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Ford Capri vs. Opel Manta vs. Sunbeam Rapier vs. MGB GT vs. Triumph GT6

More money for less metal – that’s what an eye candy coupé offers against the saloon it’s based upon – so what’s the top 2+2 for Published: 14th Jun 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Dubious to call him an expert… but our editor has run them all during his motoring life! Of the traditional coupés he always rated the Manta the highest for its handling and roadholding with a beautiful balance (Manta A the best) and – compared to the Capri – a higher quality solid feel although the engines lacked character. Anderson says, in retrospect, what a Capri V6 offered back in the 1970s/80s for the money is memorable and adds he didn’t find the unloved, unfashionable V4 half as bad as it was painted out to be although it was no faster than the (Pinto-engined) 1600GT he owned. If the Hunter GLS Alan owned was representative of a Rapier H120, he liked its throaty sounding, ‘cammy’ engine but found the handling lamentable… By the time he owned a J-reg MGB GT in 2004 they were classics and he loved its charm if not speed. The GT6 was the most thrilling if for no other reason that the handling (a Mk3) always kept him alert “and on your toes!”

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Vanity over value, style over substance, posing rather than practicality… that’s always been the main criticism of a coupé yet that never hindered sales ever since Ford relaunched the Capri half a century ago. Not only did Ford give us the car we always promised ourselves, but created a new market sector that only started to wane once the hatchback got into top gear. In this month’s clash of the classics we are pitching the Cortina in drag against a pair of its most popular rivals plus throwing in two sports car-based 2+2s for good measure.

Which one to buy

1st Capri | 2nd Manta | 2nd MGB | 4th GT6 | 5th Rapier

In the popular coupé stakes, the Capri is a clear leader and it overshadowed all rivals in its heyday, although the design was distinctly long in the tooth towards the end of its production run of almost two decades. The Mk1s, which ran from 1969-74, are the most sought after, preferably the 1972 facelift which is the much better car, not least because the interior was improved. The Mk3 (1978-87) is the next favourite, especially the 2.8 Injections, while Capri II, launched in 1974, lags by some way, strangely. This means that they are the most realistically priced as well as being the more practical.

Opel Mantas are a lot rarer, particularly the beautiful looking ‘A’ models, which are the most desired, thanks to that distinctive shape. The B Series (1975 onwards) are more plentiful, plus feature welcome upgrades over the years, such as fivespeed transmissions, modern ohc engines from the Cavalier and the choice of coupé or sports hatch bodies. Mantas with the most are the GTE, where fuel injection and a major makeover rejuvenated a tiring old design, as well as giving this Opel the Capri 3-litre chasing performance it always lacked. Don’t ignore the rebranded Vauxhall Cavalier, when looking which was essentially the same car. Perhaps it’s the name, but the Opel seems so much classier.

Adding a tin top to the MGB created a model in its own right and the GT still looks pert and pretty. It was designed to offer Roadster owners the chance to still own an MGB once raising a small family and the rear hatch added to the practicality. Naturally, there’s much less space in the GT than say a Capri but the rear seat is tolerable for youngsters over short trips. In classic terms, the original pre 1970 cars hold the most sway with the later 1972 car the next; the funny ‘Mustang nosed’ in-between interloper was the work of ex-Ford staff now working for BL but the least liked remains the rubber-bumper version with their spoiled looks and raised ride height (to satisfy US crash laws) but aside from cheaper prices they have their advantages, such as better refinement and less harsh motorway touring and easier access due to the raised height.

MG never revamped the B-Series engine but instead offered the sixcylinder MGC and the Rover-powered MGB GTV8 instead, albeit both were short run specials, due to poor sales, the former lasting only two years, the latter just three yet both are now highly coveted. Once upon a time the MGB GT V8 trounced the MGC but now this intended Healey replacement is liked for its unique character that was so criticised when new in 1967.

