#TouringCarMadness – The Zakspeed Capri Turbo.

Group 5 or the wildest ever production category ? Well, that what it stands for in terms of history. Defined as a ruleset by the FIA for Special Touring Cars, it in situ evolved in three generations of cars with the first one being from 1970 to 1971 and applying to limited production Sports Cars restricted to 5000cc engine capacity. It then evolved from 1972 to exclude the requirement for a minimum production requirement as well as limiting the engine capacity to 3000cc. From 1976 and up to 1982, it became what is now the best remembered period of the ruleset with basically a very liberal way to build the cars which looked more like silhouettes based on homologated production vehicles and here we are with one of the wildest ever car produced for that third generation, which was the German built Zakspeed Capri Turbo.

Zakspeed was no stranger to Ford and no stranger to the touring cars development as they actually made their name in the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterchaft and European Touring Car Championship by running some of the best Escorts around as well as having close links with the Cologne based Ford touring car operation as well as keeping a sort of factory-backed status when Ford closed down their own European racing facilities back in the late seventies.

The DRM was something special and as with the Italian national touring car championship, these were the two best domestic championship around after the FIA sanctioned ETCC one. What became interesting was that when the FIA introduced their third generation Group 5 ruleset to the World Championship of Makes back in 1976, the DRM moved to these for 1977 as well and it produced some of the wildest racing ever and best was that it was at a national level with BMW, Porsche, Lancia and of course Ford through Zakspeed being represented.

Of course, it was the perfect combination for Germany, all main actors of the World Championship were actually from that country and if there is one thing the Germans like is enormous power and let’s say wild horses. The genesis of the MkIII Zakspeed Capri Turbo takes its roots with Ford of course and the fact that they wanted the best possible advertising campaign for its introduction in 1978 and as I like to say, win on Sunday, sell on Monday !

Now, let’s talk about the car. The Group 5 ruleset dictated that the lines of the production model needed to be retained above the wheel arches and that the suspension layout had to stay untouched but other than that, you could source an engine from whatever model as long as it was part of the manufacturer’s list of models. You could make it wide, low or fast by using any sort of development. Erich Zakowski, the man behind Zakspeed and Thomas Ammerschalger from Ford Europe got together and more or less masterminded the car together in order to fight with Porsche and their 935s and BMW with their 320s.

Getting into the construction process, basically the only remaining part of the original Capri MkIII was probably the central section in-between the A and C pillars as well as some cosmetic parts such as front and rear light and probably the front grille of the original car, yeah, in a way it had to look a bit like a Capri but not much of the real production car was really used and you’ll understand that later… The structure was chopped and lowered in order to better the aerodynamics and big and wide wheel arches were fitted to the spaceframe chassis, yeah it was a whole spaceframe construction in reality. In order to cover the front 16′ inch wheels and enormous 19′ inch wheels at the rear, the body was extended as much as the rules made it possible. The whole chassis with the cage included required more or less 80 metres of aluminium tubing and the weight of the entire structure was of 75kg. When I say they retained the central section, well, they actually welded an original roof to the whole spaceframe chassis, that’s all. What was quite interesting for the construction and compared to the BMW 320s or Porsche 935s is that these two other models still retained a part of the original production shell and the spaceframe actually permitted the whole car to feature a flat floor in order to enhance the aerodynamics, small tunnels were also fitted at the back and pre-dated what is now know as a diffuser but in a limited way and right under the FIA-spec FT3 fuel cell located just above them.

On the suspension side, it was pretty much following the period trend of upper and lower wishbones, lightweight McPherson struts at the front coupled with Bilsteing shock absorbers and titanium springs. What was not common for the period and compared to the BMWs or Porsches was the rear rigid live axle, an old design but part of the production Capri which ended up being made of special lightweight alloy in order to withstand the power as well as being set up with positive camber and tie bars to control toe. Brakes were Girling sourced unit with twin-cast aluminium ones being fitted on the vented and cross-drilled discs and if required, water cooling could be added to keep it cool and efficient, depending of the circuits.

On an engine and drivetrain side, the Zakspeed Capri Turbo was first entered in the DRM Division 2 for under 2000cc normally aspirated cars or 1400cc turbo engines as the first engine used in the car was the Zakspeed developped BDA coupled to twin KKK turbochargers, yeah, one turbo for 2 cylinders and a single Garret intercooler with Bosch electronic fuel injection and primitive ECU for the time. That whole thing delivered its power through a Getrag five speed gearbox and the car delivered an astonishing 380 horsepower. It was a good start but the little engine proved very much unreliable and even if the car proved fast from the beginning, it would cause a number of failures during the races. All in all, the car weighed around 790kg and that was a terrific package I would say. The Germans did a very good job for a start !

Then, development went on in order to cure the early unreliability of the car, the turbo system moved from two turbos to a single but bigger unit as well as the use of twin intercoolers made in house by Zakspeed which enhanced the cooling required to better use the turbocharging system. By the end of 1980, the car was delivering around 450 horsepower at 9200rpm, not bad eh !

Now talking about the racing, the first “Mampe” car debuted halfway through the 1978 DRM season and scored four poles and a win. In 1979, three cars were entered and Zakspeed won the Division 2 title but they couldn’t beat the Division 1 Porsche 935 of Klaus Ludwig even with that effort so for 1980, they simply looked to go for the top of the list and Division 1.

The engine was bored-out to 1700cc and the twin-turbos came back and aerodynamics were changed with bigger and wilder front spoiler and rear wing being fitted. Zakspeed and Ford got the master of the Championship, Klaus Ludwig himself by going to court and breaking his contract in order to get him with the team. The newly built Division 1 car was a very wild horse with more than 600 horsepower now available and a top speed of more than 180mph ! Ford and Zakspeed were now ready to battle with Porsche.

The opposition was not happy and soon the car was protested for the new spoiler and wing but Zakspeed just gave some more and exploited the underbody of the car through the introduction of full length ground effect tunnels and side skirts. This killed the rest of the field as in early laps, the suction effect produced would permit the car to pull away from the rest of the field until the skirts would wear out. unfortunatelly, the controversy and protest made early in the season stripped some valuable points from Ludwig and the title was still retained by Porsche… Anyway, 1981 would prove the best year with now Manfred Winkelhock taking over the Division 1 car in LiquiMoly livery and simply winning 6 rounds OA while Klaus Ludwig went back to the Division 2 but still in a Capri, fitted with the bigger and wilder aerodynamics and taking 11 wins in the category which meant he clinched the OA title !

Oh yeah, the Capri was and still is a fantastic piece of kit and hell yeah it’s fast and wild. If you like these sort of cars, I’m now sure you will understand the genesis of the actual DTM series as well as understanding why Germany always had the best national touring car championship.

The Zakspeed Capr Turbo at speed #OhYeah


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