Tickford Capri

Ford with a touch of class

The Capri 2.8i is to the Ford range what the 911 is to the Porsche range, a rather old-fashioned design that evokes envy, admiration, and pride of ownership that knows no bounds. When Ford of Europe launched the Sierra XR4i on the Targa Florio course last Spring they also offered a 2.8i five-speed to drive over the same course, and we have to say that the raw power and throttle-steering capabilities of the Capri left the biggest impression on us, refined as the Sierra may be. Even in standard form the 2.8i is a machine that gives the keen driver an car-to-car smile when he has the chance to open it up . . . so what price a turbocharged, 205 bhp conversion?

The story has often been told that Victor Gauntlett of Aston Martin, Bob Lutz (then head of Ford of Europe) and former Lotus driver John Miles hatched the idea of the Tickford Capri over a lunch table. When the project was well down the road, and Tickford had invested a considerable amount of money, Lutz was promoted to Ford of America and the project went onto the back-burner, as they say. Tickford took the courageous decision to continue with the project with the intention of building 250 examples this year in the new Coventry factory which Tickford occupies to finish the Jaguar XJ-S Cabriolet model, and even had to go solo with the expensive and time-consuming business of obtaining Type Approval.

The end product was seen on the Aston Martin Tickford stand at Motorfair and deliveries started at the end of 1983. Inevitably the question must be asked: ‘`Who in their right mind would pay £14,985 for a Ford Capri — not far off double its original price?” The tag includes much more than an IHI turbo, hiking the power from 160 to 205 bhp . . . a Garrett intercooler for instance, the new AFT digital computerised ignition and electronic fuel management system, restyled body panels, reinforcements to the five-speed gearbox, a limited slip differential, conversion to disc brakes at the rear, and a rear axle locating A-frame.

Inside the car we find electrically operated tinted windows, a manual sunroof, the standard Recaro velour covered seats, a walnut burr fascia trim with leather surrounds, and leather covering for the steering wheel and rear quarter panels; a leather map pocket is installed in front of the passenger.

Does a market exist for 250 examples of the Tickford Capri? Clearly Tickford are convinced that it dues, but probably not from Ford’s own clientele. The potential market is comprised of people who are prepared to pay £15,000 for a very quick, sporting car, who would otherwise he looking at the Porsche 944, a BMW 528i, or a Lotus Excel or Esprit — the choice is really very narrow in that sector. To Aston Martin’s traditional customers, prepared to spend upwards of £40,000 on the real thing, maybe £15,000 is not so much after all fora second car to be used for journeys into London. . . .

In terms of acceleration and top speed the AMT Capri will out-perform all its potential rivals mentioned above, and by a fair margin. Our definition of a reasonably quick car is one that will reach 60 mph in under 10 sec and 100 mph in under 20 sec. To reach 60 in 6.8 sec and 100 mph in 19.6 sec is quite outstanding, well up in the Porsche 911 SC class, if not up to the latest Carrera, and that sets a yardstick by which the turbocharged Capri may be judged.

Although the turbocharged engine is said to double the torque value at 2,000 rpm there did not seem to be much evidence of this on the road. If you are in too high a gear for the situation there is a yawning wait for something to happen when you floor the throttle, then quite suddenly there is an awakening under the bonnet at 3,300 rpm and an explosive burst of power that goes on to 6,000 rpm, requiring a good deal of mental agility to keep up with the situation! This need not be a criticism since the option is always there to change down and have the power immediately, yet on a wet and perhaps bumpy road the dramatic application of power through the P7 tyres is quite enough to break adhesion — and with a limited slip differential, that can be quite an adventure.

The ZF differential, with a 50% locking factor, helps to raise the level of adhesion, enabling the Capri to put its power down impressively well. Our best acceleration figures were obtained when the rear wheels could be broken away, causing the tail of the Capri to swing to the left — it did not fed the best way of starting, but on a more grippy surface the acceleration times were slower, and the average of all the times was slightly slower than the manufacturer’s claim. To exchange 60-series Goodyear NCT tyres for 60-series Pirelli P7s, at a cost of £608, sounds doubtful value and it would need a back-to-back test to determine whether the cost is justified. Certainly the Pirellis on the test car complement the revised suspension and give the Tickford Capri phenomenal cornering. power, accompanied by a slight twitchmess that worries people unused to Ford’s live axle and semi-elliptic leaf spring design, but is easy to live with.

