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

Classic Cars (UK) - - Welcome - Words NIGEL BOOTHMAN Pho­tog­ra­phy ANDY MCCANDLISH

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

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