Mar­cos 1600GT

The restora­tion of a derelict Mar­cos GT re­quired a spe­cial­ist un­fazed by a rot­ten wooden chas­sis, rust-filled en­gine and worse

Classic Cars (UK) - - Welcome - Words LEWIS KINGSTON Pho­tog­ra­phy LAU­RENS PAR­SONS

Achap in Devon had this car stored in a barn for some 20 years and it even­tu­ally popped up on ebay,’ says Rory Mac­math, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mar­cos Her­itage. ‘The en­gine looked like it was seized, the up­hol­stery ap­peared aw­ful and the wooden chas­sis was pretty nasty. It didn’t fetch the de­sired money.’

As with many a Mar­cos, it ended up be­ing of­fered to Rory, who worked at Mar­cos from 1968-94, then founded Mar­cos Her­itage to help keep the cars on the road. Rory had also ac­quired all of Mar­cos’s as­sets, tool­ing, draw­ings and build his­tory fol­low­ing its liq­ui­da­tion in 2001.

De­spite the car’s poor con­di­tion, Rory bought it with the in­ten­tion of restor­ing it. ‘We tend to sal­vage them when­ever pos­si­ble,’ he says, ‘be­cause only 4000-odd cars were ever built. We can re­build them, even if the chas­sis is in a ter­ri­ble state.’

To its ad­van­tage, the car had a 1.6-litre Ford Cross­flow which, be­sides be­ing em­i­nently tune­able, was also much lighter than the al­ter­na­tive six-cylin­der Ford and Volvo op­tions of the same era. ‘The 1600 is a more nim­ble car,’ notes Rory, ‘and such a joy to drive.’

A po­ten­tial saviour ma­te­ri­alises

Michael Poole, a de­vout en­thu­si­ast of the brand, was in the mar­ket for a lightweight Mar­cos. ‘I met Rory when I had my first Mar­cos, a big Man­tula Spy­der with a Rover V8. Then I started look­ing at the older, more clas­sic ex­am­ples. I wanted to do the odd track day and hill climb, so I fan­cied putting a car to­gether that suited my re­quire­ments ex­actly.’

Michael sat down with Rory to dis­cuss the best av­enue to ex­plore. ‘We had a long chat and agreed that the 1600 GT would be a good fit, be­cause there was so much you could do with the en­gine,’ says Michael. Ev­ery­thing was there and that was the main thing. ‘We’d make some changes to meet rac­ing reg­u­la­tions, but ev­ery­thing else needed to be from the cor­rect era.’

Opt­ing for an early Mar­cos posed its own dis­tinct chal­lenges. ‘These cars leak through the win­dow frames,’ says Rory. ‘They have a very ba­sic rain gut­ter that doesn’t work par­tic­u­larly well, so wa­ter drips onto the floor – which then rots if left unchecked.’

The floor was in­deed soft and de­cay­ing. Rory knew this meant that the GT’S tor­sion boxes – the struc­tural sill sec­tions that form a sub­stan­tial por­tion of the car’s strength – could also be com­pro­mised.

‘You can’t just place the ex­ist­ing body on a new chas­sis though,’ says Rory. ‘It’s a mam­moth op­er­a­tion to de­tach a body from the chas­sis en­tirely, be­cause it’s bonded on in so many ar­eas, and you will dam­age the chas­sis in the process. It’s just not vi­able.’

Turn­ing bad wood into good wood

Rory and son James Mac­math, chief me­chanic of Mar­cos Her­itage, be­gan by strip­ping the car to check its con­di­tion. The week-long process cut the weight of the Mar­cos to the point where only four peo­ple were needed to lift, in­vert and place the car onto a pair of tres­tles. This al­lowed James and Rory to iden­tify dam­aged ar­eas such as the rear chas­sis, driver’s side floor and el­e­ments of the tor­sion boxes – all of which needed un­pick­ing from the glass­fi­bre body­work.

‘The first thing we did was to as­sess the strength of the chas­sis be­fore we cut any of the body away,’ says Rory. ‘More than two-thirds of it was sound so the struc­ture could sup­port it­self, mean­ing we could cut where the body is lam­i­nated to the chas­sis and then trim it back – re­veal­ing the wood with­out the car go­ing ba­nana-shaped.

‘We then de­tached the wooden floor, ex­pos­ing the chas­sis fully and al­low­ing us to mea­sure out re­place­ment pieces,’ says Rory. Work­ing from the out­side in, Rory and James cut away the old wood and fab­ri­cated re­place­ment parts out of weather- and boil-proof (WBP) ply­wood which Rory says can last for 50 years if cared for.

The team then used Aero­lite, an in­dus­trial ad­he­sive de­vel­oped for avi­a­tion ap­pli­ca­tions launched in 1938, to ad­here fresh wood to old, with sta­ples hold­ing the parts to­gether dur­ing the 24-hour cur­ing process.

‘We had to work sys­tem­at­i­cally and slowly, al­low­ing each sec­tion to cure prop­erly,’ notes Rory. ‘Re­pair­ing the tor­sion boxes is the most dif­fi­cult part of this process, be­cause not only did we have to re­con­struct them, but within the el­lip­ti­cal struc­ture there’s an in­cor­po­rated di­ag­o­nal sec­tion that’s tricky to ac­cess.’

Rory and James then re­placed the car’s ply­wood floor, after which they could ap­ply fresh glass­fi­bre mat­ting to re-bond the un­der­side of the chas­sis to the outer shell. ‘We cham­fer the cut edge of the glass­fi­bre, then put a strip of lam­i­nate be­tween it and the chas­sis,’ says Rory. ‘Glass­fi­bre will stick to a good-qual­ity wood and it makes a very good bond.’

