Ford Capri - Henry's Euro-Brit Mustang for the world
In the mid to late 1960s Mustang sales were going through the roof. Everyone wanted one and the US was swept up in pony car euphoria.
Across the pond Ford Europe was pining for a sporty car to give it similar success and that was the thinking behind the Capri.
Make it a Mustang for Europe and the UK.
In its development phase it was named Colt, (following the horse theme) but Ford couldn’t use the name outside its walls as Mitsubishi had trademarked it, so Ford named it after an Italian island.
Like their American cousins Ford Europe wanted the Capri to be an affordable fun-to-drive, two-door, two-plus-two coupe, aimed at blue-collar buyers. Its advertising used the tag line ’The Car You Always Promised Yourself’.
To pen the Capri, Ford Europe seconded Philip T Clark from the US, who worked on the Mustang design. And like the pony car, the Capri was to feature a long bonnet and squat tail.
In aiming the car at the broadest audience the Capri had to be affordable, which is why the Mk1 Capri was built on the same platform as the Mk 2 Cortina and it utilised most of its mechanical components. The rear suspension was a live axle with leaf springs and short radius rods and up front MacPherson struts along with rack and pinion steering.
The first car was completed in late 1968, and the world caught its first proper look at the Capri Mk I at its 1969 Brussels Motor Show launch in January. The following month it went on sale and was an instant success.
While all this was happening, Ford Australia was keeping a close eye on proceedings. They were also keen to have a two-door coupe in the range to complement the Escort, Cortina and Falcon sedans and the Mustang wasn’t an option.
In early 1969 the first Mk I Capris arrived at the Ford plant in the Sydney suburb of Homebush as Complete Knockdown Kits (CKD). All Capris were assembled from 1969 until 1972 at Homebush using mainly UK parts supplemented with a percentage of local content to meet legislation.
May 3 1969 saw the official launch of the Capri Mk I to the Australian motoring media and dealers. Initially it was offered in two trim levels, the 1600 Deluxe and the 1600 GT, using the 1.6-litre Ford Kent OHV engine that was the staple diet of Formula Ford open wheelers that debuted in Australia, in November that same year at Sandown Park.
Nine months after Capri’s debut a new sporty flagship was released on February 25th, 1970, the 3000 GT was launched, equipped with the 3.0-litre Ford Essex V6 and 4 speed manual. This rendered the 1600 GT redundant with the four-cylinder line up comprising the 1600 XL and 1600 Deluxe.
In November 1972, Australian assembly of the Capri came to an end with total sales of 15,122 vehicles. No Mk II or Mk III models were ever assembled in Australia.
By now Ford Australia had its own home-grown two-door hero car, the XA Falcon hardtop and didn’t need the Capri but it did import 50 of the desirable Capri S3100 models in 1974.
Global production of the Capri Mk I ran from November 1968 to December 1973 with manufacturing or assembly undertaken in the United Kingdom, West Germany (as it was known), Belgium, Australia and South Africa.
The Capri Mk I achieved its highest global sales of 233,000 units in 1973 with the one-millionth example, an RS 2600 rolling off the line August 29th.
While the Capri disappeared from Ford showrooms in 1973 it continued to be represented on Australian racetracks and in 1976 Barry Seton and Don Smith finished 8th outright at Bathurst, with Russell Skaife, father of racing legend Mark, crossing the line 13th outright.
The following year, while Moffat and Bond crossed the Bathurst finish line in that famous 1-2 formation, Seton and Smith went two better in their Capri finishing 6th outright. It was the first non-V8 to cross the line and the only Capri to finish the race.
However, the most famous and certainly most expensive Capri to race here was Allan Moffat’s Cologne Capri RS3100, powered by a Cosworth fettled 3.4-litre quad-cam, 24-valve V6 engine producing around 440bhp. It was one of four built by Ford for racing in Europe and Moffat successfully campaigned the German built racer from early 1975 to mid 1976.
