When most people think of Maryland, they typically picture the Chesapeake Bay, or Baltimore, or Washington’s endless suburbs. But few people immediately think of the wooded mountains of Western Maryland, such as this scene from Interstate 68 in Allegany County. In some ways, it’s an appropriate backdrop for a Mercury Capri – which is not quite the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Ford Motor Company V-8 pony cars of the 1980s.
When the Fox-platform Mustang was introduced for 1979, it had a sibling named Capri over at the Mercury division, and the Capri remained in production for 8 model years. The Capri was a mechanical twin to the Mustang, and followed Mustang’s sales strategy on a smaller scale.
With few exceptions, where the Mustang went, Capri followed: this included a full range of performance, budget and luxury models offered during this period (the above pictures are from 1980). Most memorable today are the performance-oriented Capris – in most years these were called the RS model, and they paralleled the Mustang Cobra and GT models.
While mechanically identical, Capris and Mustangs were not quite clones. Capris featured an upright front end (as opposed to Mustang’s sloping nose), and in 1983 gained its most distinctive design element, the bubble-back hatch. The hatch, claimed Mercury in its 1983 sales brochure, was “reminiscent of some of Europe’s finest sports cars.” Whether that’s true or not is open to debate, but the bubble back provided a level of uniqueness that most badge-engineered cars of its day lacked.
The Capri was positioned as a Mustang for people who didn’t want a Mustang. In its first 4 years (1979-82), the Capri averaged a respectable 23% of combined Mustang-Capri sales. However, starting in 1983, the Mustang itself gained popularity and cachet as that model’s performance credentials increased – and as Mustang sales rose, Capri sales fell. By 1986, only 20,869 buyers opted for a Capri (9% of combined sales), and there was apparently little need for a Mustang alternative any longer.
This particular car is from the Capri’s final model year of 1986. For some reason, Mercury dropped the RS designation that year, and uncreatively named its performance model the “Capri 5.0L.” Not surprisingly, power came from Ford’s 5.0-liter V-8 – retuned for 1986 and developing 200-hp through dual exhausts. The 5.0L inherited 1985’s RS trim and equipment specifications, including a sport suspension, 15×7-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, and charcoal-colored lower body cladding, grille and trim. With its final-year performance upgrade, 1986 marked the Capri’s zenith of performance, despite the lackluster sales figures.
While it may not be the first vehicle to come to mind when thinking of 1980s performance cars, the Capri could run with the best of them in its day. Though clearly a well-used example, hopefully this car will still get to climb many more Western Maryland mountains in the future.