The Triumph GT6 was Triumph’s answer to the MG and thanks, by happy accident, looked like a Jaguar E-type in miniature, even down to the kinked rear quarters. With Vitesse six-pot power the range spanned from 1966-73 over three generations with the Mk3 the best developed by far, particularly the prickly rear suspension. Primarily this super Spitfire is a two-seater but a tiny rear seat was optional although for many the rear is too cramped to regard other than a token gesture.

Sunbeam’s Rapier beat the Capri to market by almost two years yet, with less than 45,000 sales over 10 years, never caught the public’s imagination, despite its stylish (pillar less) Plymouth Barracuda-like appearance. The car was based upon the Hillman Hunter but with the Alpine 1725cc engine and a special interior. This was quickly supplemented for 1969 by the higher performance H120 sporting a Holbay (a Suffolk racing engine expert) tuned engine to compete with the V4/V6 Capri GT. Realising that it really needed a Capri 1600XL rival to capture mainstream sales, the Alpine name was reissued for a downmarket Rapier that was, in essence, simply a Hunter in all but body, right down to its cabin apart from the special high-backed seats first fitted to US cars.

Value-wise, if you leave out the big-engined Capris and MGs, there’s fair price parity where between £5000-£10,000 will buy all that you need with the rubber-bumper MG and the Sunbeams the cheapest bets.

What’s the best to drive

1st Manta | 2nd Capri | 3rd MGB | 3rd GT6 | 5th Rapier

Manta – most of the time and the chief reason has to be its widely praised chassis which made the Capri’s Cortina-derived platform seem ancient in comparison. And it showed in the ride and handling, where the Manta was regarded as one of the best drivers’ cars for several decades. Ford really only sorted out the Capri successfully with the Mk3 model of 1978, and the 2.8i in particular; the handling was softened in ’72 to counter refinement criticisms, more so on the firmer-sprung GTs. Even if you’re not going to drive quickly, Capris aren’t as crisp as Escorts and non V4/V6 versions are historically prone to the classic Capri steering shimmy and pulling to one side under braking that’s hard to eradicate.

Where the Ford always scores is the massive engine choice, from 1300cc to 3-litres, as against the Opel’s trio of ‘cam-in-head’ four pots (1600, 1900 and 2000) which hardly suited the Manta’s character, even if they did perform quite well for their sizes. With less than 60bhp, the 1300cc Capri is no ball of fi re, of course, which is why most opted for 1600cc power (at least 72bhp). In GT tune the 88bhp horses are brisk and easily handle modern motoring conditions.

There are not many V4 2000GTs around now and parts are becoming a problem. The 98bhp 2-litre Pinto that replaced it for Capri II is so much the better. The best Capris are the V6s naturally and their 128-160bhp (depending upon model) pace, twinned with saloon-like practicality, almost killed off sports cars in the 1970s. With their gruff and somewhat hairy nature they have a touch of the Big Healey about them, while one ex GP driver dubbed them as a scaled down Aston Martin – ironic as Tickford helped produce the Turbo tearaway of the late 80s which has to be the best developed Capri of them all.

In short, the Capri will satisfy those who like straight line kicks while the Manta panders to the purist who prefers precise cornering – well so says our editor who has owned most of them over the decades along with a Hunter GLS – the saloon equivalent to the Rapier H120! The twin Webercarburetted Holbay engine was highly tuned and needs revs to make it perform otherwise it can bog down; the standard Rapier is the more flexible tune.

The MGB GT and GT6 are products of the earlier era and it shows. While not quick, the B-Series is endowed with low speed pull to spare and burbles along nicely. The lazy power of the 3-litre MGC is now one seen as one of its best attributes while the V8 really gave the old B some sting with one road test likening it to a cut price Aston Martin in character – some praise. The GT6 is particularly sweet, swift and smooth although very much a bigged up Spitfire. Of the two, the MG is the most faithful and predictable and in, many ways, enjoyable until the rubber-bumper variants with their raised ride heights came along. Apart from lowly grip limits, there’s no vices, unlike the GT6 where the extra power has always taxed the Herald-derived rear suspension, sometimes to a thrilling degree but the steering is great – it formed the basis of the Elan’s tiller, no less. Mk3s are okay, it’s the Mk1s that you need to watch after stepping out of a modern, although, to be fair, all of the above cars can be easily modified to improve their manners.

