Marcos TSO GTC: A Flawed Revival
The classic British manufacturer comeback that nearly worked
As a company, Marcos has always been a little bit on the shaky side financially, to be polite. Over the years the company has dropped in and out of business several times, but has still managed to build a sizeable cult following. Despite a few attempts at relaunching the company, none have ever managed to properly stick: though the most recent was probably the closest Marcos came to achieving a proper comeback.
The Mini Marcos was one of many Marcos cars to find success in racing
Having taken a short break due to bankruptcy in the late 1990s, Marcos was once again active in 2002. The company returned with the TS250, which was essentially a reworked version of the existing Mantaray from a few years earlier. This was followed up by the TS500 in 2003 which was a revised version of the TS250. For 2004 however, Marcos went all-out and announced an entirely new car: the TSO.
The Marcos TS250
Penned by ex-TVR designer Damian McTaggart (who worked on the Cerbera, Tuscan and T350), the convertible TSO was a far more modern looking design than the models it replaced. Following its announcement the Australia-exclusive TSO GT was unveiled in late 2004, which was a coupe version of the TSO. For 2005 the TSO GT2 debuted, which was an evolution of the TSO GT for the European market. Each of these models was largely identical mechanically, with only minor styling and set-up changes between the cars.
The finalised TSO would finally be announced in 2006 as the TSO GTC, along with a Targa-top variant known as the TSO R/T. In terms of spec, both were identical and were an evolution of the previous several variants. This meant a 5.7 litre Chevrolet LS1 V8 mounted up front, with power sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. In the TSO GTC the LS1 produced 420hp, though with the optional ‘Performance Pack’ upgrade fitted this would increase to 462hp. This upgrade also meant an output of 460ft-lb of torque, with a claimed 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds and top speed in excess of 185mph.
Underneath, the chassis was designed and produced by Prodrive which, when combined with the lightness of the car (1170kg), was hoped to ensure the TSO GTC could corner as well as it could go in a straight line. Marcos insisted on using high quality suppliers for many parts of the car, which included sourcing bespoke AP Racing brakes, uniquely trimmed Sparco seats and OZ Racing alloy wheels. Oddly, the TSO GTC was only fitted with 225mm width tyres in the rear (215s in front), which were significantly smaller than would perhaps be expected. There was no traction control or ABS for the TSO GTC, though company boss Tony Stelliga was keen that the car should be accessible to drive despite this.
At launch the TSO GTC was priced at £49,950, though with options such as the Performance Pack this could reach closer to £60,000. The interior was largely unique to the Marcos, and generally intended to be a modern spin on classic styling, much like the exterior. The high-quality parts meant the TSO GTC was quite expensive compared to alternatives, not to mention that the R/T model cost nearly £8000 more than the regular coupe.
In reviews the TSO GTC was generally received quite positively. The suspension was set up to be more of a GT car than an outright sports car, and as such there was some body-roll. The Marcos was reportedly quite easy to get sliding in a controlled manner, however did suffer from understeer due to the front end going light under acceleration: this was a less useful side-effect of the fairly softly sprung suspension. The pedals were praised for having good feel, though the steering was said to be overly light.
Production was hoped to be around 50 cars per year initially, with this figure rising over time, but this never got close to happening. The total number of cars produced is somewhat of a mystery, but 12 cars in total across every version of the TSO is a solid estimate. Of these 12, it’s suggested there were seven production GTCs and R/Ts, along with two prototype cars. The original three variants (TSO, TSO GT and TSO GT2) were supposedly never actually intended to be sold to the public, and were instead meant to gauge the response to the TSO’s evolution from the press: not only this, but the press cars were also the prototypes for each model. As such it’s likely only one of each was produced.
With the knowledge that the prototypes were being doubled up as press cars it’s perhaps not a huge shock to learn that the company was again struggling financially. Very early into TSO GTC production Marcos was in a position where it was losing money on every car it sold, and so the decision to sell off the company’s assets to cut their losses was made. In October 2007 the company fell into bankruptcy once again and ceased production, and that was that. Since then there has been another Marcos prototype produced called the Spirit 220, but little seems to have come of it. Will the Marcos name be revived once again? It’s entirely possible it could be at some point, and with a fellow previously dead brand in TVR in an ongoing revival there is some hope, but it’s not necessarily likely.