In the early 1980’s the big Mk 3 Capris were the cars to have, to the extent that when the 2.8 Injection came out in 1981, there was a six month waiting list at Ford dealerships.
I was lucky enough to own, at different times, examples of all three. Two of them were old sheds and one was not, well not to start with anyway. All three were probably the most fun I ever had in a car and a lot of bang for your buck.
I always thought that they were a lot of fuss about nothing, until a friend, who had owned 12, including the very first big 3.0 GXL and 2.6 RS, took me for a drive in his lowered 2.8i. He drove it to its limits with an ease gleaned from years of practice. That was the first time I had ever drifted sideways round corners and I was hooked! I bought them, quite inadvertently, in the order they were produced.
My first was a tired example of a 3.0 Ghia, which even had a jack up kit fitted to the back when I got it, making it handle like a trolley. This was the sort of thing that gave the cars and their owners a bad name and, coupled with its standard 3 speed auto box; it didn’t make it much fun, or safe to drive.
So, splashing the cash on my new toy, I bought a new set of spring hangers from Ford and set to work. Never having done the job before, I was unprepared for the bang which resulted in releasing the rear leaf spring from its mounting. It took me an hour or so, on a cold autumn night in my mum’s garage, to jack the spring away from the under body and persuade the end into its new home. Needless to say, I was more careful and successful with the other side.
The handling was immediately transformed to as good as a 3.0 Ghia could be. I found out the next night, as I hit a pile of leaves on a greasy back road corner, that it never was going to handle or stop that well though. It didn’t have the suspension upgrades afforded to the newer models, so I just gave it a service, cleaned up the bodywork, removing the tatty vinyl roof and left it at that.
Its gold velour interior was comfortable but tired, with sagging seat bolsters and a missing ashtray, and it leaned a bit around corners. With that burble from its V6 and its twin choke downdraft carb, it sounded so great, I could almost forgive it anything really though.
Until, that is, a newly restored 3.0 S came onto my horizon. It had just had a respray in light metallic blue and I sold the Ghia without a backward glance and bought it, as soon as I’d taken it for a test drive.
On the 3.0 S, all the chrome was replaced with matt black trim and it looked cool, with its chequered fishnet Recaro front seats and S decals down the side. It had been given a new set of 2.8 injection pepperpot alloys, which filled out the wheel arches, but apart from that it was in better than new, mint condition. The noise from the engine was different too – it roared and howled under acceleration, with its 138ps engine and 4 speed manual box and with the seats set lower than in the Ghia, it felt fast. Very.
I pored over the bodywork for hours, with gallons of polish and Back to Black, even re-spraying the matt black screw heads around the grill and headlamps.
The only problems I had with that car were, sadly, someone else’s. The second week I had it, someone reversed into its front wing whilst it was parked. It wasn’t major, but it was such a shame to ruin its gleaming looks, that I took it for a partial re-spray anyway. Two days after I got it back, I popped to my local motorbike dealer, to get a part for my trials bike, when a taxi reversed into the front wing again the same one and even harder! Taking it in my stride, I had it repaired and sprayed, again.
I was so pleased with it that I decided to go for a 10 day tour around France. It ran like a dream the whole time, cruising effortlessly at 80 mph down the straight, smooth French roads. I drove all the way down the eastern border, stopping off at hotels when it got dark, across the Mediterranean coast, and back up past Bordeaux, the Isle de Re and Mont St Michel.
On the last day, about 5 miles from the ferry, a French driver, who was reading a map instead of looking up, went straight into the front of me, as I sat stationary at a red light. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I looked at the big vee that was now in my bonnet.
One lucky thing was that on Capris, the radiator sat a good foot or so back from the front of the grill, so it was at least driveable. I secured the bonnet down with a tow rope somehow and headed for home. I got some quotes for repair, but could hardly bear to look at it to be honest, what a shame.
I’m not superstitious, but it did seem that I was not fated to have much luck with that car, so when a pilot, who had seen it sitting on my driveway made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, with no little regret, I sold it. He took it as was, sold as seen and apart from the bonnet, which was a fairly easy and cheap fix, he got a real bargain that day. I saw it once or twice after that and I gather he owned it for a few more years before selling it on, still running, to someone else.
Luckily for me, I had already seen my next car, which I have put in after this Capri chapter, as I thought I’d group them all together. So the next one on the list is not in chronological order of ownership, but it was my next and last big Capri.
2.8 Injection Special
I bought this car, as I tended to, as soon as I saw it. I only needed it for a few months, but it was the last car I ever bought without having a real good, proper look, over and under it.
To look at, it was fine. Gleaming white bodywork and alloys and a reasonable price, I just wanted to get it home and get on with it. I should have known better when the heater failed to work on the way home. Upon inspection the next day, I found to my dismay that the heater matrix had been disconnected and bypassed and both rear exhaust sections were shot. Not a good sign. Still, it had the half leather Recaro seats and bigger RS alloys and looked the part, to begin with!
It was the start of winter and after a few weeks, the dreaded orange stain of rust began to appear through the paintwork, on the sills, wings and just about everywhere else. Also, it seemed to flop around a bit on the road. I wasn’t planning on keeping it for long enough to worry about the bodywork too much, but I had a look underneath and could see that a lot of the rubber bushes on the suspension had perished. Oh dear.
I reminded myself that it didn’t have to last me very long and having booked a 2 week holiday, I dropped it off to have all the suspension bushes and joints replaced with upgraded polyurethane ones and new exhausts put on the back, whilst I was away.
When I got back, the handling and steering had been transformed. The 2.8i felt much more powerful than the 3.0s and with its Bosch K Jetronic 160ps V6 engine, 5 speed box and limited slip diff, it was smoother and faster. With its shiny new exhausts it didn’t have quite the same bark as the 3.0s, but almost laughably it did still have the same brakes!
I had by that time got the hang of Capri’s and had that car sideways around corners so often, that I’m surprised I didn’t wear holes in the sills. What a lot of fun that car was! With 0-60 in around 8 seconds, it wasn’t fast by today’s standards, but really, as any Capri fan will tell you, you have to drive one, fast, to really understand their appeal.
I finally sold it after 5 months and bought a new car – a big fast one, but I won’t include that in this book as it wasn’t old and I never had to lift the bonnet myself. Also, I’d had enough of tinkering for a few years by then.
There were a few faster versions available, inspired by the Capri’s racing victories with Zakspeed, such as the Turbo, by Turbo Technics and the Tickford (Aston Martin) Capri, which sorted out both the handling and brakes, but the price, at almost double that of a standard car, meant that there weren’t too many takers. Also, I am reliably informed that the chassis could be felt twisting once you got over 120 mph, which is not very inspiring.
I always thought they looked best with the optional X Pack flared wheel arches and RS wheels, but would have greatly benefitted from having a decent ABS braking system fitted.
That wasn’t the only thing that would have improved them – I once saw one in a scrap yard that had suffered a side on collision. It was a scary sight – The driver’s door had been buckled and squashed almost right across the cabin and the rest of the car had bent like a banana around the impact point, in the middle. That’s what side impact protection beams are for in modern cars.
That was then though, and those things weren’t available. Like the rest of the world, all people were interested in was going faster, not stopping.
Facts and Figures – Mk 3 Capris
All Mk 3 Capris had front Macpherson struts with coils and leaf springs on the rear and all averaged around 20mpg. They were all made in Germany, which may have upped the build quality, but sadly that didn’t include any rust protection, other than the original coats of paint. Nevertheless they sold 1.8 million of them, so a lot of people liked them. So much so in fact, that they were top of a home office list of ‘Cars most at risk of being stolen’ throughout the 80’s.