Tested : Ford Capri 2.8 Injection vs Triumph TR8

The Triumph TR8 was described as nothing less than the reinvention of the sports car when it was launched in the USA in 1980. When the Ford Capri Injection arrived in Europe just one year later, it certainly reinvigorated Uncle Henry’s coupe lineup.

Yet, they didn’t go head-to-head until our man in the USA, Richard Truett, put an example of each in his garage and tested them on Detroit’s mean streets. Read on to find our what was the king of the 1980s sports cars.

Best 1980s sports cars: Introduction

One, caught up in corporate financial turmoil and never developed to its full potential, died prematurely in October 1981. It is only now being appreciated for its advanced styling, excellent handling, sensible cockpit and other good qualities. The other lived out its natural life and remained in production until 1987. Then it received a classy send-off with the stunning Brooklands Green 280i edition.

Yes, the Ford Capri coasted into retirement with honours and then immediately took its place among the classics. Meanwhile, the TR7/8 struggled for years unloved and unwanted by sports car cognoscenti. Okay, so this means the Capri is the better sports car than the Triumph TR8, right?

Not necessarily… The top-spec Capri, the 2.8 Injection Special, and the range-topping TR, the TR8 should have had a long and healthy rivalry, but the race was over not long after it started. The TR8 was never launched in Britain and the 2.8 Capri never came to the USA, so rarely have the two cars been compared. Until I managed to bag an example of each and get them side-by-side into one of the most interesting two-car garages in Detroit.

Ford Capri in the US! What gives?

I always liked the style of the mid-1980s Capri 2.8 Injection and so, with a little help from my English boss – a veteran Ford employee who drove Capris as company cars in the UK back in the day – one was located, purchased and shipped to Detroit. It lived in the garage next to a 1981 TR8 with a 4.0-litre fuel-injected Land Rover Discovery engine.

I didn’t quite know what to expect of the Capri. The final European Capri was sold here in 1977. It was leaden with heavy, overgrown bumpers and strangled with emissions equipment. Us Yanks never got the hotted up revamped Mk3 Capri. My Capri, a grey 1986 2.8 Injection Special with just 36,000 original miles, sported a Recaro interior and five-speed gearbox. It is in unmodified condition and has had only three previous keepers. It’s had some rot fixed, but the repairs were to a high standard.

Not long after the Capri arrived and winter began to fade, I started taking the TR8 and the Capri on back-to-back high speed runs over the same roads.  Here’s how the cars compare…

Best 1980s sports cars: Styling

The Capri is much-loved classic the world over and there is no controversy about swage lines and styling themes. Its proportions are perfect and the looks like a fast, fun car standing still. Much like the TR6, the Capri is a car you love to be seen in. You tolerate the ancient suspension and adequate brakes because you like the attention the car attracts because of its looks. However, the TR8 is the car you prefer to drive, the one that more often brings smiles to your face because of the way it delivers its delightful performance.

The TR8 – somehow – still does not look like a car that was laid down nearly four decades ago. It was a real leap forward. Not long ago, I took a 30-something friend of mine for a ride in the car. The first thing she noticed was the TR8’s dash and instruments. ‘Wow, that’s really back to the future,’ she said.

Too bad BL’s dire financial situation prevented the Triumph from exploiting the interior’s great design with high quality materials. Based on the Lynx at Gaydon, we know Triumph was exploring ways to upgrade the interior. I recently purchased on eBay UK a wood applique kit that came from the Canley Design Studios circa. 1980-81. The letter of authenticity that came with the pieces stated that Triumph were considering interior upgrades when the end came.

The wood trim pieces are a fascia panel for the instrument case, a cover for the console lid and a new facing for the center section of the dash that has cutouts for what appear to be power window switches. Such improvements would have added a touch of class and kept the TR fresh. Imagine the TR with a leather-trimmed interior, for instance, along with the wood trim.

