In the 1980s shoulder pads were in. It’s not quite clear where they came from or indeed why, but suddenly overnight everyone looked like they’d forgot to take the hanger out of their jacket.
In much the same way cars suddenly sprouted bulging wings, bonnet scoops and spoilers. As if overnight it seemed you were nobody if your car didn’t bulge or swoop at least somewhere. Compared to the hairshirted 70s, where anything that wasn’t acrually beige, brown or one of their close relatives was considered Dashing, the 80s was a technicolor, anything-goes era of I Want It So I’ll Have It.
Two cars typify that typify this era well are the Audi Quattro and Ford Capri. The all-wheel-drive German screams 80s so loudly that they gave one to Gene Hunt: usually red, blistered of arch, tartan of interior and big of spoiler, the Audi was Duran Duran on wheels.
Conversely, the Capri, so dapper and risque in the 70s, was like the Quattro’s thirty-something dad. To get with it and down with the kids in the 80s Ford bolted on a spoiler, bigger wheels and fancy seats, so you knew it was still a Capri and a car of a certain age, but also not as old or as past it as you might expect.
Where the Audi ushered in 80s-esque technical innovation like 4WD and 5 cylinders, the Capri simply shrugged in response and performed a spectacular tail slide around a roundabout.
The Capri was analogue in a digital world, real drums in a drum machine universe. And it all happened very quickly.
Today we’re experiencing another technological revolution, perhaps of greater speed and magnitude than that of the 80s. So we can probably empathise with the baffled Capri owner who has just been blown away by a new fangled Quattro. The fight between Capri and Quattro on the road married the offroad battle between Escort and Quattro rally cars, an unequal war between the old dog and the new usurper.
The Capri is arguably the last of the old-tech sports car while the Quattro is the first of the new. In the mid 80s the Capri’s rear wheel drive was considered retro and low tech, as was its lengthy bonnet and unsophisticated suspension. Even Ford seemed to have tired of it, launching the XR4i Sierra essentially as its replacement: a slippery, modern design with a massive pair of rear spoilers. And yet the Capri soldiered on, despite the onslaught from Audi and within the Ford ranks. Capri buyers wanted a simple, no-nonsense sports car bereft of technological nannying. So it was 1986, several years after it should have been pensioned off, when the Capri finally bowed out. For 1980s fast car fans the Audi was a revelation, and yet it flattered to deceive: you went round corners fast in a Quattro because you owned one, not necessarily because you knew how to drive one. The Quattro raised the bar at which real skill became a factor, which is no bad thing but that game wasn’t the Capri’s bag. Even a last of the line Ford like our 280 Brooklands, fitted with a limited slip differential, is about as high tech as a banana. This tends to make a Capri far less relaxing to drive, but one that is fun at relatively sedate speeds, in a way that the Quattro isn’t. You can power slide a Capri at any speed above walking pace. This is a car that has to be controlled, mainly because there is not much in the way of technology otherwise doing the job for you.
The Quattro effectively killed off old school blue collar coupes like the Capri. The 90s saw a small resurgence with cars from Alfa, Fiat and Vauxhall but the days of simple, relatively low powered two door cars were over. The arrival of the Toyota GT86, effectively a Capri in all but name, finally gave enthusiastic drivers on a budget exactly what they wanted. Today few would put the Capri and Quattro in the same category, but on a basic level they aimed to do exactly the same thing: move four people from A to B quickly and enjoyably. The Quattro is every inch the barn-storming B-road banzai that you expect – fast and surefooted. It is a supercar for everyday roads. You have to drive it very fast to gain the same level of engagement and reward as the Capri, but its sheer speed and capabilities are deeply impressive. The Capri, in this comparison, is the definite underdog. On the road it is relatively slow compared to the Quattro and fidgety, like a hound constantly seeking out the nearest hedge. But it is much more practical than the Quattro, which has a tiny boot, and the interior is a nicer place to be compared to the Quattros tartan n Lego interior. If you love Quattros then the chance are you don’t much care for Capris, and vice versa. But if you just enjoy driving then a weekend split between these two is hard to beat: the contrasts are startling and illuminating. Cars have moved on a very long way since both were built, but our enthusiasm for travelling down a scenic B-road at speed remains undiminished. These two cars deliver on that in very different ways, but they’re both equally exciting. You can put the Capri and Audi back to back in our new 80s Coupe Challenge. To find out more click here or call 01527 893733.
www.greatescapecars.co.uk 01527 893733