Last Marcos ever? Widow of former company owner finishes final car for her husband. One man’s attempt to resurrect Marcos was curtailed by his death. Now, his partner has prolonged his legacy by finishing the last ever car. Words Will Beaumont. Photography Justin Leighton.
Last will… and testament…
LAST EVER MARCOS? The final Marcos, the ultimate tribute
ENJOYING Tony Stelliga’s widow made it her mission to finish the very last TSO that her husband’s firm couldn’t. It wasn’t an easy undertaking…
Many of us have a boundless passion and enthusiasm for cars, and often the vehicles in our lives have real significance to us. But it’s rare for an automobile to stir deep emotions within us and bring raw feelings to the surface.
The story behind this Marcos TSO GTC, however, does just that for its owner Laura Bermudez. For it’s not simply the last TSO to be built, not only because it certainly wasn’t simple to build, but this car is a physical representation of her late partner’s legacy. The unique and heart-wrenching story that led to this car’s existence is the reason why it gets a pass into a 2020 magazine about classics, even one called Modern Classics, despite it having a 2019 registration number.
‘THERE’S A POSSIBILITY THAT THIS COULD BE THE LAST MARCOS, EVER’
To understand the importance of this car, we need a bit of a back story. The history of Marcos, or at least the tumultuous path the company has followed, will be familiar to anyone well-versed in sportscar manufacturing in the UK. There’s all the low-volume sports car builder turmoil, including bankruptcy, multiple different owners and investors, as well as enthusiastic people desperate to keep making loveable cars. But Marcos never hit the highs that TVR, Lotus and Morgan enjoyed, and has remained a niche brand few have had a chance to experience.
Marcos started in 1959 in Wales, but it’s in the early part of the Millenium, after the second time the company had gone bust, that’s most relevant to this car. At the very start of this century, all that existed of Marcos was a race team in Holland and a UK-based company providing technical support to existing cars. No new Marcos cars were being built.
Until 2002, that is, where there was an exciting new development. A man integral to the modern Marcos story, one who was more than just simply associated with this exact car, came into the picture. Tony Stelliga, a Candian entrepreneur, wanted to revitalise the brand and teamed up with Jem Marsh – one of the original founders of Marcos and the man who lent the first part of his surname to the company – to create Marcos Engineering. Along with their team of ex-TVR, Aston Martin and Noble employees, Marsh and Stelliga started creating new Marcos models, first with the V6-powered Marcasite TS250 and then the TSO.
It’s the later car that really helped Marcos announce that it was back. The TSO has all the visual elements that make A Marcos – there’s that long bonnet, low roofline and pointy nose with its lights placed on top, almost looking upwards. It was built like a typical Marcos, too, with a steel tubular frame – not a wooden arrangement like the company’s early- 1960s offerings – and a glassfibre body.
‘LAURA WANTED EVERY PART TO BE MADE BY THE ORIGINAL SUPPLIER WHERE POSSIBLE’
Despite being rooted in tradition, the TSO really does look like a 21st Century car; there are sharp lines, fuss-free panels, big arch-filling wheels and the most gorgeous slashed exhaust pipes. It’s not as outrageous as a contemporary TVR or as understated as an Aston Martin of the same vintage, and that’s exactly how it was pitched. It had grunt and performance from a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8, but it wasn’t set up to be too extreme or aggressive. Stelliga employed the expertise of Prodrive to help tune the suspension of the new TSO and give it the range to be a competent sports car and a relaxed grand tourer. The firm also provided a facility for the car to be built in Kenilworth.
The first TSOs were called the GT2 and R/T, the latter being a droptop version. However, neither of these cars were ever destined to be sold to customers; they were built purely to gauge the reception a new Marcos would garner from the public and the press. Favourable, it turns out – the reviews were glowing and in 2007 Marcos finished the model it would actually attempt to sell, the TSO GTC.
The final car differs only in detail to the GT2, the hard-top prototype Marcos, and has 420bhp from its Chevy V8 or, if the performance pack was equipped, 462bhp. Behind the front-mounted engine is a six-speed-manual gearbox, and a limitedslip differential resides on the rear axle.
