A 3-Litre Special Capri

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Its common knowledge that Ford will introduce the 3-litre version of “the car you always promised yourself” in time for the Motor Show. Recently Motor Sport was able to borrow a Capri from the Luton Motor Company’s LuMo division, which had installed a standard Zodiac 2,994-c.c. engine in the capacious space which lies beneath the Capri’s impressively long bonnet. Our brief test illustrated for us the problems which the Ford Motor Company has had to face in order to carry out what looks at first sight to be just a straight-forward change of power unit.

The test car had started life as a 2000 GT; apart from the engine swap the converters had also stiffened the suspension up considerably, by attention to the valving in the front struts and by using higher poundage springs. Another suspension change in the search for roll-free cornering was the insertion of two additional leaves in the long rear cart springs. The stopping power of the standard 9.6-in. front discs and 9.0-in. rear drums had been improved by using Raybestos pads and linings to the equivalent of the well-known DS11 and VG95 friction materials made by Ferodo; the servo remained as standard. The only engine installation problem was to modify the 2000 GT clutch by fitting the 3-litre Zodiac-type disc (but not the pressure plate).

More obvious deviations from showroom equipment include 5½-in. wide-rim Dunlop lightweight wheels with squat low-profile Goodyear G800 Rally Special radials, a deeply dished leather-rim Formula steering wheel and a Toshiba stereophonic tape player.

On the road the V6 power unit feels ideal for the Capri. The 2000 GT Capri is a reasonably sporting vehicle with a top speed of 103 m.p.h. and it accelerates to 60 m.p.h. in 11 sec.; but the V6 3-litre unit allows a top speed (using the Capri 2000 GT final drive of 3.44 to 1) of 116.8 m.p.h. and acceleration to 60 m.p.h. is reduced to under 10 sec.—sporting performance by anyone’s standards. This Capri felt sporting, too, with the hard suspension faithfully transmitting every change of surface, even on Britain’s relatively smooth motorways.

Handling had been improved over the more mundane Capris because the revised suspension permits very little body roll. With over 140 b.h.p. and 181½ lb. ft. of torque, an experienced driver can tackle low-speed bends at whatever attitude he chooses; accelerating hard from the apex of a sharp corner will promote an invigorating rear wheel powerslide, while closing the throttle at the same point will promote strong understeer. Good seats and direct steering allow the driver to control the car with a minimum of fuss; we became very attached to the leather-rimmed wheel because it didn’t flex at all, even during successive emergency stops. In the test car’s case the improved handling had been paid for somewhat dearly by sacrificing all the even-riding characteristics of the standard models, so that this Special Capri travelled over rough surfaces in much the same way as a Morgan or Lotus Seven does, with plenty of harsh blows reaching the body. The plush seats, however, save the occupants from mortal injury.

All those who tried the car also commented on the groaning noises emanating from under the floorboards during hard acceleration from sharp but smooth corners. At first we suspected that the exhaust system was coming away, but this was not the trouble according the converters, who say that they were not pleased with the stiff-riding qualities of their car and that it was in fact the suspension itself protesting.

The limits of the road-holding appeared to be higher on a smooth surface than the showroom product, thanks to those special wide wheels and radials; however, on a bumpy surface the Capri would skip off line rather earlier than the more softly-sprung production model.

At the time of writing we had not learned what size brakes Ford’s 3-litre Capri will have; from our own impression of the LuMo car we certainly hope they have been improved in comparison with the 2000 GT. Even with the improved materials used, we found that fade could be induced and that one front wheel would lock up in an emergency stop, pulling the car strongly to the left during the last 10 m.p.h. or so before standstill.

Earlier on we said that power output is over 140 b.h.p., which seems a reasonable estimate as the power unit is not quite standard, having Janspeed top exhaust manifolds (the carburetter mixture having been richened to suit) and a wire-mesh carburetter air filter. The latter is a fitting which would be unlikely to find favour with many, for it provokes a fair amount of induction noise until the throttle is eased back. We were a bit surprised when a colleague took us out in the car to find that 6,000 r.p.m. came up so readily in top gear, but the mystery was explained when we returned the car and found out that the modified Zodiac rev.-counter fitted was reading 470 revs too many at 50.m.p.h.!

While we were at the LuMo works a colleague set out to obtain a Green Card in order to take the Capri to Germany, but unfortunately somewhere in the gearbox the mechanism cried enough and our test came to an abrupt end. (The speedometer cable dropped into the cogs.)

