Ford Capri 2.8i Buying Guide
Ford Capri 2.8i and 280 values have gone stratospheric. Here's how to bag a solid example of 1980s performance and usability
How much to pay
• Project £2000-5000 • Good £12,000-20,000 • Concours £25,000+ •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
The Ford Capri was always going to be a cult car, but for some reason it wasn’t until fairly recently that the market really latched onto this stylish rear-wheel drive hatch. Powered by an array of four- and six-cylinder engines, it’s the latter that everybody wants of course, whether it's the 3.0-litre Essex V6 or the injected 2.8-litre Cologne V6.
It's the Cologne V6 Capris that we're looking at here. They arrived in 1981, powering the fastest Capris through to the end of production in 1987. The original Capri 2.8i featured a four-speed manual gearbox and regular rear axle, but an extra ratio was fitted from the start of 1983. Then in 1984 the 2.8i Special debuted and brought with it a limited-slip diff as standard; this had previously been optional.
Really good Capris are hard to find, but there’s no shortage of average or ropey cars masquerading as superb. The chances are you’ll realise how antiquated the Capri was within minutes of taking to the wheel; its brakes and suspension now leave a lot to be desired. But when it comes to cult classics, few cars can compete with the Capri.
Your AutoClassics Ford Capri 2.8i inspection checklist
The Capri’s injected 2.8-litre Cologne V6 is unstressed and offers plenty of low-down torque. Many tired V6s have been swapped for modern Ford Zetec engines as some Cologne parts are so hard to find but we prefer the characterful V6.
The fibre timing gear can break up after 30,000 miles or so, but this can be swapped for more reliable steel parts. It’s also worth doing a compression test to check for blown head gaskets and warped cylinder heads. Look for 120psi per cylinder on a healthy engine. Corrosion in the water jacket is common, so check the condition of the coolant. Each year the system should be flushed through and the coolant replaced, but many owners don’t bother.
The injection system is normally reliable, but early problems on these cars generally stemmed from the engine’s wiring loom. Due to the positioning under the wheelarch, fuel pumps often corrode and the casing becomes porous.
The four-speed gearbox is more reliable and smoother than the five-speed. Second gear wears first in both boxes, so check if it’s significantly noisier than any of the other ratios. The bushes wear, leading to a sloppy gearchange, and the bearings also wear after 70,000 miles or so, leading to a noisy transmission. Significant bearing noise means there’s no more than 5000 miles before the gearbox gives up altogether. Tired Capris also tend to jump out of gear on the over-run – the only cure is to replace or rebuild the gearbox.
A vibration from the transmission is probably down to wear in the centre bearing of the propshaft. If the bearing isn’t replaced the gearbox rear bearing will be damaged along with the diff bearing.
The diff is resilient, but ask if its oil has been replaced regularly. Every couple of years is ideal and a special lubricant was specified for the limited-slip differential (LSD) in the 2.8i Special and 280 Brooklands; if normal EP90 oil has been used the LSD will soon pack up.
It’s easy to check if an LSD is fitted. Jack the car up at the back and turn one of the wheels. The wheel on the opposite side should turn the same way – if it turns the opposite way a normal rear axle has been fitted.
Suspension and brakes
All 2.8is have power steering and it’s usually reliable, but the rubber joint in the flexible coupling gets soaked in engine oil so it splits, leading to play in the steering. The bushes in the inner track control arm anchorage can break up, leading to a shudder through the steering as the car goes over bumps. Replacing just the bushes is tricky so many owners replace the whole track control arm (TCA) complete.
If the car has been lowered it’s worth buying adjustable TCAs to cope with the changes – but most owners stick with the standard ones and replace them regularly. If the car is sagging on one side it’s because one of the leaf springs has worn and the leaves may even be cracked. As long as there’s no major corrosion it’s not difficult to repair.
The Capri’s bodywork is susceptible to corrosion and crash-damaged cars are common. The conventional construction makes repairs easier, but few replacement panels are available. In terms of accident damage, front end repairs are the most likely, so open the bonnet and inspect the chassis rails for damage.
Rust is likely in the front wings, so check for filler around the headlamps and along the trailing edge. The wings are welded on and originals are very scarce although repro items are available. The MacPherson strut tops don’t rot as badly as some other Fords, but check the inner wings, inside edges of the bonnet and the area around the grille. V6 cars have an additional triangular strengthening plate at the top of the strut mounting under the wing – if it’s missing the car may not be what it seems.
The A-posts rot, and the hefty weight of each door means they drop all too readily. Check the fit of each door where it meets the B-post but any dropping could be down to weakened A-posts or worn hinge pins. The doors themselves also corrode, especially underneath.
Bodged sills are a common failing, but floorpans don’t normally corrode too badly. The most likely area to have corroded is the rear spring hangers. Most of the outer panels are hardy but tailgates corrode along the inner bottom edge and the rear wings sometimes rot just behind the rear wheelarches. The rear arches themselves rot, as does the boot floor and the metal around the rear light clusters.
Because the 2.8i was fitted with bonded-in tinted glass in its tailgate it’s not as easy as you’d think to track down a used hatch – and unless you’re careful you could end up with tinted glass all round except in the rear window as the tailgate from other Mk3s will fit.
None of the different trim options is particularly durable, with the exception of the leather fitted to the 280 Brooklands and half-leather in the 2.8 Injection Special. The dash top is also a weak point, as poor support underneath the centre speaker vent leads to cracking of the top section. These are very hard to find in good condtion, and hugely expensive if you can find a good one.
The fusebox suffers from poor connections thanks to its location under the bonnet on the offside. If any electrical gremlins strike this should be your first port of call. Connection problems also affect the rear wash/wipe because the tailgate contacts corrode. Fine emery paper is normally all that’s needed.
Heater motors often seize if left unused for a period, so keep it active. If the motor seizes try starting the motor on high speed as the extra current has more chance of getting the fan in motion before the motor melts – replacement involves removal of the entire dash.
The fuel injection often suffers from misfiring because of faulty sensors and poor connections in the wiring loom. If you’re looking at an automatic car which won’t start at all it could be because the inhibitor switch fitted to the nearside of the gearbox has packed in.
- 1978: The Capri Mk3 debuts, with 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, or a 2994cc V6. Top of the range is the 3.0 X-pack.
- 1981: The Capri 2.8i takes over from the 3.0 V6 models.
- 1982: The Tickford Capri is shown at the NEC Motor Show, with a 205bhp turbocharged 2.8-litre engine. There are disc brakes all round, a limited-slip diff and revised rear axle location to help put the power down – but it wouldn’t go on sale for another year.
- 1983: A five-speed gearbox is made standard on the 2.8i.
- 1986: The last Capri is built, a Brooklands 280 with leather trim, metallic green paintwork and 15-inch spoked alloy wheels.
The 2.8i is arguably the best Capri of all. It’s the most developed, while the injected V6 engine provides muscle with reasonable economy. Indeed, the gearing of the standard car is so long that many owners fit a shorter back axle ratio in a bid to pep things up a bit, so it’s worth ascertaining before buying whether or not the original diff ratio is still fitted.
Most Capri buyers want originality as much as possible and if you’re buying with a view to investment you need to find a car that’s as close as possible to factory spec. But with many Cologne engine parts now very hard to find, don’t be averse to buying a Capri that’s had a modern engine transplant if you’re buying to use. While the Zetec engine does change the driving experience, it also ensures the Capri is fast, more refined and frugal with it.
Picture courtesy of Ford