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The monstrous Capri born from 40 Light years of work

Club racing isn't short of unusual and exciting cars. A heavily modified V8-powered Ford Capri certainly fits that description, and development on the 520bhp beast isn't finished yet

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Simon Light’s heavily modified Ford Capri V8 has been nearly 40 years in the making. The Middlesex native has taken it from Road Saloons in the 1980s, through constant development – via a lengthy sabbatical – to its current monstrous form. And he’s done it all, with help from fellow Capri enthusiast John Hutson, in a single garage at home in Greenford.

With no family racing background, the mechanical engineer was inspired to take to the tracks after watching Australian Touring Cars on television as a 21-year-old in 1985. Even the Capri’s #17 is a nod to Aussie legend Dick Johnson, who was entertaining the masses back then in a Ford Mustang GT.

“The Aussies were first to put onboard cameras in the cars, weren’t they?” recalls Light. “They were talking as well, and Dick Johnson’s such a character. I just thought, ‘Oh this is so cool, I’ve got to have a go at this’.”

Light bought his Capri in 1986, debuting at Snetterton the following year. The burgeoning Road Saloon scene was the ideal starting point. Cars had to be driven to and from the circuit, retain their interior, and were allowed only limited modifications.

Where now a 520bhp Ford Mustang Cobra V8 is shoehorned into the engine bay, originally sat a humble three-litre Essex V6 motor that generated 138bhp off the production line. Even in Road Saloon-spec, Light managed to find almost another 100bhp in his quest to keep up with the V8-powered Rover SD1s.

“The engines had to be visibly standard, but you could bore out the carburettor and do what you liked inside,” he explains. “I put the carburettor on the lathe at work and spent ages boring it out wafer thin, and putting bigger butterflies in.

Car’s first season of racing
was in 1987 (above), but it suffered a setback with Oulton Park crash two years later

Car’s first season of racing was in 1987 (above), but it suffered a setback with Oulton Park crash two years later

Photo by: Colin Peckham

“The cars were quite powerful but had standard brakes, which were solid discs and drums [front/rear]. But it made for a lot of fun. Still today, that was the most fun I ever had. Sometimes you nearly fell off laughing, the antics of everybody.”

Among the scrapes, Oulton Park was a nemesis in Light’s early years. A big off at pre-chicane Knickerbrook on his first-ever lap of the circuit in 1988 preceded a heavy smash exiting Old Hall a year later. A wayward Rover ran wide before spearing back across the circuit and smearing Light’s Capri along the inner wall.

“‘Oh God, not again’,” Light remembers thinking. “‘That’s it, never doing it again.’ But we had it re-shelled and back out again in three weeks’ time.”

With children Bryony and George on the horizon, Light parked up the Capri in 1997 and didn’t race it again until 2018 – save for an unsuccessful one-off in 2010

Ironically, that shell – which the Capri retains – took Light to his first victory at the same circuit in 1990. A touch of gamesmanship assisted another at Knockhill.

“The championship battle was very close between me and Dave Thomas in Capris and a pair of Vitesses,” says Light. “On the quiet, Dave and I got the circuit instructor to ride in our cars during testing and teach us the lines to shorten the learning curve. It did the trick as we put our Capris on the front row. The Rover boys were not very happy when they found out!”

A year later, Light claimed the Road Saloons title after a season-long battle with Tony Harding’s Rover Vitesse went to the wire at Mallory Park. He recalls: “I had to either win or come second with fastest lap, which I did by just 0.11 seconds.”

Championship won, it was time to progress to Super Road Saloons, which allowed more development. “The turbo [Mitsubishi] Lancers ruled there, and a couple of Saab 9000s,” he remembers.

Light enjoyed a successful spell in Super Road Saloons

Light enjoyed a successful spell in Super Road Saloons

Photo by: Colin Peckham

“You were allowed different wheels, bigger brakes, but they had to be off a road car, and could take the interior out. And I could run the RS rear spoiler, so that made a difference as well. Engine-wise, carburetion was free then so I put on the big IDA Group 1 carb. I think I had an all-steel bottom end, so I was revving it to 8000, for an old V6 Essex! It went well – it was about 300bhp.”

Despite more than doubling the engine’s original power output, reliability wasn’t an issue: “We’d learned a lot by then, doing all our own stuff.”

After three years, many wins and two Class A titles, the next step was Modified Production Saloons. “I think I had the RS Turbo tail on then, a bi-plane one I couldn’t use in the Supers,” Light recalls, “and I think the Falkens [tyres] were worth a bit of time over the Toyos. But it was harder. In the Road Saloons and Supers, the limit was four litres; in the Mod Prods there was no upper limit.

