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Ford Capri Mk III

Keeping Your Promise Published: 3rd May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 2.8i or earlier 3.0 V6
  • Worst model: 1.3 or 1.6
  • Budget buy: 2.0 especially early S model
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4375 x 1700
  • Spares situation: Mechanicals good, panels poor
  • DIY ease?: No problem
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Very slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: V6s are best
Still an inviting cockpit but trim parts are becoming scarce Still an inviting cockpit but trim parts are becoming scarce
Sunroof: nice but can rot the roof Sunroof: nice but can rot the roof
2.8i has special hatch door glass 2.8i has special hatch door glass
Period alloys are usually wrecked Period alloys are usually wrecked
2.8 smoother than older 3.0 V6. Pinto engines suffer from camshaft and carb hassles 2.8 smoother than older 3.0 V6. Pinto engines suffer from camshaft and carb hassles
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Britain’s Mustang was almost as life changing this side of the pond and they still make great stylish and speedy classics – but prices are on the rise

Pros & Cons

Easy to work on, practical, affordable, V6 cars great fun to drive
Rust-prone, bodged ones abound, weedy four-cylinder engines
£500 - £10,000

If you were asked which car was advertised as ‘the difference between driving and just motoring’ when it debuted in March 1978 you’d probably be stuck. But if you were asked which car was sold using the strapline ‘the car you always promised yourself’, you’d probably not have to think too hard. Yet both slogans belonged to the same car, albeit the famous one to the Mk1 Capri of 1969 and the more obscure one to the MkIII, launched in 1978.

The Capri became a cult car as soon as it arrived in the late Sixties, but it’s the later cars that have survived in the greatest numbers – largely down to better build quality and superior parts availability - not that you’ll fi nd much in the way of original panelwork for any Capri. These later Capris are not only more usable, but they’re much neater in their design and also more refi ned plus detail stylinf changes made them much for stable than the MK1. While the earliest cars are now the most collectible, it’s the Mk3 that’s the easiest to fi nd - and for regular use it’s also the one that makes the most sense.

History

The Capri was fi rst seen in 1969, as Europe’s answer to the Mustang ‘pony car’ phenomenon that had been sweeping the US for five years. Those first cars featured a boot, but in 1974 a MkII version appeared, with a hatchback instead. This range lasted four years, then in 1978 came the most functional of the lot; the MkIII. The number of changes between the MkII and MkIII Capris was relatively small, as the development of the car took less than a year. Its roots lay in a concept shown at the 1976 Geneva Motor Show called the Modular Aerodynamic, which was a cross between a MkII Capri and a Vauxhall DroopSnoot. The following April a development programme began using the project name Carla and by March 1978 the outcome was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show - the MkIII Capri. From the outset there was no shortage of engine choice, with units ranging from a weedy (57bhp) 1298cc four-pot to a much more tasty 2994cc V6 pushing out more than double that.

In between there were 1.6 and 2.0-litre Pinto engines and the bodyshell was much like the MkII’s, the main differences being four headlamps instead of two, along with revised bumpers, spoilers and front grille. Top of the range was the 3.0-litre on steroids, the X-pack. Within just two years of the car’s launch, special edition fever took a hold with the 1600Lbased GT4 being introduced and in July 1981 the Calypso and Cameo derivatives arrived in the showrooms. But the one that overshadowed these models was the 2.8i which ousted the 3.0 models. Developed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations, it’s the 2.8i which offers the greatest value with strong performance and it can now be picked up for as little as £1500 in reasonable condition. Summer 1982 saw another limited edition in the shape of the Cabaret, but when the Tickford Capri was shown at the October 1982 NEC Motor Show all the other Capris paled into insignifi cance. Here was a Capri with a turbocharged 2.8-litre engine which generated a storming 205bhp which allowed it to do a genuine 140mph. Disc brakes all round were part of the package along with a limited-slip diff and revised rear axle location to help put the power down - but it didn’t go on sale for another year. Within a few months (in January 1983) a fi vespeed gearbox was made standard on the 2.8i and soon after on 2.0-litre cars as well. By the end of 1984 the only Capris on offer were the Laser (in 1600 form), 2.8iSpecial (featuring leather trim panels, a limited-slip diff and RS spoked alloy wheels) and the Tickford Capri. December 19th 1986 marked the end of an era when the last Capri was built. Like all of the last 1038 Capris it was a Brooklands 280, which meant it had leather trim, metallic green paintwork and 15-inch spoked alloy wheels. 1,886,647 Capris had been built and neither the Probe nor the Cougar which tried to fill the boots of the Capri ever captured the imagination in the way that the original European pony car had done.

