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Ford Capri Mk 1

The car you always promised yourself…

Well, that was how the European arm of the US automotive giant Ford, marketed the rakish Capri and it’s fair to say that the fastback was certainly alluring compared to the box-like saloons that had been the company’s mainstay up to that point. Launched in 1969 at the Brussels Motor Show, the Capri needed to be a worthy stable mate of the hugely successful Cortina – production of the two would overlap for well over a decade – and like Ford’s European offerings of the 1960s, there was more than a hint of American inspiration.

My little pony

Ford drew upon their own success when designing the Capri. The Ford Mustang had enjoyed tremendous popularity in the USA and the company decided that Europe deserved its own ‘pony car’ – affordable, sporty vehicles with performance to boot. The Capri – given the moniker of Colt during the design stage – bore more than a passing resemblance to the American fastback and with good reason: both came from the hand of US automotive designer, Philip Thomas Clark.

Power isn’t everything

With the equivalent entry level Mustang at the time boasting a 3.3-litre straight-six under the bonnet, the Capri struggled to compete on paper. Its most basic incarnation was fitted with a 1.3-litre ‘inline four’, but only for the UK market – continental versions came with an equivalent V4. From this starting point, specification and power increased with the option of a four-cylinder 1.6-litre, 2-litre ‘Essex’ V4 or the range-topping 2-litre ‘Cologne’ V6 engine, before a 3-litre V6 was introduced late in 1969. The range on offer certainly helped to fulfil the manufacturer’s desire to produce options for every pocket and went some distance to securing owners with very different desires: from sporty shoppers to youthful drivers keen to leave their mark on the road.

On the road

Road testers at the time picked up on the fact that the majority of ‘discerning potential owners’ would probably plump for the V6 and in December 1969, Motor Sport magazine got their hands on this incarnation of the Mk 1. As anyone who has driven an Essex engine knows, it’s a remarkably smooth unit with impressive pulling power from the off and, although the axle ratios may not be the quickest to transfer the power to the tarmac, the Capri is no slouch whilst also making a fine Grand Tourer.

As the road testers observed, the Mk 1 has a tendency to understeer – something that can be corrected with the power available – but fortunately the wallowing traits of higher-sitting American counterparts have not transferred with the designer’s hand; if anything, the stiffer suspension was criticised in period for being a little too harsh for UK roads and the driving position a little low.

The ultimate Capri?

Although the Mk 1 gave way to the Mk 2 at the start of 1974, there was one twist still to come. As Ford entered the Capri into the European Touring Car Championship, arguably the ultimate Mk 1 was born: the RS3100. In order to enter a model, the vehicle needed to meet homologation requirements and 1,000 road-going versions were to be built as a result. In reality, only around 250 were made available, but those owners that managed to get the keys were treated to a unique specification. A bored out 3.1-litre Essex V6, a vehicle sitting an inch lower to the ground and featuring ventilated disc brakes, Bilstein gas dampers, a ducktail rear spoiler and extravagant gold pinstriping all went to make the RS3100 that little bit more desirable.

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