Regardless of age, there’ll be a fast Ford that defined your formative car years; the one watched on stage or circuit with your hero at the wheel, the one that Dad should have bought but ended up with a GL, the one you desperately tried to emulate with your first Ford but that never looked quite as good…
The V6 Capris have endured in the collective memory as well as, if not better than, any other, thanks to such a long and storied history. Arriving soon after the first fast Cortinas and Escorts in 1969, and lasting for nearly two decades after that, the flagship Capris built quite a reputation from themselves – one that lasts to the present day. Similarly to today’s Fiesta ST in fact, the Capri V6 succeeded in offering exactly what the buying public wanted at that moment in time – in the 70s and 80s that was a big, brawny engine, rear-wheel drive, coupe style and an affordable price. Bring that hit-list of attributes together with some downright sexy RS2600, RS3100 and Group 5 touring cars, and it’s not hard to see why the Capri captured the British public’s imagination for so long.
And, let’s be honest, why it still does. Look at how those not even born when the Capri finished production – guilty as charged – fawn over the old racers at classic meets. Look at Adrian Flux competition winner Matt from a few years back, who had to have a Capri because his dad did. And look at the guy who wanted to buy this very Capri during our photoshoot, having sold his 3.0 S recently and desperately regretted the decision. The popularity and success of the Capri during its time on sale meant it was part of so many car nuts lives, an enthusiasm that sustains well into the 21st century thanks to technology, family commitment and the undying affection for an iconic Ford.
In 2019, the Ford Capri is 50 years old. Europe’s Mustang, the car you always promised yourself, the Ford coupe that’s never really been directly replaced (because the Probe and Cougar most certainly don’t count) is half a century old. What a five decades it’s been: through 18 years on sale, dirt cheap secondhand project cars, race cars, restored cars, scrapped cars, the terrifying plummet in numbers and the sharp rise in values as a corollary – it’s been quite some lifetime.
Driving a Capri, therefore, seemed wholly appropriate, a reminder on this very significant anniversary of just what it was that so captivated British buyers. The car in the pictures you may recognise: D194 UVW is the last Ford Capri ever made, one of 1,038 Brooklands made at the end of the Capri’s run and owned since new by Ford Heritage. While there are cars registered after this one, that’s because – would you believe – Ford struggled to shift the £11,999 Capri when new, and 280s were left languishing on dealer forecourts. How times change…
By all accounts, the Capri was a little past it by the time 1987 came around. Tastes had changed, the hot hatch era was in its pomp and the Mk3 Capri, itself a heavily updated Mk2, was as modish as flares, prog rock and chunky sideburns – it belonged to a different time. That didn’t stop the 280 Brooklands being received as something significant; mere run-out special with nice paint or not, this marked the end of the road for a hugely popular Ford. Little did anybody know then, of course, that the Capri would never quite happen again.
It’s still a handsome car, the Brooklands, the slippery coupe silhouette lent some attitude to this version thanks to the larger 15-inch wheels. It still garners attention, too, now only of the positive kind; what a shame more of it can’t be lapped up, the woeful brakes ensuring Capri driver is always preoccupied with coming to any kind of stop, leave alone one for a friendly chat.
While many familiar classic car attributes are certainly present and correct with the Capri – it feels small, impossibly airy and tremendously simple – there is genuine enjoyment to derive here in a modern context. Of course the outright capability is lower, but the fundamentals for an entertaining steer are easy to identify: big engine up front, rear drive behind (with a limited-slip diff between the wheels), manual gearbox in the middle and not a great deal in between. No doubt by the standards of something like a 205 GTI the Capri does feel like somewhat of a barge, though in isolation there’s greater immediacy, responsiveness and verve here than might be expected – those touring car successes are much easier to understand.
That gravelly V6 is far more about lusty torque than screaming power, yet imbues the Capri with a fair turn of speed and an appropriately stirring soundtrack. That the gearbox isn’t given a second thought shows how co-operative it is, and dynamic it feels – with due deference to the fact the thing’s bloody priceless – as hoped for with this layout: predictable, reliable, balanced and faithful. This isn’t high stakes exhilaration, a thrill ride to be exploited by only the deftest of helmsmen, instead it's an easy going and immensely charming bruiser of a coupe. Only one more dynamic and less clumsy than you probably thought.
It never tries to be something that it’s not, the Capri. Those after the engagement and timeless appeal of a big engine in a good looking, rear-drive coupe have, and always will, find plenty to like here; those who aren’t already known to look elsewhere. The simplicity in a four-wheeled world of ever increasing jargon, niche exploitation and endless model ranges is extremely easy to rub along with.
So what a surprise, old and honest car proves refreshing in contemporary context. That said, and despite the rather unfortunate careers of both the Probe and Cougar, those advocates of the Capri school of fun can seek solace in 21st century recreations. The Nissan 240Z launched in the same year as the Capri, with a near identical recipe; while the Capri died the Zed was reborn, and while nobody will ever claim the 350Z or 370Z are the last word in sophistication, they are quite fun by following a similar template.
Finally, if it’s Ford or nothing, and if these half century celebrations have you longing for a Capri that no longer exists, don’t forget about the car it was always meant to evoke – the Mustang. Those after a brawny, good looking, good value Ford coupe that arguably sits a little out of kilter with contemporary tastes will find plenty to like in the pony car, even if the badge isn’t quite right. As for the classic Capri, expect the adulation to last a good while yet – for sexing up the Ford range right when required, for getting a generation into fast Fords and for continuing to entertain to this day, it deserves to be remembered as one of the greats. Even if it is now getting on a bit…
SPECIFICATION - FORD CAPRI 280 BROOKLANDS
Engine: 2,792cc, V6
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 160@5,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 162@5,700rpm
Top speed: 130mph
CO2: It was 1986...
Price: £11,999 (new)
This Capri will be on display at Silverstone Classic, 26-28th July, as part of Ford's 50th anniversary celebration. If you have an eligible car, you can join us in the PistonHeads club area here from just £52 for two tickets. For general tickets from £45, click here.