Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ranting Stan's Sunday Drive: Ford Capri

The 1970's are a much derided decade, but for a young Stan who slowly developed from a boy to a man during those years they were a fantastic time - exciting and adventurous.

They were also a time of exciting developments in the world of cars as they represent what were probably the last cars to be developed by people before the age of computers just about killed off any flair in design.

Modern cars are a substantial leap forward in terms of technology. They are much easier and safer to drive. They are considerably more comfortable in most respects (although I personally find the modern trend for firm seats a little annoying - nothing beats sinking into the plush, soft leather of a well upholstered Humber) - but modern cars are just soooooo conservative.

Nothing sums up what ails modern cars, for me, more than the popularity of the BMW 3 series. Incredibly competent, beautifully put together and superbly engineered - but dull as dishwater to look at inside and out. Worse still is the BMW 3 series "coupe" which is, essentially, just a 2 door version of the 4 door. Once upon a time, the 2 door version was the cheap alternative, but BMW found a way to charge more for it by calling it a "coupe". Clever marketing more than anything else.

The car that is credited with starting - or at least, revitalising - the coupe market is a car that, for me, best sums up the 1970's. The Ford Capri.

Released in 1969, the Capri was essentially a Ford Cortina in drag. Ford took the underpinnings of their bog standard Dagenham dustbin saloon and cloaked it in a sleek and sexy body - and the coupe was reborn. And boy, was it popular!

With a bewildering range of engines and options, the Capri had a model to suit virtually every pocket. The base 1300 was a feeble effort, but at least it had the same sexy curves of the awesome 3 litre. With the options came more letters after the name - so a basic GT with the addition of a few options became a GTXLR. What a mouthful!

The cars came in the usual range of seventies colours - yellows, reds, greens, blues, browns - and metallics and vinyl roofs abounded. They were bright, showy and sexy looking - but underneath it all they were still just basically Ford Cortinas.

The Capri lasted for three marks - Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 - and continued in production till well into the 1980's and I had the pleasure of owning and driving several of these (though, regrettably, never a Mk1). I owned two Mk2's - a 2 litre GL automatic and a 2 litre Ghia. I had a brief relationship with a two tone Mk3 1300L (pathetic), but my ultimate memories come from the 2.8i which was my company car for a while.

The main thing I recall from this car was the sight of that long bonnet stretching ahead of you. Flick the car into 1st (a lovely light gear change), floor the throttle, drop the clutch and this bonnet would rise up like a rearing horse as the 2.8i would leap forward with a roar. It was raw power - crude and unsophisticated in many respects - but a real adrenalin rush.

It was a tricky car to drive even in the dry, but at least you'd get a warning that the back end was about to break away and try and overtake you halfway through a fast sweeping bend. In the wet the warning was considerably shorter, but it was always controllable and easy to correct.

Like the decade itself the Capri is often derided as an example of what was so naff about the 1970's. I personally feel this is unfair. Sure, the basic idea was just a dressed up family saloon, but it gave the average family a man to drive something a little bit more stylish than the bog standard saloons and the Capri itself had a long and successful competition history.

Most of all, though, the Capri was the car that relaunched the coupe concept as a popular and affordable alternative. That alone makes it something of an icon.


Lawrence Newman said...

The Capri was one of my favourites. I concur that cars have, in general, lost character. Very efficient and reliable nowadays, but no personality.

Stan said...

There's no doubt that modern cars are streets ahead of their sixties and seventies counterparts in terms of refinement and reliability, but on the whole they are a pretty soulless selection.

There are some exceptions though - one of my favs being the RX-8.