Buying Guide Ford Capri MkI
Cooler than ever and with values rising, it’s time to buy a Euro-Mustang
Words JAMES WALSHE
Photography MAGIC CAR PICS
Buying Guide With prices hiked but unhyped – it’s the ideal time to buy a MkI Ford Capri
The height of suburban cool when new and with race track cred to boot, the first Ford Capri spent decades out of fashion before emerging as a classic. These early cars have curves-and-chrome appeal, are more practical than an MG BGT, and prices are on a gradual journey upwards. As Eighties performance Fords make headlines with stratospheric prices, early Capri values are respectable and represent a safe place to put your money, rather than being volatile and unpredictable. Time has ravaged the bad ones off the road and modified examples are more likely to have been returned to standard condition – but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent when buying. To help, we’ve enlisted the advice of Ford specialists Clive Tick of Tickover, Ian Melville of Specialised Engines, and Martin Pawson of Capri Gear.
Which one to choose?
- Launched in February 1969, the early Capri range featured three engines – Ford’s Kent in 1300 and 1600 guises, and the 2.0-litre V4. Each was available in standard or GT form, the latter tuned to higher power outputs and featuring more dashboard instruments. Custom Plan trim levels allowed buyers to specify their Capri to L, XL and XLR levels.
- The Essex V6-engined 3000GT was launched in September 1969 with the Zodiac engine and gearbox.
- Group 2 racing homologation-special RS2600, with lightweight glassfibre opening panels and a Cologne-built 2.6-litre V6, was launched in September 1971. Left-hand-drive special-order import only.
- September 1972 facelift brought revised head- and tail-light clusters plus a bonnet bulge. Kent engine was replaced in the 1600 by Ford’s new overhead cam Pinto unit in the same displacement. A 3000 was available in luxury GXL trim, with 10bhp more power and a revised gearbox with closer ratios.
- A right-hand drive Group 2 homologation special for the British market – the RS3100, with a 3.1-litre version of the Essex V6 – was launched in September 1973. It was a 248-car run, five months before the MkI Capri range was superseded by the 1974 MkII.
Check all over the car for rust, starting with the headlamp surrounds, the trailing edge of each front wing, rear wheelarches and rear quarter panels. Press hard on the sills to see if there’s any give and lift the footwell carpet for a better view. The front windscreen rubber tends to leak at the offside lower corner, allowing water to penetrate the windscreen pillar, A-post, sills and footwell, which then dissolves at an alarming rate. Cars with the desirable steel sunroof suffer even more, because the drain tubes exit into the sills at front and rear on both sides. While the Capri’s simple construction means localised rust repairs can be cheap and straightforward jobs for the average garage, a thoroughly rotten car can easily consume £30,000 in a professional full-body restoration, which is only financially viable on an RS.
Look carefully at the front valance and the inner wings where the MacPherson strut tops mount. If these areas of the inner wings have been replaced they should be smoothed in; if they’re original, the production ID number should be visible because it was pressed into the panel. V6 cars had additional stiffener plates spot-welded to this area, with further plates reinforcing the strut towers on the underside of the wings. If they’re missing, it probably started life as a four-cylinder car. The inside edges of the bonnet also tend to rot away.
The four engine families are easy to inspect: Kent (1300 and 1600 inline four cylinder), Essex V4 (2000), Essex V6 (3000), then, in 1972, the Pinto (1600) replaced the Kent unit. The Kent came in regular or GT forms, the latter with a twin-choke Weber carburettor and four-branch exhaust manifold.
It’s tough, unlike the V4, which suffers from worn rockers, cam followers and camshaft, and tired timing chains, prompting a £2500 rebuild. The Pinto engine eats camshafts when the spraybar under the rocker cover gets blocked by dirty oil, starving the camshaft of lubrication. A new spraybar is cheap, and a new camshaft easy to fit, keeping rebuild costs typically under £2000.
The V4 and V6 suffer oil pump drive failure, and oil and water leaks from blown cylinder head gaskets, while the fibre timing gear can break up if the engine has overheated. The V4 also suffers worn balancer shaft bearings – obvious if the engine is started. The V6 engine has a tendency to overheat, so look for oil and coolant mixing from blown head gaskets or cracked cylinder heads. With rebuild costs similar to V4s, it’s easy to see why many MkI 2000s have been upgraded to V6 power.
Gearboxes tend to wear after 100,000 miles, so check for weak synchromesh on second. If the car jumps out of gear when accelerating, budget around £500 for a rebuild. Juddering when pulling away points to oil on the clutch or weak engine/gearbox mounts. A whirring noise when the clutch is pressed betrays a tired clutch release bearing. Back axles whine when worn, with replacements becoming scarce these days – especially in 1600GT and 3.0-litre form.
Suspension and steering
The crownwheel and pinion needs special tools to line it up, so it’s best left to experts. Parts and labour aren’t expensive – budget £500 all-in – but you’ll need an axle specialist rather than a Ford one to do it because it’s an unfamiliar task to most.
There’s a flexible joint in the steering column that wears – if it needs replacing, the steering will be vague and will shake. The knuckle has a leather cover rivetted onto the arm – if you’re struggling to find a replacement, a MkIII part will fit. Also, listen for knocks from worn bushes in the MacPherson strut tops or track control arms – replacement arms come with new bushes and are straightforward to fit. Worn track control arm bushes can also cause steering shake that feels similar to warped brake discs The self-adjusting brakes can seize if not regularly exercised, but they’re not inherently unreliable. All Capris had disc brakes at the front with drums at the rear, and the system is perfectly adequate although servo assistance was an option on all cars below a 1600GT – above that, it was standard.
