Of course it needs a supercharger!
That's the thought that passed through my mind as I drove home from Paul Stephens Cars, near Haverhill.
The it in question was a Marcos Mantis coupe which he had for sale (perhaps still has, check his website). The model normally pumps out 350BHP from it's Mustang V8, but the Ferrari dealer who had this one built as their demonstrator felt that was a little puny (Strange, since little in their range can have a similar power-to-weight ratio to this green car from the Westbury factory).
Paul Stephens specialises in selling sports cars, but has a soft spot for Marcos in particular, having owned a Mantula some years ago. The more observant (or interested in Motor racing) may also know that he drove one of the NCK LM600s to 4th place at Brands Hatch this season. He kindly invited me up to visit him and with a little time on my hands it seemed too good a chance to miss, especially with the carrot of that Mantis to drive.
I'll come clean now - As far as I'm concerned no Marcos is a REAL Marcos unless it has a roof. The way the roof line flows into the, often controversial, boot line is what first caught my eye and, despite all the nah-sayers, I still think it's the thing that makes a Marcos unique and is a wonderful shape.
After a 2 and a half hour drive round the, fairly quiet, M25, I arrived at Paul's farm with little trouble. "You'll spot the cars outside", he'd said and, sure enough, a couple of Marcos Mantaras and a brace of Porsches caught my eye as I first pulled in and then I spotted the Mantis and the Mantaray.
It was a cold, crisp day, but I found Paul preparing a beautiful LM500 spyder. OK - maybe you CAN have a real Marcos without a roof! A lucky owner was about to collect this car, so driving it was out of the question, but, with few miles on the clock, it looked a bargain at around 25K.
We talked about Marcos and Marcos owners and then it was time to try a car out. I'd never driven either a Spyder or a V8 before, so it was with some excitement that I followed Paul to a silver Mantaray Spyder. The shape of a Mantaray is unmistakably Marcos, but it never ceases to amaze me how different the shape looks to the 'traditional' Dennis Adams shape. Once again it's really about that tail and the Mantaray's is undeniably less distinctive, although still a handsome shape and, to some at least, more pleasing on the eye. Blended with a softer nose, the overall effect is less aggressive, more modern and more sophisticated.
On the road, however, the story is the same as any Marcos. Despite having double the horsepower of my V6 3 litre, I felt quite comfortable with the power delivery of the Mantaray, although I was not using 100% throttle very often, due to greasy roads, respect for Paul's need to sell the car and unfamiliarity with the car. On the flipside, however, it was a cold, cold day and the wind howled into the cockpit and the noise (wind mainly, but some exhaust) became, for me, a little wearing. I've been out in a couple of V8s in the past and somehow they always seem harsh to me, lacking the smoothness of note of the V6. I know many people like that gruffness, but I remain unconvinced.
In terms of power, however, the 4.6 litre V8 didn't disappoint. The car was undoubtedly quick, lifting its nose Marcos style whenever the throttle was pressed and, especially with Paul at the wheel, whisking us past the cars and lorries on the Haverhill bypass.
As with my car, you less steer the car than think it in to curves, but the modern front suspension (struts and power steering) made the car much easier to throw around than my Triumph Vitesse front-ended car has ever been and it was quite happy on the potholed road leading to Paul's farm as well.
Overall, a great drive and a far from intimidating introduction to V8 powered Marcos driving.
However, for me, that was only a taster for what I really wanted... a chance to drive the 470BHP Mantis coupe.
Paul was, understandably, keen to warn me that it wasn't advisable to treat the accelerator in this car like I had in the Mantaray with roughly half the power, but that didn't stop him flooring the accelerator and, literally, pinning me to the seat! The performance was phenomenal, accompanied by the sound of the engine under boost and the roar of the huge exhausts. Having said that, though, the car (with air conditioning), felt most comfortable, rode better than the OZ racing wheels and liquorice string high tyres suggested and the roof kept out the intrusive wind and some of the exhaust roar making it feel surprisingly civilised as a form of transport.
