Snakes Alive!

Words & photography: Steve ‘Autoholic’ Edwards

When you spot a car for sale that you first saw 30 years previously, you simply have to buy it, even if you accidentally forget to tell the missus!

Nick Blanchard first saw this car back in 1988 when he was at York Raceway with his Dad, Dave. He was armed with his trusty 110mm film camera, and stopped to take a couple of photos of the Capri despite his Dad’s protests not to waste film on “that piece of junk”. Who would have thought that, some 30 years later, Nick would not only still have the photo (being a true Yorkshireman he never throws owt out) but he would have also managed to get his hands on the car too.

So, a brief history lesson for those who don’t know, or weren’t born then. Venom started life as a MkI Capri 3000 GXL, built in 1973 and finished in a fetching shade of Signal Yellow. It was owned and modified by Ian Etheridge, one half of the Etheridge Brothers Motor Body Repair Specialists, a company that he ran with his brother, Nigel. The Capri made its first appearance at the Belle Vue Show in Manchester in 1977. At that time, the paint was very pink and highly metalflaked, and all the body mods were done in metal, except for the very cool bonnet, which was fibreglass and made from a mould taken from a standard 3 Litre item and a slightly extended L88 scoop (remember them?!). Ian painted the car himself, although he’d had the design and layout created by professional artist, Keith Piling. It won an award for Best Professional Paint and took the coveted Visitor’s Choice at that Belle Vue event, something that apparently blew Ian’s mind.

He had been used to owning cars that attracted attention, as he’d previously built a Triumph TR6 called Enchantress that had been painted by Geoff Ridgway, and, after Venom, he created probably the most recognised car of the era, the multi-coloured 1973 Pontiac Firebird that featured a tail fin, known as Celestial. Venom was featured in that well-known hot rod rag, Custom Car, in August of 1977, but then disappeared for a while. On its return, it featured new Etheridge-built body modifications and a new paint job, as Ian had seen the demise of metalflake and the rise in popularity of pearl finishes. It also featured murals by Paul Clark.

The car was sold on a few times; an advert from Classic Car magazine, dated September 1980, had the car for sale with Ian Grange, a classic car dealer, for £3,995 which was a lot considering that the average national wage was £6,000, a pint of beer cost 35p and a litre of petrol was just 28p (did we work in litres in 1980? – DS, SM). Somehow the car ended up in a garage behind a pub near Helmsley, in North Yorkshire, where it sat until it emerged back into the daylight in 2012.

The original Essex V6 lump had been replaced with the 302 Windsor from a Ford Torino back in 1978, and that had in turn been rebuilt, but when the distributor drive had been dropped into the sump that seemed to be the last straw, and it was offered to a guy nicknamed Dougal, who had been after it for a quite some time. He resurrected the car and, in March of 2013, posted a video on YouTube of the engine being fired up for the first time in 28 years.

Later that year, it was up for sale on eBay where it was spotted by Nick, who, after digging out that photo he’d taken years ago, went to view it – it was nearby, but he had no intention of buying. During the conversation, it turned out that there was an interested party who was planning on taking Venom back to stock. Now that was something that Nick, a true lifelong fan of custom cars and a Street Machine reader since the age of nine, could not allow to happen. So being the selfless, courageous chap that he is, he made an offer to save this iconic piece of Seventies nostalgia for us all and shook hands on a deal there and then. The following day, he popped back with a trailer and took it home, where he had space in a barn for it. It just so happened that his partner, Katie, was out at the time, so he closed the door and accidentally forgot to mention his purchase.

Six months later, once a few other projects had been dealt with, Venom saw daylight once more. Within half a day Nick had pulled the engine and slush box, and set about making sure that all was well with the internals. His mate, Stuart, of SS Auto & Body in Beverley, helped out by stripping the gearbox and rebuilt it with new clutches and bands. Nick tackled the engine and, on its latest rebuild, treated the block to a coat of Ford blue paint and topped the whole thing off with a new chrome Edelbrock Performer intake and matching carb set-up.

The original interior featured one-off custom seats fabricated from the Ford ones by Ian and trimmed by Charlie and Joyce Burgess – they were in remarkable condition, and only needed a clean. The Burgess’ had used two-inch foam, which they covered with burgundy Dralon and then buttoned and pleated to create a very distinctive finish. That custom dash was an Etheridge design and build, too, and is made from stainless steel, also covered in Dralon. It really was the thing back then, honest! Stainless was a predominant feature of the car when it was first built, from the extended nose, to the functioning side vents and the sadly now missing rear window louvre.

All the brakes were in need of attention, and so were completely disassembled and rebuilt using new parts and braided hoses throughout. The car was finished in July 2016, and received a clean bill of health from the local MoT station but, due to other things going on in Nick’s life, it spent the remainder of that year under a sheet.

Needless to say, Katie is now completely aware of its existence – keeping a car like this quiet is damn near impossible. Last year saw Venom truly back on the road, when Nick took son Charlie and daughter Lilly on The East Coast Run, and on a 120-mile round trip to the Don Valley Cruise in Doncaster. He was a bit worried that he might not make it there, let alone home again, and so had made sure he had sufficient extra water and a fire extinguisher on board, as well as his trusty AA card in his pocket. He needn’t have worried though, as Venom came through with flying colours and behaved itself the entire time. Nick has no plans to change the car in any way; he just wants to get out and use it whenever possible. One thing is for sure; it won’t be left in a barn for another 30 years!

Tech Spec:
• 1973 Ford Capri MkI
• Colour: Custom paint job
• Engine: Ford Windsor 302 V8
• BHP: 300-ish
• Wheels: Appliance Five Spoke 5.5×13″ (F), Wheel Vintiques Comet (Appliance Replicas) 10×15″ (R)
• Tyres: 185/70R13 (F), 275/65R15 (R)
• Suspension: All components replaced but standard Ford front, uprated springs in rear with jack-up kit, Panhard rod and traction bars