Best 1980s sports cars: Performance

The Capri’s 160bhp Cologne V6 outfitted with Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection is a sweet little motor. My car is fitted with a sports exhaust. The deep, guttural, bass sounds it makes are surprisingly throaty – it sounds like a much larger engine. The Capri’s gearing is nearly perfect and is well matched to the engine’s torque. The clutch pedal is light and the five-speed gearbox snicks through the gears smoothly. You could drive the Capri all day easily without it beating you up. The Capri’s performance can be summed up as quick, capable and civilised.

The TR8 is in another league.

When you twist the key in the TR8 after stepping out of the Capri, your senses are attacked with a series of sights and sounds that let you know you are in something a bit more special. There is the subconscious knowledge of the TR8’s rarity, which amplifies its feeling of uniqueness.

Triumph and Rover Engineers got the TR’s mechanical sounds just right. Not only do you hear that famous Rover burble from twin exhaust pipes in the rear, but the engine itself sounds terrific and, at around 4500rpm, you hear a turbine-like whoosh. When looking over the TR’s still futuristic dash and down the dramatically sloping bonnet, this engine makes the perfect soundtrack for the TR8.

More than that, the Rover engine is completely unstressed in the TR8. It moves the 2600 pound car effortlessly. Even though the clutch is a bit heavier and the gearchange is not so precise as the Capri, the TR8 is more entertaining, more involving to drive. With bags of torque available, the engine’s ample thrust pulls the TR8 away cleanly no matter the gear. The TR8 is a real British muscle car and feels like it.

Best 1980s sports cars: Handling and ride

Not much needs to be said here. Yes, both Capri and TR8 use a live rear axle. However, it is the way the axles are attached that tells the story. The Capri’s axle, with its leaf springs, is not much more evolved than what you’d find on a wagon from the horse and buggy era. The TR’s four-link rear axle was such a smart design that the basic layout was used under Ford Mustang until 2004.

The Capri’s rear suspension is busy and you can feel it struggling when the going gets rough. The car is fine on flat roads and on gentle sweeping curves, but it loses composure quickly when the surface becomes uneven while, in the wet, the Capri is famous for its rear end coming around.

The Capri’s brakes are also disappointingly poor. The pedal requires a lot of effort and there is not a confidence-inspiring amount of bite unless you press hard on the middle pedal. Mind you, to be fair, the TR8’s brakes aren’t much better. The TR does have more initial bite, but fades fast under hard braking. My own TR8 uses Rover four-pot calipers and an SD1 brake booster and master cylinder, so braking is addressed in my car.

Steering is another strong point for the TR8. The PAS is nicely weighted and provides good feedback. I especially appreciate the TR’s tight turning circle, aided no doubt by the short wheelbase. The Capri’s PAS is numb. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t impress. The TR wins on over bumpy surfaces, too. The suspension isolates the commotion from surface inconsistencies very well compared with the Capri.

Best 1980s sports cars: Cabin and controls

This is a toss-up. To my eyes, the TR8’s dash is one of the best matched to a car’s overall design that I’ve ever seen – that dash is a big reason why the TR has such character. I love the wire mesh in the air vents at the base of the windscreen, the way the needles on Smiths tacho and speedo taper at the ends and the switchgear for the lights.

Everything is easy to reach and operate but the TR8’s seats are subpar. Ford was smarter with the Capri’s interior furnishings, using frequent udpates and upgrades to keep the car fresh. The half-leather Recaros lend the Capri’s cabin a touch of class. Similar seats would have really raised the TR8’s game. The Capri’s clocks are nicely styled, but the steering wheel blocks the view of the temperature and fuel gauges. No such issues in the TR.

Best 1980s sports cars: Verdict

I will tell you right now that, even though the Capri was the more successful car in terms of sales and production, the TR8 has it pipped in nearly every area. Even if my TR8 were not modified with its bigger engine and stronger brakes, it would still be better on the road in every way than the Capri. I can say this with some degree of certainty because I have owned an unmodified, fuel-injected TR8.

Okay, so which car do I find myself driving most, the TR8 or the Capri? Right now, it is the Capri. Much like the Dolomite Sprint, the 1980s Ford Capri has a reputation in the USA. Everyone who is into cars know what it is and, for many who fondly remember the Mk2 and Mk2 which were sold here, seeing my car is like seeing an old friend.

