Road Impressions - The Ford Capri III 3000S

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Excellent performance and driveability. Fantastic value

The car doing all the winning in the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship is the Ford Capri III 3000S. As always, a successful car on the circuit is as chalk and cheese to its road-going sister (though Group 1 1/2 cars would be almost road-legal with silencers fitted), and the owner of a 3000S straight off the German Production line, from whence all current Capris emanate, would be shocked were he to take the wheel of a racer. Clever, competitive race engineered improvements not withstanding, a successful racing saloon is usually only as good proportionately as its standard sister. Few saloons prove the point quite so strongly as this latest 3000S.

Right from the early versions with agricultural steering, handling, trim and wide-ratio gearbox, the 3-litre Capri has presented an astonishing ratio of pound sterling against performance. Versatility and improved refinement accrued with the various hatchback Mk. II versions. Now the Capri III almost certainly the last variation on the theme gives even better confirmation of Ford’s extraordinary flair for budget-price production engineering, at least in the version road tested. At £4,593 I don’t think there is any better value than the 3000S.

I “had a ball” with this car. It felt like a Big Healey treated to modern equipment, four proper seats and steel roof: a bellowing, muscular, long-legged engine, handling which was a total joy, though without the splendid Abingdon cars’ need for strong-armed elbow twirling, thanks to high-geared power steering. In character – and it shows plenty of that, to the driver if not to the observer the 3000S is a fixed-head sports car. It just happens to combine the versatility of a four seater hatchback. Although 3-litre Capris don’t have the charisma of traditional sports cars, they seem to have developed a strong following amongst enthusiasts and racing drivers who appreciate tough, high performance, reliable work horses.

Only two 3-litre versions of this latest series of Capri are available, the 3000S (Sport) and the luxury Ghia. The mechanical recipe of the III is as for the II. The big difference lies in the more aerodynamic body: the bonnet line is lower, its lip drooping down over a grille which has bars angled to act as aerofoils and a spoiler is integrated into the sheet metal-work below the new black, wrap-around front bumper of all models. A rubberised tail spoiler mounted on the boot lid is exclusive to the 1600S, 2000S and 3000S models. Ford claim that the front-end treatment has reduced drag by more than 6% on all models, from 1.3 upwards; the rear spoiler on the S brings the total drag reduction to 12.6%, a very appreciable saving. Sidewinder transfers down the flanks are an unfortunate boy racer part of the S package. All models have four headlamps and ridged, stay-clean rear lights, a la Mercedes.

The whole of the very real character of the 3000S stems from that simple, cast-iron V6 engine. This is the familiar British built, 2,994 C.C. Essex version, not the 2.8-litre German V6 recently adopted by the Granada range. In its current European emission form this 93.77 mm x 724 mm, bowl-in-piston, 60 degree V6 delivers 138 b.h.p. DIN r.p.m. and a healthy 174 lb. ft. torque at 3,000 rpm. It is such a basic, solid design that I have always had visions of a Dagenham blacksmith beating it out on an anvil and, indeed, its character is akin to a shire horse: totally umemperamental, uncannily flexible, effortlessly powerful. If the throttle pedal is depressed once to the floor to activate the automatic choke on the Weber twin-choke, downdraught carburetter, the engine starts at the merest flick of the starter motor. The lazy power is instantly and smoothly available without hiccuping protestations at low temperature. The test car’s choke was sometimes slow in retiring and needed prompting with another flick on the throttle. The flexibility of the V6 is such that the sporting 3000S will trickle along almost at walking pace in top gear, in which it will accelerate cleanly from 1,000 r.p.m. and 1st and sod gears are rarely required in town except for restarting.

Such docility is deceptive: the response to small or large throttle openings is instantaneous and given a vigorous thrust of the right foot there aren’t many mass-produced cars capable of staying with the 300oS. Full use of the 6.000 r.p.m. limit gives nearly 70 m.p.h. in 2nd gear, close cm 95 m.p.h. in 3rd. Sixty m.p.h. comes in 8} seconds. too m.p.h. in 28 seconds and a tong enough stretch of motorway sorry, autobahn’ should wind the needle round to about 125 m.p.h. at 5,70o r.p.m.

