Why you’d want a Ford Capri MkIII
The Capri had been around for nine years and had sold more than 1.5 million cars when the MkIII makeover was announced in 1978. Sales would never match past records – and the only strong market remaining was the UK – but it would endure for almost nine years more.
The original design is now credited to American Phil Clark, also creator of the Mustang’s galloping horse logo, who worked under Roy Haynes at Ford of England from 1964.
Based on everyday running gear from the Cortina, the sporty 1969 coupé was available with a range of engine sizes from puny 1300 to the macho 3-litre Essex V6, which would pull in top gear from as low as 5mph all the way to 120mph. Brilliantly updated in 1974 with a rear hatch, larger interior and shorter nose, the Capri II kept sales flowing for a while, but they tailed off rapidly by 1977.
The III was introduced in March ’78, with improved aerodynamics, wraparound black bumpers and twin circular headlamps framing the Aeroflow grille that would become a Ford hallmark, like the sawtooth rear lights.
The clever grille design allowed plenty of air through at low speeds, but most flowed over the top as the car went faster. This and other tweaks, such as the ducktail spoiler on S models, reduced drag by 12%, giving a claimed 10% improvement in fuel economy and higher top speeds, too. L, GL and Ghia were the other levels of specification. Trim colours were tan, chocolate, black or dark red, with Recaro front seats optional on the S.
Gutsiest of the line-up was the triple-Weber X-pack 3000S, but the 2.8i wasn’t far behind it. The 3-litre felt faster, with its tremendous torque, but the 2.8i was noticeably quicker than the standard single-carburettor 3.0S.
Rot is the Capri’s biggest enemy, and the better-protected IIIs are now by far the most plentiful models in the UK. Prices are rising strongly for all, but especially the best low mileage and restored special editions, the Brooklands 280 being the ultimate apart from real rarities.
The lack of support from Ford for its older models means that spares can be hard to find. Capri Club International has joined the few specialists in putting many items back on the market, but shortages are still common and trawling the internet and forums is sometimes the only way to source the part you need. Bodywork restoration can be complex and expensive, so beware attractively priced projects.
Images: Tony Baker
Ford Capri MkIII: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Built in vast numbers, all Capri engines are well served parts-wise and reasonably durable. Wear shows up with rattles (especially from the Pinto camshaft), knocks, excessive oil breathing and blue smoke from the exhaust. Despite the V6s being all-iron, blown head gaskets and warped heads are occasionally found on these units.
Look for worn track control arm bushes, soggy dampers and seized/worn strut top mounts. Calipers seize if rarely used and discs can warp, causing brake judder.
Check all synchros, listen for bearing noise (drop clutch in neutral) and test for jumping out of gear on over-run. Vibration is likely to be a worn prop centre bearing.
Overheating from clogged radiators and water passages is common: ask for proof of coolant changes on V6s and look for leaks from water pump (scarce for V6s).
Diffs are sturdy but benefit from regular oil changes, especially limited-slips that need a special type. Inspect fuel pump and its mounting for rust: it’s common.
Seat bolsters are commonly threadbare, especially on Recaros, and trim may be extremely hard to find. Inspect it all, especially the dash top, for damage.
Try all the electrics, especially the heater, washers and lights. Fusebox connections can cause trouble, and sender issues are usually at the root of injection problems.
Ford Capri MkIII: on the road
All Capris are fun and easy to drive, with safe handling – apart from a tendency for V6s to be tail-happy in the wet, which is usually fun but occasionally scary!
The 1300 Kent engine is rare in a MkIII and gutless; avoid it unless you really want one. The Pinto came in two sizes and with two states of tune; the single-choke Ford Motorcraft VV carburettor fitted to L models is prone to cold-starting issues and often replaced with a Weber, standard fitment on the much livelier S unit. Pinto engines develop rattly cam followers if oil changes are neglected.
Check also for oil burning and leaks from the water pump. The Essex (3-litre) and Cologne (2.8) V6s are durable, except for their fibre timing gears, which fail if overheated or at high mileages. They get replaced with a noisier steel type.
Oil-pump drives can break: switch off immediately if the warning light doesn’t go out on a cold start. Blocks tend to silt up, so watch for signs of overheating; a compression test is advisable because it can be difficult to detect one weak cylinder.
Five-speed gearboxes were optional from 1983 and standard on Lasers and the 2.8 Injection Special from ’84. They do give significantly more relaxed cruising with improved economy and longer engine life. Autos are rare and the Ford C3 transmission is quite costly to rebuild, so check that changes and kickdown are smooth.
Regular servicing and oil changes for the engine, gearbox and differential keep them all working efficiently. Carefully inspect the service history for signs of past neglect that may hasten expensive problems in the future.
