‘I raced one’ Jochen Mass
He took the 1972 ETCC title at the wheel of an RS2600. So just how good were the racing variants?
‘The public always backed the underdog, be it a Capri or BMW’
The first time I drove the RS2600 was in the 1970 European Hill Climb Championship,’ recalls Jochen Mass. ‘It was half ready really, not entirely developed, but I liked it a lot and absolutely thought it could be successful. That was the start of the thrilling competition between the Schnitzer BMWS and the Capris. They were a bit stronger at the time and Ernst Furtmayr beat me on a regular basis. I was very close, but not quite there.’
By 1971 the early 230bhp Weslake-developed V6 engines had been tweaked to reliably deliver 260bhp, and coupled with an improved chassis and aerodynamics package. ‘That year I won the German Championship hands down, winning every race. The strong points of the car were the handling, which was very good. The steering was a bit heavy, but it was very neutral through corners. The early cars were not that powerful, but it quickly became a lot better.’
In that same year Dieter Glemser won the European Touring Car Championship title in an RS2600, and in 1972 – despite Jochen Neerpasch and Martin Braungart’s defection to arch-rival BMW – it was Mass who took the title, winning five times. ‘Needless to say it was down to my superior driving! Although technically the car was absolutely on the spot.’
By now the two teams were involved in an epic racing ding-dong. ‘We were really dominating BMW, and they didn’t like that. That’s when they came with the wing. Obviously we had restricted aerodynamics with just a little ducktail, and then they began to dominate us. I have a nice memory of the leading the first lap of a race that season with no aerodynamics and with the public it was always the underdog, be it Capri or BMW, that it supported. People really liked the Ford Cologne cars because they knew where they came from. Was it frustrating? What’s frustrating when you’re young and racing – no big deal.’
It wasn’t until mid-season in 1973 that the new BMW aero package arrived but its effect was instant, worth some 15 seconds per lap at the Nürburgring and over 8 seconds per lap at Spa. The Capris struggled to maintain their competitiveness and Toine Heizemanns surged to the ETCC title in his BMW 3.0 CSL.
After a bit of a delay the Capri did finally receive its aerodynamic package, alongside a new Cosworth-developed V6 engine in the new RS3100. ‘There were openings on the front spoiler that could be adjusted so we could increase or decrease the downforce, although I’m not sure how effective it was. The engine was better though, lighter and now up to 450bhp.’
The RS3100 was a success, notching up eight wins over the next two seasons, but by then BMW had pulled the plug on its works racers. ‘Despite BMW’S absence, the RS3100 was less dominant than the RS2600 for the simple reason that the others had caught up. They were great iconic cars of the day and an absolute match for the BMWS. My only regret is that we don’t have saloon cars like that today.’
Come the new decade, and come the new Capri. Well, actually no. Come the new decade and Ford merely started thinking about the next generation; it’d actually be 1974 before it arrived. The Capri MKI had conquered the market – in fact created a new one – so how to ensure continued sales success? True to the company’s management ethos, the successes and failures of every aspect – style, substance, character and sales processes – of the outgoing model were analysed to the nth degree. The one key unchangeable factor was that it would be built on the same platform, a common Ford procedure, but designers had free reign in terms of the bodywork it wore. Out went the Mustang-esque fake vents and pure Americana of the hockey-stick body swage line, and in came smooth slab flanks and rectangular headlights on all models for cleaner, less belligerent look. And a hatchback! Yes, the people had spoken regarding a lack of luggage room, and this was the result. Despite the MKI having had a fairly recent engine roster tweak, the biggie for MKII was the deletion of the stolid V4 Essex unit, replaced by the new overhead-cam 2.0-litre Pinto good for 98bhp. Which is precisely what we don’t have here. No, this is one of the great survivors. Not a cooking, but a budget cookery model – a later 1976 Capri 1.3L. In fact strictly speaking there was a lower, non-l base model, but good luck finding one today.
It’s a bit more plain-jane to the rockabilly MKI, with none of that reflective Sixties retro-cool and, rather like the subsequent decade, it’s taken a bit longer for it to come back into fashion. Those large front headlight lenses almost give it a bespectacled air, compared to its sharp rectangular-eyed predecessor the 2000GT – and as for its brooding mean and moody MKIII replacement there is simply no contest.
Pop the bonnet when new and that pea-sized power plant would surely have had you struggling not to run to trading standards complaining about the inclusion of a power bulge – if the V4 was compact, then blink and you’d miss this.
However, with the decade firmly in the grip of an energy crisis caused by the Yom Kippur war, this was the response of the never-ones-to-miss-an-opportunity ad men. The recipe? Take the 1298cc Kent unit and fit an 1100 cylinder head to it with Ford’s own carburettor for an underwhelming 50bhp – hey presto, the lowestpowered Capri yet, but one that’d return a healthy combined fuel consumption of circa 30mpg.
Not many survive, but then not many were sold. For a model built on added visual va-va-voom, having the base model – whatever the straitened times – was never really going to appeal to boy racers, medallion men or sharp dads about town; it wasn’t as if you could jazz it up with a little X, L or R packs and their respective badging, because now distinct trim levels were in play for the model hierarchy.
This car’s interior is budget basic with the synthetic luxury of the more exalted replaced by cloth seats, a twin instrument
‘If the Mki’s V4 was compact, then blink and you’d miss the MKII’S pea-sized engine’
binnacle swathed in faux wood veneer. The glass area has been extended by almost a third – it’s not quite Georgie Best’s goldfish bowl house, but it aids visibility.
On the hoof it’s strictly pedestrian. It doesn’t run out of breath so much as, by the time it actually finally gets going, it’s run out of gears. If ever a car needed a fifth cog… The chassis hangs on well when giving it some, but in truth you’re not really carrying enough speed to get truly fruity. It’s definitely more George & Mildred than The Sweeney or
The Professionals, but free yourself of any previous thoughts of sporting prowess and it’s quite an enjoyable car to pilot. You get the same Capri essence but watered down to try and address the multiple crises of its time.
With petrol rationing threatened and temporary speed limits being imposed in the UK, the driver of this car would have been safe in the knowledge that he’d keep going long after the more lusty Capris had drunk their fill of fuel.
Today, it removes rose-tinted glasses, to act as a reminder of just how painful certain aspects of the Seventies really were.
Basic interior reflects the tone of the era it was born into; 1.3-litre Kent engine has plenty of room to breathe; orange MKII wears L trim, yellow 3.0 is a Ghia