Well, after my last CTTF post had a lot of people saying they loved the car and knew of it before my post (which is AWESOME! Save a great example for me!) I'm going to break the mold for these posts and post a car I actually would not own. It's ugly, it's British, it's from a former kit car maker that has now gone bust, and it's powered by a ford mustang engine. Yet, despite all this, I can;t help but have a certain amount of respect for it. I also have an ulterior motive for this car being featured in a CTTF article but I will get to that later on, for now let's meet the car in question. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you for your consideration, the Marcos Mantis GT.
Old vs. New
I know immediately what some of you are thinking "Marcos mantis? Well DUH I've heard of that! That was that funny little wedge shaped car in the 70s that spawned the criminally good looking Marcos Mantis XP which is quite surprising since the original Mantis looks like it has a sewer grate on the hood" (google it, this article will be ugly enough as is). To that I say, you are correct but you are leaving out the 1997 revival of the name on a car that was built for one purpose - Racing.
Taking the (British) racing world by storm!
Truth be told, the Mantis GT race car was not a world beater. In fact, the best examples of the marcos mantis strutting its stuff are probably found in its own bespoke racing series - The Mantis Challenge. A one make series featuring only the mantis, it was run for two years in Britain in 1998 and 1999 with a handful of smaller "challenge" series being run across Europe in 2000 and 2001. Like i said previously, I'm not the biggest fan of this car on the surface, but any V8 powered sports car with a one make racing series deserves some modicum of respect. Here is the best clip I could find of these unchained beasts making some havoc. It still isn't the best but I have done what I can.
Why was it forgotten?
A little while back, I posted about a 2-seater roadster from America known as the Panoz AIV roadster. In a way, I think Marcos became the British Panoz - Take a good idea for a sports car, give it a mustang V8, go win some races. Unlike the roadster, this mantis is similar to the esperante in that they won races with this car. But this car is not celebrated as the esperante is. The double digit road car production number doesn't help (I'm seeing an average number in the teens but nothing I trust 100%). The looks certainly do nothing to help. Only its racing career is able to save it.
Why should I remember it?
Earlier in the article, I mentioned a few things about the car's racing past and that I had another reason for posting this. It is because of some people behind the car. No, not the engineers or the designer, but a racing outfit. Now Marcos cars have been used quite frequently in road racing in the mid 90s to mid 2000s (they have been racing Marcoses for much much longer but I'm referring to the then "modern" era cars from Marcos). Most carried a designation of LM400, LM500, or LM600. But the mantis, with its one make series and production road car, meant that it was eligible for certain classes for quite some period of time. What I'm about to tell you is a brief history of two drivers - Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore who raced for Team Tiger in the British GT Championship. Bit of trivia - this is the marcos mantis playable in ToCa race driver 3.
What these drivers and this team accomplished is no easy feat. In one season of the BGTC they managed to get two victories in a single season. The picture below is of the team's mantis on its way to one of those victories, winning its class at Oulton Park in 2007. Take a look at the car in the background. It's an F430. When the marcos Mantis GT was launched, the F355 was still in full swing with the F360 launch still over a year on the horizon. It is simply staggering that this car enjoyed the life that it did.
The tragedy behind this car is that the 2007 season was cut short after their second class victory. They were on fire that season and probably could have won the class overall. They had struggled since switching to the Mantis in 2004 but the drivers and team had this car dialed in for the 2007 season from the looks of things. And then Murphy's law kicked them hard. The new engine the team had built suffered catastrophic failure which took them out for the rest of the season. At this point, racing a 10-year old car on a shoestring budget was apparently not feasible. I know occasionally one of these cars popped back up at an endurance event or at the nurburgring but in terms of an organized series, I think the last victory of any sort for the mantis was that Oulton Park win.
In memory of Marcos
In yet another twist of fate, 2007 was to be the last year for Marcos in general, not just Team Tiger's mantis. I was going to originally do this post on the ginetta G33 but really, Ginetta is still going out and racing some cars while making a road car here and there. To be honest, I never really "got" makers like Ginetta and Marcos and the rest. I respect them, but it wasn't until I started autocrossing POS cars in college that it began to click with me. You see, with a maker like Ford or Honda or even a car brand traditionally focused on "driver's" cars like BMW, their car production and racing arms are driven by money first and passion second. But in Marcos? No way that was the case. They only made 18 of these mantis cars for the road. Given that they would have to pay for raw materials and labor, that is not a lot of money. They had to have made more racing that road legal versions of this car for it to have competed in so many races. And that makes them one of the most enthusiast focused companies out there.
As I said before, I would never own one of these cars. Only being about 15 years old, maybe these aren't "forgotten" as much as they are "never talked about". But if I had a museum, or maybe a race track, I think I could find some space for this little car that could. Maybe it isn't a world beater, but the only other cars I can think of that enjoyed this long of a competitive career came from the true giants like Porsche or Pratt and Miller. And for a bunch of blokes in some sheds that's some great company to be compared to.