A European Pony Car Becomes Part of an American Legacy

Story and photography by Tara Hurlin

It’s not a Subaru, a Volkswagen or even one of those European-market Ford Escort Cosworths. It’s a Capri, built in Germany by Ford and sold stateside through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. And for more than a decade, this one has stood out at American rally events.

Bob Olson prepped the mini pony car more than a decade ago. He longed for a rear-wheel-drive, European-spec Ford Escort but settled for the next best thing: the Capri, built from 1969 through 1986. This chassis is dated as a 1974.

Bob has since retired from rally driving to focus on his business, the Danza del Sol Winery in Temecula, California. That’s where this Capri’s current driver, Mike Hurst, comes in.

Mike’s rally history began in 1982 with the Northern Lights Rally in Houghton Lake, Michigan. This former mechanic was soon crewing for NASCAR legend David Pearson in 1983 and 1984.

The team had just four full-time employees. The only other one not from the Pearson family was Larry McReynolds, who went on to serve as crew chief for NASCAR legends like Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan and Dale Earnhardt–and that was before the long TV career.

Mike has remained active in the sport. He currently serves as American Rally Association’s technical director as well as the technical manager for the SFI Foundation, the nonprofit group that’s involved in the certification process for harnesses, driving suits and other pieces of competition gear.

He’s also been rallying all these years. Back in 2003, we featured his Fox-body Mustang rally racer. It was prepared for Group 5 competition, at the time a new class for those who favored higher-powered, rear-drive cars. When the class was announced, Mike originally prepared a Porsche 911 built from parts—including a 1976 chassis, 1986 bodywork and a 1978 engine.

The Porsche was a nightmare to run,” Mike told us, “because parts were so expensive. While I tried to get away with used parts whenever I could, new parts for it were ridiculous.”

Today Mike can be found piloting the Capri, often with co-driver Susi Little, a high school German language teacher in Rosemount, Minnesota. Andy Gawboy serves as the team’s mechanic.

Bouncing Back

The Capri was rebodied after enduring a crash-and-roll accident during Michigan’s Lake Superior Performance Rally in 2017. Mike completed all of the repair work after hours at his employer’s shop in San Diego, and shortly thereafter he took sixth place overall at the 2018 Summer Sno*Drift rally with his daughter Katherine Hurst as his co-driver.

The Hursts came out on top in the 2WD class and won the event’s Daddy-Daughter Challenge. They finished 5 minutes faster than the Lancer Evo team of Eric and Camille Carlson.

Piloting the Capri with his daughter remains one of Mike’s fondest memories with the car, he says. Their schedules don’t line up often, but that time Katherine had just returned home from her second U.S. Army deployment with her Air Defense Artillery unit.

“She never navigated a rally car before, but her performance was flawless,” Mike gushed. His wife, Sue, and daughter Tory were also there to cheer them on. More family involvement: Son Michael Jr. sometimes crews, too.

But Is It Love?

Does Mike love running the Capri? When pressed, he cautions that love is a strong word.

“There’s no doubt the Capri is fun to race, but if I loved it, I would park it in “What use is a car if you can’t drive it?”

He’s been told that the reason he’s a rally driver is because he hates cars, with rallying being his way to retaliate against the automobile. “I’ve been a slave to cars all my adult life,” he says. “There’s not a more abusive thing you can do to a car than rally it.” Then he chuckles: “All cars are crap in their own unique ways.”

But the love of rallying lights up his eyes. It’s the competition against the unknown, weather-beaten environment and unmaintained roads--and the people involved. “The cars we tear up in the woods are secondary” to the people who make the sport possible, he explains.

Mike adds one more aspect of rallying that he loves: seeing another generation get involved. “Fortunately for the future of the sport, most competitors are much younger than me.”

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Comments
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fidelity101 (Forum Supporter)
fidelity101 (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/6/20 10:17 a.m.

LSPR2018 was amazing, even with my disqualifcation... 

Tom_Spangler (Forum Supporter)
Tom_Spangler (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
5/6/20 10:23 a.m.

That's a great photo.

GeorgeWeb
GeorgeWeb
5/6/20 9:27 p.m.

This Capri looks like a MkII model (I had a 2.6 V6 Mk I version). I don't believe that this model was ever sold retail in the US. How did he get it? A privately imported car?

therealpinto
therealpinto Reader
5/7/20 4:27 a.m.
GeorgeWeb said:

This Capri looks like a MkII model (I had a 2.6 V6 Mk I version). I don't believe that this model was ever sold retail in the US. How did he get it? A privately imported car?

MkII's were sold in the US, until 1977 so basically all the life of the MkII.

Cool car in the article.

Gustaf

gunner (Forum Supporter)
gunner (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
5/7/20 7:18 a.m.
Tom_Spangler (Forum Supporter) said:

That's a great photo.

Agreed. It makes a wonderful Desktop background.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
5/7/20 9:00 a.m.

Cool enough cars.  I had a friend that drove one in high school, but hey, that was over 40 years ago.  All but impossible to find nowadays.

Birkline
Birkline
5/8/20 2:38 p.m.

Back in the early years of rallying in the US, there was a east cost series called the MONY Series. Rally's were held in MI, OH, PA, NY and eventually others as it expanded. Our club Erie Shores Sports Car Club put on the Erie 100 and later the Cooper Tire 300. Bill Dodd our rally master and frequent competitor ran a 2600 Capri for several years. As a privateer, Bill competed very well against the "factory" teams of the time, John Buffum, Rod Millen, Scott Harvey and others. My father and I crewed regularly for Bill and particularly enjoyed The POR and The Molson Criterium Rally, at the time the only WCR in North America. The POR went on to carry the WRC title as well. Those were the days!

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/8/20 4:38 p.m.

My father had a MK1 capri in that typical 70s brown. It was a very cool car.

jimbbski
jimbbski SuperDork
5/8/20 5:04 p.m.

There was a very limited run of all wheel drive Mk I Capris built for rallying back in the 70's.  I know that a couple were imported and race here back then.

I can't remember the name of the car builder though?

 

I have a nice '74 V6 5 sp. in my garage right now.  It's a friends car.  We are slowly getting it back on the road. It runs and drives but needs much detailing, like a complete interior! It only has an old stock seat that on it's last legs to sit on.

twentyover
twentyover Dork
5/8/20 9:21 p.m.
jimbbski said:

There was a very limited run of all wheel drive Mk I Capris built for rallying back in the 70's.  I know that a couple were imported and race here back then.

I can't remember the name of the car builder though?

 

I have a nice '74 V6 5 sp. in my garage right now.  It's a friends car.  We are slowly getting it back on the road. It runs and drives but needs much detailing, like a complete interior! It only has an old stock seat that on it's last legs to sit on.

Ferguson. They used Cologne shells, shipped to Coventry to be fit with the FF system,.

 

I have a 76 MKII waiting for a new motor

 

 

Being identified as a 74 is interesting- the MKI was sold as a 74 model in the US, the first MKII were sold in Europe as 75 model, and as 76 in the US. Was the shell imported from Europe? It could have been a European import.

therealpinto
therealpinto Reader
5/24/20 1:52 p.m.

Actually, both MkI and MkII were sold as 1974's. My MkII is a 1974, sold new in Sweden. MkI 1974's are quite rare in Europe but you find them now and then.

Gustaf

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