Posh blokes don’t even look at Capris, let alone restore them. ‘Actually they do,’ says Giles Ford-Crush, ‘and they don’t mind getting their fingers dirty either.’ Danny Hopkins lifts the lid on a rough diamond that became an old smoothy.

South west London is not traditionally the most fertile hunting ground for Ford Capris. In Twickenham your more likely to find a Jaguar on the driveway. Ford’s proletarian projectile ‘isn’t quite the thing darling.’ Imagine our surprise then, when we met Giles Ford-Crush. He lives round the corner from the home of rugby union (posh blokes football), he’s double barrelled, he’s a proper gent and he’s just restored a proper lairy 3.0 litre GT XLR. Strewth, and gor blimey geeza – what’s your game then?

‘I just love Capris. My auntie had a 1985 2.8i and so I’ve always had a soft spot for them. I suppose I’m obsessed with them and I have been since a fairly young age.’ So the seeds of this gentleman’s downfall were sewn from within the family. As with most obsessions, the fixes required to satisfy Giles’ Capri yearnings were getting bigger. It could only end one way. ‘I started with a MkII, which became my daily blat. Then I had a succession of Capris which I bought and sold. Then there was a lovely 2.8i which I’ve still got. Finally I set my heart on the Holy Grail – a MkI 3.0.’ Giles was therefore in a very vulnerable position; he was an addict looking for a score, a desperado seeking the ultimate high. A virtually Dickensian fall from grace had left Mr Ford-Crush scrabbling about for the ultimate guttersnipes roadburner. He wasn’t even looking for a good one. ‘Well I wanted something to keep me busy.’ The search began and soon Giles struck gold. ‘I needed a friend to hold my hand (and to hold onto my wallet) when the first car came up. I found it on the Loot website. The vendor described it as described as “not too bad” and I believed him. It was a MkI 3.0ltr GT XLR and it was silver. My friend’s sole purpose for coming on the trip to see it was to stop me buying – that was his mission.’

The lock up was dark and very damp. The vendor was shifting from foot to foot. Giles’ friend and financial guardian was relieved. Even Giles wouldn’t buy this - surely? ‘The garage stank and the sunroof was obviously leaking because the smell was worse inside the car. I thought carefully “This car stinks, I’m not going to buy it, no way.” Then I bought it.’ £800 floated out of the Ford-Crush wallet and he became the proud owner of a real mess. Giles tried to explain it to his friend, who was standing looking at him with his mouth open. ‘You see, it’s no ordinary mouldy heap of old rust. It’s a very, very early car. It’s H reg with a build date of Sept 1969. It’s a pre face lift Capri with the correct trim on the back of the bonnet bulge,’ Giles’ friend was unmoved. ‘For god’s sake! It’s got a build date which pre dates the launch date! Can’t you see?’ Giles was excited. A little too excited as he counted out the cash. ‘My friend was completely bloody useless – he didn’t even try to calm me down. I could have paid less if I’d played it cool.’ Cool or not, Giles was now the owner of what he later discovered to be the earliest Ford Capri GT in Britain by an amazing six months.

The car came with loads of trim and a spare shell as well. ‘I wasn’t aware of the historic significance of the car as I drove it home that night. I was aware of the smell, and so was my friend, who spent most of his journey with his head out of the window.’ The Capri wasn’t exactly swift, ‘I could tell the engine was tired,’ Giles was overtaken by a Land Rover on his way home, where his wife hit the roof. She hit the roof even harder when the spare shell turned up two weeks later. Whether you’re a posh bloke or an everyday Jo, the logistics of a restoration remain the same. ‘Always get permission before you start.

‘I had a great garage, which was big enough for both cars, so I started straight away. I stripped the spare shell and then I kicked off with the GT. It had rot in all the usual Capri spots - under the A post, between the floor and sills, and all round the arches. Oh yeah, and where the inner wing meets the outer and also the front and rear valances, and where the wings meet the bulkhead and in the front cross member.’ So most of the car then? ‘Er………yes. I suppose so.’ I look around Giles’ garage and my respect for him grows, it’s no posh bloke’s palace. The floor is as hard and cold as my own lock-up and there’s no heat. There is a French Window though. ‘I can see right into the garage from the kitchen of my house. When things had gone badly and I’d left the Capri for a few days, the sight of it in pieces soon drew me back into the mire.’

So when did it become a full on concourse resto? ‘Well, the bodywork restoration itself wasn’t really meant to happen at all but, after the list of grot I just mentioned, there was no other option. Then the same thing happened with the engine. I was only going to clean it up and paint it, but I got curious.’

Curiosity killed the cat and it severely injured Giles’ wallet. I soon find out that posh doesn’t necessarily mean rich. ‘When I lifted the heads and saw that the bores were black as hell, the valves were burnt and seat recessed I almost ran away from home. I bought new bits as the funds permitted. The heads were converted to unleaded for about £140 each and the rest I did myself. I managed to work out what was what from the manual, but the parts alone cost a fortune. The engine rebuild came to £1,300 all told.’ Essex eh? It shouldn’t happen to a man from Surrey. The very earliest Capris used the V6 out of the Zodiac. There are some detail changes on this engine compared to later Capri V6s. The oil pumps are mounted differently for instance; Giles discovered this during long cold winter evenings, as he tried to marry up engine components that wouldn’t quite fit - not pleasant. ‘I’d order bits and they wouldn’t go together. I couldn’t find out why because some of the parts books don’t list Capri components for the very early cars. This was the most infuriating part of the rebuild.’

