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Ford Capri

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Still undervalued when compared to hot Escorts, the Capri can light up your life as well as the back tyres! Renowned Capri racer-author JEREMY WALTON revisits some of the Faves from three generations 45 years after its launch

When it comes to Capris few know more about The car you always promised yourself than our Jeremy, who has worked, driven and raced them virtually from the day they hit the showrooms. A car of fashion, like the Mustang it imitated, the Capri gave the buying public just what it wanted through an array of engine and trim variations along with dedicated custom packs and options.

And although it was looked upon as simply a rebodied Cortina, the Capri was much more than that and very much a car in its own right.

The history of the Capri is well documented, not least by JW himself via several books! Instead, here’s his personal appreciation of Capris he has known, driven and loved for the past 45 years when the Capri was announced way back in 1969. Over to you Jezza!

CARE FOR A CAPRI

Sadly, I can tell you more about driving Capris than any other hack who’s offered a quid or two. From launch to last off the line I drove them all and I still borrow a final 280 Injection occasionally (from Ford Heritage).

Back in the day, I wheeled more than half a dozen of these baby Mustangs over 12-month to three-year owner/driver periods, stretching from 1970 first edition 1600 GT XLR to a 2.8 Injection of 1981, road/track testing the rest. Also had the privilege of driving for some official Ford TV ads and raced Capri 3-litres from Belgium to Brands Hatch.

Okay, let’s get the expensive RS thing over right here and now. Only available in the first, and to me the most attractive of them all-body, the LHD-only RS2600 featured Ford’s first European use of fuel
injection, so don’t confuse it with the later RS3100 as they are totally different drives. The Cologne-constructed RS is smoother, more thoroughly modified from sexy seats to 150 horsepower hardware.
A genuinely gifted performer that (for the period and a Capri) handled well so much so that the RS2600 became the basis for a Euro championship winning racer.

So you get pedigree, sporting prestige and the best production Capri to come off a Ford line. The Snag is that RS2600s were and still are tricky –road or race—to keep in 2014 tune. That mechanical fuel injection causes most motor heartaches to keep Capri in more valuable original formats.

An RS3100 was the later Brit equivalent, much more practical for UK or Australia than RS2600 or a badly modified 3.0 (of which there were plenty). Yet an RS3100 does nothing in original format that any half-sensible Ford modifier could not beat with a 3-litre Capri base. And RS3100 (which can sell for more than 20 grand is over-valued compared to the equivalent 3000 GXLs on which they were so tightly based, in my mind anyway.

Instead, I’d pick the 1971 uplift of 3-litre and subsequent GXL as the best first edition performers (uprated engine and four-speed manual) versus affordability. I’d understand if you quietly put a modified V6 and the later box into the original edition with the emotive interior and neater steering wheel. Around 160 genuine horses are enough to make such a light machine move sharply enough to appreciate the super rack and pinion steering and attend to soft suspension and infamous spongy, fade-prone, brakes!

I’d driven many standard and tuned 1600GTs which were popular back in the 1970s. These were nice, nippy and uncomplicated cars that could be pretty quick when tuned by the likes of Superspeed and Broadspeed.

People seem to forget that there also was a smaller 1300GT using the Escort’s engine, rated at 72bhp which was as near as dammit as the stock 1600 cross-flow. But while it had all the looks and trappings of the 1600 and V4 2000 GT, you had to really thrash the car to achieve a similar 0-60mph dash in around 14 seconds while the larger engine was far superior in real world top gear go. Whisper it, but I thought that the unloved and “ill regarded” 108bhp 2-litre V4 wasn’t as bad as many credited it for – trouble is that where a V4 could go then so could a V6 and tuners soon cottoned on to this fact before Ford made the official version and an icon was born that’s still loved to this day.

What made the V6 so special was its lazy untroubled power, meaning they could be thrashed and give none of the troubles and temperament of a tuned 1600GT or V4.

Capri II? Not my favourite and I don’t expect anyone would buy one simply because they needed a hatchback. The classic collectible Capri II choice would be anything in S-format with the JPS fag company colours, which were launched for 1975 as was the ‘Midnight Capri’.

I did enough miles in 2.0 and V6 Ghias to also experience their extra equipment, soft grey cloth interior finishes and flaky period paint to appreciate their added refinement above their better dynamics.

THREE CHEERS

Best sorted and nearly as good looking as the original, was the last (unofficial Mk3) Capri range which put back most that was lost with Capri II. Originally, the V6 remained in S and Ghia forms but for the 1980s that old Essex engine couldn’t last. So for 1981 the 2.8i Injection (taken from the flagship Granada) comes on stream to supplement the British V6. In my mind, the Dunton-developed SVE editions of injection 2.8 V6 were much better balanced and blended drives than any UK predecessor. Both brakes and suspension had pretensions of being adequate for more demanding owners, thanks to that bunch of stubborn, cash-starved, Essex engineers working under racer-engineer Rod Mansfield at Dunton who for the first time since its launch tried to modernise the ageing Capri. Mk3s with the most? Go for the limited edition final run Capri 280 Injection ‘Brooklands’ or the dated body kitted Aston Martin Tickford 2.8T, skilfully packaging turbo power and conscientious four-wheel disc braked chassis, developed by ex-F1 Lotus 72 racer and suspension expert John Miles, who went on to develop the front wheel drive Elan SE and the Elise.

Best remembered roadies? Well I had a bog standard (Pinto-powered) 2.0 Mk3 GL that was battered to death after reporting British rallying – a properly tough Ford that one – but the non-turbo Essex V6s with their rough engine beat and fat torque curves always appealed to me most.

I liked the higher rpm V6 engines made by tuners Oselli, and the lusty pulling power via John Miles-developed 3.2-litre car. This was a rather special 3000S, which was an ex-press car and in a lurid shade of Green never offered to customers. John developed it to a pitch that it formed the basis for the Tickford Capri. The car is thoroughly restored and was reunited with Miles several years ago – that he wanted to buy it back comes as no surprise…

The official Ford X-pack cars boasted triple Weber carbs for prodigious power but are best remembered for their brilliant and boastful wide body kit. They also gargled high-octane fuel at 7-litre V8 rates.

Miles regarded big-engined Capris as scaled down Astons and he was right – all they needed was a V8. Speaking of V8s, I steered a few unreliable Rover V8s (good low weight motor idea, poor execution – like many Stags!).

I also briefly experienced a John Young/Superspeed Yank 5-litre V8 which was simply stunning and still lust after the South African Perana factory versions which sadly were never offered over here. I suspect this was the most thoroughly sorted eight, as well as the fastest homologation Capri to ever wear a Ford badge.

Looking back over 45 oh so short years, the Capri represented sports car fun with family-sized running costs. It was a Ford that appealed to anybody who wanted a bit more style than a Cortina but cost no more to run. Sadly, the Capri adopted a ‘council estate’ image and was sneered at in classic circles but not anymore. And rightly so.



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