When it comes to classic car ownership some people own many different makes and models over the course of their lives, continually changing things up and moving on, while others stick to just one special car, loving and cherishing it forever. I used to belong very much to the first group, having owned several classics in the past, from VWs to the Nissan Skyline, through to BMW M cars and even dabbling with American metal for a time when I found myself in the possession of a 1989 Ford F150 pickup truck. The point is I was always hankering after the next car on some imaginary list in my head, selling one to pay for the other, either getting bored with my current ride or simply wanting something faster, older or “cooler”. Then, I bought a knackered eighties hero on the strength of twelve photos and three hundred and twenty six words and all of that changed overnight.
Intended as a stop-gap between my BMW E39 M5 and whatever my next car was going to be, I bought a Ford Capri as a rolling project in 2008 as something to tinker with, have a bit of fun in and then move on down the road so someone else can enjoy it. I encountered my first Capri as a six year old and I still remember it vividly to this day, with it’s full-on 80s, over-the-top body kit it made quite the impression on my fledgling, petrolhead brain and to me, at the time, it was the coolest car in the world. I’m certain that this idealised image is what prompted me, twenty-two years later, to bid on a rusty 2.8i, blind, with perhaps more than a couple of beers in me. A few days later and it was mine, having won the auction with a paltry £800 bid. (Imagine being able to pick up a running Capri nowadays for that money!). All of my rationality had apparently gotten up and followed Elvis as he left the building and I subsequently went to collect it in the dark. Foolish. (For the record, I in no way condone such reckless behaviour when sourcing your own classic car.) That being said I promptly fell head-over-heels and what followed was a torrid, eleven year love–hate relationship with what turned out to be my favourite and most evocative of all the cars that I’ve ever owned.
We’ve been through a lot together and my mechanical skills have improved exponentially by sheer virtue of the fact that I’ve had to do so much work to the car to not only keep it on the road but because I also wanted to improve it along the way. The car evolved as I did and it developed its own unique style and character as the years wore on, culminating in a mechanically well-sorted, Mad Max-esque, ratty looking thing that evoked something extremely positive in me. From swapping out gear boxes and rear axles to upgrading the suspension and interior, (not to mention the welding, so much welding), I spent a lot of time, effort and money transforming it into a fun and usable car that turned heads wherever it went. With every fettling session it got just that little bit better.
Working on the Capri helped to cultivate an unshakeable bond between man and machine but it was the experiences I enjoyed along the way that built upon and strengthened that connection. Some of the best times of my life have come from road trips, and I think that the car itself plays a huge role in determining the overall level of enjoyment and involvement. I imagine a cross-country trip along Route 66 would be a way different experience in a classic Dodge Challenger than it would be in a Toyota Prius, for example, or a trans-alpine jaunt in an E30 M3 compared to a transit van. Both would be epic adventures but incredibly different depending on the car you choose and how that particular car makes you feel and one of my fondest memories in the Capri comes from a trip down to France to the Le Mans Classic. For those who don’t know, the Classic is a huge, biannual vintage car event and multi-class race that is held on the actual Circuit de la Sarthe, the same track as the legendary Le Mans 24 hour and is a must for any classic car fan. The idea of taking your own classic car to any event is always appealing and I was lucky enough to blag a parking pass that allowed me to rock up next to all of the club stands inside the track itself. Driving my humble little, primer grey Capri on the actual Bugatti circuit, past historic LMP1 Le Mans winning race cars and all manner of priceless classics, was both ridiculous and inspiring in equal measure and it is a memory I shall forever cherish. The plucky little Ford caused quite a stir, despite it’s somewhat ratty appearance, being as it was a rare sight in that neck of the woods. I’ll never forget the chap who ignored all of the TVRs surrounding it to get a photo of my Capri for his collection.
Sadly though, circumstances change and I don’t own the car any more. I didn’t sell it on, however, or scrap it, or drive it into the ground, any one of which would have been easier to come to terms with. Instead, it was taken from me by an act of wanton vandalism and it was a hard pill to swallow, it still is. I honestly thought I would drive that car until I could no longer drive a car. I had further plans for it, big plans; a Cosworth engine transplant, a road trip through Scandinavia, a limited slip differential, a full re-spray, all of which will now never come to fruition and the loss weighed heavily on me. I have since bought another project and I’m in the midst of doing it all over again because I have a love and passion for all things classic cars, but I’ll never forget the Capri. It happens sometimes, like an ex from your past that you never quite got over and despite moving ahead with your life and meeting someone else there will always be a special place in your heart for that particular person.
I realise I’ve been speaking about the car as if it were a living, breathing entity but I can’t help referencing actual human relationships because I simply find it so analogous. When it comes to our classics, moving on is sometimes the best option but other times we’re not ready to let go and we make plans for the future, but instead of a romantic trip to Paris or perhaps marriage, it’s a track day, or that engine swap that’s been promised for years. The Capri had transcended itself above and beyond mere metal, plastic and rubber – there was a definite emotional connection and I think that’s a huge part of what classic car ownership is all about. A lot of people won’t understand but these cars aren’t just a mode of transport, for many of us they become part of who we are.