Jeremy “Jem” Marsh was an engineer and car designer whose products were focused on speed!
Born in 1930 in a suburb of Bristol in South England, he left school to join the Navy – it was the late 1940s and the world was still in turmoil so Marsh was able to learn a trade (which included welding) whilst doing his bit for his country. At 6 foot 4 inches he was probably too tall for army or aircraft duties! Like many young men at the time, he loved motorcycles and also like many, he switched to cars after having an accident on two wheels.
Another skill that he developed in the Navy was photography and he became very skilled at it, selling images that funded the purchase of an uncompleted Austin Seven special and he finished the build before campaigning it in 750 Motor Club events with some success. What Marsh learned was that the car needed to be as light as possible to deal with the lower power motor. He named his car “the Speedex 750” and he was also paid to do stunt driving with the car for a group at show grounds.
This lead to him creating Speedex Castings in Luton, just north of London, manufacturing tuning parts for Austin Sevens so that others could build their own racers. In turn, this lead to a meeting with Frank Costin, one of two brothers who influenced British racing and sports cars for decades. Frank’s brother Mike is the co-founder of Cosworth and Frank had already designed the F1 Championship winning Vanwall.
With Costin, Marsh founded a sports car company, Marcos, to build lightweight sports cars with a wooden chassis. Manufacturing started initially in North Wales and the first model was the “Xylon” with a plywood monocoque – Costin had already been researching this material with a view to building a car. This first iteration of Marcos lasted a mere 3-4 years before the money ran dry. Building pure racing cars was not a business that could generate good cash flow.
Marsh and Costin parted ways with Marsh finding new backers and moved manufacturing to southern England. Marsh had realised that he also needed to sell road cars to fund the business. This was something that other manufacturers such as Maserati and Lotus had figured out in the late 1950s.
The Marcos GT was developed along with the Mini Marcos and they were an instant success on the race track which meant healthy sales for road cars too. The GT was originally fitted with a 1.8 litre Volvo engine before moving to Ford units, still using a wooden chassis with firstly aluminium panels before switched to glass-fibre. The Mini Marcos was based on Austin Mini running gear and was a squashed version of the GT.
This success lasted through the 1960s until cash flows were impacted by the desire to build a 4 seater and an issue in the US with emissions controls that effectively stopped an important revenue stream. Cash was flowing out with far less coming in.
This lead to another business failure and in 1971, Marcos was sold to outside investors that included Rob Walker, an F1 team and car dealer owner. This was a portend to a bigger crisis that took out several more smaller manufacturers with the fuel crisis of 1973. By 1976, Rob Walker’s business, Marcos Ltd, was re-acquired by Marsh to build kits and provide spares for owners and he formally relaunched the marque in 1981.
This company produced several more evolution models until 2000 when it keeled over again and Marsh had to go find more backers who restarted it again in 2002 and this iteration sadly only lasted a further 5 years. The main issue for all the different versions of the company was that they could not sell enough to increase production to a point where they were making healthy profits. It is difficult for larger manufacturers to do this, so a small one is always at risk.
Marsh should have been a doctor, the number of times he resuscitated his company, each time with enthusiasm and vigour. He took on many ideas for road cars and even entered Le Mans with his sports cars, campaigning many himself. A typical engineer, he knew the best way to find and fix problems was to use the vehicles himself.
Marsh died in 2015, a distinguished engineer who always had the Marcos brand in his heart and was always its father figure, no matter who owned the rights.