That said, if I ever must reduce my car collection to one, there is no doubt which car stays and which one goes. For a person on a modest budget who wants a true classic British sports car, you could not ask for better value for money, better performance, cooler looks and a more fun experience than what the Triumph TR8 offers. Despite not having a lot of money to develop the TR8, Triumph once again made a car that, decades on, people are still fascinated with.

Triumph TR8 and Ford Capri Injection

Richard Truett


  1. I suggest that you fit the Capri Club’s rear axle A-frame kit – that will improve the handling no end.
    The Capri loses out 1.2 litres and 2 pots to the cheese wedge and so, to be honest, this is an unfair comparison.

  2. Yes, and grab some Contour (Mondeo) calipers next time you pass a wrecking yard.

    Oh, and of course, the Capri wins – it’s the Daddy! (I must point out I am from Essex and Essex through and through!)

  3. Well, having owned two, it’s the TR8 for me…

    Mind you, how about adding this MG ZT-T 260 to your collection? The Dealers, Wire Wheel Classic Sports cars, Inc. in Vero Beach, Florida, claim that the car is the only one in the US.

  4. I would have sleepless nights deciding which one I’d prefer. However, in the end, I think it’s the summer ahead that would make it the TR8 for me.

  5. Much as I love the Capri, the damn thing just doesn’t like corners (used to get taken out in one by a neighbour for a Sunday blast when I was a kid – it just wouldn’t go round bends at any speed), so, just for the superb styling, wonderful (second best BL interior, after the SD1?) interior and the fact that it’s aged so well, I’d put my money into the TR8.

  6. This is a good comparison test because, had the Lynx TR7/8 come out, the Scimitar GTE and the Capri would have been its nearest rivals. It’s also interesting because the Capri and the Hot Hatches effectively killed off the traditional mass-produced British sports car.

    I have and always loved both of these cars – they were the cars you most wanted your Dad to buy in the 1970s. I have very fond memories Bodie/Doyle in 3.0-litre ‘S’ chasing the baddies on ITV and who didn’t want to be Tony Pond’s Co-driver blasting a TR7/8 around Wales in the RAC Rally in the late 1970s!

    The cars are a credit to you, Richard.

  7. It’s a tough choice… My dad did buy a brand new silver 3.0S in 1978 which was just like the one used in The Professionals, so I am swayed towards the Capri. I’d rather have them both though.

  8. Well, as one possessed of Triumph tendencies and Coventry considerations, then it’s the TR8 for me. No question.

    I agree with Simon Hodgetts – the TR7/8 has aged very well. Yet, for me, it is the coupe that has aged better than the convertible. I know this seems odd when the convertible is generally deemed more attractive than the coupe, but the coupe is one of those few cars which is so quintessentially of its era – the 1970s, in this case – but whose looks still stand up to scrutiny good today.

    Anyway, for a car whose conception was potentially compromised by a host of (transatlantic) issues, it’s quite an achievement when you think about it.

  9. I know that so much has been made of BL’s poor build quality but the Capri’s seems about the same.

    I wonder how the four-cylinder versions of these cars match up? That is a comparison which was probably made many times and I would guess the TR7’s engine failed to impress…

  10. @Simon Hodgetts
    The Professionals sometimes drove an Escort RS2000 too. I prefer the Capri to the TR7(8) but Richard is lucky enough to have both so he can enjoy the best bits of each and forget about each’s shortcomings.

  11. Both are interesting cars but it’s got to be the Capri every time.

    Having owned a 2.8i. I would agree that the brakes were only just about up to the job, but even going to the shops put a smile on your face…

  12. @Marty B
    The Capri Club won’t ship spares to the USA. I was going to join, but the Club Secretary told me that I wouldn’t be eligible to buy spares.

  13. Richard Truett :
    @Marty B

    The Capri Club won’t ship spares to the USA. I was going to join, but the Club Secretary told me that I wouldn’t be eligible to buy spares.

    WHAT! Tell them to get stuffed and stick to eBay.


