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Many Capris were extensively modified in-house or with Ford’s blessing. But which is best? There’s only one way to find out.

Choosing the top five factory-blessed Capri ‘specials’ of all time is a task akin to Mission Impossible. With many different Capris holding happy memories for most of us, it would have been easy to choose ten, or even a dozen great, mad examples of Ford’s coupe for the family man. But just five? 

Somehow, though, we’ve managed to whittle it down to the select few you’ll find on the following pages. They are all powerful, they are all successful performance cars, and they all look stunning. Not only that, but great examples of each have been preserved to this day (with maybe one exception). Somewhere, in recent years, you could have seen an example of one, either at rest, or on the track. So here, in reverse order, is the top five.

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5. Tickford Capri

Mini-Aston or Mk3 from Hell — either way the Tickford was a  talking point, dividing opinion up and down the country…

Although it arrived years too late, and cost too much, the sexy Tickford Capri had a lot going for it. Racing driver John Miles got together with Victor Gauntlett (who was running Tickford at the time) to develop what they described as an eighth-scale Aston Martin. Based on the newly-launched Capri 2.8i, the Tickford was faster, more specialised, looked outrageous, and very exclusive. 

Tickford developed its own styling package, which made its car look different at the front, the rear and the sides thanks to deep sills and square-edged spoilers. It installed a plush interior, which included leather seating and a wooden dashboard, and added new rear suspension geometry, and four-wheel disc brakes. To cap it all, they then finalised a 205 bhp turbocharged version of the 2.8-litre Cologne V6 engine. 

It looked great, it was fast, and it handled well — the only drawback being that in the end it was expensive too. Would you really have wanted to pay up to £18,000 for a new Tickford when the standard 2.8i cost only £8653? Unsurprisingly, few people did.

Previewed in 1981, and on sale from the end of 1983, it did not get the marketing help that Ford had once promised, so few cars appeared in showrooms before an order had been placed: Tickford was always disappointed about that. 

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Just 100 such cars were produced, the last after the mainstream Capri had been dropped and, as so often happens in the classic Ford hobby, they became more desirable as they got older. Rival styling kits, suspiciously like the original, were launched, but swiftly squashed by legal action, and amazingly most of the originals have survived.

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4. 4×4 Rallycross Capris

Rallycross was where you’d find huge-powered high-traction mongrels over a decade before Group B — and the Capri was in amongst them.

Rallycross? Do you remember when it was a popular winter’s Saturday-afternoon TV sport? High performance cars and mud somehow didn’t go together, but the sideways antics of the heroic drivers was enthralling. Ford at Boreham, which missed nothing in those days, jumped on the original rallycross wagon with Escort Twin Cams, but it was traction that was missing.

Competitions Manager, Henry Taylor that put two and two together at the end of 1968, even before the Capri was launched. He knew that Ford had already been working with Harry Ferguson Research to develop Capri 4×4 road cars, but that the project had stalled. Having begged a prototype Capri from the press fleet, he got his mechanics to insert a V6 engine and the latest HFR four-wheel-drive transmission ‘just for a look see’. 

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The first car, with just 160 bhp, ran at Croft in February 1969, in front of ITV cameras, where Roger Clark used it to win three races. Four weeks later, not one but two Capri 4x4s appeared  — Ove Andersson and Barry Lee drove them — but they didn’t win that weekend. A year later Boreham had built three cars, all fiercer than the originals. Two of them had 212 bhp, 3-litre engines, but Roger’s car had 252 bhp from 3.1-litres and was a difficult beast to tame. Real animals, maybe, but still dominant where the regulations were not stacked against them (they often were…), and with enough traction to win the Sunday Express/ITV rallycross series in 1970/1971.

But that was that. With Boreham far too busy with BDA-engined Escorts and the like, the Capri 4x4s were sold off. Have any of them survived? We know of one…

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3. RS2600 Race Car

There’s not many better examples of racing improving the breed than the RS Capris, starting with the RS2600.

They started out as pretty awful race cars, and ended up as European Champions. The original works Capris were 2300GTs with less than 200 bhp, but by 1973, when developed to their limits, they were monstrous RS2600s with 320 bhp, 3-litre engines by Weslake. It was only BMW, who threw aerodynamics (and money!) at their 3.0CSLs, who could ever match that.

It was all to Ford-Germany’s credit. While Ford-UK concentrated on rallying, over in Cologne, Ford went motor racing instead. Weslake was hired to the engineering job, and produced alternative high-tech alloy cylinder heads, but made a mess of it at first — then Cosworth told engine-builder Peter Ashcroft how to re-engineer the crankshaft. 

First of all the ultra-lightweight RS2600, complete with glass-fibre panels and much more attention to the chassis, became the base car. By 1971 the Cologne V6 produced 275 bhp from 2873cc, by the end of the year 285 bhp from 2933cc, and the European Championship was won. A year later, the works Capris were using 290 bhp and maybe a bit more, BMW was still struggling, so Ford once again won the European series.

