Tuning Test - Capri 3.2

mpg and speed — at quite a high purchase price

Lancaster Garages, just off Lambolle Place in London’s NW3 district is the home of WM Auto Developments. The premises used to be those of Andy Dawson, but now a variety of engine work, from Lynx Jaguars to the occasional Manx Norton and regular power boat racing two-strokes, is underway.

Amongst the proprietors you find the name J. Miles. Remembering his work at Racing Services building Capri V6s — and studiously ignoring his journalistic role — we accepted an invitation to spend a filthy wet day motoring hard in his 3.2 litre Capri S.

Miles commented, “any of the items on the car can be ordered individually, or as a complete package. On the engine side the ideal customer might well have had the car two or three years and want the engine rebuilt anyway. Instead if spending £500, he spends £1,035 and ends up with an engine we think gives more of everything. Judging by the performance (it has been independently tested to provide 0-60 m.p.h. in under eight seconds and 125 m.p.h., plus 21.1 to 24.5 m.p.g. — J.W.) our demonstrator, which has an engine made up from some very secondhand parts, allows 148-150 b.h.p. and actually improves part throttle economy.”

Pnces are given at the end. Although the 3.2 litres (95.26 mm. by 73.94 mm. for 3160c.c.) is the glamour part of the conversion, and the most expensive with its demand for a stroked production crankshaft as well as the oversize bore, there is much more of interest in this Ford. The first was the 2.8:1 final drive, offering 22.6 m.p.h. per 1000 r.p.rn. (instead of a standard 3.09’s 21.8 m.p.h.) on 13 in. Ronal-FAVO alloy wheels, yet capable of giving a more relaxed gait if allied with the recommended 14″ diameter wheels and 60% low profile NCT tyres from Goodyear.

Then there was the handling. This was much altered in feel thanks to 2-degree extra castor in the power-assisted steering, while stupendous levels of adhesion, similar to those offered in racing Capris less than a decade ago, are provided by the 205/60 VR NCTs. Just fitting the tyres alone would be a disaster though, for Miles and company have spent a great deal of energy taking advantage of the adhesion, without the inevitable penalty of harshness that just would not be tolerable on a long Capri journey.

How? At the front, there is a twin tube Koni uprated insert for the MacPherson struts, while at the rear some special order low gas pressure Konis look after the damping. Unlike Ford engineers, Miles avoided lowering the Capri — it has little enough suspension travel as it is at the back — so the standard multi-leaves (four per side) remain. Front springs are FAVO 145 lb components in place of the production car’s 106 lb units. Polyurethane front bump stops and rear mounts (replacing the production washers) are part of the conscientious assault on harshness. Miles disconcerted us temporarily by adjusting their rear pre-load ‘in-flight’ with a handy BMW 17 mm. spanner, as well as shuffling tyre pressures throughout the day, in a band between 20-24 p.s.i., thereby reminding us how to tailor a car to conditions and a driving style.

Also simple, but important as they allow good pedal action and improved fade resistance in our 281 mile experience, were Mintex 171 front disc brake pads.

Outwardly the engine remains untouched, though a pair of Piranha ignition packs (one a spare, rally-style) adorn one wing. Yet, as with the Capri chassis side, it is the little touches of experience that have made the car, rather than expensive branded parts. Bottom end balancing is part of the procedure, necessary as the crankshafts are privately machined outside Ford for that extra 1.52 mm. stroke. Camshaft timing is subtly altered, allowing the exhaust valve a longer open duration instead of the normal, emission-conscious “early closing”. Hand tools and elbow grease are also subtly used around the valve heads (both inlet and exhaust are left standard size), the porting and inlet manifold. Overall the engine efficiency is improved and “thanks to the higher gas speeds, we have found it possible to reduce the size of the accelerator pump jet”, says a company statement.