Driving

A great driving position means the Capri is comfortable, but unless you opt for something with half a dozen cylinders you’re going to struggle to get the adrenalin going. Some of the surviving four-cylinder Capris are in superb condition, but they’re not what you’d call performance cars; the 100bhp 2-litre is the best choice. Pick of the bunch is the 2.8i, with its fuelinjected V6; it’s the smoothest, torquiest unit of the lot. It’s also not very easy to tune, but that shouldn’t be a problem as keeping these cars stock is now the way to go. Opt for one of these lat six-pot Capris and you won’t fi nd performance much of an issue, but the brakes are shockingly poor so you’ll want to invest immediately in some uprated anchors if everything is stock but a tad worn. Whatever engine is fi tted, if you’re moving from a front-wheel drive car to a Capri – and especially if it’s a six-cylinder Capri, you need to treat the loud pedal with respect. Thanks to rather primitive rear suspension, you need to be very wary if your first Capri experience is behind the wheel of a six-pot example and the roads are wet… Capri brakes were famous crap when new and you’ll equally just have to get used to the infamous Capri shimmy under braking too!

Prices

You’ll struggle to fi nd a MkIII 1300 Capri as they weren’t built for long and nobody wants them; many have had engine swaps by now, which effectively makes the 1600 Capri the entry model. You can still get free examples occasionally and the best ones fetch up to £1500. 2.0-litre cars generally go for £150-£2000 while 2.8s are worth anywhere between £500 and £4500 depending on whether it’s a basket case or a really nice example – really good cars can go for much more though. 3.0-litre cars have values between £250 and £3000 while Tickfords are still the most valuable, with top examples worth £10,000+ and reasonable runners worth around £5000. Most Brooklands models are in reasonable condition; they generally sell for £1500-£5000.

Improvements

Uprating the brakes with vented discs and performance capipers has to be the priority, even if the car is otherwise left standard. Rear suspension mods are also worthwhile, to help put the power down. Six-cylinder cars have plenty of torque so Ford gave these cars very high gearing; instead of tuning the engine, it’s worth lowering the fi nal drive ratio to increase acceleration. Fuel consumption will go up and so will engine revs while cruising – but it’ll make the car much more fun to drive.

