Capris: Put on your medallion

In 1986, Capris were being driven by the oldest swingers in town. So, is there any danger of a revival?
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The Car You've Always Promised Yourself". That's how they marketed the Capri when it was launched in 1969. Actually, I was far too young to be prey to such sloganeering, although I seem to remember I did have a Matchbox model of a Capri, a pink one with a black bonnet, so perhaps the hidden persuaders got through to my infant sub-conscious somehow. Still, I had never consciously, knowingly promised myself a Capri. I had always thought them a bit vulgar.

By the time production ceased 20 years ago, they were irretrievably naff: the essence of Seventies uncool, driven by the oldest swinger in town with a chest wig and a gold medallion. They were one of Bodie and Doyle's staple motors in The Professionals. Even now, that memory, sometimes rekindled in the further reaches of digital television, can raise a shudder.

Recently though, I came across a rather special Capri. The Ford marketing team at the Goodwood Festival of Speed had brought along the last example ever to come off the production line, on 19 December 1986 (so I'm a little ahead of that momentous anniversary). It wasn't there for the hill climbs or various displays of classic cars. They'd driven it down as an alternative to a Focus or Mondeo.

The cars in the Ford historic collection are "there to be driven", as I was told. So, driven the Capri must be. It was sitting there, in almost pristine condition. Yet I felt trepidation as well as attraction. After all, if I took a new Ford GT or a Bugatti Veyron or a Rolls-Royce Phantom out and ran it into a wall, they could just make another. The last ever Ford Capri? Quite irreplaceable. Yet how could I turn down the opportunity to take this time-warp classic for a spin? A piece of history, indeed. I could almost believe that I'd always promised myself one.

It was a interesting experience, taking D194 UVW out on the Sussex roads. Forget any notions you might have that the motor industry hasn't really made much progress in the past couple of decades. It has.

The Capri, you see, was a relatively expensive motor even in its last year, when these special-edition models came off the line. So you might, like me, have expected it to be "loaded", and have at least rudimentary versions of the sort of equipment we now take for granted on a Kia Picanto or a Proton Savvy: air conditioning, central locking, electric windows, that sort of thing.

Not a bit of it. The only concession to modern convenience was power steering. I mean, you wouldn't expect a 20-year-old Capri to overwhelm you with its technological wizardry, but you'd still be surprised at how basic the package is. There wasn't any curvy bodywork or Bakelite round the cabin, but it's still a very retrograde experience.

Then again, you wonder whether we need all these buttons. Winding up a window isn't that much work; the heater pumped out plenty of cold air too, and, amazingly, the original Ford radio/cassette worked. Thoughtfully, Ford had fitted big huggy leather Recaro seats to its last Capris; very comfy.

It still went OK. The 2.8-litre V6 engine sounds nice, with a suitably toned rumble under that "power bulge" on the bonnet. Although that huge penile bonnet meant that I couldn't quite see where I was going, I did get the sense that the Capri would go were it was pointed most of the time. Then again, I wasn't going to attempt anything silly, in a "Bodie and Doyle rescue the girl from eastern bloc types" way.

The one area the Capri disappointed was in its brakes. Maybe they were unusual or something, but this particular example, where the Capri should have reached the peak of perfection, didn't inspire much in the way of confidence.

It's almost as if they'd muscled the Capri's engine up from its humble 1.3-litre Escort-based origins, but forgotten the most important rule of the boy-racing tuner - which is that you need to upgrade the brakes, too. This particular Capri may have been a bit unusual in that regard; I can't believe people bought them like that. Surely we weren't that easily pleased in 1986, were we?

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