Ford Capri 280: Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

80s cars Ford General Bunk
Nostalgia: Peter Counsell winds the clock back to spend some quality time with a Ford Capri 280 whilst retracing some of his old steps.

The past few weeks have had a running theme – that of looking back. I had reason to take my daughter to Bristol, where I - in the loosest sense of the word - had studied at university, as well as attending a 30-year reunion at my old school. Both of these events were on consecutive days. Saving the reader from too much arithmetic, that takes us back to 1985. Wouldn't it be perfect to attend said events in a period vehicle? A kind of PB does Back to the Future.

Of course it would. But not only a vehicle that is appropriate to the period, but one that is appropriate to me and my vehicular history. Allow me to explain.

As you may know from a previous post, my father owned a succession of Fords. Starting with a Cortina GXL, which was followed by a pair of Mk1 Granadas (a GXL and a Ghia), then four Capris (Mk2 1.6-litre GL, two Mk3 2.0-litre GLs and a 2.0-litre Laser). It will not surprise you to learn that I spent much of my childhood and teenage years buried in magazines. No, not those magazines, car magazines. Surely the natural progression would have been for Dad to own a Ford Capri 2.8i?

Regrettably, thanks to a gammy leg, he only drove automatics. Is 'gammy' a politically correct word, I can't keep up with what's acceptable and what is not. Anyway, as you know,  the Capri 2.8i was available only in manual form. In latter years, there was an aftermarket auto conversion available, but restrictions on funds, together with failing health precluded that. In any case, his view was that a 2.0-litre engine was, in all practical terms, as fast as one needed. In addition, he felt that the auto made it quicker to drive in real terms than a manual. He had a point.

Fast forward to spring 2015 and my attendance at AutoTweetUp with Great Escape Cars. A veritable smorgasbord of automotive delights is available to us and has been documented elsewhere. But one car missing in action was the firm's Ford Capri 280. However, thanks to team's kindness, that very same vehicle was made available for my tour of Bristol – the city where, back in 1985, my Dad dropped me off in the Capri Laser and where I ran a Mk1 1600 GT as my student car.

Delivery of the 280 'Brooklands' – one of the very last off the line – took place in Bath. We heard the car well before we saw it, which bode well. And when we saw it, man, it did not disappoint. Naturally, I think the Capri is an elegant shape and - aside from the motorsport and modified versions - the 280 is the ultimate edition. And the Brooklands green metallic paint is just so right.

Ford Capri 280 front wing decal

But, crikey, it is smaller than I remember. Now, some of this is the 'Wagon Wheel effect.' When you had a Wagon Wheel as a kid, your hands were a lot smaller. The Wagon Wheel, or indeed the Capri, hasn’t changed, but you have grown.

The other part of it is the general swell in car size. You could fit a Capri in the boot of a Qashqai, although that would be a waste. Far better to drive it.

First impressions are damn good. Yes, I know this is a 30-year-old car, and parts of it go back a lot lot further, but there are some things which are just fine, irrespective of the age. The dashboard and all the major and minor controls are laid out by somebody who knew what they were doing. Things fall to hand easily and work fluidly. Yes, I know I’m biased but this is an interior that unconsciously makes sense. The aftermarket Kenwood stereo doesn't play ball, but who cares when there's a V6 exhaust note to listen to?

And it is just as well the interior is as delightful as I remember, because we end up spending an awful lot of time in there. Bath is a beautiful city but is not kind to the motor car. It is even less kind to a 30-year-old Ford with some real grunt and a slightly sharp clutch. Climbing out of the city heading for Cheltenham, we could do 5mph. Sadly the Capri was happier at either 20mph or zero. I understand that and have considerable sympathy for it. We make staccato progress and whilst we do, I notice a few surprising things.

30 years ago there was no air conditioning below a Mercedes. The Capri has the tilt-or-slide sunroof, brilliant ventilation and - whisper it - hand-wound windows. But here we are, in an hour of crawling traffic and with a combination of all three, and we’re actually pretty comfortable. There is plenty of space in the footwells, the seats are leather Recaros and all is, frankly, OK. I keep a wary eye on the temperature gauge but the car behaves impeccably. That is testament to the original design and the maintenance carried out by Great Escapes.

Eventually the A46 opens up and we are on the move. The exhaust is delightfully crackly on acceleration and idle, before settling into a deep hum in fifth gear. The windscreen is somewhat closer to my face than I recall. We make good progress. Well it feels like we make quick progress, but then I realise we are just moving along with the rest of the 2015 traffic on a nice A-road.

The Capri, with 160bhp, is keeping up with a Volkswagen Up. These are different times.

That was a little disappointing. Maybe the Capri isn't as fast as I hoped it would be, but then I regained some perspective. This car goes well. It rides well. It stops well (as we found when some pillock in an Astra came out of a sideroad). And, bless my cotton socks, the clock works and is still telling the right time.

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

After a very pleasant overnight stop in Cheltenham, we hopped back down to Bristol. The trip was mostly M5 for ease of direction. And, again, it was all OK. It rides true.

Best of all, it attracts attention. We toured the Clifton area of Bristol and received a good number of cheery waves and nods, mostly from men of a certain age. I think I know why. The Capri is a car that we either owned or it was within our range. Real top-end classics come with in-built snob value and can attract either admiration or envy in equal measure. The Capri is just too ordinary for that. Granted, the 280 is the best of breed and is therefore sought-after, but it was part of the furniture 30 years ago. The majority of people greet the Capri with warmth and affection.

Sadly, we had to give it back on the Friday and return to our own vehicle.

On the Saturday, I met up with a bunch of guys whom I had not seen for 30 years. It was the best of evenings. As one of my friends put it, delightfully, “It was not like 30 years had passed, rather that we had just been away for a long summer break."

That evening, and my time with the Ford Capri 280 'Brooklands', made me realise that 30 years is - in some respects - a heck of a long time. But actually, in real terms, it is not that long at all and what we had in ’85 still works pretty well in 2015.

My unbridled thanks to Great Escape Cars (in particular Graham, Andrew, David and Dave) for making this possible. They made a happy man very old.  They are available on Twitter @ClassicCarsHire. Thanks to Dave Edmund-Jones (@DEJPhotos) for the images.