An iconic example of the golden era of Aussie car-mag covers, the February-March 1989 issue of Performance Street Car featured Rob Cain’s 10-second, Cleveland-powered Ford Capri front and centre – and it wasn’t just because it looked good. After all, running 10s in full street-car trim was a pretty major achievement back then, and Rob had done just that in 1986 when he cracked a 10.71@127mph pass at Calder Park.
First published in the February 2023 issue of Street Machine
When Rob bought the Capri, it was a rough example with a tired 302 and C10 already bolted in, but he sensed the potential. “I liked the look of Capris; there’s more front than back and the weight distribution seemed right,” he told Performance Street Car in that ’89 feature.
He soon replaced the 302 with the 330hp, Mick Webb-built 351 from his ZG Fairlane. It featured a mild Crane cam, 2V heads ported to 4V specs, and a Holley 780 atop a Weiand X-CELerator manifold, assisted by a Marvin Miller nitrous kit. Behind that was a beefed-up C10, and a nine-inch with 3.9:1 gears from Keysborough Diffs.
Radiused rear arches also got a run, and the exterior was topped off with Ford Tropicana Green paint and the giveaway twin stripes on the quarters and doors.
“It went through a bit of a process,” Rob explains of the car’s PSC cover shoot. “They saw it out at Calder and approached me there.
Originally, they were going to do a bit of a Mad Max shot with it on the crest of a hill sideways, but then they decided to go the whole hog and do it in a studio down in South Yarra.”
The driveline got an overhaul shortly after the feature, Rob swapping to forged pistons, a solid cam and a manualised Powerglide with a view to lopping a couple of seconds off his PB. “We had a run at Heathcote, but the nitrous packed it in,” he recounts. “I was running almost 11.0s without the gas, and the gas used to make over a second’s difference on it. It would’ve ran bottom 10s or into the nines, but I was pushing it and didn’t want to blow the thing to smithereens, because you’d never rebuild it again. So I sort of backed out of it.”
Rob’s affair with motocross racing predated his drag racing career, so shortly after the PSC feature, he moved the Capri on and dived straight back into two-wheelers. “I sold it to a neighbour of mine across the road. God knows why I did it, because I’ve been pining over the thing ever since,” he chuckles. “He just sat on it for four or five years, and next thing I knew, it was getting loaded up on a trailer, and away it went.”
A few owners later, Ballarat bloke Simon Williams snagged the Capri as a rolling shell. He hooked up a bigger-cube Clevor and turned the car into an out-and-out racer with a half-chassis, tubs and a four-link. Simon ran the car with Welds and a Bug Catcher scoop in the 2000s to a best of 9.03@153mph at Calder Park, eventually selling the car to focus on his XR-XT Falcons.
Fast-forward to 2018. Katherine, NT resident Mark Ryan had just suffered a devastating shed fire while reworking the four-link under his CHEEKY8 Capri. “A few sparks somehow got through the car and lit up the rear seat, and it just went crazy,” Mark laments. “I got the hose, but by the time I got back, it was already popping the glass and stuff.”
The body was wrecked, but the driveline proved salvageable, so Mark wasted no time hunting for another car. “The night after the shed fire, I Googled what Capris were around, and this one was available out at Toowoomba,” he says. “[The owner] didn’t know who he bought it off; all he told me was that he got it from Melbourne. He’d done a new rollcage and that was it. He was a collector and it had just sat in his shed.” Mark bought the car, and his long-time engine builder, the late Sam Fenech, freshened up the Dart 369ci Windsor from CHEEKY8 to drop into the Capri, liberating an impressive 615hp on pump fuel.
Mark took the Capri to a few local drag and roll racing events to iron out any driveline bugs, followed by an appearance at Gazzanats 2022 (SM, Dec ’22). “That was the first event where we didn’t have any problems,” he explains. “We got the carbies sorted, and then I realised I had to send the converter away, because it was slipping way too much with the new combo.” In spite of the heavy race-spec mods previously made to the Capri, Mark says he plans to register it for the street later this year. “I don’t mind the drags, but I don’t live for them either!” As fate would have it, Mark’s current PB with the car is also 10.7@127mph, though that will drop considerably now his converter woes are sorted.
For Rob Cain, the car’s longevity has been a bit of a surprise. “It’s amazing how they survive,” he enthuses. “If it was a normal street-driven car, it would’ve been wrecked and in a scrapyard years ago.
The last I heard of it was probably 2015 when I did a bit of a search to try and get it back. Wayne Cartledge was keen to get it as well, and I saw him at one of the meets at Calder a few years ago. He said that the last he knew, it went to New South Wales.”
Though he wasn’t able to get his hands on the Capri again, Rob’s still tinkering with some hot cars alongside his collection of a dozen bikes. “I’ve got an HQ ute and an FD LTD that’s three-quarters of the way through a paintjob. It’s been lowered, it’s got V5 Simmons rims on it, and the motor’s been rebuilt with parts of the Capri engine, so there’s little bits of it still around!”