The Rapier is the only car not to sport a more precise rack and pinion steering set up and it feels the oldest fashioned to drive. Biggest gripe concerns the rear axle location which isn’t up to H120 power delivery and the odd quirk of ‘brake pad knock back’ caused by the hubs, during cornering, drawing the front brakes away from their disc, resulting in an initial long pedal travel. Not all suffer from this known trait that can be disconcerting until you get accustomed to it.

Where the Rapier and Alpine score is in their restful cruising, especially if overdrive is fi tted, a worthy fi tting in the MG and Triumph too (only 1980’s Capris and Mantas came with fi ve-speed transmissions-ed). Add a good ride and comfy seats and the Sunbeams make convivial cruisers. The GT6 would be even better if the ride wasn’t quite so unyielding while the MGB GT’s body always suffered from excessive wind noise at motorway speeds.

If you want an auto only the GT6 lacked this option; the best by far is the Manta transmission care of its sportiness and responsiveness although as a ‘combo’ the MGC’s lazy engine is well suited to a self selector. Power steering was a Capri option from the second generation onwards albeit only for the V6 versions.

Owning and running

1st MGb | 2nd GT6 | 3rd Capri | 4th Rapier | 5th Manta

Thanks to their popularity as sports classics, the MG and Triumph stand head and shoulders above the rest where both brands enjoy unrivalled owner club and specialist support, the MGB more so where even new bodyshells are available. On the other hand, the GT6 is by far the easier to maintain at home, with its separate chassis and the complete front bonnet and wing assembly folding forward, affording fantastic engine and suspension access at the kerb.

No prizes for guessing Capri trounces the Manta! Being a Ford, spares are never a problem and, while the Capri isn’t as well covered as Henry’s other classics (body and trim panels), it’s still miles easier to keep sweet than the Opel. There’s a huge amount you can do to tune and improve a Capri as well and, thanks to excellent parts interchangeability. You need to hunt much harder for Manta parts but mechanically a lot was shared by the Cavalier and Carlton, the latter which features a lustier 2.4-litre engine that bolts straight in and makes a good standard-looking upgrade. What is undeniable is the feeling of better engineering and quality of the Opel, which, before Vauxhall diluted the brand, had a genuine BMW aura about it.

The unstinting efforts of the Association of Rootes Car Clubs (ARCC) mean that the Rapier is a lot easier to keep mobile than you’d credit. The mechanicals are Hunter based, so it’s the body parts which pose the biggest problems although the club represent the interests of Rootes- based car clubs in the motoring world, co-operates regarding spare parts and facilitates their sale through Spares Secretaries between interested constituent clubs.

And The Winner Is...

1st Capri | 2nd Manta | 3rd Rapier | (1st MGB 2nd GT6)

As this comparison test includes two sports cars, arriving at a definitive conclusion is impossible hence the split decision. The Capri is the easier to buy, maintain and uprate, while the Manta scores with its excellent chassis design and a more sophisticated feel – and dare we hint at nicer looks? Image as well as past memories will infl uence the choice for many, and now the Capri has happily lost its ‘Essex council house’ stigma values and interest are soaring. The Rapier, when contemporary, was the middle class choice over a plain Ford and the Rapier remains a nice underestimated family fastback that’s distinctive, very rare and yet good value. It’s not the most sporting to drive but is roomy, refined and relaxing. Picking the best sports hatch out of these two makes is purely a personal preference but the MGB offers more choice (both in ranges and numbers) and is certainly better suited as a 2+2 although we doubt that this is an important buying point for the vast majority. On the other hand, the GT6 is plusher and really does have mini E-type appeal for minimal money.

Classic Motoring

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