The cars we loved.
It might be easy to mistaken the pony car phenomenon as just an American thing, but while the Capri had become divergent here in 1979, Europe’s version had evolved separate from the American Mustang clone. The new MK III had grown larger and more refined but also featured increased performance thanks to the 2.8L German built Cologne V6 engine. Despite all the enhancements, some thought Ford’s sports coupe had room for improvement. One of those people was test driver and journalist John Miles. John would eventually take that ideal to Tickford, a subsidy of Aston Martin for a proposal to Ford for a high performance variant of the regular Capri. Unfortunately the deal fell through due to Ford’s internal management shuffles at the time. That did not stop John and Tickford, as they went ahead with plans to develop a highly modified version of the Capri, that would be as much a Aston Martin under the skin as a Ford.
The Tickford Capri Turbo, or sometimes known as the Aston Martin Tickford Capri (whew) would be a considerable step up in performance from the stock 160 hp S or Injection models. The process of converting a Capri started with transporting new car bodies from Germany were stripped down at a Tickford facility in England. The process was cumbersome and inefficient, which no doubt contributed to doubling the cost of the original donor car. After literally being taken apart and re-assembled (by hand), the Capri would get among other things a uniquely front mounted turbocharger. The front mounting reduce heating of charged air. While Garrett turbos were popular in the 80’s, Tickford chose a smaller unit from IHI. The small IHI unit, larger intercooler and long exhaust manifold pipes contributed to quicker turbo response (and a bitchin engine note). The unconventional turbo mounting method required extensive reworking of the engine bay to fit the new configuration. The standard 5 speed manual transmission was also reworked to accommodate the increased power going to the rear wheels.
Other modifications included a brash aero kit that included large front and rear spoilers. The normally rounded lines and long hood of the Capri suddenly looked angular with the aero kit. Attractive 10 spoke RS wheels (sometimes painted white), effectively changed the car’s stance while making it appear modern. Most cars had 14in wheels that could be painted body color as an option. The traditional grille of the Capri was covered with a panel that framed a very Aston Martin-like Tickford logo. A large duct below the front bumper channeled air to the engine. The external modifications were the source of some controversy, but reduced the car’s drag co-efficient to 0.36 from .037. Three colors were available, Cardinal Red, black and the most popular Diamond White, although in black the Capri Turbo with ground effects looks most menacing.
The extensive modifications continued with the interior. Leather surfaces were added, although the seats remained cloth (Connolly leather seats were an option). Wood grain surfaces and other luxury touches like power switchgear was added to a dash that featured a full complement of gauges. While these additions upgraded the Capri’s appearance, the real improvements came in its handling and straight line performance. Rear disc brakes were standard on the Tickford and suspension modifications like Bilstein dampers up front and new brushings and small locating arms in back were added to the otherwise unchanged live axel leaf spring setup. More importantly, an outsourced rear limited slip differential was installed until a RS unit became standard on the regular Capri.
While some critics may have balked at paying the equilovant of $8,000 USD for what looked like a boy racer Capri, its road manners were more in line with entry level Porsches and Ferrari’s of its day. Turbo lag was still prevalent, but Tickford used as a means to promote economical daily driving and even provided a brochure educating drivers on the benefits of using the car under normally domestic situations. Although the large rear hatch might imply practicality, this car was not bought as a grocery getter. When the need came to get somewhere quickly, a simple downshift and some pressure on the gas pedal would produce V8-like thrust. With 260 ft lb of torque above 3500 rpm, the Tickford Capri had as much grunt as a typical V8. With 205 hp, the Capri was easily able to reach 60 mph in as little as 6.7 seconds (vs. 8.0 for a typical Capri S). For the early eighties, this was supercar territory. Top speed was about 140 mph, just 3 mph below a Porsche 924 Turbo.
For all its wondrous performance, the Tickford modifications did not make the Capri any more dependable. In fact the technical complexities created a tightrope that balanced fussiness with a labor of love for Capri enthusiasts. While Tickford had hoped to build about 250 cars, it was only able to squeak out 100. Today a Tickford Capri is a rare sight and almost non-existent in North America. The Mk III Capri, while built in Germany was sold mostly in the United Kingdom. Tickford built on its experience with Ford products to forge an official partnership to make performance versions of Ford sedans in Australia resulting in the XR Falcon.