The composite body and compact Proportions means the GTC weighs just 1170kg, helping it hit 60mph in just 4.1sec. The hope and promise that the new, well-received TSO generated only makes the next part of the story all the more difficult to take. After building two prototype TSOs, six customer cars and almost finishing another, Marcos went bust once again and Stelliga grudgingly put the company into administration.
It’s Stelliga who is the protagonist in this particular car’s tale, too. Laura tells me how she first met Tony; it involves a chance encounter in a bar, an instant connection, them chatting for hours and bonding over cars, as well as many other topics. It’s like the start of a modern romance film, a story unfathomable to anyone bought up in an age of online dating and swiping right. But unlike a Hollywood soul-warmer, there isn’t the ideal and-everyone-lived-happily-ever- after ending. In 2016, at the age of 55, Tony Stelliga died of a heart attack.
Naturally, Laura was devasted by his sudden death, yet it soon became clear to her she wanted to honour his life, his passions and success rather than simply mourn quietly. The answer to ‘how?’ was found in what was left of Marcos. The chassis, body and major components of the incomplete TSO GTC still existed, providing the perfect foundations of a truly fitting tribute.
‘THE STORY BEHIND THIS MARCOS TSO GTC, HOWEVER, DOES JUST THAT FOR ITS OWNER LAURA BERMUDEZ. AND BRING RAW FEELINGS TO THE SURFACE THIS CAR IS A PHYSICAL REPRESENTATION OF HER LATE PARTNER’S LEGACY’
Laura enlisted the help of Ryan Ennion of SP Automotive to piece this complex Marcos puzzle together. The major elements may have been there, and an LS3 Chevrolet V8 may have been relatively easy to acquire, but it was far from a complete set. Lots of parts needed to be found or manufactured, and because Laura wanted this car to be a Marcos like her husband had imagined, there was a desire for every part to be made by the original supplier where possible – even if it meant persuading companies to make one-offs, like in the case of the car’s dials. One element that proved exceedingly tricky was the boot hinges, because the original manufacturer couldn’t make the elaborate part any longer. Eventually, a pair from a production TSO were 3D-scanned so they could be accurately replicated.
If constructing this car wasn’t complex enough, there was also geography, time delays and the Atlantic ocean to deal with. While the car was being built in Chester, Laura was conducting the project from her home in California. A constant stream of WhatsApp messages flooded between Ryan and Laura so every step of the build process was documented.
None of this makes any logical sense; no-one would decide to create this car if a cost/benefit analysis had been undertaken. Not many people would have thought it was even possible to finish the car, certainly not as faithfully as Laura has demanded. But once she had decided she was going to finish the last TSO, as she puts it, ‘It was always going to happen’.
Now it’s complete, Laura has started using it. I mean properly using it. As soon as she collected the car from Chester she embarked on a 900-mile road trip that took her to Scotland, St Andrews, York and then down to Warwickshire to join in on the celebration of Marcos’s 60th anniversary. To most, the distance might seem monumental and absurd for a first journey, but for someone used to the vast expanse of the US, like Laura, this is a great way to run-in a new car.
Her TSO might be residing in England right now and registered as a new car here too, but Laura plans to take it back to California; a place where that V8 will not only feel comfortable but will be allowed to really stretch its legs. And as no one understands and knows more about the car than she does, other than Ryan, and there’s certainly no Marcos dealer network out on the west coast of America, or anywhere for that matter, Laura will look after and service the car herself.
Since she’s far from shy about using it, I ask Laura if she’ll take me up the road in her new Marcos. She’s happy to oblige and I scuttle around to the passenger side, taking in just how small it seems but how big the TSO’s presence is.
A cut in the body allows me to hook my finger under the rear edge of the door to open it and I slide in. The interior feels snug and compact. That’s because peering out over the long bonnet isn’t the only reminder that there are some serious mechanical components gagging to propel you forward; there’s a huge transmission tunnel you have to share the cabin with too.
The V8, although ever-present in the cockpit, doesn’t dominate with noise. Well not initially, anyway. It burbles and chunters away pleasantly as we pootle around, waiting for it to warm up. When there’s enough heat through the big lump, Laura plants her foot and the low-key motor turns nasty. It barks and the noise rips through the air as only a tuned American V8 can.
