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Twenty-Eight Years a Ford Man
(Article for the Capri Club Magazine, 1999; Addendum 2010)
The Nautical Corsair

I was born a Ford man, so to speak. My first car, inherited in 1971 from an uncle, was an automatic Corsair 2000E. It was sleek in profile, but with its skinny tyres and narrow track looked pathetically wimpish from other angles. Fitting inch-wide wheel spacers did little to fill out its wheel arches and nothing to improve the famous Corsair "paper dart" handling. With its constant pitching and wandering, and roaring V4 nail of an engine, any Corsair driver was well trained to tiller a small boat in a squall.

The Savage

After my initial "first-car" euphoria had evaporated I was increasingly dissatisfied with the Corsair. I wanted something meaner, but was no admirer of the hockey-stick Capri of the time. Jeff Uren in Hanwell offered a 1968 Cortina Savage which was neglected, overpriced, but for me a must-have. In my youthful, trusting innocence I had thought that in a motor trader, a famous name and integrity were the same thing. I was soon to be disillusioned, but that is another story.

The Savage 3000E was basically a 1600E with 3-litre Zodiac engine and gearbox with switchable overdrive (remember those?). Between timing gear and head gasket failures, other breakdowns, and blocked jets from inhaling dirty air through a wire-mesh filter, it ran well. The ride was harsh but despite the heavy engine, balance and grip were brilliant and it returned a remarkable 35 mpg. The V6's 125 bhp was modest for its size, but it sounded the part and in any gear throttle response was instant and mighty. Only once did something leave it behind, and that, coincidentally, was a Uren Commanche accelerating to warp speed up the M1.

In spite of the problems I remained strongly attached to the Savage; only after the fourth blown head gasket in 39,000 miles did I finally throw in the towel. Obligingly, it behaved perfectly in front of its prospective new owner; it was a bittersweet moment for me when he drove it away, never to be seen again. To this day I still have a strange, recurrent dream that it's still sitting there, forgotten, in my garage. Cars like that penetrate deep into the psyche.

Addendum, March 2010

This article was published in the Capri Club Magazine in 1999, and on this website in 2004. I'd always assumed that the car was scrapped not long after I sold it in 1979.

In March 2010, a man named Paul (who had found this web page) sent me an email to inform me that he is THE PRESENT OWNER OF THIS VERY CAR. He had bought it in 1989 and since restored it to virtually new condition. Believe it or not, now 41 years old, it still exists! Were my dreams prophetic??

My First Capri

After the Savage, my nerves needed a respite, so I settled for a bog-standard Mk II 3.0 Ghia automatic. This was a totally different animal - smooth, quiet and soothingly reliable. It took me years, nonetheless, to overcome the habit of driving with one eye on the temperature gauge. The Ghia had obviously been a family car - a doll's head was found under a front seat and a frisbee under the other. I always said that I paid a lot for that frisbee but it had come with a free car. After six years of trouble-free motoring, tinworm had gained the upper hand, and it was time to part. Just once, in wet Wales when setting off for home, it refused to start. Getting out to investigate, I saw one of my bags on the ground - I had left it out when loading the boot. Was the Capri trying to tell me?

The Dream Capri

My dream car had always been an AC428 coupe. The nearest thing I could aspire to was a Capri 2.8i. A 2.8 does not torque like a 7-litre Yank but a turbocharger, I reckoned, would blur the difference.

I test-drove the Tickford Capri. Its flashing third-gear acceleration was impressive, and the strange two-step turbo lag no problem, but I could do without the unnecessary and expensive bells and whistles, especially the ugly GRP excrescences - the deep, fragile front spoiler would not even clear the kerb into my drive. Tickford owners must have to carry a spare spoiler in the boot!

The Janspeed Capri was a more affordable alternative. An aftermarket conversion, it gave the same intercooled 205 bhp, and needed no other modifications. The turbo installation was so neat that nothing under the bonnet, save the windscreen washer bottle, had to be moved (the 'official' Turbo Technics package was similar but not introduced until the following year). So, in spring 1984 I ordered a Cardinal Red 2.8i, which was to be my first and only new car.

Before delivery, it first went to Somar Transtec who exchanged the 5-speed gearbox for an automatic (never a factory option on the 2.8i), then to Janspeed, then to have electric windows and central locking fitted, and finally to the body shop to have the naff "Injection" stripes removed (I offered those to my district nurse) and replaced by plain white and black coachlines. A "Total Protection" package (a worthless con) and an RGA front spoiler completed the job. By the time it was all finished, Ford would not have recognised their car.