The Capri was also a star on the small screen. Australian produced cop shows often had villains fleeing the scene in a Capri and just about every English TV show broadcast here had one in it somewhere.
A Capri Mk III was a regular fixture in the late 1970s crime-action series The Professionals driven by undercover cops Bodie (Lewis Collins) and Doyle (Martin Shaw). And Minder, starring Dennis Waterman and George Cole was another, with the Capri starring in the show’s opening and many episodes.
Gracing this page are two very fine examples of the marque. The Australian assembled Yellow Fire, 1972 Ford Capri two-door 3000 GT belonging to Anthony Jukes and the 1973 RS 3100 Capri of Jim Niblock that is one of the famous 50 imported by Ford Australia.
Let’s start with the home grown one.
Anthony Jukes is the President of the Queensland Capri Club and he bought this car in 1995 aged 19.
He found the matching numbers Ford Capri 2-door 3000 GT (as Ford referred to them as) manual with no options in that bible of classifieds, The Trading Post, in 1995 and was immediately interested.
"The story is Dad had a Yellow Fire XA GT Falcon when I was born and I came from home from hospital in it. I saw the ad for this Yellow Fire Capri but I wanted to get a Falcon GT when I was 18," Anthony said.
"My parents talked me out of it and then the Capri came up and they talked me into that as a slower muscle car if you like, so less likely to get into trouble. "Being Yellow Fire the colour that I’ve grown up around screams 70s muscle cars and to get a mini version of it was a good place to start as a young fella and thankfully I have never let it go.
"As soon as the owner started the car and I heard the raspy little V6 I knew I had to own it, Anthony said, "I negotiated with the owner and drove the Capri away after paying $2500."
Anthony began searching the history of his newly acquired toy and discovered it was originally sold by Footscray Ford Dealer, Col Paige.
Although it was in original condition when Anthony bought the car it was pretty rough and ready. At age 19 he and his Dad rolled up their sleeves and over the next two years tackled a complete resto on the Capri, that’s one of eight built in the colour trim combo in 1972, from a total production of 625 cars.
"The car is a June build so has highback seats, inertia reel seatbelts and XA Falcon door mirrors as part of the facelift the model received earlier in the year. It has been restored back to its factory specs using original componentry," said Anthony.
The resto started with a bare metal respray in the mid-1990s (and a subsequent one in 2008) due to a few rust spots showing their ugly heads.
Next, the engine that was stripped and fully rebuilt including the removal of some sporing. The heads were rebuilt. The engine rebuild was undertaken by Russell James on the Gold Coast, a Top Fuel motor builder for Jim Read. James had it balanced and blueprinted. At the same time the gearbox and diff went in for total rebuilds. Inside the seats have been retrimmed using the same basket weave vinyl inserts it originally came with, but the door cards are the originals. Since the top to tail resto Anthony has maintained it, replacing, tyres, batteries, brakes and belts when necessary as well as sticking to a robust servicing regime.
It is hard to fathom in a sporty car like the Capri, the radio was an option and not ordered when new, so it has a blank plate in its place.
Anthony has travelled 25,000 miles in the Capri GT since 1995 as the speedo was reset to zero at the time of the resto. That raised a few eyebrows at the Department of Transport when a 19 year old waltzed in to register a 1972 Capri with zero kilometres.
According to Anthony the three litre V6 engine is quite torquey so it pulls like a tractor but runs out of steam around 5500 RPM as they struggle a bit with breathing. They also have a very short second gear which is a bit of an Achilles heel.
"It’s a heavy cast-iron V6 up front so it tends to understeer going into corners. They weren’t as nimble as an Escort and they also oversteer exiting corners when you give it a bootful making them fun to drive. It’s very agricultural based on age and technology but I love driving it compared to modern cars because of the amount of manual input required to get them to go where you want them to go and how you want them to go.