Owing to the stroke increase, compression is slightly up at 9.8:1 (production around 9:1). Some 200 lbs ft. torque is claimed instead of 174 lbs ft., but the Capri has been developed on the road and private tracks, rather than on the engine bed, so the figures are based on the car’s proven performance, not test data.

The test Capri, a hideous lime green ex-press demonstrator of 47,000 miles, by the close of our test, also carried the beautifully made performance exhaust system that is popular in Germany. It features oval tail-pipes, an echo of previous Ford performance Capris and Mustangs, but carries a resonance that can be annoying on the Autobahn. There is little other noticeable effect of that exhaust, not even undue tailpipe decibels.

Owing to recent book-work the writer has been assessing a number of Capris, including the standard 3.0 and 2.0-litre product, and a sensational-looking X-pack 3-litre carrying triple carburetters and Pirelli Rallye P7 tyres. This in mind, we set out to motor for the day, pausing only for adjustments, fuel, and a half hour lunch. Road conditions were mainly those of heavy rain: dampish tarmac was about the best surface tackled all day.

This Capri represents conversion work at its best. Every important aspect is improved. From the moment you turn the key and are rewarded with that characteristically uneven engine tickover, to the conclusion of a tough trip full of bumps, hairpins and surfaces offering adhesion more befitting a rallycross, there is extra pleasure to be had from what is already a good fun-for-the-money product. The engine was worked hard for much of the mileage, though it really should be driven in third and fourth between 2500 and 5000 r.p.m. to make the most of its enlarged charm. Pulling power extends down to 1000 r.p.m. and little over 20 m.p.h. in fourth. I deliberately took it through Oxford City centre, aside from the enjoyable country motoring we covered, before letting Mr. Miles calculate m.p.g. The result was fractionally under 21, but since an attendant had swilled fuel all over a country forecourt in an earlier attempt to brim the now traditionally difficult-to-fill Ford tank properly (a five minute task if done conscientiously on many of the range today) we reckoned the fair figure was 21.1 m.p.g.

This was truly remarkable. To get much the same performance from the X-pack I recorded three m.p.g. figures in the 14s!

Despite its age and dubious ancestry, this V6, taken from a scrap yard and built to the specification outlined 17,000 miles ago, performed better than any production or modified carburetter Capri I have assessed since 1969. It was the way in which you could accelerate without changing gear that demonstrated the benefit of having even a production engine built to racing standards can offer the ordinary motorist. Full marks, but I think the same skill could be demonstrated on a standard 3.0 unit with little loss of performance, a slight m.p.g. gain and a lot more buyers.

As to the amount of work Miles has put in on mating NCT tyres to the Capri, I can report that the combination works best away from a motorway. Coming into a corner, the improved brakes and marvellous steering ‘feel’ are particularly praiseworthy. Thereafter, the amount you accelerate will govern the angle at which the Capri emerges, it will tail-slide, but at higher speed and without untidy lurches. A ride cross-country in this car says all that need be said on the subject of why many drivers will always prefer r.w.d.

A combination of original hard-back Recaro seats, the low profile tyres and the modified exhaust meant that our hour on the motorway was more tiring than it should have been. We hope that WM will be able to afford development to isolate the driver from these problems, and perhaps to carry out some of the detail aerodynamic work which could pay so much m.p.g./performance benefit on a car of Capri’s undoubted suitability for further aerodynamic efficiency. As it is WM have demonstrated the effectiveness small cost-conscious companies can display in the development of mass production cars. — J.W.

MW offer – 3.2 litres (based on new V6), £765; 3.2 or older engines, £1,035; Suspension, as described, £350; Mintex 171 pads, £21; RS alloys with 7″ rims, £481.76 (4); 2.8:1 high final drive, £250; Pinto 2.0-litre with Group 1 camshaft and headwork, £215. All prices exclusive of VAT. Individual requirements on request, including combinations with X-pack parts. Contact Martin Murphy, Steven Whitmore, Mark Perry or John Miles, 01-386-7140.