What To Look For

  • The most likely area for rust is in the front wings, so check for fi ller in the area around the headlamps and along the edge which meets the front doors. The wings are welded on and original ones are very hard to track down; repros are available but they don’t fi t too well.
  • The front MacPherson strut top mounting isn’t as badly affl icted by rust as earlier cars, but it’s worth checking anyway. Also look at the inner wings, inside edges of the bonnet and the area around the grille. V6 cars have an additional triangular strengthening plate at the top of the strut mounting under the wing and if it’s missing the car may not be what it seems.
  • The A-posts corrode and the weight of each door doesn’t help prevent the doors from dropping. Check the fi t of each door where it meets the B-post but any dropping could be down to weakened A-posts or worn hinge pins.
  • Bodged sills are common so give them a close inspection; it’s essential to take a good look underneath to make sure there isn’t any advanced rot. The most likely area to have corroded is the rear spring hangers.
  • Most of the outer panels are tough but not immune from rust. Tailgates corrode along the inner bottom edge and the rear wings sometimes rot just behind the rear wheelarches. The rear arches themselves are a notorious rot area and are generally far worse underneath than on the surface. Boot fl oors can also rust and so can the metal around the rear light clusters.
  • Pinto engines are renowned for noisy camshafts through infrequent oil changes. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to adjust the valve clearances but if there’s already too much wear you’ll have to replace the camshaft along with its followers for around £100.
  • Pinto engines have a spraybar fi tted underneath the rocker cover. It’s there to lubricate the camshaft and in time it will block up. Replacements are a fi ver, so if it hasn’t had one within the last 30,000 miles it’ll be due for a new one.
  • V6 Capris have unstressed engines but Essex units have one or two weak spots. The oil pump is driven from the distributor by a hexagonal shaft which sometimes breaks when starting from cold. There’s no way of telling if the unit is worn without dismantling the engine, but if it breaks in use the consequences are serious. A check that’s worth making is to see if the sump is straight, as if the car has been jacked up by its sump the oil pump will be damaged by the metal coming into contact with it.
  • Another weak point on the Essex V6 is the fi bre timing gear, which breaks up after 30,000 miles. If the car you’re looking at has had steel replacements you’re lucky, but as they cost around £200 many owners don’t fi t them. It’s also worth doing a compression test as blown head gaskets and warped cylinder heads aren’t unheard of. Look for 120psi per cylinder on a healthy engine.
  • Corrosion in the water jacket is a common Essex ailment, which is why you need to check the condition of the coolant. Each year the system should be fl ushed through and the coolant replaced but many owners don’t bother.
  • The Cologne unit suffers from the same problems as the Essex, especially silted up water jackets. The injection system is normally reliable, but early problems on these fuel injected cars generally stemmed from the engine’s wiring loom. Due to the positioning under the wheelarch, fuel pumps often corrode and the casing becomes porous replacement pumps are around £105
  • Four or fi ve-speed manual gearboxes were available depending on model and on most versions there was also the option of the Ford C3 three speed auto. From 1983 the 2.8i was fi tted with a fi ve-speed manual gearbox, but the four-speed units are more reliable and smoother in operation.
  • Whichever gearbox is fi tted there’s a good chance second gear will be worn. The bushes also wear, leading to a sloppy gear change and the bearings also wear after 70,000 miles or so.
  • The Ford-built C3 transmission isn’t especially durable, the key to lengthening its lifespan being regular oil changes. There aren’t many autos around, with four cylinder autos especially rare. Replacement gearboxes can be found but not easily, with specialist repairs expensive.
  • A vibration from the transmission signifies the propshaft centre bearing has worn. If the bearing isn’t replaced (expect to pay around £40) the gearbox rear bearing will be damaged along with the diff bearing.
  • The diff itself is resilient. A special lubricant was specifi ed for the 2.8i Special and 280 Brooklands, which were fitted with an LSD - if normal EP90 oil has been used the LSD will soon pack up.
  • If a limited-slip diff should be fi tted to the car, it’s easy to check whether or not it’s there. Jack the car up at the back and turn one of the wheels. The wheel on the opposite side should turn the same way - if it turns the opposite way a normal rear axle has been fi tted.
  • The bushes in the inner track control arm anchorage break up up, leading to a shudder through the steering as the car goes over bumps. Replacing just the bushes is tricky so many owners replace the whole track control arm (TCA) at around £35 a pair.
  • If the car has been lowered it’s worth buying adjustable TCAs to cope with the changes – but at around £200 a throw most owners stick with the standard ones and replace them regularly.
  • If the car is sagging on one side at the rear, it’s because one of the leaf springs has worn and the leaves may even be cracked. As long as there’s no major corrosion it’s not diffi cult to repair.
  • Apart from the 101 Tickfords, all Mk3 Capris had a disc/drum braking system. The set-up does a reasonable job but if a disc has been overworked, warping in the process, there will be juddering from the front as the brakes are applied.
  • None of the interior trim was durable, except the leather fi tted to the 280 Brooklands and half-leather in the 2.8 Injection Special. If you’re after replacement bits you’re going to have to scour autojumbles to fi nd it.
  • The dash top is a weak point; poor support underneath the centre speaker vent leads to cracking of the top section. These are very hard to find in good condtion, and now fetch premium prices.
  • The fusebox suffers from poor connections thanks to its location under the bonnet on the offside. If any electrical gremlins strike this should be your first port of call.
  • Connection problems also affect the rear wash/wipe because the tailgate contacts corrode. Fine emery paper is normally all that’s needed.

Three Of A Kind

Toyota Celica
Toyota Celica
They’re now starting to be recognised as classics, but most have rusted away or were modifi ed to within an inch of their lives. They’re still relatively unknown though, so you’ll get a lot more car for your money than if you take the Capri route.
Opel Manta/Vauxhall Cavalier Sportshatch
Opel Manta/Vauxhall Cavalier Sportshatch
Cavalier prices are even lower than for the Celica, but once again there aren’t many left. Manta values are fi rmer, but at least you’ll be able to fi nd one. Mechanicals are easy enough to rebuild, panels or trim not so.
Volkswagen Scirocco
Volkswagen Scirocco
Long recognised as a classic, the Scirocco is hard to fi nd in MkI form but easier in Mk2 (1982 on). These later cars are more usable, but parts supply can be an issue although it’s effectively just a reclothed Golf. Very good value.

Verdict

A few years ago the Capri was the type of car that you’d have to be very wary of buying because they were invariably thrashed to within an inch of their lives. But the market has changed and most of the cars left are now in the hands of owners who cherish them and look after them – many are in rather better condition than when they left the factory. But with the Capri being such an easy car to steal, make sure that the example you’re looking at really does belong to the person waiting to take your money. Assuming the vendor really does have title to the car you’re going to struggle to fi nd a car which offers so much performance for so little money. It may be crude and unrefi ned in places, but in 2.8i mode at least the Capri offers a hell of a lot of car for the money.



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