“Gerry Cain, who was bloody good in a 4.5 Rover Vitesse, I don’t think I beat him once. At Croft I had a really good scrap with him, but I was giving away too much power really. And Peter Barnes in a five-litre Holden Commodore, and the turbo cars… I had some good results but I didn’t win one outright.”

With children Bryony and George on the horizon, Light parked up the Capri in 1997 and didn’t race it again until 2018 – save for an unsuccessful one-off in 2010. He tried satisfying the urge by building a 24-valve Cosworth-engined Capri for trackdays but “it just didn’t really give me a buzz so I sold the car and used the money to get the race car ready again once the kids were older”.

The old V6 unit cried enough on its brief return in Classic Thunder at Cadwell Park: “And then I thought there’s no point pouring loads of money in the Essex again because it was on the limit, power-wise.”

A relatively cheap supply of five-litre Mustang Cobra V8s became available after MG – which imported them for its XPower sportscars – folded. Light snapped up one of the Shawn Ireland-modified 385bhp versions used in the SV-R.

Light's Capri certainly packs a punch courtesy of its V8 engine

Light's Capri certainly packs a punch courtesy of its V8 engine

Photo by: Mick Walker

“It had a lot of stuff done to it,” he says. “The heads were ported, forged pistons and rods, different cams, bored inlet…”

He installed throttle bodies and fabricated new exhaust manifolds before his comeback, contesting races in Classic & Historic Thunder and Modified Fords.

“I did 11 years of chasing championships,” says Light. “I enjoyed it, and loved the pressure it put you under to be quick and not make a mistake, but now I just want to have fun.”

The car’s roof is its only steel bodywork left. The front undertray, dam and splitter are a single piece of carbon fibre, while the Dodge Viper GT3 rear wing was another eBay find

Further developments included new cams, while the suspension is now BMW M3-derived – E46 CSL front legs and an E90 rear subframe – with self-fabricated arms. Light downplays the engineering involved and is similarly self-effacing about teaching himself composites during the pandemic.

“I bought a subframe off eBay, lay under the car, put it up, and thought, ‘Yeah, this’ll work!’” he quips, adding: “I was furloughed for four months so I stuck big blocks of foam on the side of the car, shaped them and made the moulds, and then did the resin-infused carbon fibre. I watched YouTube and was an expert in moulding!”

The car’s roof is its only steel bodywork left. The front undertray, dam and splitter are a single piece of carbon fibre, while the Dodge Viper GT3 rear wing was another eBay find. Light fabricated the generous diffuser from aluminium: “I may make a carbon one at some point but it probably won’t save a lot.”

Rear wing was devised for a Dodge Viper GT3

Rear wing was devised for a Dodge Viper GT3

Photo by: Mick Walker

When he broke the T45 Mustang gearbox – “awful; horrible ratios and really slow gearchange” – installed alongside the V8, Light replaced it with a Tractive six-speed sequential three years ago.

“I had to modify all the bellhousing and we made the adaptor-plate ourselves to mount it,” he adds. “It’s a pleasure to use now.”

Over the past winter, work included carbon fibre diveplanes and new cylinder heads that further raised power. And despite the huge V8 and big wheels running second-hand British Touring Car rubber sourced from WSR, the car tips the scales at around 1030kg – not dissimilar to its original Road Saloon weight.

The passion and enthusiasm of Light and Hutson remain undimmed, with endless developments in the pipeline.

“Power-wise with the engine, without sticking a supercharger on it or something, there’s not a lot more to come,” he admits. “The compression’s a bit lower than I’d like so maybe put some different pistons in at some point and get that up.”

Side skirts and a flat floor may be next. Bigger brakes, bigger wheels, a more modern dash… And with son George developing his own Mercedes 190, there could soon be two generations ripping up the tracks in their unique creations.

“John and me, we’re both proud of what we’ve achieved,” reflects Light Sr. “When we started, we were just messing about really and didn’t think I’d be any good. The two of us bat ideas off each other, some wild and stupid ideas, and some of them we might go with. But we’ve always enjoyed doing that.

“The racing gives you the buzz but the satisfaction comes equally from improving the car and thinking of things that hopefully work, and the results.”

The one-of-a-kind Capri can currently be found racing in Classic Thunder

The one-of-a-kind Capri can currently be found racing in Classic Thunder

Photo by: Mick Walker

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