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

Subj: Trip to Le Mans 1996 with a Marcos

I’ve owned a Marcos 3 litre for the last 7 years. The car itself is a 1969 car and hasn’t had the luxury of a ground up restoration (at least not recently!).

However, the fact that Marcos now race at Le Mans meant that I had to make the effort and take the Marcos to the race. I should’ve taken it last year, but I was in Munich and it was in Fleet, Hampshire, so this was my first chance to take the Marcos to see the Marcos racing at Le Mans.

I booked the ferry way back in January, but I was a little concerned about the ground clearance on the ferry. I needn’t have worried however as, when I arrived and lined up with all the other low slung sports and classic cars bound for Le Mans, the efficient Brittany Ferry marshals loaded all of us onto a flat deck. Even amongst all the Porsches, TRs, TVRs, Caterhams, etc, the Marcos attracted attention and a couple of people in a Porsche 356 wandered over to it and were overheard to comment that it was ‘much nicer than the new ones’; nice people.

The ferry crossing was smooth and uneventful, as the drive to Portsmouth had been, and I was one of the first cars off the ship. As another car was travelling down with me I had to wait for them and took the opportunity to photograph the car with the ferry in the background, just in case anyone ever doubts that we did make it to France!

Once we joined up and headed out of the busy port of Ouistream (just outside Caen and shown as Caen in the brochures) we were quickly onto the open road. I was just beginning to wonder about the slight weave from the tail over bumps when a terrible noise began. There was nothing else around, so it was clearly my car. I stopped and looked at the back of the car - A puncture!. Still, easily fixed, I thought and got out the jack and socket set. After half an hour I gave up - the wheel was stuck firm. Fortunately I had taken out some European assistance cover, so I called the Freephone number from a wine merchant run by some friendly French people, who spoke no English. Sadly, the number was wrong, but after ringing two numbers in the UK I eventually tracked down the right number and after a further 45 minutes wait a man appeared. He then promptly broke the only socket I had which fitted the wheel nut and bent a mild steel bar from his toolkit into a bow, before finding something strong enough to free the wheelnuts. I felt a little better about calling him out after that. We drove into Caen to find a garage which the assistance man had told us could fix the tube (as the spare is the 60s equivalent of a space saver - a 145/13 remould!). Sure enough the proprietor agreed to fix the tube, but in true French style nothing was hurried. Still, it was a nice afternoon and all the locals paused to give the car a once over as it sat on the garage forecourt - whilst Marcos are rare in the UK, they must be virtually unheard of in France! Once fixed, for a very fair price, we continued on.

It had taken us 3 hours to get the 5 or so miles to Caen, but the next 100 or so to Le Mans took us just over 2 and a half. The car, however, was making some strange sounds by the time we get to Le Mans, as if something in the transmission was loose or not properly attached to the car. We stocked up on beer, wine and some food for the weekend and reached the circuit around 9PM.

There was still some light, so I decided to drive down what is the Mulsanne Straight during the race to see if it was possible to take a photo outside the famous Hunadieres restaurants. It wasn’t, so we drove on with the plan to turn around at the roundabout at Mulsanne corner. As we reached the second chicane, however, a Gendarme waved me off the road and into the chicane itself. I noticed they were stopping every British registered sportscar. The Gendarme asked if I’d been drinking alcohol and seemed stunned when I said no - he then breathalyzed me, which of course showed nothing, and I continued down to the Mulsanne corner roundabout and turned around to make our way back to Garage Rouge.

On arrival at the ‘Garage’ we found the gates locked, but another set of gates further up were open and we decided to try our lock and park by one of the few clumps of trees. Usually the officials are zealous in their organisation of the cars, but on this occasion they left us alone so we enjoyed a little shade at least some of the time over the weekend.

The race came and went as it does every year. The singleton Marcos disappointed by expiring with engine failure after just 4 hours, although it had shown well, leading its class, before that. I managed to sleep quiet well for 2 nights in the car, which suprised me a little.

As the race ended, I returned to the car and set off back to the ferry. The journey took around 2 and a half hours, but during that time I stopped twice as the noises I’d heard on the way down turned into serious vibration from somewhere in the drivetrain. The vibration seemed worst at very slow speeds and evened out to just slight discomfort at a steady 60 mph, so I cruised back to Ouistream gently and arrived in plenty of time for my 11PM ferry. All along the way, the locals had waved and cheered as I passed.

After a fine glass of Belgian White Beer in a harbour side cafe, I pulled into the ferry area right behind a nearly new Mantara Spyder. The owner, his daughter and I spent a few hours chatting about the cars and the pair of them drew a lot attention amongst the, predominantly Le Mans returnee, ferry passengers. I’ve not yet traced the problem with the vibration. I suspect it may be a failing rear axle, as the diff’s been growling for a couple of years now, so I’ll probably need to have that attended to in the near future.

Overall, the experience was wonderful. The car drew admiring glances and interested questions from all sorts of people all weekend. Despite the problems I encountered, there was little doubt that’doing’ Le Mans in a sportscar adds to the pleasure of the event and I plan to take the car again next year, but this next time I’ll check I can get the wheels off without resorting to a third party!

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