Ford Capri Special
This rare Capri MKI Special made an impression on everyone who owned it – from the original Ford dealer who couldn’t stop driving it to the man who bought and restored it twice
1972 – The new £1300 Capri is used by Horace Mortin
Mortin’s Garage in Buxton, Derbyshire was a Ford agent back in the early Seventies. Horace Mortin was a director of the chain of garages that bore his family name and he was, by all accounts, a memorable character. Mick Keeling was an apprentice at Mortin’s and remembers the boss very well, ‘He loved cars – before the Capri he had a Cortina MKI with a Westinghouse automatic gearbox. He liked going fast; he used to do grass-track racing, though he must have been getting on for 70 by the time he started using that Capri. One day, I turned up on a Honda 400 Four and Mr Mortin asked to try it out. He started it up and roared off round the roads, no helmet or anything.’
Mortin’s Capri, VRB 54K, was one of around 750 Specials made in Ebony Black with a red coachline; another 750 wore Emerald Green with a gold coachline. The Special package was only available on the Capri GT and this was an even more heavily-optioned 1600 GT XLR. Ford was using up remaining body stocks ahead of the September 1972 launch of the Capri’s facelift. Adding a mixture of features from the 3.0-litre and elsewhere in the options book set the Special apart.
Keeling remembers being reluctant when required to drive the Capri – ‘It was the boss’s pride and joy,’ he says – but it must have been used fairly hard because one apprentice had to fit a new clutch after a few months. But the Capri then moved to a Rootes dealer in Macclesfield called Gleeves Motors, probably as a part of a swap within the trade.
1973 – Michael Wain trades up from a Morris 1100
Michael Wain was on the look-out for his next family car. ‘I had children by then and ran a butchers’ shop where I lived in Macclesfield,’ he says. ‘I actually saw the car through the window of Gleeves Motors and thought it looked very nice.’
So the first name in the logbook is Mr Wain’s. For a car less than 12 months old, it had a surprising amount of wear in one area. ‘It wasn’t long into my ownership before I had to have a new clutch and clutch cable. The mechanic said it must’ve had a hard life.’
Horace Mortin’s influence on his sale stock was still being felt, then.
‘We went to Anglesey on a family holiday the next year – four seats and a good boot meant there was enough space for a young family,’ says Wain. ‘I looked after it and enjoyed it for its looks. I was impressed with the Capri in general and felt I’d get a good price for it when I traded it in.’
Indeed he did – in the long, hot summer of 1976 Mr Wain traded in the MKI Special against a MKII John Player Special Capri at Burns Garage in Congleton.
1976 – John Phillips pays £1250
For a few sweltering summer days, John and Hazel Phillips had been driving about Cheshire, looking for a new car. Recalls John, ‘I’d had two or three Capris before, but this one jumped out and hit me. It only had 20,000 on the clock. They nearly had to prize me out of the seat after the test drive.’
The price, £1250, was more than they’d planned to pay, but they cleaned out the Phillips bank account rather than go for hire purchase. It was also very similar to the Capri’s list price in 1972, such was the rate of inflation in Seventies Britain. ‘I brought it back to Macclesfield,’ says John. ‘I later realised that I lived in the next street to previous owner Michael Wain.’
The Capri suited the lifestyle of the young couple, who took it on a long-distance adventure around Europe. Recalls John, ‘We went across from Dover
to Zeebrugge, then drove down the Rhine and in and out of Switzerland and Austria. We had to turn back when the snow got too deep on the Aalberg Pass. The alternator packed up in Germany and a German Ford garage charged us just £25 to replace it and were done in a couple of hours… they liked the car!’
Phillips made an oval holder for the GB plate and hung it from a bolt on the bumper, ‘I didn’t want to damage the paint!’ This fastidious approach characterised John’s ownership. He’d been a mechanic before moving on to site management for Texaco. ‘The Capri was forever on the ramp in the garage,’ he says. ‘Not that there was much wrong with it, but every minor imperfection got fixed.’
Even when Capri Mkis were an everyday sight, it seemed a Special – and particularly a black XLR Special – lived up to its name. ‘People used to stop and look,’ says Phillips. ‘These cars had a certain presence. When you saw another one, you’d acknowledge it.’
Nevertheless, time marched on and new additions to the Phillips family forced a change. ‘When our daughter arrived we struggled on with the Capri for a bit but eventually decided on something with four doors – though later I bought a Capri MKIII because I thought the hatchback would make it practical!’
1981– John Smillie persuades Phillips to sell
John Phillips knew a chap called John Smillie from a Macclesfield pub, the Rising Sun. Smillie was a merchant seaman and is remembered fondly by Phillips, ‘He was larger than life – a great storyteller and very well read. Being a seaman, he’d disappear for four or five months at a time on long voyages, but he started coming to the garage where I worked and saw the Capri. He’d bring dolls for my daughter from far-off corners of the world and he started telling me that if I ever wanted to sell the Capri, he’d love to buy it.’ Phillips caved in in 1981 and passed the car on to a delighted Smillie, who kept it in a lock-up garage during its many months in between outings, accruing minimal additional mileage over the years. Smillie’s fondness for the Rising Sun eventually landed him in some bother when his licence was suspended for three years after he was caught over the drink-drive limit. By this time he’d owned the car for more than a decade and was reluctant to let it go, so he came up with a highly original solution.
1992 – Stuart Barber becomes temporary keeper
‘I’ve known the car since I was 15,’ says Stuart Barber. ‘That was back in 1975 when I first saw it around Macclesfield. Years later, I saw it in the car park of the pub and the registration VRB 54K rang a bell. I went in and asked a local regular whose it was, and he said “mine”. That was John Smillie.’
It was the start of a strong friendship that saw Smillie take Barber under his wing. ‘I’d always liked Capris and I guess John felt he could trust me with his. When he got banned, he had a solicitor draw up a letter saying that while John would retain ownership of the car, registration would be transferred to me.’
Sure enough, Barber ran around in the car for three years, taking Smillie out to the Rising Sun and elsewhere, using it for car shows at weekends. By the mid-nineties, Capri Mkis had undoubtedly crossed the line from secondhand cars to bonafide classics.
‘I would sell trim and spare parts from Capris I found in scrapyards,’ says Stuart. ‘My son would take the money – he was only six at the time!’
Barber remains a Capri nut, having owned various versions and around 300 scale models. But when Smillie’s ban elapsed, he honoured the agreement and signed the registration back to his friend.
1995 – Allan Jones buys it as a £700 project
As an active member of the Capri Club, Stuart saw an appeal in the club magazine from someone in Cheshire looking for a Capri MKI Special. John Smillie had decided to sell the car shortly after getting his licence back – age was catching up with him and the car needed work so Barber contacted Allan Jones, the man who placed the ad, and passed on Smillie’s number.
‘John was a nice man and quite a character – the deal required a few enjoyable arguments about the price over coffee and cake,’ says Jones, who had his
‘The deal required a few arguments over coffee and cake’
Hazel Phillips with the Capri in the late Seventies
At the 1996 Tatton Park Classic Car Show, the Capri’s first car show following its first restoration in 1995
Stuart Barber’s six-year-old son selling parts at Ford club events in the early Nineties