The improved aerodynamics really do seem to have made a difference. This Capri III test car felt noticeably quicker than a Capri II 3000S borrowed from Ford not long before the model was discontinued, yet the power was the same and 23.5 cwt. kerb weight practically identical. Even more marked was the improved stability at speed, particularly in cross-winds. The changed bonnet line has removed some or the annoying flapping of that large piece of steel, too. Superb ergonomics comnbuted to my very great liking for this 3000S. The fixed steering wheel, the pedals, the switchgtar (at long last moved to the steering column on the Capri III), the seating position – all contribute to relaxing the driver in a natural position. As the feelings of this 5′ 7″ writer were supported by a 6′ 5″ ex Leyland development engineer, who was loathe to vacate the driving seat. I think it safe to say that this should be a comfortable car for most drivers. I fear that my feelings were coloured by the test car’s Recaro seats, however. These are a £76 optional extra, available on the S model only. Never was there a greater bargain: they add £2000 to the feel of the car. These firm, formhugging competition seats give a seat of the pants tautness to the handling; the similarly trimmed standard seats are like blancmange in comparison. At first they feel uncompromisingly hard, uncomfortable. It takes a few miles for the body to accustom itself to the lumbar support, the firm cushion which curves down under the knees so that no sharp edges cause discomfort, the prominent side-pieces of the backrest which stop one’s body rolling about under cornering. The backrests have micro-adjustment. Net centres to the head restraints (fitted to the standard seats too), help the driver’s view for reversing and stop claustrophobic feelings in rear seat passengers. All the seats have tartan cloth inserts, in pleasant pastel shades in the metallic green test car.

Like the gutsy engine, the handling is modern vintage, superior in its roadholding and consequently great fun and much safer than 3-litre Capri behaviour used to be. The familiar McPherson strut front suspension and leaf sprung, live rear axle the latter making itself obvious on occasions are unchanged in this new model. Gas-filled shock-absorbers (from various suppliers, no longer Bilstein solely) on all four corners tauten the handling and stiffen the ride on the 3000S. The Capri II referred to earlier, which was on Bilsteins, had been too stiff for comfort; the Capri III test car was a much better compromise. The ride improves with increasing speed, but limited travel of the live axle shows up abruptly over bad bumps. That marvellous spread of engine torque combined with a responsive -chassis means that this Ford can be put into virtually any attitude the driver cares for by playing with the throttle and steering. Without provocation, the normal tendency is towards understeer, as might be expected with that big lump of iron in the nose, but any experienced driver will soon learn to neutralise that and even enjoy himself on opposite lock when nobody is watching. The rear axle is free from tramp, despite its meagre location, but wheelspin can be a problem, particularly in the wet. The test car’s 185/70 HR. 13 Goodyear tyres showed a great improvement in wet weather road-holding compared with the Pirelli CN 36s I have been used to on 3-litre Capris.

Cam Gears power assistance is a standard fitment to the rack and pinion steering. At first I felt cynical about it. I grew to positively enjoy it. Although light, it is very direct and positive with no lost motion, the 14″ soft-rimmed wheel needs a reasonable 3.3 turns lock to lock and there is plenty of feel for changing surfaces/adhesion. So equipped, the once heavyweight 3-litre Capri can be chucked around, slotted through traffic and parked more effortlessly than an Escort. However, a colleague who was equally enthusiastic about the steering of another Recaro-equipped Capri III 3000S is finding the power steering of his own, subsequently acquired 3000S, to be more vague from the soft cushion of his standard seat. As I have said, the Recaros really are worth having; with them you wear the car, become a part of it, and it responds much more accurately.

The brakes on the test car were light and effective under normal circumstances, but they began to feel suspect under a real hammering. Hard braking gave a slight trace of the usual shimmying around the McPherson struts, a common fault with 3-litre Capris which worsens with mileage. A gearbox which can be as light and easy to operate as this one was, while transmitting vast torque, deserves nothing but praise. But it clonked into reverse if not handled delicately. The clutch was sticky in action and I have always disliked the way the toe of the clutch foot is forced to press against the angled pedal arm of Capris. Although much quieter than earlier models, the 3000S continues to suffer some wind noise, but I shall not complain about that healthy noise from under the bonnet, which starts in a burble, rises to a bellow at 3,000 r.p.m. and gradually softens to a deep drone as the revs rise.

Readers must be as familiar as me with Capri detail specifications. Suffice to remind that the S has the basic black vinyl facia trim, that alloy wheels, a Ford push-button radio and rear screen wiper/wash arc standard, that the heating and through-flow ventilation is first class and that rear-seat occupants suffer poor head and knee room. The fuel tank holds 13 gallons; its 4-star content can be swallowed at rates varying between 17 and 25 m.p.g., depending upon enthusiasm, and 20-21 should be considered the norm. Ford claim that the revised aerodynamics have improved consumption, which is probably true for consistent high-speed motorway cruising, but is difficult to assess in general use. A detachable rear parcel shelf is a welcome addition to the Capri III equipment; it attaches simply to the hatch back with looped, nylon cord. The rear seats fold down individually to make this a versatile, high speed express. I regret that the engine capacity is no longer shown on the front wings, but the wide tyres and twin tail pipes one each side are instant recognition points for the 3-litre cars.

The test car was fitted with one of those marvellous, tilt and slide, Ford sunshine roofs, which I would not be without, though it costs £146 extra, high-pressure headlamp washers (£56) a remote-control door mirror (£23) and those Recaro seats.

Ford engineering may be cheap and cheerful, but there is no disputing the effectiveness of the assembled recipe. By any standards, the 3000S a very desirable motor car, with a high standard of performance and driveability. At its price, even with extras fitted, there is no other big-engined performance car to approach it. – C.R.

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