The electrics are generally reliable, although the headlight switch can overheat because there’s no relay, so it’s worth putting one in. If the loom needs attention, new ones are available (with the special connectors Ford used) recently becoming available again for £572 apiece. The light units are £50-£80 each to replace, with headlights especially rare. Pre-facelift cars have the same headlamps as an Austin Allegro – if buying a later light, make sure it’s not a European import, which dips the wrong way. Rear light clusters are extremely scarce, too. Pre-facelift ones are shared with the Escort MkI, although facelift lights are unique to the Capri.
Interior and exterior brightwork is extremely scarce, both new and used, and it’s the same for instrumentation and switchgear, so make sure it’s all there and correct for the age of the car.
The Capri’s comfy seats, either all-vinyl or with cloth inserts, sag with age and the stitching tends to come apart. The original cloth can also disintegrate over time. All in all, it’s best to budget for a retrim. Interiors are fairly hard-wearing, but switchgear can be very hard to find. However, unlike many Fords, all interior trim is available (though not in all the original colours) complete with reproduction fixings. Parts for a full retrim run to £2000 before fitting – double that to get a professional job done.
Interior trim and parts such as switchgear can be hard to find. Bodywork is crucial when buying – restoration costs can outstrip values for anything other than the RS variants. Most parts are available for the Capri’s range of Powerplants. The Capri was exiled to the Land of the Uncool for many years, but its US-inspired lines and straightforward mechanicals are now rightly appreciated.
‘Time has ravaged the bad ones off the road; most modified cars have been returned to standard’
What to pay
- 1300s are near extinct and often fitted with 1600 engines, with decent running examples starting at £4000, rising to £13,000 for the very best Kent-engined cars.
- V4s are scarce but make the same prices as 1600GTs — £7500 for a scruffy runner, £21,000 for a concours car. 3000GTs only fetch a small premium.
- 3000E/GXL is at least £8500, up to £27,500 for a show standard car.
- £25k buys a well-used RS, £45k a regular runner; concours £50k-£60k.
Owning a MkI Ford Capri
‘I had four MkI Capris at one point,’ says Kevin Folds. ‘Now I have two 1600XLs – one prefacelift, one post – but I’ve been into Capris since I was 11, and my first car was a then-13-year-old MkI. ‘I kept the two 1600XLs because they’re relatively practical to own. I’ve just driven the Pinto-engined car 170 miles in three and a half hours – it had no problem keeping up with modern traffic and it didn’t overheat. It suffers from a lack of fifth gear, but it’s comfortable and mechanically straightforward, and getting hold of service parts isn’t a problem. The earlier Kent engine doesn’t cruise as well though – maintaining 60mph isn’t a relaxing experience. ‘The availability and cost of body panels and interior trim are perennial problems with MkI Capris. You used to be able to get a new Ford front wing for £300, £150 for a pattern part 25 years ago, but now they’re £1200 and £1000 respectively. Ex-Pressed Steel Panels reproductions are good quality, but expensive.
‘There are a lot of cottage industries when it comes to running classic Fords. It’s not like the comprehensive one-stop operations you get with MGs. You’ll get one firm making trim clips, another making door cards and so on, and a lot of the engine specialists are focused on competition and performance. Sometimes it’s easier to get upgraded parts than standard ones, so owners end up “accidentally” tuning their cars. It’s the same story with trim and brightwork; it’s easier to find the quad headlights from an RS than it is to source the correct ones for a base model, so a lot of them end up with non-original specification.’
‘I learnt to drive in my dad’s Ford Capri 2.0 GT XLR in 1975, I vowed to get a MkI myself, and in 2006 I finally got my first – I now have four!’ says Jeff Cohen. ‘A 3.0 GTXLR, a facelift 3.0 GXL, and two 1600 GT XLRs, one a pre-facelift Kent-engined car, the other a postfacelift with a Pinto unit.
‘Bodywork rust and panel fit is a serious issue with MkI Capris,’ he says. ‘I took my first one, a 2.0 GT, to the bodyshop not long after I bought it and was told there was more filler than metal in some panels. It turned out it simply wasn’t economical to save, so I had to sell it for parts. After that, I went on to buy a modified 3.0 and returned it to standard specification — a cost-effective way of buying a V6 car because the modifications tend to reduce the value and so long as the base car is in good condition it’s just a case of finding the correct parts for it at your leisure while still keeping it running and maintained.
‘I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a wreck. Mechanical parts are easy to come by, but getting corroded bodywork properly repaired can easily eat £25k-£30k and despite some big headline figures for Fords at auction it’s unlikely you’ll make the money back – it’s easy to fall out of love with a rusty Capri. Bodyshops can spoil them trying to improve them – you end up with over-finished panels contrasting poorly with Ford’s originals.
‘Certain mechanical parts are hard to come by as well. I couldn’t find an exhaust back box for my Kent-engined 1600, so I had to make do with a generic part – the only other option would be an aftermarket stainless-steel performance exhaust, but I like to keep my cars standard. However, this sort of thing has led a lot of people to replace Kent engines with Pintos.’