Ford Capri MkIII price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £10,500
- Average: £5500
- Restoration: £1500
- Show/rebuilt: £11,500
- Average: £6500
- Restoration: £2500
- Show/rebuilt: £16,000
- Average: £9000
- Restoration: £4000
- Show/rebuilt: £17,000
- Average: £12,000
- Restoration: £6000
Ford Capri MkIII history
1978 Mar Capri III introduced, as 1300, 1600, 1600S, 2000S and 3000S
1980 Mar 1600L GT4 special edition (1500 built)
1980 Jun 1600S discontinued
1981 Mar LS launched; 2.8i launched in Europe; UK on sale June (briefly alongside 3-litre)
1981 Jul Turbo 2.8 Germany-only (c155 built, to Sep ’82)
1981 Aug Calypso (on 1600LS) and Cameo (on 1300/1600) special editions (1500 of each built)
1982 Mar 1600/2000 Cabaret (4000 built)
1982 May Calypso II (1500 built); 1300 dropped
1982 Dec Cabaret II (2000 built)
1983 Five-speed gearbox optional across range
1984 Jun 1600LS/2000-based Laser special edition: five-speed, alloys (6500 built)
1984 Sep 2.8i becomes Injection Special: limited-slip diff, five-speed, half hide, seven-spoke alloys
1984 Nov Capri sales now UK-only
1986 280 Brooklands special run-out edition, 15in rims. Last Capri built 19 December
The owner’s view
“I’ve had loads,” enthuses owner Gary Francis. “MkIs, MkIIs (I fitted a V8 in one), MkIII and I bought this 280 in 2013. It had been restored, but the heater wasn’t connected and the brakes were shot. I sorted all of that, but bubbles are coming through along the edges of the top and the front of the bonnet; I’m getting the roof sorted this spring. The diff was making a strange noise until the club advised me to change the oil for the correct limited-slip type.
“Next winter, I’ll take the engine and ’box out to tidy them up, and replace the tatty-looking servo. Last year I knelt on the seat and it split – the hide was rotten. Hampshire Trimming in Southampton did an amazing job tracking down the correct leather in Italy and getting it punched in Germany, before reupholstering both front seats.”
Much costlier than the Capri when new but blessed with a twin-cam ‘four’ or an injected V6 in a sharp Giugiaro 2+2 suit. Great to drive but rare thanks to corrosion.
Sold 1974-’87 • No. built 279,821 • Mpg 20-30 • 0-60mph 10.5-8.7 secs • Top speed 112-130mph • Price new £8300-10,300 (1983) • Price now £3-15,000
Attractive Giugiaro-styled Golf sibling came with 1.5, 1.6 or 1.8GTI power options in Mk1 form to ’82; Mk2 best with injected motor. Mk1 rots like a Capri; both are now good value.
Sold 1974-’92 • No. built 844,900 • Mpg 25-37 • 0-60mph 11.1-8.4 secs • Top speed 100-130mph • Price new £5921-8004 (1983) • Price now £1-12,500
Ford Capri MkIII: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Take your time (but not too much, because prices are rising) and decide on the model that suits you best before scouring the adverts.
Take into account spec – five-speeds are far more relaxed on the motorway – and try to find a car that hasn’t been messed around with. Good original or restored bodywork is crucial unless you’re handy with a welding torch.
- Bodie and Doyle (The Professionals)
- Reliable and easily serviced
- Fun to drive, especially with higher-spec Essex and Cologne V6 engines
- Much admired and rising in value
- Rot is usually rampant
- Parts are often difficult to find
- Many have been neglected and/or modified
Ford Capri MkIII specifications
Sold/number built 1978-’86/324,045
Construction steel monocoque
Engine all-iron, ohv 1297cc ‘four’ and 2792/ 2994cc V6, ohc 1593/1993cc ‘four’, with single-choke Ford or twin-choke Weber carb (triple-Weber on X-pack) or Bosch K-Jetronic injection; 57bhp @ 5500rpm-175bhp @ 5000rpm; 67lb ft @ 3000rpm-194lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission four/five-speed manual or three-speed automatic, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear live axle, semi-elliptics, telescopics; anti-roll bar f/r
Steering rack and pinion, power-assisted on V6
Brakes discs front (9.3in, or V6 10.3in ventilated), drums rear (8in, or V6 9in), with servo
Length 14ft 31/2in (4356mm)
Width 5ft 9in (1753mm)
Height 4ft 41/2in (1334mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 41/2in (2553mm)
Weight 2191-2570lb (996-1168kg)
0-60mph 17.4-7.4 secs
Top speed 87-130mph
Price new £4949-8125 (1983)
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