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fastback to the future Published: 5th Apr 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Our own editor Alan Anderson has owned many Capris and Mantas over the decades and sides with the Opel thanks to its more crafted feel and better chassis – but would love a Capri again! He liked the Manta A best although always felt the rather mundane Opel engines were out of character with the car and in this repespect the Capri scores – especially the V6 models which, he says, remain fantastic yet easy to run road burners. Capri specialist Tickover of Dartford Kent says people are now starting to spend serious money on them and values are rising yet many are still daily drivers run on a tight budget.

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More money for less metal – that’s the gist of a coupe against the saloon it’s based upon, yet that didn’t stop motorists happily placing vanity over value when Ford relaunched the Capri in 1969.

Not only did Ford give us the car we always promised ourselves, but introduced a new market sector that only started to wane once the hatchback got into top gear. And now it’s back with a vengeance, either as fixedhead or a coupe-cabriolet.

Opel’s Manta shadowed the Capri virtually all the Ford’s life and, while it never enjoyed the same popularity level, it is just as hot property as a classic. So, what car will see you sitting pretty? Which model to buy?

Good looks guaranteed by both Without doubt there’s far more choice with the Capri and, despite their increasing rarity, there’s no problem in obtaining one – from just a couple of grand, too. The Mk1s, which ran from 1969-74, are the most sought after, preferably the ‘72 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. This means that they are the most realistically priced and a couple of grand will net a tidy example, like a mainstream 2000GL. Top Mk1s can nudge the £10,000 mark and let’s talk £20K plus for rare RS examples. Injections have started to creep up, if in good order, as a surprising number are in scrappy condition given their exclusivity and desirability.

Mantas are even rarer, particularly the ‘A’ models, which are the most desired, thanks to their great shape that still looks fabulous. The’ B’s (1975 onwards) are more plentiful, plus feature welcome upgrades over the years, such as five-speed transmissions, more modern ohc engines from the Cavalier and the choice of coupe or sports hatch bodies. Manta with the most is the GTE, where fuel injection and a major makeover really rejuvenated a tiring old design, as well as giving this Opel the Capri 3-litre chasing performance it always lacked.

You can’t ignore the rebranded Cavalier, which was essentially the same car. Perhaps it’s the name, but the Opel seems so much classier.

What’s the best to drive?

Manta – most of the time The late, great Hot Car magazine summed up the Manta best when it pitched a plain 1.6S against an all singing and dancing 1600GT XLR Capri and still reckoned that the more restrained Opel was “the more sporty, sporty car”. The main reason has to be the superior chassis which made the Capri’s Cortina-derived platform seem steam age by comparison. And it showed in the ride and handling, where the Manta was regarded as one of the best for several decades.

Ford really only sorted out the Capri successfully with the Mk3, and the 2.8i in particular; the handling was softened in ‘72 to counter refinement criticisms, more so on the firmer suspended GTs. Of course, this means little five decades on, where you can easily uprate and tweak a Capri to suit – as many owners do.

Where the Ford really scores is the massive engine choice, from 1300cc to 3-litres, as against the Opel’s trio of ‘camin- head’ four pots (1600, 1900 and 2000) which hardly suited the Manta’s character, even if they did perform quite well. With less than 60bhp, the 1300cc Capri is no ball of fire, 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 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 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 produced the Turbo tearaway of the late 80s which has to be the best developed Capri of them all! If you hanker for an auto then unquestionably the Manta is the better bet, thanks to the excellence of its ‘box. Smooth, responsive and almost as quick as the manual alterative, it’s in complete contrast the ‘slush box’ fitted to Fords at the time. If you demand power steering then only the Ford will do, but not on the Mk1.

In short, the Capri will satisfy those who like straight line kicks while the Opel panders to the purist who prefers precise cornering. Also, the Manta doesn’t suffer from high speed stability woes like Capris did, or the annoying wheel shimmy and pulling under braking – faults which only the Mk3 finally, largely, eradicated.

Owning and running

No prizes for guessing Capri trounces the Manta here! 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 interchangability, you can even fit modern Zetec engines between the wings with fair ease – and complete kits are available.

You need to hunt 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 which bolts straight in and makes a good 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.

Because they are less favoured Mantas remain much cheaper and you can buy a really nice ‘B’ for under £3000 – reckon on a GT/E costing not much more. Also, Manta projects start from under £1000. If there are exceptions then it’s the rare Broadspeed Turbo (1973-75) and several specials made by German tuning companies such as Steinmetz.

And The Winner Is...

It’s a personal choice surely – just like when they were both new in the showrooms. 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 say nicer looks? Image may play a role for many, and the Capri has happily lost its ‘Essex council house’ stigma as a new band of buyers savour the car we all promised ourselves one day. Why not make the promise a reality now, while you can still afford to do so?

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