It was only from mid-1973, when BMW’s 3.0CSL suddenly got itself homologated with massive new aerodynamic gizmos to add downforce, that the balance was turned, but the Capris fought to the very end. But those Capris always looked and sounded the part, for the blue-and-white colour scheme and the 8000 rpm limits made an impression. So, too, did the two and three-wheeled cornering attitudes — the works drivers had to be brave back then…

2. RS3100 Race Car

The continual development of the Capri on the demanding circuits of Europe led to this final RS incarnation of the Ford’s coupe.

The RS3100 was a great race car, killed off before its time, by the Energy Crisis. In the end, there were no events for them to race in, and the major opposition — BMW — just faded away.

We love these cars for their simple answer to all the problems posed by BMW. Compared with BMW, they needed more power, so Ford and Cosworth found a lot more. First of all, Ford-UK produced (or said they had produced…) enough 3.1-litre lumps with vast rear spoilers to gain homologation, then Cosworth produced the 3.4-litre GA V6, which had twin-cams per bank and four-valves per cylinder.

How much power would sir like? 420 bhp please ? No problem — there it was — and up to 455 bhp would be available later on. It all fell into Cosworth’s famous JFDI category (Just F-ing Do It), and it made the latest Capri race cars unbeatable. Unbeatable, that is, when enough strong Essex cylinder blocks could be found, for several split themselves in half after prolonged heavy use.

Ford-Germany, of course, did a wonderful job with the aerodynamics, adding new front and rear spoilers, massive air vents for the rear brakes, coil-over-shocks rear suspension, tested assiduously at the Nürburgring to get the handling right — then looked around for races to win. Unhappily, European touring car racing imploded after the Energy Crisis arrived, so the cars were unemployed. Even so in two years, 1974 and 1975, the works cars started 17 races and won eight of them outright. They were charismatic, and ultra-rare, monsters, which would be Ford’s fastest homologated cars until the Sierra RS500 Cosworth arrived a decade later.

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1. Zakspeed Capri

Hello? Is there a Capri under there? Life-affirming lunacy from Germany made the most outlandish, jaw-dropping Capri of them all.

On the day that Zakspeed unveiled its first Capri race car in 1978, one seasoned observer looked, gaped, whistled softly, and asked if the designers had been using mind-expanding drugs. The red, yellow and black beast first shown to the European media was simply monstrous, 10 inches wider than a road car, several inches lower — and with a 370 bhp turbocharged BDA engine. That was just the start, for several iterations later, and within two years, the same cars would have 600 bhp.

And for why? Simply, because Zakspeed of West Germany (think Broadspeed, or Alan Mann Racing, and add in much higher budgets) had seen the German public fall in love with Group 5 racing, where Porsche 911s and BMW 635CSis ruled the roost. Erich Zakowski of Zakspeed woke up one day, spluttered that “we’ll have some of that”, and set his engineers to work. Ford, still aggrieved because they thought their rivals were getting away with something, backed him up all the way.

Germany’s version of Group 5 allowed a car to look something like a road version, but to be very different everywhere else — different chassis, brakes and different aero package — with totally different engines. Zakspeed, therefore, decided to start from scratch, first with a multi-tube spaceframe chassis to which some Capri body panels were welded, including state of the art Capri race car suspension, and then with a turbocharged BDA engine for the power. 

Careful reading of the regulations (where a ‘factor’ of 1.4 was applied to turbo engines to give them an equivalent new capacity of 2-litres) showed that a 1428cc BDA engine would just do the trick. And so it did, by producing 370 bhp. This was just the start, for in 1980 a 1.75-litre BDA was ruled to be equivalent to 2.5-litres, and since Zakspeed’s engineers were now offering 560 to 

600 bhp, no-one was complaining. 

As to the aerodynamics — the body shell was lower, wider, with a massive ‘snow-plough’ front spoiler, huge air intakes at the rear to help cool the brakes, and with one of those massive high rear spoilers which must have made the drivers think that he was
being followed.

Was it within the spirit of the regulations? Maybe not so, but Ford-Germany didn’t give a hoot, especially as Porsche’s interpretations were even more extreme. In any case, the cars were so fast and so spectacular, that the crowds loved them, which was all that mattered to race promoters. Even the early Zakspeed car could reach up to 170 mph when suitably geared, and the final 600 bhp machines could easily beat 200 mph, though this was rarely necessary.

We love these cars — but why do we love them? Not just for their engineering qualities, which were incredible, but for their looks, their style, and their pure charisma. Think of the effect that Lewis Hamilton had when he burst on to the F1 scene in 2007. In a way, the arrival of the Zakspeed Capri race car was just as astonishing when it entered Group 5 in 1978. There has never been another Capri to match this one, and it heads the list of our all-time favourites. 

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