  14. @Richard Truett
    That’s a bit tight – DHL will ship anything, I use them all the time. The hardest place to ship is Russia but even that’s possible.

    Anyway, if you want a UK supplier to supply you tell them to use Parcels2go – they get the best price on the carriers, sort out any customs issues and collect from your door step.

    I trust them as I ship antique clocks all over the world, so a lump of Capri shouldn’t be a problem. Mind you, sometimes due to weight, it’s cheaper to split the items and send stuff as two parcels.

  15. That’s a kick in the crotch for you, because the A-frame really does transform the handling, making it much less tail happy. You could do with a third party member here in the UK to buy a set for you and ship it over. That’s strange behaviour from an Owners’ Club to be honest – perhaps they are worried about the American ‘sue everyone’ culture?

    A friend of mine has a concours 280 Brooklands which looks like it has just left the Cologne factory – the car makes me drool when I see it. He paid an insane price for it though, but I’d say it was worth it. The price would get you a top line MG6, with enough change to tax it, fill it with fuel for a month and insure it!

  16. Legal reasons are why they won’t send spares to the USA.

    I plan to make a few changes/upgrades to the Capri this fall after the Classic Car Show season. I won’t change the looks but, like the TR8, I will upgrade the brakes and improve the handling… so, yeah, I may need help with getting the axle locating kit over here.

    Kent make a cam for the 2.8 that adds about 12 horsepower and I will fit A tubular exhaust. That ought to do it…

  17. @Hilton Davis
    Bodie and Doyle also drove a Dolly Sprint and a TR4 in the first series of The Professionals and Cowley had a beige (!!!) SD1.

    The TR8 was not as a good looking as the Capri but was a better drive. Build quality was about the same – that says something about German engineering! The last Capri was built in December, 1986.

  18. I always love seeing UK-plated cars in the US!

    It’s great to see a once-humble (albeit the V6 2.8) Capri now appreciated as a rare classic across the pond. Somewhat ironic too, given that it was originally intended to be the European Mustang!

    Were there any conditions which had to be complied with when you imported the car? Usually, going the other way (US-UK imports), involves at least changing indicator behaviour/colour, changing the direction of the headlights and fitting a fog light.

    Do the new rules on personal imports (effectively backed by Bill Gates who wanted a Porsche 959) make things easier in this regard?

  19. The TR8 is an intriguing classic, but the wheelbase is a bit short; the Capri is an underdeveloped and overpowered Mark 1 Escort. I would take a Manta (especially a 400 or a 2.0-16V) or a ZT-T 260 over either.

  20. @Richard Truett
    I was right – frightened of the ‘sue everyone culture’ in the USA.

    There are shedloads of mods out there for the Capri, many of them not that expensive either. Good luck with it.

    The Capri is my all time fave Blue Oval product and, as you may know, was only sold in the UK for the last years of its life. The very last 280s were on 1987 ‘E’ plates.

    Incidentally, I have seen many a modded Capri with V8 power, often using TVR engines… Yup, the venerable ex-Buick Rover V8 fits in the engine bay fairly easily. Oh no, what have I just said? I bet that gets Richard’s grey matter going now.

    @Ken Strachan
    Actually, the Capri was (all variants) Cortina-based, not Escort but at least they didn’t fit the Capri with that god awful void bush set up which the Cortina ended up with.

  21. Do you know the complete history of your Capri, Richard? Going by the ‘KP’ registration, it was supplied new within a few miles of the part of South-East England where I was brought up. 🙂

  22. @Shep
    I did know the registration had something to do with the region in which it was purchased. The car still has the original Main Dealer’s sticker on the rear window – it was supplied by KT Group Limited in Dartford, Kent.

    I have all the paperwork, including the original sales invoice. I paid as much for the car as the original buyer!

  23. That’s an interesting comparison. Here, in Europe, the closest comparison was always between the Opel Manta GT/E and the Capri 2.8 Injection.

    The problem was that, although the Capri smashed the Manta on power and interior space and, perhaps, even on looks, it never came anywhere near close on handling and ride.