Serenity is restored when she eases off the pedal and I can see how easy it must have been to complete the car’s inaugural journey; the TSO is smooth when it needs to be and you’ve always got the option to break up any motorway monotony with a blast of NASCAR-esque thunder. Even a tinyislander like myself wouldn’t object to the 800-miles-in-one-day dash Laura finished her road trip with if I got to do it in a Marcos TSO.
This is the newest, most recent Marcos on the planet, and with no other signs the company will be resurrected, there’s a possibility that this could be the last Marcos, ever. Take into wider consideration that the British motor industry possibly won’t be allowed to sell petrol-powered cars after 2035, and it seems even less likely the company will be resurrected again, or that there’ll ever be another Marcos.
Ordinarily, such a title would make a car a sure-fire classic, modern or otherwise – no matter what it says on its registration plate. But Laura’s TSO isn’t a car like any other; its significance is too colossal to her for it to be conveniently categorised into a neat box. In fact, WX19 HJO is barely even a car now, but a rumbling, rolling, blisteringly fast monument; the most exceptional way anyone could ask to be remembered.
Brand surfaced in 1959 but is no more… Chrevrolet LS3 5.7-litre pushes out 462bhp. Everything including trim needed to be made. Neat light position within kam tail rear. Exhaust tips follow rear body styling pleasingly. Bespoke one off clocks lift quality aura. Despite its sentimental value Laura is a driver. Laura Bermudez will never sell her TSO.
Modern Classics view
The less special TSOs – only by comparison however – are still worthy of the title of a modern classic. They tick a lot of the classic car boxes; they have the credibility, the performance, looks and the rarity. It’s an exclusive club being a Marcos TSO owner, remember, there are only eight others out there. And although they might not hold the same significance as Laura’s (possibly) last-ever Marcos, and may never conjure up the sort of emotions this TSO does, they are still the last of a generation, the end of an era, and act as a fitting tribute to the marque. Because just like Marcos itself, the TSO deserved greater recognition, more success and to have endured for longer.
2007 Marcos TSO GTC
Engine 5665cc, 8-cyl, ohv
Transmission RWD, 6-speed manual
Max power 462bhp @ 6500rpm
Max torque 460lb-ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 185mph
Economy Not much
WHO IS MARCOS
Marcos was founded in Dolgellau, Wales in 1959 when ex-Navy man Jem Marsh teamed up with aviation engineer Frank Costin to design and build a 1.0-litre plywood sports car. The pair combined the first parts of their last names to create the company title, Marcos.
Although their small, wooden car – inspired by the De Havilland fighters Costin had previously worked on – was competitive, the partnership didn’t last long. Only six cars had been built before Costin left. His replacement, ex-Lister employee David Adams, redesigned it with a sleek glassfibre body and gullwing doors. As a result, Marcos rapidly went from having sold 70 cars in total by 1963 to building 70 cars a week in the late ’60s.
The cars’ construction switched from wooden frames to steel, and a workforce of more than 100 employees were building four different types of car, mostly front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports cars, but also the Mini Marcos. Then the company launched a luxury four-seater based on the Triumph TR6 called the Mantis. The new car came just as the company had moved from a site in Bradford-on-Avon to a larger, more expensive new facility in Westbury. The Mantis was a flop and Marcos struggled until its assets had to be sold.
Marsh bought back the rights to the name and the early 1980s saw the return of Marcos, producing around 70 cars a year – some as half-built kits and others nearly finished. The next big leap in Marcos’s history came in the early 1990s when it launched the Mantara, a fully built complete car from the factory.
Despite a few successful campaigns, Marcos’s racing department was sold to Eurotech, a Dutch engineering firm in 2000, before the whole company went bust again. At least ex-Marcos factory manager Rory McMath managed to set up Marcos Heritage to take over the assets and factory to provide technical support for existing Marcos cars.
Tony Stelliga brought new hope in 2006 with the TSO GTC, but by 2007 the dream was all over once again.
Tony Stelliga (left) with one of two GTC prototypes.