James Ruppert reports on the return of the well-loved Capri
Think coupes, and you may think glamour: Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo - makers of stylish, expensive sports cars. But in the Sixties, Ford wanted to bring that sort of experience to the masses. So, in 1964, the company launched the Mustang in America and sold 3 million in a decade. The blue-collar coupe looked sensational, ran on proven Ford mechanicals and could be dressed up with thousands of factory-fitted options. In 1968 Ford Europe took the blueprint, designed a rakish body with a long bonnet and sloping rear screen and fitted humble Cortina saloon running-gear to make the Capri.

Now, the first and finest of the European working-class coupes is being reassessed. After a decade of being derided as an automotive lager lout, the Capri is seen to be honest, reliable and characterful, unlike Ford's current and soon-to-be-cancelled Probe coupe. Whereas the name Capri conjures up a bright, sophisticated, Continental image, to British ears Probe sounds like the punchline to a Benny Hill gag. In the States, though, where the Probe is built, the name has scientific and deep-space connotations - but that does not make it a better car, or hide the fact that underneath it is really just a lacklustre Mazda MX6. Ford has learnt its lesson, though, and a Mondeo-based coupe is due to be launched some time next year.

Back in 1968, "the car you always promised yourself" was Ford's slogan to promote the Capri. The large range of engines included the barely adequate 1.3, the competent 1.6 and 2.0 and the brutish and quick 3 litre. More important was the way the car looked, and a range of equipment packages set each car apart as an X, XL, XLR, or E. It is said that more than 900 derivatives were offered in the UK alone between 1968 and 1987. That was the central appeal of the car: it was aspirational - you traded up gradually to a more expensive and better equipped model. BMW copied that trick right up to the high-performance M-badged cars, reminiscent of Ford's road-legal racing RS Capris in the early Seventies.

Inevitably, Capris slipped downmarket as they got older and rustier, then fell into the hands of boy racers who loved their sporty looks and pocket-money price. Furry dice soon followed, and it became a car you loved to hate. However, the current Seventies retro fever, the desire for distinctive rather than bland cars and the fact that Bodie out of the cult TV show The Professionals screeched around corners in one, has all helped to make the Capri hip again.

The Capri in the Nineties is supported by ASJ Capri Specialists in Nottingham, Norfolk Capri Spares in Kings Lynn, Ex-Pressed Steel Panels at Keighley, and others. Mechanical parts and most bodywork panels are not a problem, but the interior trim is hard to find. Enthusiasts within the Capri Owner's Club may help, and are the best source of cars to buy.

So, the Capri may be trendy, practical and reliable, but which one should you buy? Not an original model, built before 1974, because it will be a pile of rust. Mark 2 Capris got more practical, thanks to an extra hatchback door, but are no less rusty. The restyled Mark 3 looks better, but buy an Eighties example which won't have rusted so much. As for engines, the 1.3 is pathetic, the 1.6 is fine for general use, and the 2.0 litre is a good compromise between economy and performance.

However, the version most in demand is the V6 2.8L, built from 1981. That is turning into a valuable classic that can fetch more than pounds 5,000. Fast for its time, it has aggressive looks and rugged simplicity - and it can be a handful, but is all the more enjoyable for that. It's a real bloke's sort of car. The working-class coupe is back.

Capri Owners Club 01527 502066; Capri Club of Chicago http://freenet.npiec.on.ca/- bev/ccc.htm

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