Inside, I felt quite at home. The dashboard was all carbon-fibre, but the instruments were all dials, unlike some LM500s I'd seen and the seating, door and the roof over my head, made me feel right at home, except that I've hardly EVER sat in the passenger seat of my car and I had a little trouble sliding in and out 'the wrong way'. The one BIG difference as a passenger (aside from the sound and the sheer grunt) was the fact that I wasn't sitting in a gale! The passenger door on my car is a terrible fit!
We stopped to let me take over and found that the boot lid was loose, which was interesting as the lid doesn't hinge, but slides on. The rear wing is not ,as I assumed, fixed to the bootlid, but to the bodywork, giving nowhere for the boot to lift to!
Once nestled down in the drivers seat, I felt slightly intimidated by the idea of getting this 'monster' back onto the slightly greasy road, but in fact, with gentle acceleration the car behaved impecibly, sliding out into the traffic with the smoothness of a car with more power than it really needs, but without the expected tantrums from the rear end.
Into the first roundabout, I was ultra-cautious, half expecting the car to snap as soon as I applied the power, but again it hit the apex perfectly and simply drove away. Next roundabout and I was feeling confident, a little faster in, steering weighted nicely, precision placement and a fair bit harder on the accelerator in second. The car just surged away. Into third and just a hint of settling from the rear (which Paul pointed out), but nothing at all to be concerned about and here comes the next roundabout.
Faster in again, but I was nowhere near troubling this car in the bends. Hard out and floor the accelerator. Then the road curved slightly to the left, so feather the throttle just slightly, before nailing the throttle. Closing up on two slow moving cars and there's a lorry off in the distance, but by now I just knew that I'd be LONG gone before that lorry even got near and so it proved, drop a gear hit the throttle and go. Just as my mind said 'Easy!' and I slotted it down a gear, I heard Paul say "Go for it". The car surged forward, the engine sounding sweet and the cars were behind us. A slight tweak of the wrists and we were back in the left hand lane and a few seconds later, there was the lorry seemingly where we'd left it before I started overtaking. Fantastic.
For a car with incredible amounts of power (When the McLaren F1 was originally designed 450BHP was the expected power!) and very little in the way of modern gadgetry to keep it on the straight and narrow, this green Mantis GT coupe was amazingly easy to drive, fast(ish) or slow. No doubt if you REALLY pushed it hard it could bite, but you'd need to be on a track to do that, as Paul demonstrated by pushing it into roundabouts MUCH faster than me. Trickling back through Paul's village, it was just a lovely place to be on bitterly cold, but beautifully sunny November early afternoon.
Sadly the lottery win still hasn't come up, so that may well be the last time I ever drive that car, but if I ever have the chance to buy it, I will. No question. Even the F40 (my self-promised 'day-after-I-win-a-million' gift) will have to wait!
Paul and I chatted over lunch about his drive at Brands Hatch. He explained that the LM600 is very much like any other Marcos to drive, commenting that it 'tends to fall over at the back in the end' and that it was very hot inside (Touring car ace, Phil Bennett, drove the, newer, fellow NCK car to 3rd and complained of a burnt leg after the exhaust was damaged!). He also stated that it seems to take for ever to get the power on as the LM600 race cars have, he reckons, another 200 BHP over the supercharged Mantis!
Back at Paul's place, we took a look at some of the other cars in his stock. A truly lovely blue Mantaray and a slightly older Mantara.
Mantaray shots :
Paul Stephens cars can also offer other marques (predominantly Porsches and Caterhams), but Paul's heart is in Marcoses, especially the later cars (LMs, Mantara(y)s and Mantises) and he believes that, with good support from specialists like himself they can continue to be great sportscars for years to come and are already offering great value against the competition.
As well as sales, Paul can offer servicing and maintenance servicing in Suffolk and has an ever changing stock of cars which can be seen at his website http://www.paul-stephens.com/ and he can contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone on (01440) 714884.
If you're in the market for a Marcos - why not give him a call?