HILLCLIMB MK1 CAPRI
As with all the best stories, this one begins with a Mk2 Escort and ends with Scotch. But perhaps not in the manner in which you may expect.
Zetec-powered and trick-suspended Capri distilled for the hills and byways of Blighty and beyond.
At the age of 16, Andy Bower bought himself a Mk2 Escort; a ’79 two-door in which he learnt to drive, paint, weld, swap engines, modify and customise, and it laid down the path toward him becoming an engineer.
Andy and his Escort were inseparable — it served for harsh winter commutes, pan-European road trips and countless track days; it kissed the Armco at the Nürburgring, earned 40,000 miles in his tenure, and received a few miles of welding wire over their 11 years together. And then, at the 2009 Retro Rides Gathering, the car rolled on track and it was all over. Which came as a bit of a surprise.
Andy, however, is a practical man. “I bought a kit car chassis and was going to suspend the Escort shell over it,” he recalls. “Then I bought a very rough Mk2 Escort estate and planned a low long-roof using the Zetec running gear… then one day in 2011, Lauren — my partner in silly car-buying escapades and now also my wife — convinced me that a Capri would be much cooler. I was still an Escort fan through-and-through, but the pre-facelift Mk1s were going up in my desires. Plus maybe the longer wheelbase wouldn’t be a bad idea, given how the Escort met its demise…”
And so with the decision effectively made, Lauren presented a Mk1 race Capri she’d happened across online, which Andy best describes as ‘interesting’. It ticked a few boxes — roll cage, Wilwoods, extinguisher system, slicks — but was a long way from presentable.
“It looked like it’d been painted by Stevie Wonder, when he was late for an important date,” Andy laughs. “But it was a bargain even if it was rotten, so I went for it. First impressions on buying it were pretty good; it even had a scrutineering sticker from Donington Park in the window — proper race car!”
Maybe so, but there are race cars and there are race cars. Once Andy began to wrap his mighty engineering brain around his new acquisition, it became evident that somebody had been papering over a few cracks.
“The body was weak around the cage mounts, and the reinforcement plates weren’t fitted correctly,” he recalls with a grimace. “The insides of the doors had been cut out using a hacksaw blade, rather than a hacksaw — they were like a box of knives. And as for the front of the chassis rails, they were about as strong as a damp paper doily! I was later contacted by a guy who’d been at the car’s only race meet, and apparently it managed about a lap in practice and half a lap in the race before overheating. The scrutineers were clearly in a good mood the day it got passed as race fit.” Still, the intention was never to buy a turnkey racer. What Andy had, while frilly and questionable, was certainly a decent start.
At this stage, the Yorkshireman in him came to the fore. He sold off all the decent parts that he didn’t need, totalling around £1500, and ended up with the car owing him minus £100. Can’t really argue with that, can you? And with that mojo boost, it was on with the build!
Well, not quite. He had to create a place in which to build it first. Never easy, is it? “The barn I had space in at the time was really an old cow shed — there are mountain sides which are flatter,” Andy grins. “I ended up putting down 32 posts into the ground and building a suspended floor on top — a build table, if you will. I could then start to strip the car down and get on with welding it up — and to be honest, it wasn’t bad. It’d obviously had some love many moons ago, and had some very neatly welded-in panels. Things didn’t get difficult until I started on the suspension…”
“THE CAPRI HAD BEEN PAINTED BADLY, BUT IT WAS A BARGAIN EVEN IF IT WAS ROTTEN SO I WENT FOR IT!”
This is an area worthy of your time, and we’ve detailed the thinking behind it in the boxout for you. Suffice it to say, it’s similar to Mk2 Escort Group 4 spec, and at the same time it’s a trillion miles away in another universe. The general layout is Escort-based, but every element had to be either extensively modified or custom-fabricated. In essence, you’re unlikely to come across a Mk1 Capri with a more considered and fastidiously-engineered chassis.
“Once the suspension was done, it was fairly easy to get the car together for a shakedown build,” says Andy. “I threw it together and we painted it in red oxide the day before RRG 2014. It made it, ran up the hill reliably, and even handled pretty well straight out of the box — miles better than the Escort ever did. Then it went back into the shed…” Why? Oh, they’d bought a house to do up. As if they weren’t busy enough.
During this interlude, Andy and Lauren set their minds to choosing a colour scheme for the Capri. And one evening, whilst discussing his enthusiasm for old Jägermeister liveries while enjoying a glass of Bruichladdich whisky, the two things got sort of muddled, and the idea to paint the car like the bottle that was sitting on the table was born.
“I floated the idea on the Retro Rides forum, and the response was amazing — user, Jayvoa created a spectacular Photoshop of how it’d
“THE FINAL CHAPTER IN THE STORY WAS TAKING THE CAPRI ALL THE WAY UP TO ISLAY WHERE THE DISTILLERY IS”
look, which sealed the deal,” Andy grins. “I’d probably never have gone through with it until I saw that image. And Lauren, being a marketer and good with words, contacted the distillery and sent them the Photoshop — and they loved the idea! Within days I had all their logos sent to me, and even a fresh bottle of Laddie Classic, ‘to get the right colour from’. Well, you have to do these things properly, after all.”
Andy’s at pains to point out that the car isn’t officially sponsored by Bruichladdich, of course. No, think of this more as an homage, a unique sidestep from mainstream vintage liveries.
The colour was handed to a paint supplier to create a perfect match, while Andy and Lauren set about stripping off the harsh red oxide — something that, er, they’d rather not talk about. Horrible job, that. But after three days and two machine polishers, the shell was prepped, the car was painted, and the vinyl-cutter was fired up to create the custom logos. The finished product is pretty sensational, isn’t it?
“The final chapter in the story was taking the car all the way up to the island of Islay where the distillery is,” Andy beams. “The guys were fantastic, we had the car parked up in their courtyard for the whole week and they even arranged a special bottle for me to commemorate the car.”
And if you think that all sounds charmed, it wasn’t quite the final chapter. The next step for Andy was to get a job at Aston Martin, where his colleagues soon found out about the car and convinced him to start competitively hillclimbing with them. But that’s another tale for another dram…
Competition-spec interior is a mix of styles. Despite the lack of comforts, Andy and Lauren have driven it all over the UK.
NASCAR-style Circle Racing rims subtle and different.
Custom dash pod contains the bare essentials.
Blue/white looks great.
Bruichladdich whisky inspired the distinctive livery. Andy: Aston Martin engineer in the week, Capri driver at weekends.