Godfrey Davies in Alperton arranged it all. On their premises, to my amazement, was an exact clone! They had shown mine to another customer and he had ordered a 2.8i with all the same conversions. The 'copy' car was dark blue. Has anyone ever come across it?

I had taken a risk in modifying a brand new car, which I had never even seen or driven, so radically. Whatever the result, I was determined then to confound my critics by keeping it until it went round the clock.

The Verdict

So, was I pleased with it? Yes and no. On paper, the power curve of the turbocharged 2.8 compares to a good 4½ litre V8. In practice, of course, it does nothing of the sort. The figures assume full boost pressure, which is seldom available on the road, especially when accelerating through the gears. An initial snag was that on boost, the vacuum diaphragm gave wrong signals to the transmission, which held the gears for too long. Somar Transtec overcame it by replacing the diaphragm with a 'Modulink', a crude but effective device to detect the throttle position instead. With that, the transmission and the turbo make a good team, boosting torque automatically when the engine comes under load. On undulating roads it acts like a cruise control - there is no need to move the throttle. The effect took some getting used to. Where the turbo really delivers is on uphill gradients on fast roads. It just loves the long incline up the M40 towards High Wycombe. Stretches like that sort the men from the boys; if only there were more of them!

As with most conversions, the power hike left the car seriously under-geared. Swapping the 5-speed manual box for a 3-speed automatic was a retrograde step in this respect, as the engine redlines at only 130 mph in top and could easily pull another two ratios. Consumption was nevertheless a satisfactory 28 mpg.

Had I waited a little longer, it could have had the later 4-speed automatic box. Also, alternatives to turbocharging, like lag-free superchargers and the Swaymar 3.2 litre conversion came along soon afterwards.

Replacing the silencers with stainless steel proved a good investment. They do get quieter after the first decade! The Janspeed front exhaust sections, however, are mild steel and a challenge to replace. The turbo's crossover pipe and Y-piece reduce ground clearance and must be watched. Even though they join together at the turbocharger, the twin systems still burble nicely. It is just a different sort of burble.

At 70,000 miles, after a local garage had given up trying to fit a new downpipe, I took the car back to Janspeed for rectification. It returned, eventually, with a new turbocharger, wastegate, wheel bearings, other parts, and a £2,000 bill, money which I begrudged spending, near (or so I thought) to the end of the car's life.

On Christmas Day 1991, my great ambition was realised, with much celebration, as it reached the magic 100,000. I had been vindicated. Alas, my photograph of the clock going over was spoiled by the flash reflecting from the glass.

Having reached that age, I expected the car to roll over and die, but it just kept going. The engine was decoked at 109,000; brakes, tyres and couplings wore out and were replaced, but nothing else was needed. By 120,000 miles it had outlived its service history book. Is that a Ford's normal life expectancy?

In 1997, Honest John of the Daily Telegraph was publishing readers' stories about their marathon mileage cars. My (by then) 182,000 mile Capri had broken no records, but "John" thought it could be unique for its specification, and my letter was published. The turbocharger had already gone 110,000 miles although I had never once bothered to pre-warm or 'simmer' it after a run as Janspeed recommended. Changing the oil every 3 to 4 thousand miles (over fifty times by that date!) had probably helped.

I collect Meccano, which in the 1950's was red and green. After noticing that Cardinal Red was an exact match for the Meccano red, I had the Capri's coachlines repainted, for the second time, in Meccano green. (Red, incidentally, had been Hobson's choice - I wanted Graphite metallic but it was dropped in '83). Capris and Meccano are complementary. I was introduced to the C.C.I. when an event was held in the adjacent shed to the Meccano club in Stoneleigh. That morning mine had been the only Capri in the car park; when I left I could not find the right one!

Epilogue

So what happened to the dream Capri? After 194,000 miles it was growing geriatric; coughing, stalling and guzzling petrol and incontinent of oil, TQF and exhaust gasses. I decided I would nurse it along to its second century then say goodbye.

Meanwhile, I set about choosing a replacement. I searched from AC to Zastava for a new hatchback coupe with rear wheel drive and a decent-sized engine. None exists! A Capri, I discovered, is irreplaceable.

So, it was into dock (four docks, actually) for new oil pipes, manifolds, gaskets, distributor, six fuel injectors and a complete engine rebuild. It was well worthwhile; it finally emerged running, if anything, better than new. Suddenly, even I felt younger and back in the fast lane.

I have been a Capri enthusiast (and have owned no other) for twenty years. I have now run the present one for 15 years and 208,000 miles and have no intention of changing it. The important bits (and all four shock absorbers, amazingly) are still original. I must tell Honest John.

1 comment

HaarFager said:

My 1996 Ford Taurus station wagon has over 240,000 miles on it and is going strong.
8 years ago