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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

1968 Marcos Mantis XP: A Car That Just Wasn’t Meant To Race



What you see here is a Marcos Mantis XP, an ultra-light racer built to take on Le Mans in 1968. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay, Marcos only built one. And the sad news it, it never got to have a crack at la Sarthe, but its story is quite a unique one.

The Mantis XP was conceived by Marcos’ co-founder, Jem Marsh, who wanted to design a car to compete within the FIA’s Group 6 regulations for sportscar racing. So Marsh enlisted the help of design brothers Dennis and Peter Adams to pen the racer.


What they came up with was quite the looker. The Mantis XP wears a wedge-shaped fiberglass body, designed to maximize speed down Le Man’s long Mulsanne straight. To do so, the car utilized a long, low nose and a shockingly squat ride height – talk about kissing the cat’s eyes.

New for 1968 was a mandatory step-back on engine displacement – brought down to 3.0-liters – which was in line with contemporary Formula 1 engines.

 It sent Marsh to the market in search of a BRM V12. Unfortunately, it proved too expensive, so the Mantis XP ended up with a Repco V8, supplied by none other than Jack Brabham. Mated to a Hewland DG300 five-speed gearbox, the Australian-built V8 put out more than 300-horsepower.


The car’s Formula 1 parallels didn’t stop there either. Marsh phoned up John Cooper, of the Cooper Car Company, and bought suspension components that saw use on the 1967 T81 Formula 1 cars. However, the car’s chassis remained truly a Marcos staple, thanks to its plywood monocoque architecture. Yup, plywood.

Once complete, the Mantis XP had to be lowered through a hole in the floor of Marcos’ workshop, and lined up for its first and only race at the Spa 1000 Kilometers in May of 1968. Under a torrential downpour, the car completed only 13 laps before Marsh retired the Mantis due to concerns with the engine’s health.


Instead of fielding the car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which had been delayed by three months, Marsh swapped out the car’s racing motor for a Buick V8 and registered the Mantis XP to be driven on the UK’s roads. It backfired. British tax collectors demanded Marsh pay an exorbitant amount of ‘purchase tax’ on the vehicle, so Marsh shipped it to the United States.

The car frequented a number of events, until Californian enthusiast Tom Morris bought the XP at the 1970 LA Auto Show, under the strict condition that it would remain road-legal. And today it continues to remain road-legal, still in the loving care of the Morris family.