‘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?

Classic Cars (UK) - - Ford Capri At 50 -

‘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

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