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Marcos Cars – Born in Dolgellau

Jem Marsh Book - Making My Marque

The Marcos - Born in Dolgellau

A few Dolgellau residents may have heard of the goings-on in the Lion Yard in the final year of the 1950s, although unless you were around the fire station, it would have just been rumours of what was happening there. The yard had been home to the fire brigade for a few decades, which probably covered up the works and helped to conceal the more secret activity happening a few stable-doors down.

Frank Costin Outside the Marcos Factory in Dolgellau c.1960 - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection
Frank Costin Outside the Marcos Factory in Dolgellau c.1960 - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection

The Lion Yard was the location of the old stables that were part of the grand Golden Lion Royal Hotel and used to house the horses and carriages of its well-to-do guests. This was back in the time when ladies and gentlemen arrived in vehicles powered by two horse-power, or just on a horse (powered by one). 

All this secrecy, glue-fumes and sawdust eventually heralded the appearance of a more streamlined wooden carriage in the yard. Who knew, but Dolgellau turned out to be at the epicentre of a new sports car, the somewhat legendary Marcos, and in the same yard where those wooden carriages parked-up a hundred years earlier. As with another momentous event 1,959 years earlier, not only did this birth take place in a stable, it also involved a carpenter.

It wasn’t long before everything became a little less mysterious and the word Marcos started to be bandied around the automotive world. 

The Golden Lion Royal Hotel

John A Hall was the director and licensee of the Golden Lion Royal Hotel in the 1950s and was the person who leased out one of the old Golden Lion stable buildings for the work on the car to begin in 1959. 

Mr. Hall was a rally driver himself, he drove a TR2 for the Triumph Team on the RAC British Rally, completed the London Rally against Jim Clark and others. He also won the Caernarvon & Anglesey rally in 1958 and competed in many smaller rallies in Wales. All this probably helped to inform his decision to help and he was probably also well aware that this was no pipe-dream the two men involved knew their stuff.

While John Hall’s daughters were only young at the time, Gail remembers the goings-on and the ‘Mr. Mystery Men’ (as they called them) wandering around the yard. Their father told them that he used to help out by giving the Marcos cars a bit of a spin along the Trawsfynydd road, before such luxuries as proper brakes etc., were installed.

The Golden Lion Royal Hotel, Dolgellau Postcard
The Golden Lion Royal Hotel, Dolgellau Postcard

The stable was leased to the Marcos founders; Bristol-born engineer and race driver “Jem” Marsh and engineer, car designer (and former Olympic-standard swimmer), Frank Costin. The stable was pretty basic, still even having its original cobbled floor.

Frank Costin Outside the Marcos Factory in Dolgellau c.1960 - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection
Frank Costin Outside the Marcos Factory in Dolgellau c.1960 - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection

Jem Marsh & Frank Costin

Jeremy George Weston “Jem” Marsh worked as a sales rep for Firestone Tyres, but also raced Austin Seven specials. In early 1958 he started up Speedex Castings & Accessories Ltd., who manufactured and sold tuning parts for Austin Sevens. In October 1958 he produced the Speedex 750, an aluminium shell which fitted the chassis of the Seven. A year later, another Austin Seven shell was made, the fibreglass Speedex Silverstone. In April 1960 they produced the Peter Hammond designed Sirocco that was designed to fit a Ford Popular chassis. Prior to the Sirocco, Jem had already started work on the Marcos in Dolgellau.

Francis Albert “Frank” Costin was ten years older than Jem, and trained at the De Havilland Aircraft factory, working on high-speed flight on the Mosquito fighter-bombers. He later moved into car design, working on Lotus, Vanwall and Lister cars before creating his own road-going sports two-seater, the Costin Amigo. Costin and his wife were already living in Dolgellau which was the main reason Jem Marsh set-up shop in the town.

Jem and Frank met over a pint in Hitchin in early 1959 and decided to get together and build a sports car with a wooden monocoque body and chassis. The wooden body would be lighter and perform better than the steel or glass fibre mainly used at the time. It would also be built using staples and glue, rather than conventional mortice and tenon joints. They decided to build a new car, the 1172 Coupé in Dolgellau. Dennis Adams, an old assistant of Costin from his days at Brian Lister’s Engineering Company, joined the duo, as did Dennis’s brother (a qualified woodworker) and the team was set.

The Marcos Car Factory, Dolgellau in the early 1960s - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection
The Marcos Car Factory, Dolgellau in the early 1960s - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection
The Marcos Car Factory, Dolgellau in the early 1960s - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection
The Marcos Car Factory, Dolgellau in the early 1960s - Image Courtesy of the Peoples Collection

The amalgamation of their two surnames also gave birth to the cars name MAR-COS. In a similar vein, Frank’s younger brother Mike later went on to form Cosworth Engineering with Keith Duckworth (and the world-famous Cosworth engine). Cosworth was also an amalgamation of the COStin and DuckWORTH names.

Once the car was refined, the Marcos started to pick up speed (literally) with orders from John Sutton, Chris Meek, soon-to-be Grand Prix driver, Jackie Oliver. Jem delivered a Marcos to Courtaulds director Barry Filer, to be driven by an unknown driver, Jackie Stewart. Jem recalls in his book “Making My Marque” that he drove it from Dolgellau to Glasgow with no heater in the middle of winter. Jackie Stewart eventually raced a Gullwing Marcos in the early 1960s.

The Marcos Gullwing Prototype with Jem Marsh and Frank Costin - Image Courtesy of the historicmarcosregister.com
The Marcos Gullwing Prototype with Jem Marsh and Frank Costin - Image Courtesy of the historicmarcosregister.com
The Marcos Gullwing Prototype - Image Courtesy of the historicmarcosregister.com
The Marcos Gullwing Prototype - Image Courtesy of the historicmarcosregister.com

Moving Out

In 1963 Marcos moved from Dolgellau to Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, before another move to a purpose-built factory in nearby Westbury in 1971. Financial trouble, partly caused by the building of the new factory, soon hit and the business was taken over and became Marcos Ltd., however, this also ended with a sale of all the factory items 1972.

Jem Marsh stayed in the car industry and bought back the Marcos name in 1976, relaunching it in 1981 with the Marcos V6 Coupé kit-car. The factory moved from kit-cars back to factory-built cars in 1992 and Jem’s son Chris Marsh joined the business. However, bankruptcy hit the business again in 2000.

Tony Stelliga, a Canadian entrepreneur formed Marcos Engineering with Jem Marsh, restarting production in 2002, with many of the designers from troubled TVR joining the ranks. Road car production moved to Kenilworth, Warwickshire and race-car production moved even further away to the Netherlands. However, in 2008 Marcos ceased production and went into voluntary liquidation which seems to have finally ended the Marcos legacy. Frank Costin passed away on 5th February 1995 and Jem Marsh on 2nd March 2015.

The Marcos still has a strong following with The Marcos Owners Club and many other clubs around the world still flying the flag for this classic name. And it all started in the quiet Welsh town of Dolgellau.

…Ian King

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With Thanks

 Thanks to Gail Hall for her memories of the early days in Dolgellau.

Images Courtesy of the People’s Collection Wales (peoplescollection.wales) and The Historic Marcos Register (historicmarcosregister.com).

Jem Marsh - Making My Marque

If you are interested in knowing more about Marcos, Jem March produced an excellent 208-page coffee-table book in 2009 called “Making My Marque”. Copies can still be obtained on Amazon or eBay etc.

Jem Marsh Book - Making My Marque