve it). Practice was quite entertaining, as the Chamberlain Lotus Esprits and the two Marcii battled for the front of the grid. They looked very evenly matched and so it proved to be, with the front row being evenly split between Marcos and Lotus, the second Marcos being bumped to the third row in the second session.

Could this be Marcos' first win? This was the buzz during the lunchtime break as we looked at the assembled Mantaras (At first I was doubtful of Marcos' ability to build cars to compete with TVR, but the Mantara is still evolving and it looks better all the time) and the delightful LM500 coupe, which (in my eyes) looks twice as good as the convertible (especially as this one has 'proper' instruments and a walnut dash).

Soon, the support races were over and, in the afternoon heat, the GT cars pulled out of the pits to gather on the grid. Both Marcii and Loti took advantage of the rules to get a couple of extra warm up laps, by driving through the pits. Obviously both makes were keen not to be shown up by the other and, although Lotus' history has been more glorious, the rivalry goes right back to the Marsh/ Chapman Austin 7 special days.

However, one set of supporters were to be sadly disappointed, for as the cars roared away from the green light, Chris Hodgetts took a slight advantage into Paddock. Thorkild Thyrring in the front row Lotus then tried a wild move around the outside of Paddock. It looked wildly optimistic and so it proved as the Lotus lost grip and span into the sand trap, the lead battle was over... Hodgetts then broke away into a comfortable lead, which he maintained until the chequered flag.

Chris Marsh had had an interesting battle withe Richard Piper's radically altered Escort Cosworth, but a problem later in the race had seen him settle for a worthy third place. The second Lotus, driven by Andreas Fuchs, looked, frankly, horrible as it lost place after place with a misfire and what looked like evil handling in the early stages. both seemed to disappear mid race and he started climbing back through the field, but fell to a lowly finish again as the race wore on.

Everyone in the Marcos camp was ecstatic and the champagne flowed as Hodgetts received a hero's welcome back in the hospitality suite. The victory was even sweeter as the Loti had been the class of the field for much of the season and were the element which gave the Marcos win added credibility. It had been a great day out and, with beautiful weather, we returned home happy and tanned.

There was still one Marcos event to attend before I started to think about putting the car away for the winter, the Club Marcos International Thames Valley Group treasure hunt. Last year this consisted of a single Marcos, an old Cortina estate (which gave up half way around, when he got lost) and a cement mixing lorry, which actually won! However, this year about 8 Marcii took part (including ours) along with a fair number of Marcos owners and other 'hangers-on' in more mundane vehicles.

I almost didn't get to take part as this job in Munich came up and I was due to fly out on the very day, but, getting my priorities right, I arranged to fly out on the latest available flight. As the event was right on my doorstep (the start and finish being at a pub about a mile from my house), I couldn't miss it if at all possible.

The day dawned bright and clear and it stayed that way all morning. The person who sets these events revels in setting the most perverse and cryptic clues and matters weren't helped when he actually gave the coordinates of the answers the wrong way round! Still we struggled around and managed to answer a few questions. The best bit, for me was that it took me along tiny lanes that I had no idea existed, and yet were all within a 10 mile radius of my home.

Back at the pub, part 2 of the treasure hunt involved a quiz with questions taken from a children's general knowledge book. I think we got 4 right of the 12, but that was actually quite good, compared with most! We ate our barbecued food in the pub garden and had a couple of shandys, but had to make an early exit to ensure that I reached Heathrow in time for my 5 O'clock flight. The club secretary and his wife, won the hunt section and we finished second,but the quiz saw us drop to an overall third as someone obviously has a copy of the Children's bumper knowledge book at home! :^) Apparently, engraved glassware awaits us as a prize.

In the first 7 weeks that I spent in Germany, I only spent 3 weekends here, due to prior engagements in the UK. Two weekends were for a holiday in Wales and a third was for a friend's wedding in Bournemouth. As luck would have it, the same weekend that he got married, the Marcii were racing at Thruxton, which is our nearest circuit and a place I've been marshaling at for years.

We skipped on the 7 o'clock start that marshaling would have entailed and enjoyed brunch at my parents before driving up to Thruxton in time for the 2PM first race. Unlike the BTCC rounds, there is little problem getting into Thruxton for the F3 rounds (which the GTs supported at this round), which some would say is to be expected, but, although the BTCC is always good entertainment, the BTCC support package is (in my view) not a patch on the Best of British package (with such things as TVR Tuscans, Rover Turbos, Caterhams, Porsches and the Group N saloon car championship).

We picked a spot near the Complex and I went down to the Computacenter tent to see if I could find anyone I knew. There were a few people there and I found out that Andy Wallace (ex-Jaguar Group C driver) had qualified the ADA De Tomaso Pantera Bi-Turbo on pole, ahead of Chris Hodgetts. The Pantera had shown considerable promise at Le Mans and with it's 5.7 litre turbocharged engine, obviously didn't lack power at Thruxton (now the fastest circuit in the UK).

After enjoying the first couple of support races, we prepared for the GT race. At the start Wallace got the lead and for a couple of laps stormed away, but soon Hodgetts reeled him in and the Marcos was all over the De Tomaso through the bends and it was clearly only a matter of time before Hodgetts made a move for the lead. These two had broken well away from the field, but Chris Marsh had moved up well from a disappointing grid position to lead the 'best of the rest' ahead of the Escort Cosworths, Porsches and the very lacklustre looking Lotus Esprits.

For a number of laps Hodgetts pressed the De Tomaso hard, but Wallace wasn't going to give up the lead easily and then, suddenly, Hodgetts made his move and was past as they headed out of the Complex. Wallace looked as though he was going to harass Hodgetts as Hodgetts had harassed him, but seconds later the De Tomaso suddenly slowed. However, although Hodgetts made good his escape, Wallace continued to take an eventual second place. Marsh picked up a distant, but well ahead of fourth, third place to put both Marcii drivers on the podium for the first time.

It turned out that the De Tomaso's windscreen had been smashed by a bird (didn't do a lot for the bird, either!) and this led to Wallace having problems seeing the apexes of some corners. However, the De Tomaso had made a good impression and certainly made Hodgetts work for his victory. This has turned out to be a very successful debut season for Marcos and for the GT series and they are now looking forward to an even stronger championship in 1995 and, hopefully, the cars will also run at Le Mans (It is reported that Derek Bell, who started his career in a Marcos, has been seen testing the car. Maybe, just ONE more Le Mans, Derek?).

November this year sees CLE's 25th birthday, but (assuming I'm still in Munich) I don't plan a party :^) At the moment it's sitting in the garage covered up and waiting for me to vainly start it up. Next time I'm home I'll fire it up and move it up and down the drive to make sure the brakes haven't seized, but plans for a major engine bay tidy up have had to be shelved for the moment.

1995? Well, who knows...If the Marcos team DO race at Le Mans, maybe I'll make my first continental trip with the car.


PS Hodgetts finished 2nd to Michel Ferté in a Venturi in the final round of the BRDC GT championship at Silverstone.

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