As a result of this setback we were able to spend more time gathering background information on who the LuMo people are and what they are doing.

The parent company is the Trinidad Oil Co., but keen readers of Motor Sport will probably be more interested to learn that the head of the LuMo subsidiary company, John Hewitt, is the gentleman who was so closely associated with the Coventry-Climax-engined “Tasman” Anglia project of a few years ago. More recently Hewitt and his assistant Bob Torrie have been concerned with building up the “Special Products” side of Luton Motors. They have now reached the stage of being able to sell many high-performance Ford parts from stock (including complete engine/gearbox units) and marketing their “leather-look” roof tops, but the most successful idea has definitely been that of selling complete converted cars.

LuMo’s first venture into this market was the Pirana Sprint and so far this 1,600-c.c. GT-powered Escort has also been the best seller of the company’s complete conversion range, which includes twin-cam units for the Cortina 1600Es and any Capri: the price of the Pirana is £921 and we enjoyed brief drives in the two demonstration vehicles while we were at Luton.

The first 1,600-c.c.-engined Pirana we tried was a well-used example which suffered from a loose seat (a bit disconcerting when cornering rapidly) and it also produced rather a lot of body and engine noise, but our short trial showed it to be a truly exciting little car to drive, bounding up to an indicated 95 m.p.h. in top very rapidly. Cruising at the legal limit on the speedo was quite bearable, though the real forté of that particular Escort (fitted with a 3.7 final drive and 12-inch wheels) was in the top gear acceleration bracket between 55 and 90 m.p.h. With responsive rack-and-pinion steering and six-inch wide-rim steel wheels the handling and road-holding were well up to coping with the extra power. The engine also had the optional Stage 1 cylinder head and camshaft, plus a four-branch exhaust system and a 28/36DCD Weber carburetter mounted on a cast alloy inlet manifold.

In the road-holding department the Pirana seems to stick down firmly to the point where a front wheel lifts clear of the ground and the car begins to slide. The front disc brakes (and rear drums) fitted to this car coped well with the extra performance.

The second Pirana we tried was a far more refined motor car which had more in common with the twin-cam Escort, having the same 13 in. diameter wheels and final drive ratio. Again the engine was installed complete with Stage 1 tuning equipment and wide (6 in. rim) wheels, and this Pirana had road wheels manufactured from aluminium alloy. Insulation against road and body noise was far better, though some of the benefit must be attributed to the final drive choice which considerably reduced the revs in fourth gear and also benefited the driver by enabling speeds up to 55 m.p.h. in second gear to be attained.

After trying these two Escorts we felt that the idea behind them was sound because the “Pirana” Escort neatly fills the gap between the 1300GT and twin-cam models, both in price and performance.

Settling into the workshops again we thought that the premises and the cars we had seen were exceptionally well prepared, though the best of the firm’s activities was yet to present itself, for over in one corner stood a gleaming orange and white Escort racing saloon. Closer inspection revealed that the three mechanics who had spent eight months building it had certainly not worked in vain. Both interior and exterior bodywork is immaculate in the true sense of the word, which is unusual in a club racing saloon. The 1,670-c.c. twin-cam power unit is free from oil leaks of any sort and is said to produce 178 b.h.p.

The lengths to which today’s saloon car drivers go in search of road holding is well reflected in the massive 8½ in. wide rear wheels and 8 in. fronts. Also interesting was the spare set of five Firestone “soft rubber” tyres for wet-weather use. Although this Escort is intended for “clubby” events the professional attitude behind it is unmistakably professional and worthy of praise because spectators like to watch attractive machinery, do they not? The Escort’s engine was prepared by Alan Smith of Derby, who also specialises in those mammoth Chevrolet V8s used in Formula 5000 and the Lola Group 4 sports cars.

Finally we asked about LuMo’s future plans. It is proposed to move the entire operation a few miles away to 55, London Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, where some business was already being conducted when we called. They are unlikely to convert any more Capris to V6 power because of the factory model, though if a customer wants an existing Capri converted to V6 3-litre power, they will oblige.

Prices for complete LuMo cars including p.t. and delivery, but excluding work apart from the engine “transplants”, are: Pirana Sprint, £921; Cortina 1600E, twincam, £1,399; and V6 Capri, £1,450.—J. W.