Ten Classic Cars

Ford Capri RS

The Ford Capri, "The car you always promised yourself" was Europe's answer to the Ford Mustang. Long bonnet, short tail, crampy interior and great looks. It was not very expensive, either. On the other hand, a 1300 cc Capri was a sheep in wolves' clothes.

Ford Germany set up a racing programme in 1968, first with hired Escorts from Britain, as well as fielding 20M RS cars in the London-Sydney rally.
The competition department would be headed by Jochen Neerpasch, who was assisted by Michael Kranefuss and Martin Braungart, the engineer.

1969 brought more Escorts and the 20M would try to win the Safari (it did, by the way). But the Capri would be the future.
While Braungart developed the car itself, the engine would be obtained from Weslake. The Capri, mildly tuned to 170 HP, was entered in a few rallies, in the Nürburgring 84 hours and the Tour de France, with some success.

In 1970, the Capri should tackle the ETCC - and not only that; it should win the Safari as well. But the Safari turned out to be a disaster; and in the ETCC, the Capri would not deliver either.
The Safari took away too much time for preparation of the racing Capri; but the car looked impressive anyway. The biggest engine available initially was a 2300 cc V6 engine, of German origin. Nine-inch wheels and Escort-like wheel arches looked inpressive, while the engine received Weslake heads and a small increase to 2397 cc. Germany insisted on Kugelfischer fuel injection, and Weslake claimed 230 HP - which was doubted by the Germans. The main competitor for overall results, Alfa's 2000 GTAm, had 205 HP for 914 kg; the Capri probably 940 kg with perhaps 200 HP. It would be a tough battle - and so it was. Results in that difficult season was second in Monza, followed by a second in Budapest; and that was it.

Presentation and organization had been impressive - and 1971 they had a car to match: the Ford Capri RS. The car had a 2637 cc engine, so the capacity limit was now 3000 cc instead of 2500 cc earlier. The car had lightweight body panels bringing down the homologation weight to 900 kg. The engine, not ideally suited for racing with its pushrod valve gear, was developed with the help of Peter Ashcroft to 2.9 litres and over 280 HP at the end of 1971. The body got aerodynamic wheelarches; the 1970 front spoiler grew wider; tyres grew wider, brakes got formula-car sizes. The MacPherson front suspension was modified, but at the rear Ford thought of something special. The leaf-spring rear suspension with its rigid axle was modified right to the limit of the regulations; a thin leaf spring was retained, but coil "help" springs did the job. The 1971 season was a success at last, the Capri only beaten in its class at Zandvoort.

1972 the car was developed further, though Braungart and Neerpasch were lost to BMW, setting up Motorsport GmbH. The Capri, now nearly 300 HP strong, was only beaten at the Nürburgring. Ford started to sell ex-works cars to privateers; sometimes, these cars were close or actually faster than the works cars - like Malcolm Gartlan's car.

For 1973, new opposition arose with the appearance of the works BMW team. Not only that; they finally homologated the lightweight CSL coupé, and semiworks teams Schnitzer and Alpina were there to help. Ford only had a further refined Capri, new aero package, even wider 16" wheels, underbonnet improvements and over 320 HP. The few privateers however were not up to the opposition. The 1973 Capri was a great car by all standards, but that was not enough. Kranefuss tried to get a rear wing homologated, to no avail. Exactly that proved to be the difference to BMW.
Ford's driver line-up usually consisted of Mass, Glemser, Fitpatrick and Birrell, the latter being killed in an F2 accident at Rouen. Formula 1 drivers Stewart, Scheckter and Fittipaldi were entered in a few races.

Fittipaldi was terrified at the Nürburgring, by the way.
The Capri lost out to BMW when the batmobile package was homologated; but without Alpina, Ford would still have been champion. In various national championships however, Ford mostly won; BMW was European Champion, but Ford was champion in Europe...

Then the 1974 Oil crisis came. The plans of BMW and Ford, 24 valve 400+ HP cars, continued but on a low level; they would not contest full championships, leaving Monza to privateers for a start.
BMW took part in even less races than Ford. The new 1974 3100 RS was very interesting though. It was based on a homologation model, the British 3100 RS, with a rear spoiler and an engine just over 3000 cc. The paint schedule was changed, to give a little similarity to the all-new Capri II...
The Cosworth GAA engine produced over 400 HP, radiators were moved backwards, and new aerodynamics made a great car. Great drivers, too; Glemser and Mass were retained, new were Niki Lauda and 1973 champion Toine Hezemans. The 1974 season was not a great one by any standards; the Capris had little opposition, but were often hampered by unreliability. Only 6 races were held in that season - the Zakspeed Escort champion.
That was the end of the Group 2 career in Europe, though 24 valve cars appeared in 1975 in the German national championship.
Well... that's for the Capri MkI. Mk II Capri's appeared at Spa 1974 but were especially succesful with the unofficial Group 1B rules of 1976-1981. The Capri II was due to a clever homologation act (yes, Ford had learned) quite unbeatable, the Capri III even more so. But that's a different story.

Sources & further reading:
Capri, by Jeremy Walton, Haynes, ISBN 0-85429-548-8
Auto, Motor und Sport 21/1973

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