Albert’s miracle Capri that’s never felt the rain

There’s no shortage of classic car owners who cosset and pamper their four-wheeled friend like the family dog, keeping them tucked away from the worst of the British weather.

But very few shelter a brand new car from the ravages of the elements quite like Albert Clarkson, whose time-warp Ford Capri has covered just 582 miles since he drove it out of the showroom 31 years ago.

The diamond white 2.8 Injection Special shares a garage at Albert’s Canvey Island home with a much more streetwise, but equally cherished, 1969 Ford Cortina 1600E with 117,000 miles on the clock.

Both cars are in mint condition, but it’s the Capri that draws gasps of disbelief at classic car shows when Albert drives it off the trailer (the only time it ever travels under its own steam).

It’s never been in the rain and it still smells inside of leather

“They can’t believe it – they say ‘didn’t you want to drive it all those years?’ I just say no!” he laughs.

“It’s never been in the rain and it still smells inside of leather as if it were new. It’s like a nice piece of antique furniture – you can have it restored, but it’s not as good as an untouched original.”

Most of us would be itching to make the most of driving a new car, especially a 2.8-litre sports coupe packing 160bhp and capable of hitting 60mph in an impressive 7.9 seconds.

But Albert, a retired gas engineer, already had his trusted 1600E, plus an Escort for daily driving, and always intended to keep the new car as close as possible to when the Ford engineers tightened the last nut – and that meant not driving it.

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“When I first got the car, the first new car I’ve ever bought, I thought it would have hardly any miles on it, but it had 60 miles on the clock from all the driving from the Ford car park, and onto and off the boat. I was a bit disappointed by that!” he says.

“To start with I did drive it here and there for the first two or three months – the furthest was to Brentwood to my mother in law’s, but then I stopped using it and I now wish I’d never put any miles on it at all.

“After three years I took it for its first MoT and the journey there and back put six miles on it. I thought, in 10 years that’s a lot of miles, so I didn’t take it any more. In fact, I didn’t start it up for 19 years. I thought I’d just leave it there until it becomes a classic motor.”

These days, the car does go for its annual MoT, but only ever on the back of the trailer.

“I do start it now, every month. After 19 years all the petrol went to dust so I had to take the tank out and clean it, and sent the fuel distributor to Bosch for cleaning,” says Albert, who has only ever owned Ford cars, from his first Ford Classic to his current Focus and Maverick for towing the trailer.

I’d be thinking all the time ‘what if I had an accident’

Under intense questioning, Albert admits he would quite like to give the Capri a blast along the Canvey Way, but…

“I suppose it would be nice but I’d be thinking all the time ‘what if I had an accident’? There are some nutters on the road, and imagine if after all those years, I drove it down the road and someone wrote it off,” Albert says, in the manner of a man contemplating his own mortality.

The barely-used Capri, which cost £7,800 new – a hefty discount from the £11,002 list price because Albert’s dad worked for Ford – differs from the day it was new in just one small way, but even this niggles its fastidious owner.

“The car was fitted with a white battery when it was new, but Ford don’t make white batteries anymore,” he laments.

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“But you can buy small black batteries, so I use one of those and house it in the original white battery case!”

In contrast to the Capri, Albert’s aubergine 1600E has more than earned its corn since he paid £600 for it in 1970, when it was just seven months old.

When the 1600E was launched at the Paris Motor Show in 1967, only the special edition Lotus Cortina carried more cachet; the new car had the lowered suspension from the Lotus, the high-tune GT Kent engine, plus luxury trim featuring a leather steering wheel and walnut dash.

It means more than money to me

To Albert, then a 24-year-old living with his wife, Eve, it was the ultimate in stylish motoring.

Used as a daily driver for about 10 years, Albert piled on the miles until opting for a mark 2 Escort as his everyday runaround.

“I had some great times in the car – I used to tow a fishing boat with it. Me and my mate would go sea fishing, and I once drove it down to Dover and caught 306 mackerel!” he remembers.

But the arrival of the Escort didn’t mean the end for the 1600E. By then, Albert had fallen in love with the car and couldn’t bear to part with it.

“It’s got all the wood in it, it’s like a prestige car to me and I just fell in love with it. I’ve spent a fortune on it and it’s like part of the family. I’ll never sell it while I can still drive it. It means more than money to me,” says Albert, who built his own pushbike at the age of 12 from bits he bought from a bike shop.

That innate engineering ability was to serve Albert well as he set about turning his Cortina into a prize-winning show car.

“I put the Cortina in the garage and rebuilt the engine – in fact, I’ve rebuilt the engine three times in total,” he says.

“It looks totally standard on the outside, but the engine bay has all been chromed. It won a concours competition for modified cars, and one of the car clubs has a shield with the names of the all the prize winners – and my name’s the only one on it!”

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Keeping a now rare classic car in tip top condition can be an expensive business, however, and the cost of spare parts for the 1600E have rocketed in recent years.

An interior rear view mirror for the car will set you back a staggering £660, while the distinctive chrome bonnet strip can sell for up to £800.

“Spare prices have gone silly, but thankfully I have lots of spares I’ve collected for it over the years,” says Albert, who is even able to help out other 1600E owners from his collection of parts.

Over the years, Albert has resisted offers for not just the car, but also its highly collectible number plate – 257 EVE – picked up for the princely sum of £35 way back in 1974.

“There was an old Morris 1000 van parked up near a farm, and I’d clocked the registration number and had my eye on it for quite a while to go and speak to the chap,” says Albert, who wanted the plate in honour of his wife.

“My mate rang me up and told me the van was in the paper for sale. I went to see him and told him I didn’t want the van – I only wanted the number.

“He wanted £40 for the number, but I bargained him down to £35, got the log book and couldn’t get to the registration office quick enough to change it over. In the end, I was in such a rush I got a parking fine outside the offices, which cost me £5 anyway!”

One man got quite upset, almost angry, when I wouldn’t sell

As well as the nation’s Eves, there are also plenty of Steves who would pay thousands of pounds to use the number in its other possible form: 2 S7EVE.

“I do get people asking to buy both the car and the plate – one man got quite upset, almost angry, when I wouldn’t sell!

“I told him it doesn’t matter how much you offer me, even £50,000, I don’t want to sell it. Money doesn’t mean anything – I get more enjoyment out of mucking about with it than having the money in the bank.”

According to Albert, Eve herself “would rather I sold them all I think” but “she knows there are people like me around – there are quite a few of us I think”.

So in a kind of motoring Sophie’s Choice, which car – Capri or Cortina – would he hold on to if he had to sell one?

“The Cortina means more to me. I’ve done a lot of work on it and there’s more of an emotional attachment having had it all those years and used it a lot,” he says.

So despite keeping the Capri wrapped in cotton wool for more than 30 years, it’s the Cortina – the car that’s racked up more 100,000 miles of memories – that remains closest to Albert’s heart.

Pictures by Anthony Kirby.

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