The Ford Capri: Life Begins at Forty

Cars

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When in 1986 a friend of mine purchased an outrageous Capri RS 3100, it changed my life. I lived a few streets back from the A12 in Metropolitan Essex. In the wee small hours, you could hear the beast racing from traffic light to roundabout and back again. Getting into that Capri was like communing with something quintessentially of its time. In that car you were acknowledged to be the kings of Dagenham and environs. The Dunton Special Vehicle Engineering department was on our doorstep, and we were pilots of one its progeny.

The Capri in all its guises weaved a magic in the English imagination. And 40 years on from its release, that magic continues…

Although production ended in 1986, Capri lives on within many owners’ clubs who will be celebrating the anniversary with events planned from Scotland to the South West. Fans are getting together at Castle Combe, Wiltshire (6 June), Grampian Transport Museum, Alford, Aberdeenshire (30 August), Ace Café in London (5 September) and Brooklands Museum, Surrey (26 September).

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Launched in January 1969 and marketed as “the car you always promised yourself”, the Ford Capri was unashamedly aimed at a style-conscious generation. In just 18 years the European answer to the Ford Mustang sold nearly two million units and achieved iconic status with its target audience.

From the outset the Capri was about choice, with a range boasting 26 derivatives. A mixture of engines – 1.3-, 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder units and a 3-litre V6 – catered for all tastes, while optional custom packs allowed a degree of personal customising that broke new ground in the industry. For the serious drivers there was the Cologne-built RS2600 and the short-lived Halewood-built 124mph RS3100.

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A global oil crisis failed to slow the Capri’s progress and in 1974 the Mk II was launched. Smoother design lines and simplified option packs ensured the Capri appealed to a wider market.

From 1978, the Mk III saw a tidying up of the Capri body and several special editions such as the Calypso and Laser. In 1981 Dunton’s newly-formed Special Vehicle Engineering department unveiled their first project, the 160bhp Capri 2.8 injection. The limited edition Capri 280, also known as the Brooklands Capri, signalled the end of the Capri era and the last car left the line in December 1986.

The Capri had encoded in its DNA something sorely missing from the streets of Britain: home grown engineering and aspiration to mass-produced greatness. Hail the ultimate British Ford.

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