With the limited slip diff the driver has to get used to the mild “pushing” understeer in medium bends, which changes to tuck-in when the throttle is released; also to the need for extra revs when manoeuvring, since the engine has to push against a locking differential. The drive line tends to be harsh, too, with resonance and vibration at certain points under acceleration, but despite these traits we imagine that the Capri would be a handful without the ZF differential, and almost impossible to drive effectively in the wet. In the suspension department the springs and dampers have been left standard, though careful tuning and the addition of the rear axle supporting bracket have improved the handling quality without impairing the ride to any great degree; if the ride comfort is slightly harsher than standard, it is likely to be the result of fitting P7s.

Ventilated disc brakes from the racing Capris are fitted at the rear, 10.4 in in diameter and with an integral handbrake system, while the standard ventilated discs are retained at the front. The brakes did feel very secure, with firm pedal pressure and perfectly even retardation at each corner, and the handbrake is surprisingly effective too.

Tuning for performance

Even with 160 bhp available the Capri 2.8s is considered a high performance car, but the addition of a turbocharger takes the Tickford Capri into an altogether higher category. It would be stretching the point a bit to call it a poor man’s Porsche Turbo, but the level of performance is on a par with a 911 2.7, for instance, making up with turbo surge what it kicks low down. The Bosch K-Jetronic injected V6 power unit is very well developed, and no internal changes were needed other than balancing when the IHI turbocharger was mounted in front of the vee, an air-to-air intercooler also being plumbed in. Maximum torque is lifted from 163 lb ft at 4,200 rpm to 260 lb ft at 3,500 rpm, making its contribution to the improvement in performance. The standstill to 60 mph time is slashed from 7.9 sec to 6.8 se, while the 100 mph figure is reduced from around 25 sec to 19.6 sec. The maximum speed increases from 127 mph to a slightly theoretical 140 mph (which we were not able to check), yet our overall fuel consumption figure of 22.76 mpg is exactly what the owner of a normally aspirated Capri might expect to return on a regular basis. Something for nothing?

These performance advantages are impressive on paper, even more so on the road. Overtaking distances seem to be halved, making main road journeys faster, safer, and less wearing on the nerves. Motorway driving is more pleasant too, the AMT Capri accelerating much faster through the wall of spray that attends trucks on a rainy day, while the bolt-on appendages have greatly improved stability.

We have not yet mentioned the GRP panels which blank off the usual radiator grille and form an air dam, running along the skirts, and give a revised, more aerodynamic line at the back, topped by a bootlid mounted rear spoiler.

The person who spends £15,000 on a Capri would naturally expect a car which stands out in a crowd, and with all their styling and coachbuilding history Tickford could be relied upon to produce a striking, well balanced style that is visually appealing without being in the least garish. The new panels have virtually eliminated front-end lift and moved back the centre of pressure, making the converted Capri infinitely more stable at high speed.

Criticisms there must be, but only a few. We have mentioned the transmission rumble which lowers the general level of refinement. Maybe there is nothing that Tickford can do about that, but it is something they could be working on. The main beam headlamps are superb . . . but the dipped beam is absolutely pathetic, really making it necessary to halve your speed if a car approaches on a country road. The doors still shut with a clang, rather than a £15,000 thud, and as Capri owners expect the tailgate still gets filthy in the winter time, and needs a handle (interior or exterior) to facilitate closing. As a further development, we would far sooner have a proper rotating control for the lights instead of a hidden third stalk, on the far side of the wipers control, and some lining inside the glove box to avoid the rattling of oddments.

The power steering is nicely weighted, to the point where the driver may not be sure whether it is assisted or not, and Tickford have wisely left this alone. Even so, a great deal of engineering and development has gone into this conversion to justify the price label which, though probably beyond the comprehension of someone who can just about afford a standard Capri, represents good value to those hunting the ultimate. Other than the RS3100 of 10 years ago (an homologation model which hardly set new standards for reliability) the AMT Capri must be the fastest yet offered for road use, improving on power and flexibility. It has been referred to as an eight-tenths size Vantage at a third of the price, and that just about sums it up.

We are left with the thought that the Capri keeps having stays of execution, but at some time in the coming months the chop will come when the line is needed for a new product, and the production level is considered uneconomic. As the specialist manufacturers, including Aston Martin Lagonda Tickford, are now entering a new period of prosperity, could not Ford hand over all the production facilities to ensure the perpetuation of the Capri? — MLC