historic verdict 1977 ford capri 1.6L
The Capri can certainly teach modern cars a thing or two about style and comfort, argues David Wilkins
Driving across the Alps this summer, I saw a sign for Cortina. For the first time in my life on encountering this word, I thought "Italian ski resort" rather than "British Ford saloon". Then again, it's been about 25 years since any Dagenham product of that name was made, so perhaps it's not surprising that the latter meaning is fading from the mind. When it comes to Capri, though, I think it'll be a good few years before the Italians can reclaim the word to mean "an island in the Gulf of Naples favoured by Gracie Fields", because, if anything, the Ford Capri made even more of a mark on British motoring life than the Cortina.
The car tested by our readers this week belongs to Ford's own collection. First registered in 1977, it is in beautiful condition and has done only about 25,000 miles. It was run for most of its life by the proverbial one careful lady owner, who eventually gave it back to the company that made it.
Driving the Capri involves taking a journey back in time - and in terms of automotive development, it can feel more like 40, rather than 30, years of time travel. Because, mechanically, the Capri was a basic machine even by the standards of Ford's 1977 range, featuring a rear-wheel drive layout with a live axle suspended via leaf springs.
But the Capri had formidable strengths, too. Simple also meant reliable and easy to fix, and all Capris, from the first generation model of 1968 onward, had stylish, sporty good looks in their favour.
The absence of modern safety equipment is where cars of the Capri's vintage really show their age: traction control, anti-lock brakes and airbags hadn't made it into even the most expensive European cars in 1977. More surprising omissions are head restraints and an off-side door mirror, but the heating and demisting arrangements are effective, even by modern standards.
The overhead cam engine, a version of the famous Pinto unit, offers strong performance, but the absence of a fifth gear makes for noisy motorway cruising; the gear change, though, is excellent. The unassisted steering initially feels heavy, but lightens up and is perfectly pleasant to use once above walking pace. The brakes, on the other hand, feel puny by modern standards, and the Capri can't match modern cars in terms of its cornering prowess.
For me, however, the big surprise was the comfort: the Capri's unfashionably soft seats and its Seventies tyres, which …