The body was also receiving the Ford-Crush treatment. ‘When I got bored with oil and grease I picked up the Mig.’ But here again, life was far from cheap. £259 for a front valance and an outrageous £55 for the fake bonnet air vent are two examples of prices, which make the full on concourse restoration of a Capri a bankbusting proposition. ‘I wanted to do it right. This is a historic car and it deserves the expenditure.’

The biggest layout was for the respray, which Giles farmed out to a local firm, ‘Bennet Bros on 0208 5606528, and no, I’m not on commission, they’re just bloody good.’ They bloody well should be for £2400, and that’s just for the spray job, with Giles doing all the preparatory work. ‘I asked them to do a first class job, so the bill was a big one. I spent hours with a DA sander and a gas mask beforehand, but I don’t want to talk about it.’ That bad eh? ‘Worse.’ But Giles felt much better when the shell came back. ‘It was gleaming like a silver service,’ but there was a problem. ‘I realised I had to fit the whole car up without scratching the paint. Months of graft were still required and the graft would have to be undertaken on tip toes.’

Then the injuries began. ‘I fitted the rebuilt engine and box, which I managed to drop on my head as I crawled underneath the car. Pool of blood, casualty, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind but the engine had to go in and out another four times to get the clutch aligned.’ As Giles explains his other injuries he begins to sound like an old army general listing his war wounds, ‘then there was the time at the start of the restoration when I realised I was using gas goggles for Mig welding. I thought I’d gone blind, but the arc eye went after a day or two. The upshot of all these mishaps is that, these days, I get tooled up with protective gear even when I’m doing the hoovering.’ And yes girls, Giles does his own hoovering.

He also does his own wiring, ‘I had a box of looms and a bunch of diagrams. It took ages, but by the end everything worked apart from the rev counter.’ He also does his own glazing, ‘string and washing up liquid were my secret weapons.’ And headlining? ‘Yes, and it’s a real fiddle.’

Then the restoration hit a spot of trouble. ‘I had repainted the back axle and it seemed fine, but when I filled it with EP90 I found a pin hole in the housing. It had been patched and filled over. I took it to a specialist who told me I had the back axle from a 1600.’ So, fast away from the lights, but not ideal for motorway cruising. New rear axle required. ‘And a proper original spec one would be difficult to find.’ For years now the world and his dog have been pinching Capri 3 litre rear axles for their Escorts. Now Giles needed one for the real thing. ‘Eventually I found one in Guildford on a car that had been off the road for years. The owner wanted shot of it so I bought the whole car for £325. I got it running and then drove it back to London in the middle of the night with a friend’s trade plates for company. Highly illegal, but I couldn’t afford the trailor. I apologise profusely to anyone I woke up near the A3. The Capri’s exhaust basically disintegrated as I drove. I was doing an impression of a drag racer by the time I got back to Twickenham.’ The axle was installed later that week and finally it was time to visit the little man with the big clipboard. ‘I still didn’t have the bonnet though. I’d told Bennet Bros to fit the paint job in when they could, and they still had the bonnet to finish. I phoned the MoT man and he said he’d still pass the car without a bonnet as long as I bought it back with a bonnet a few days later – nice bloke.’ So off Giles went with the Capri’s naked mechanicals on display. ‘He passed the car first time and I finished the thing with a bonnet ceremony later that week.’

Now Giles is putting together the history of the car and getting it ready for concourse. ‘I still drive it as often as I can though, I’m not that anal.’ So Britain’s earliest Capri GT, is being properly cuddled for probably the first time in its life. Sitting happily on a leafy Twickenham driveway, the car is a long way from the grime of a Halewood production line, or the burnouts of an Essex Saturday night. But, Giles old chap, wouldn’t you prefer an Aston? ‘Not on your nelly my son!’

What Practical Classics thought about driving the MK1
Light and easy to drive, cool as ice, and cheap as a barrel of East End onions, the Ford Capri was every down to earth young man’s dream when it was launched in 1969. Sitting in it today I can see why. It still looks hard as nails, and in 3 litre guise, it just about has the go to match the show. Floor it and you actually do get properly shoved in the back. Take a corner too fast and the back end twists and screeches ‘like they do on the telly’. Pull up at the lights, and you can feel your chest hair growing. Somebody will hand you a medallion soon – it’s the Ford Law. But all this is not as lairy and scary as you would imagine. The Capri sits on the road like a sensible saloon, the Cortina for instance. The driving position is very comfortable almost saloon like in it’s ergonomic efficiency, a bit like a Cortina. There’s a boot and some backseat legroom, not as big as a Cortina, but you get the gist. This is budget, brand inspired brilliance, with just the right amount of bang for your bucks. It’s also a short wheelbase Cortina with a big engine – I love it.

Danny Hopkins
Copyright Practical Classics November 2002