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Ford's wild 1980s racer


Ford’s Zakspeed Capris of the late 1970s/early 1980s were among the wildest racing saloon cars of all time.

They were almost unbelievably low, long-bonneted, and as potent and fast as they looked.
Ford commissioned the Zakspeed Capri in 1977, to take on – and beat – Porsche and BMW in the newly created Group 5 silhouette formula.

Group 5 cars retained the donor car’s silhouette above the wheelarches, and the engine had to be production-based and located along the same axis as the original car’s motor.

Everything else – mechanically and aerodynamically – was pretty much open slather, and Ford-Cologne’s competition department chief engineer, Thomas Ammerschlager, and Zakspeed boss, Erich Zakowski, let their imaginations run wild. Ammerschlager developed
the racer’s aerodynamics.

Zakspeed built a 70kg tubular rollcage inside the Capri’s upper body, and following contemporary Formula 1 practice, glued a sheet aluminium floor panel to the bodywork to complete a rigid and stable shell. The rest of the body panels were Kevlar.

Zakowski saved more weight by using 0.435mm silver-wire cable for the wiring harness, cutting weight by 50 percent.

The cars had flared front fenders, huge rear spoiler, and rode on 16-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels.

The Capri was entered in the German Racing Championship which was split into two divisions for under and over 2000cc cars, and where turbocharged engines were restricted to 1.4 litres.

Zakowski fitted the Capris with British 1.3 BDA engines, overbored to 1427cc and boosted with a KKK turbocharger. The first version developed 380bhp.

It raced for the first time in Division 2 form in a support race for the 1978 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, and despite only one day’s testing, Hans Heyer put it on pole with a lap four seconds faster than the second qualifier, Harald Ertl’s BMW 320. The Capri raced only five laps before its engine blew.

Heyer took three more poles and a win in 1978. Ertl joined Heyer for a two-pronged Capri programme in 1980, and other Zakspeed entries were raced by Dieter Quester, Klaus Niedzwiedz and guest drivers. Heyer and Ertl had a one-two finish in the first race at Zolder,
and between them took seven more Division 2 victories.

The series’ Division 1 was dominated by Klaus Ludwig’s Porsche 935 which took the overall championship easily. To counter Porsche, Ford built a Division 1 Capri with an uprated 1745cc BDA engine for the September round at Hockenheim. It finished third and convinced Ford to enter both divisions in 1980.

Heyer moved to Lancia and Ludwig joined Ford/Zakspeed to drive the 600bhp, 1.7-litre Division 1 Capri. Ludwig won the first two rounds but lost his points after officials ruled the Capri’s rear wing illegal because it was slightly wider than the wheelarches.

Ford and Zakspeed responded by adopting a Formula 1-style ground effects tunnel and side skirts and went on to win five races, giving Ludwig the Division 1 title and third in the overall championship.

In Division 2, Zakspeed Capris scored six class victories with Ertl and Niedzwiedz, and Ludwig raced a Divison 2 car in the series final, scoring a seventh win.

But Heyer’s Division 2 Lancia Beta Montecarlo took the overall championship with a solid points tally.

In 1981 Ludwig switched permanently to Division 2 where he scored 11 wins, and took the overall title.

The series’ two-class structure was abandoned from 1982. Ford raced a 1.7-lire Zakspeed Capri in several rounds, but with the rules now favouring prototypes, the Porsche 936 dominated.

The Capri was raced for one more season in 1983 – by Jorg Van Ommen – but it could no longer match the prototypes, and its best result was fourth. And so ended the racing career of one of the most spectacular racing saloon cars of all time.

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