With the wood re­stored and se­cured after some two months’ work, a pro­tec­tive fin­ish had to be ap­plied. ‘We use one coat of black­board paint,’ says Rory. ‘It al­lows the wood to breathe. If you seal the un­der­side, a stone chip or sim­i­lar could let mois­ture get un­der­neath the fin­ish and then it won’t get out again. Leave it to breathe and when it gets wet it’ll dry out.’

Small car; lots of body­work prob­lems

‘We had to take the car back to bare glass­fi­bre,’ says Rory. ‘They al­ways have cracks and we need to make ab­so­lutely cer­tain re­pairs are done cor­rectly so no cracks will ap­pear after it’s painted.’

Pos­ing a fur­ther chal­lenge was the sheer thick­ness of the paint in places. ‘It had been painted four or five times,’ says Rory. ‘With these cars, peo­ple of­ten just rub them down and put the same colour on top; the paint can be a quar­ter of an inch thick in places.’

A grinder couldn’t be used to quickly re­move the lay­ers of age­ing paint though, be­cause of the chance of it al­ter­ing the cur­va­ture of the pan­els. Nei­ther could chem­i­cal strip­pers be used be­cause they can sink into the glass­fi­bre and cause mul­ti­ple paint-re­lated tribu­la­tions later. ‘We had to do it all with sand­pa­per, by hand,’ says Rory, some­what glumly. ‘It’s a hor­ri­ble 50-hour job for one per­son, but there’s no other way of go­ing about it.’

Re­mov­ing the paint re­vealed small cracks in the glass­fi­bre around the car’s wind­screen. ‘The screen aper­ture is nearly al­ways dam­aged in the cor­ners,’ says Rory. ‘The shell shakes slightly here and the outer sur­face of the body is a gel coat, a non-re­in­forced plas­tic coat­ing. That’s what cracks and that’s what you see. We grind away this coat­ing un­til the crack dis­ap­pears, which takes us just into the mat­ting of the glass­fi­bre it­self. We then re­in­force the glass­fi­bre with chopped strand mat, then top it with a sur­face tis­sue – a very fine cloth-like glass­fi­bre mat­ting. This elim­i­nates air pock­ets which can blow up in the fu­ture and it gives us an im­per­me­able sur­face to work from.’

Part of the eight-week body restora­tion was spent strength­en­ing known weak points. ‘We re­in­forced around the head­lamp cov­ers where the bon­net flexes,’ says Rory. ‘Peo­ple undo the catches and lift one cor­ner, which twists the bon­net and causes a crack. We bol­stered the door hinges and the screen cor­ners for sim­i­lar rea­sons, be­cause these ar­eas flex.’

As part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the car’s ori­gins, Rory had ri­fled through the com­pany’s orig­i­nal sales files. These re­vealed that, al­though the car had ar­rived at the work­shop sport­ing red paint, it was orig­i­nally fin­ished in Ba­hama Yel­low. Owner Michael in­stead de­cided on a more sub­tle and el­e­gant Rolls-royce Re­gal Red – an orig­i­nal Mar­cos-of­fered op­tional fin­ish.

It’s all in the rare, no-longer-avail­able de­tails

The Mar­cos has an­odised alu­minium frames for the door glass, paired with alu­minium de­tail strips that sit on the door along the lower edge of the win­dow – but these were miss­ing. ‘The orig­i­nals are an alu­minium U-sec­tion which we can’t get any more,’ says James. All we can get is plas­tic chrome but it looks hor­ri­ble, so I fab­ri­cated new ones out of an­gled alu­minium. They are a night­mare to make; I had to put a curve in them by hand and then bond them in ex­actly the right place with polyurethane – which takes 24 hours to go off.’

Rory also re­placed the Mazak al­loy bon­net catches with fresh Mazak re­pro­duc­tions as a pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure. ‘The roller in­side the catch wears,’ says Rory, ‘and once you’ve got a flat worn into that roller it’s a hell of a job to open the catch.’

Don’t be mis­led by the em­bossed ‘M’ on them, though – it doesn’t stand for Mar­cos. The catches were orig­i­nally used on the Tri­umph Her­ald, de­signed by Gio­vanni Mich­e­lotti, and the em­blem was re­port­edly cast in as a sig­na­ture mark from the Ital­ian stylist. ‘Founder Jem Marsh would tell cus­tomers we had them man­u­fac­tured spe­cially for Mar­cos,’ grins Rory.

Many of the GT’S ex­te­rior de­tail parts proved sal­vage­able, though, in­clud­ing its orig­i­nal bon­net badge and Austin A40-sourced door locks. ‘We try to re­tain as much of the orig­i­nal car as pos­si­ble,’ says Rory. ‘A lot of the mi­nor parts we’ve run out of, mind – the cover for the in­te­rior light comes from a 1952 Vaux­hall Vic­tor. We’ve ex­hausted world­wide sup­plies so we’ll have to start re­man­u­fac­tur­ing them.’

Ma­jor me­chan­i­cal re­lief

The Mar­cos weighs in at a claimed 740kg which means it does lit­tle to tax its trans­mis­sion or back axle. The front sub­frame and sus­pen­sion com­po­nents were also found to be in ser­vice­able con­di­tion, but to en­sure longevity they were sand­blasted to re­move sur­face rust and then pow­der-coated for pro­tec­tion.

Low point ‘Re­mov­ing the paint was a soul-de­stroy­ing job. You can’t use paint strip­per be­cause it gets into the glass­fi­bre, so we had to hand-sand it’

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