I was driving back from a heavy night in Leeds in my Evante 140TC. It was a lovely sunny morning in Spring 2000 & I was crossing Saddleworth Moor on the M62 – always the most picturesque bit of my commute back to Manchester. The top was down, the sun was shining, the air was crisp and the car was behaving. I distinctly remember thinking to myself “It doesn’t get any better than this” a few seconds before something shot past me on the outside lane. It was very wide, very low & sounded rather splendid. As I have never really been into cars, I hadn’t got a clue what it was (not much has changed over the years), but it stuck in my mind and over the next few days I started to try & identify the make and model, courtesy of Google. I don’t recall exactly how I concluded it was a Marcos but I remain convinced it was an LM or a Mantis I had seen. It was wide!!!
But did I need another car? I had a Vauxhall Vectra as a company car, and the Evante for fun. However, having toured Ireland in the Evante in 1999 with the Old Man, it had proved somewhat cramped for longer journeys. You know there is a problem with boot space when you have to remove the CD multi-changer to make room for socks! I was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that I needed something with a bit more room than the Evante, both back & front. However, I loved the fact it was British, hand built, rare & with a performance pedigree. What could possibly replace it? Some basic reading up on Marcos confirmed that it was British, hand built & low volume… it was ticking all the boxes!
A few weeks on Autotrader & I had homed in on a stunning red Mantis with black interior that was down at Peninsula Auto in Devon. It was another couple of weeks before I had the time away from work, and hockey commitments, to go down & look at the car. I called Peninsula to let them know I was finally on my way, only to be told that some Johnny-come-lately from London had also called & was viewing the car on the same day. I was not very impressed! Fortunately, I had also seen that Optima Sportscars in Birmingham had a green Mantis for sale, so the plan was to drop by on the way to Devon, as I still had not actually seen a Mantis. And as everyone knows, ‘never buy the first car you see’. Alas, I never made it past Birmingham… I fell in the love with the shape as soon as I set eyes on it (thank you Chris Marsh!). Of course, the test drive is an important part of deciding whether to buy a car, so I duly jumped in the passenger seat for a tour of Birmingham’s remarkable collection of speed humps & speed cameras. Then the moment came… I sat in the drivers seat, put the car into gear, shot off in a cloud of tyre smoke and… No, that’s not right. Um. I sat in the drivers seat and… couldn’t reach the pedals. I remember now. So the sales chap, who had surely been waiting for this very moment, proudly explained the moving pedals to me, pressed the switch on the dash & brought the pedals fully forward. I was most impressed, until we both realised that I still could not reach the pedals. Undeterred, we finished the test drive with me sliding down the seat each time I wanted to change gear. After a lengthy period of reflection, and drawing upon a wealth of experience negotiating commercial contracts, it was time for some hard-nosed discussion with the dealer. In hindsight, “That’s brilliant! How much do you want for it?” may not have been the best opening gambit, but at least it kept the conversation brief. A couple of weeks later I had remortgaged the house, & was back down at Optima picking the car up.
Twenty years and counting… I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.