It has a big, skinny steering wheel and no power steering and they’re bit wobbly in the front end. If you arrive a bit fast at a corner and turn in you get shuddering back through the wheel, but that’s all part of their personality.
The other Capri is a 1973 built RS 3100 that Jim Niblock has been the proud owner of, for the past 16 years.
Originally from Melbourne, his introduction to the Capri was in Ireland, where he lived for almost two decades. He had owned a Mini and Hillman Imp and saw a Ford Capri parked at the side of the road and thought it looked nice so he stopped, met the owner, had a drive, loved it and bought it.
Then a footy teammate had the facelifted model, which Jim liked even more so he started hunting around for one and it turns out his footy mate had an uncle who sold cars and happened to have one for sale at the time. It was a 1600 Rally Pack that is apparently a very rare model indeed.
Once again it was The Trading Post where the RS 3100 was advertised online.
The ad was a little ambiguous describing an engine, a spare engine and an RS 3100 so Jim clarified that the package did include an RS 3100 Capri. It did. With that Jim and one of his sons jumped in the car and headed from their home south of Brisbane to the southern side of Sydney.
After battling a snowstorm near Stanthorpe in southwest Queensland Jim and his son arrived and there was the complete Capri RS 3100 with a race engine in it. Turns out the car was for sale without the race engine, which Jim didn’t want anyway. The original had a blown gasket. Jim only wanted the original engine as it matched the numbers with the car. It all got sorted and Jim came away with the repaired original motor in the gorgeous RS3100 that is pretty much how it was when it rolled off Ford’s UK production line in Halewood.
The seller of the RS 3100 was the son of the owner, Capri racer Don Smith Barry Seton’s regular endurance co-driver.
The RS3100 is in pretty much the same condition as when he bought it admits Jim, although it has been repainted and one of the seats repaired, but mechanically it’s pretty much untouched.
Like Anthony’s Aussie assembled version it is also a Mk I Capri facelift model but being a UK built car varies considerably as Jim explains. "The front has twin round headlights in place of the rectangular ones and it has black painted quarter bumpers rather than the full length chrome bumpers of other Capris. To accommodate the twin headlights the bonnet is also different. The front spoiler and rear ducktail spoiler, homologated for racing, were standard fit on the car and the dealers added the RS3100 decals. "The facelift included changes to the dash, seats and door cards, the addition of inertia reel belts and mechanically the suspension was also tweaked. It rides on exclusive RS wheels."
Jim said the 3lt V6 has around 160 horsepower and behind it is a four-speed manual box. Although the RS3100 shares a good deal of its componentry with other Capri models, he admits that parts are becoming hard to get and very expensive for some items. Trawling then internet is the best way to find parts with a good supply in America and the UK where the car sold in quite big numbers.
Given how the RS 3100s have skyrocketed in value Jim confines driving his to club events and an occasional cruise.
Behind the wheel he says it’s simply wonderful to drive and the sound of the V6 is fantastic. It turns heads when he is out and about in it. Jim believes of the 50 RS3100 Capris imported he has seen around 25 and is unsure how many exist.
Today a genuine Mk I RS 3100 Capri is likely to set you back around $150,000 and the global appetite for this car is sizeable.
1972 FORD CAPRI GT3000 V6 SPECS
BODY: Two-door coupe
ENGINE: 2994cc V6
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual SUSPENSION: MacPherson strut,coil springs (f) Live axle with leaf springs (r)
BRAKES: Disc front, drum rear
POWER & TORQUE:
101kW @ 5000rpm,
235Nm @ 3000rpm
1973 FORD CAPRI RS 3100 SPECS
Body: Two-door coupe
Kerb weight: 1050kg
Engine: 3093cc V6
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Suspension: MacPherson strut coil springs(f), Live axle with leaf springs (r)
Brakes: Disc (f), drums (r)
Power & torque:
110kW @ 5000rpm,
254Nm @ 3000rpm
Story By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Nathan Duff