    The Manta also used a live-axle with all the trimmings (ie, anti-tramp bars, anti-sway bars, Panhard rod, and struts and coil springs) and, when fitted with a LSD, it seemed to stick to a dry road.

    My only concern when I had both of mine was the understeer in the wet if the tyres were anything less than perfect – the tyres of choice (which I never managed to obtain) were Goodyear Eagle NCT2.

    Enterprising engine transplanters got more power by replacing the standard engine with a Carlton 2.2-litre engine or a Frontera 2.4-litre (they were the same basic CIH engine as the Manta GT/Es) – and very heavy they were too. Even the Carlton/Omega GSi engine mated to the Getrag ‘box.

    Some switched to the 1.8 GM gearbox, ditching the Getrag one, and using the Astra GT/E 1.8 or Cavalier SRi130 engine. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, they used the infamous 16v (20XE?) engine.

    Some even went as far as using BMW straight sixes – but, of course, one transplant which seemed to come up quite commonly was the Manta V8. A few were Chevy V8s but most used the, well what else, Rover V8. Interestingly, the V8 weighed about the same as the straight four CIH engine, so no real changes to the front end were necessary (front subframe with double wishbone for those interested) and, when I removed the half-shafts to change to a LSD, you could tell they’d be tough enough to take the torque!.

    I miss my Mantas…

    @Ken Strachan
    Later Capris were based on the Cortina – Mk1s were Escort-based.

  24. @Ross A
    Funnily enough I did the Manta/Capri comparison when working at Practical Classics, driving the 280i to Frankfurt to meet the last Manta off the line. I liked the Capri, but came away preferring the Manta – just, I think, because it had a better engineered feel.

  25. We had both a Capri 2.8i and Manta GT/E allocated to Directors at the company I worked for. I always prefered the Manta. The Capri was the head-turner though – it was the only non-turbo Tickford Capri in existance… My employer was Tickford and the car was built for one of the Directors – it was very 1980s, white and with a big body kit, which made it far too noticable for my taste.

  26. @Chris
    There are no problems at all importing any car into the USA provided that it is at least 25 calendar years old – once it reaches that age, there are no smog or crash requirements that it has to comply with.

    All you do is pay a small customs fee, about 2 per cent of what the car’s selling price was. The 25 calendar years refers to the date of manufacture, not registration so, right now, any 1986 or older vehicle can come to the USA. Hope that helps.

  27. I wanted my dad to buy a new Capri Mk3 in the late 1970s. Instead, he went and bought an ancient (in my eyes) 1967 S1.5 Jaguar E-type Roadster.

  28. I have found a CAR Magazine test from back in the day comparing the Capri 2.8i with the Alfa GTV6 of its era, and – strange to report – the clumpy old Ford with its ancient iron engine and antediluvian leaf sprung rear end emerged the victor.

    This, despite the Alfa having what was universally regarded as the best V6 of its era, an elaborate rear transaxle and De Dion rear end.

    I guess that only goes to show how Ford’s SVO turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

    However, it made me wonder if the MGB died too soon and whether a V8 B with suspension appropriately tuned by people who knew what they were doing might have been a contender. Then again, they tried that with the RV8.

    I’d still have the TR8, though, because… well, because I’m a snob and don’t like F**d, the worst four-letter word in my vocabulary.

    Mind you, if the wedge had survived the Edwardes era and if we’d been treated to an injected V8 and the larger-capacity V8s that followed, I reckon we’d all revere it today as a bone fide TR rather than as a milk-sop BL contrivance that killed the brand.

  29. @Keith Adams
    You are right. I drove my friend’s Manta 2.0S back from Barnstaple up to Coventry years ago and he’d had it lowered.

    You’d normally expect a low slung car to be unstable when lowered but this thing gripped to the road. It stayed at a sustained phenomenal speed for a good 1 hour along the M5 and I can honestly say that it was the only old car I have ever felt confident about driving without things dropping off or going pop – even some my Jags have made me feel a bit weary of pushing it in case the valves jump out of the bonnet and smack me around the head (either that or the gearbox). It just felt solid.

