Three-litre Capri – a very British GT
How to make a sports car?
Create a pretty coupe shell with a long nose and a short boot. Insert the largest engine in your product range, sort quickly and release to the public.
The UK Ford design team in the late ‘60s followed the above instructions when they created the V6 Capri.
They utilised the engine and transmission out of the land whale Mark 4 Zephyr/Zodiac, fitted a pair of extractors, in a short time they tidied up the shift linkage, and revised the gear ratios. For the rear axle the Transitbased differential was fitted with long ratios and nine-inch drum brakes. The Mark 2 Cortina floor pan was redesigned and fitted with the pretty coupe body.
The front suspension is a mixture of Escort, Mark 2 Cortina and bespoke, the brakes were shared with the AVO Escorts (possibly the AVO Escorts “borrowed” the Capri brakes)
The early generation Capris utilised the six-dial dash out of the Escort GT/ RS, the steering wheel could be leather, and in the front there was a pair of sumptuous bucket seats.
With the assistance of some insightful homologation, the Capri enjoyed a long and very successful competition career.
To win on the race tracks of Europe the three-litre MK1 Capri needed a bigger, more-powerful engine; a special version was produced and duly homologated as an RS3100.
The RS3100 was produced in response to the Group 2 regulations of the time as the freshly homologated RS3100 could be now be enlarged to 3,500cc and fitted with alternative cylinder heads. Ford contracted Cosworth which created the fearsome 3.4-litre Cosworth GAA. This very rare four-valve alloy headed beast was reputed to be good for 450 plus HP (more than 336kW)..
Primarily developed as a circuit racer very early in its career, the Capri was entered in some rally cross events with a version of the Fergusson Formula four-wheel-drive system.
In the early ‘70s in New Zealand the implementation of emissions regulations severely emasculated the predominantly Australian-sourced performance/ muscle cars of the day. Even the onceferocious 351C was now struggling to make 200hp despite gobbling more fuel than ever, although re-timing the camshaft and recalibrating the ignition and carburettor restored most of the performance – but that is a tale for another time.
Into these emissions-strangled market the English-sourced three-litre Capri was a relative breath of fresh air. A solid performer, well capable of 180km/h, and with reasonable for the day off-themark acceleration
A number of drivers seeking performance in their new steeds were forced to abandon their now strangled V8s, and temporally adopt the little V6.
My Capri was an early version with the small rectangular headlights; it was fitted with the single rail box and the early gear ratio revision.
The Capri is remembered as a friendly old animal, easy to drive quickly while remaining quiet and comfortable.
The three-litre V6 is equipped with an auto choke 40DFA Weber, a tap of the accelerator to set the choke followed by a quick churn of the starter, and the V6 rumbles into life.
When warm the Heron-headed motor is responsive to the throttle, providing a satisfying rasp when the throttle is blipped.
With the heavy “Essex” V6 under its long bonnet, the chassis was inclined to understeer. When pressing on attempts to counter the inherent understeer with a prod on the accelerator frustratingly resulted in the inside rear wheel spinning rather than neutralising the understeer.
With the V6 happier operating in the meat of the torque band as opposed to running at the red line, the Capri had more of the demeanor of a GT rather than a “grab it by the scruff of the neck and throw it about” personality that was the nature of its smaller siblings.
Perversely, you could fang the car down a gravel road, having a ball. Surfing the torque of the responsive V6, flicking through the well-spaced ratios of the sweet-shifting box while the gravel-induced lack of grip mitigated the tendency to lift the inside rear and allowed the car to be throttle steered at will. Progress was not the most rapid, but the grin factor was immense
The stability provided by the longish wheelbase ensured that only the most ham-fisted of rock apes would get into trouble giving the Capri a burst on a loose surface.
I recall emerging from a dairy armed with some liquid refreshments for myself and her ladyship, and was somewhat surprised to find a black and white flat roof Cortina parked behind the Capri.
It was a hot day and we had just traversed the Canterbury plains and had halted at the first two-horse town for some refreshment.
“Do you realise I have been chasing you since the Highway 79 turn-off?” asked the Terrance the TO.
I don’t expect my reply of “Had I been aware of your pursuit you would never have caught me” was entirely what he was expecting. After a pleasant (for this type) discussion, I duly was issued with a TON and we were both on our various ways.
The above anecdote was included not to show that not all the TOs were unpleasant individuals, but to highlight the way the big-engined Capri was able to effortlessly cover ground at pace.
The flat roof Cortina was considered a reasonable performer in its day, but even when driven in anger it could not cover the ground as swiftly as the gently wafting Capri.
The big engine, small body, philosophy carries over into the modern range of today’s Ford vehicles. Wrestle a Focus ST out of the sweaty palms of your local dealer and head out of town; the Focus ST handles delightfully, and is well capable of gobbling up large distances in comfort and ease.