What is the ugliest car you can think of? The Pontiac Aztek? The first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche? The Hyundai XG350? Sure, those cars are repulsive, but they look like Amber Heard compared to the 1970 Marcos Mantis M70.
Gaze, if you dare, at the picture above. That’s not an edited photo, nor is it a wreck-damaged example of the vehicle. The visual crime scene before your eyes is the actual car, one actual people paid actual money for and then presumably returned to their actual home and gouged out their actual eyes with an actual grapefruit spoon.
There’s a lot we could say about the Mantis … like the British company that built it, Marcos Engineering, was a successful race car builder; they managed to produce plenty of vehicles that didn’t cause nausea in onlookers; and the Mantis used mechanical bits, including the straight-6 engine from the Triumph TR6, something we must take history’s word for, as it’s likely that anyone who got close enough to open the hood turned to stone.
One could ask where the Mantis’ styling went wrong, but it’ll take less time to answer where it went right. From the front, the Mantis bears a passing resemblance to a sports car, albeit one that’s been attacked with a hatchet and a sledgehammer. The view is only slightly better from the back, where the Mantis looks like a fastback GT suffering from a rather intrusive tumor. From the side, it just looks confusing, but it’s the front three-quarter view that shows the car in all its aesthetic horror. I read that the Mantis was (partially) designed by a man called Douglas Adams. No, not that Douglas Adams, though it’s clear the two clearly shared a love for the absurd.
Marcos attempted to foist this car on the innocent public starting in 1970; by 1972, the Mantis had driven the company to bankruptcy, having only managed to sell just 32 examples (though some estimates put the number as high as 43). Tragically, this isn’t the end of the story. In 1986, a company called Autotune attempted to sell a Mantis clone as a kit car called the Mirage, with the powertrain from a Ford Cortina. It didn’t sell any better than the original, and while the trail on Autotune goes cold after 1988, one can only hope the company’s employees were arrested for crimes against humanity.
No one seems to know how many Mantis models still exist; presumably, no mere mortal has the gastrointestinal fortitude to count them. The Marcos may be a stain upon automotive history, but at least it allows us to look Aztek owners in the eye and say, truthfully, “Things could be worse.”