    Contrasted with a Capri at full pelt, well, there was no way I could sustain phenomenal speeds for more than 5 minutes before bottling it – even with a well kept and serviced example. (I’m an Essex boy so I knew at least one person who had one). The rear end felt jittery, especially over old-style concrete trunk roads.

    Oh, and don’t get me started on the cornering – even Martin Shaw (Doyle from The Professionals) said that it might have looked dramatic, even at low speeds. However, that was how you had to drive them just to keep them on the road. Those leaf-springs didn’t like all that torque applied to them – those rear wheels were more active than a demonic pogostick on each side. My god, though, it was a sexy beast…

  30. The trouble with the Manta was that it looked way too much like a tarted up Cavalier Mk1 (which, in reality, is exactly what it was). The Capri looked like nothing else in the Ford range.

    The ‘brows’ over the headlamps on the Mk3 Capri gave it a mean and moody look too. The Capri had the Manta licked for one reason. There was a model for everyone up until the end, with smaller engined ‘tepid’ models, through to serious cooking models.

    My all time favourite Capri though is the Mk1 RS3100, which is uber rare now.

  31. @Kev Sharp
    We get 93 RON octane here and that’s fine for engines of 9.5:1 compression.

    However, right down the street from me is a petrol station that sells leaded 110 octane gas called Turbo Blue. It’s super expensive at $6.50 a gallon but I mix that in sometimes to get the octane up to around 100.

    I have found that, when I use the 110 only, everything works better – and I mean everything. The clutch pedal is smoother. The brakes have more bite. The light in the cubby box is brighter. The windscreen wipers clean better – even the radio picks up stations further away.


  32. An interesting read BUT, come on, how can a 2.8-litre 4-seater rationally be compared to a 4.0-litre 2-seater? It’s apples versus oranges. I don’t know what the pricing was in Britain but I would bet that the Triumph was much more expensive as well!!

  33. Oh, by the way, the i400 Rally car is in Dirt3 for the PS3 and Xbox360 – it’s even got a Metro 6R4!!

  34. I had both Mantas and Capris in the 1990s – I liked Mantas a lot, but I loved my Capris. I never had a V6, something I’ll probably never rectify now, but I did have a Manta with a straight-six in it for a little while. Well, long enough to scare myself and friends silly, before deciding the conversion wasn’t quite up to scratch.

    The Manta was a competent, well put together car. The Capri made you feel like a hero for just getting from A-B, no matter how quickly you did it. Back then, I was more Manta than Capri but now I think I miss the Capris a lot more!

  35. Richard,
    Tell Ford to build another Capri. I love the Mk III… I grew up in Ireland and moved to the US in 1987 – the last year of the Capri. I want one so, if you ever want to sell… I’m in NYC now.

  36. @Richard Truett: I doubt that there would be much between a 2.0 litre Capri & a TR7 in the engine stakes as both pump out the same power (assuming no emission mods are added).

    However I guess the TR7 would be quicker in everyday driving as, due to the superior handling, one would get a head start so to speak by virtue of being able to come out of a corner quicker.

  37. @Sean Sweeney

    The Probe, and the Cougar were Capri replacements (the latter to the Mondeo as the Capri was to Cortina).

    They sold slowly in Europe and weren’t replaced.

    Manufacturers would rather you now buy some SUV tank instead of a coupe – Ford have even tricked people by using the similar ‘Kuga’ name.

  38. Should be fair and say that Ford are bringing the new Mustang to Europe, but not sure if it’ll get proper marketing, or if it’ll be a niche product like a VXR8.

    My Dad had a TR7 back in the day, I used to love getting ran into school in it. Was like a spaceship compared to the Escorts and Corollas of other school runners 🙂
    Unfortunately it wasn’t much cop as a family car, and had to go.

    Loving the Capri, he had the 2.8 in the mk2 Granada – fondly remember the burble and the roar at full chatter.

    Also love that you’ve brought a UK car to the states, and managed to get a local plate the same mark as the original UK plate (which you’ve kept on! Great stuff!) Must turn some heads from sheer rareness!
    Nice one!

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