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Old-school racer, Terry Nicholls isn’t hanging up his helmet just yet — he’s just created this tribute to one of the Le Mans Capri racers.

The owner of this incredible Le Mans works replica Mk1 Capri is 72-year-old racer Terry Nicholls and he isn’t the retiring type… he’s tried at least twice. And now Terry says he’s ready to hang up his helmet for a third time and sell off his collection of race cars… although he thinks he’ll probably hang on to the Capri, just in case… and then there’s the Notchback Mustang he’s getting built, “just for a few sprints and track days”. That sounds like a very relaxing and not-at-all-motorsport-based retirement!

Terry’s first racing career began in 1962 in the era of Minis, Anglias and Cortinas and he ragged plenty of them right up to the Lotus versions throughout the ’60s and in to the early ’70s before taking a break from motorsport to concentrate on building up his road haulage business.

A prosperous decade followed, the success of which allowed Terry to rekindle his racing flame and he went for it big-time by buying an ex-Stuart Graham Group 1 Touring Car Mk3 Capri and handing it over for conversion into a 24-valve GA-engined, 450 bhp Saloon and Thunder Saloon. Many victories were picked up throughout the UK and Europe (with a third place finish at the Spa 24-hour being just one highlight) throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

In 1998 Terry took part in the first Goodwood Revival meeting, following which he ‘retired’ again for the next 11 years. By the late-’00s, however, and approaching the official state pension age, Terry’s motorsport gene sparked into life again. But rather than decided on a bit of gentle classic/historic racing as perhaps many ‘older’ people may, he restarted with a Jag XJS and then upgraded that to a 700-horsepower Toyota Supra which he’s still campaigning now he’s in his seventh decade!

le mans capri

State-side

So where does this incredible Le Mans rep come in to Terry’s tale?

“It was about six years ago that I noticed an advert for a Mk1 Capri racer freshly imported back from the United States,” he begins. “The Cologne-built Capri had been exported out to America from new, where is spent a few years in its original road-going form — as a 2.3 V6 GXL going by the chassis number — but was then transformed into a National Race Car with wide fibreglass Cologne arches fitted. 

“How hard it was driven, how often and how well it did in American racing I don’t really know, but it seems to have survived remarkably well,” Terry continues. “The potential-purchase I went to view was in excellent condition, totally rust-free and there was no sign of serious accident damage. 

“My plan straight away was to build the Capri up as a race-replica from the glory days of the Mk1s in motorsport,” Terry says. “I’d done some races in a Mk1 in the Classic Saloon Car Championship and many of the cars that run in that are homages to great cars from the past. My pick was to go for a recreation of one of a famous pair of 3-litre RS Capris that finished a remarkable 10th and 11th overall in the 1972 Le Mans 24-hour.”

“Although the number 54 Capri of Englishman Gerry Birrell and Belgian Claude Bourgorgine, actually finished 10th, one of my heroes from the early racing days was the German Touring Car driver, Dieter Glemser,” Terry says, “so I opted for his car, number 52, which completed the race one place and three laps behind its partner with Spaniard, Alex Soler-Roig as the other driver. The third car, number 53 driven by Germany’s Jochen Mass and Hans Joachim Stuck was, unfortunately a non-finisher.”

Subtle updates

As-bought Terry’s new Mk1 needed very little restoration, but some fabrication was needed as an up-to-date and FIA-approved cage had to be installed. There were other small jobs to do to suit the new suspension (Spax coil-overs at the front and Koni dampers at the rear) and there are some subtle touches like the holes cut in to the bootlid for fuelling in the 24-hour race. These look identical to the original car on the outside, but are actually blanks, with a standard race 7-gallon tank in the boot of the car now supplying the fuel. Much of this work was carried out by M&K Restoration in Fernhurst.

“My main drive was to get everything you see from the outside and in the cabin of the Capri as a 100 per cent accurate replica of the Le Mans car,” Terry says, “and for this I went to Graham Fuller at Gleam Clean in Worthing. It actually took Graham three attempts to get the paint right — up to his standard of accurate, rather than mine — and to match the decals, badges and race fixings like the lights that illuminate the race numbers during the night millimetre accurate. He’s done an excellent job.”

All the show, but no go, wasn’t on the agenda for Terry when it came to the engine either, but replicating the powerplant from the 1972 race wasn’t going to be as easy as the bodywork. “The race cars ran with 3-litre Weslake V6s on Kugelfischer fuel-injection,” he says, “and I wasn’t likely to stumble across one of those during the build, so mechanically the car has as good an impression as I can get.” 

The 2.9 Cologne V6 came (along with a four-speed Quaife race gearbox and 52 inch rear Atlas with ZF LSD), from a Ford Mondeo silhouette racer that Terry bought complete and stripped for parts. Originally built by John Toovey and now fuelled by a Weber downdraft carb, it sounds incredible through the custom-built side-exit exhaust pipe. Final set up and finishing was recently carried out by renown Capri experts, Tickover in Dartford.

le mans capri

Lack of traction

The next question is, of course, how does the Capri go when driven in anger? “Well,” Terry admits, “I don’t actually know yet! Concentrating on building the car, which was only really finished a few months ago, I haven’t yet got round to MoT-ing and registering it from its American paperwork. I have now got in touch with the DVLA though, so hopefully that will be sorted very soon… but for now it’s just a very expensive, but beautiful showpiece!” 

Words Marc Stretton

Photos Darren Woolway

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