(first posted 4/15/2014) The idea that American style, automotive or otherwise, influences Britain and the rest of Europe is old and well established, and no car demonstrates this better than the Ford Capri. Like Dearborn’s famous coupe, it was based on a mainstream saloon, and was marketed as an aspirational alternative for a more confident, fashion conscious audience. As an Anglo-German collaboration, however, the Capri was an altogether different expression of a very American concept.
The 1969 Capri, the one we remember, was actually the second British Ford to carry the name. The original was introduced in 1961 and was based on the Consul Classic saloon, itself a car sold above the Cortina, with such a heavy dose of US style it could have been a 1950s Vauxhall. Incidentally, the body for the Consul Capri was produced by Pressed Steel, not Ford’s usual supplier Briggs Bodies, whose UK business had been acquired by Ford in the 1950s. This car was quickly overshadowed by the more conservative (some might say tasteful) and better value Cortina and was superseded by the Corsair in 1964. Even that car was stylistically derived from an American product – the 1961 Thunderbird, still one of my favourite American cars.
The 1961 car was, as noted, a British Ford, but the 1969 Capri was a European wide product. Development of what was first called Project Colt began in Dagenham in 1964, just as the Mustang was making its impact on America. There is no record of who within Ford of Britain was responsible for the attractive, enduring styling, but perhaps the masterstroke was to change the proposed shape of the rear side windows from sharp and straight to that unique horseshoe shape, borrowed from the original 1961 model, helping to emphasise the front (the bonnet and its power bulge on the larger engined cars). Add to that a short rump, fastback styling, dummy air inlets ahead of the rear wheels, and side moulding with a hockey stick shape and this was probably Ford’s most successfully styled car since the war, and maybe still is.
Mechanically, the Capri was typical contemporary Ford: MacPherson strut front suspension, rack and pinion steering, and semi elliptic rear suspension (In Europe, the last car produced so equipped). There was a lot of Cortina Mk2, the 1966 (British) version, in the Capri, with a couple of key exceptions. One was a longer wheelbase, up 3” on the 98” of the Cortina. Looking at the car, you can quickly work out that these extra inches went into the front of the car to get that bonnet length. The other exception is that the Capri came with possibly the widest range of engines ever offered when both the UK and the Continent are taken into account.
For the British market, Ford offered 1.3 and 1.6 liter 4 cylinders, a 2.0 V4 and the 3.0 Essex V6. In the rest of Europe, Ford offered 1.3, 1.5 and 1.7 liter V4s and 2.0, 2.3 and 2.6 liter versions of the Cologne V6. By 1974, Ford had managed to standardise the 4 cylinder engines across Europe, using a 2.3 V6 in Europe and a 3.0 V6 for the UK. Assembly, from 1969 to 1976, was in Halewood, in Liverpool and in Cologne, Germany and Genk, Belgium. From 1976, all production was centred in Germany.
Just like the Mustang, the Capri was an instant hit, helped by strong advertising which placed the car in aspirational and even glamorous settings, and in the UK, the great slogan “the car you always promised yourself”. It doesn’t take a great leap to deduce that cars like this helped to end the career of many traditional sportscars (“you can have a sports car if we can get the shopping and the kids in it”).
In the UK, it became the badge of success in the company car park, frequently being offered as a reward or carrot by employers to staff who might be expected to accept a Cortina. By the end of 1970, Ford had sold 400,000, by 1973, 1.2 million across the world, including North America, where it was sold as the Mercury Capri. As they say in football, back of the net!
The featured pale green car is a 1972 1600 XL. The car with wedding ribbons is actually an eBay find of a 1974 3000GXL, then the top of range version, with an emphasis on luxury rather than sportiness, as with the 3000GT. Good luck Ricky and Niki – that’s a great start to your life together!
The Capri, in its first series, had a strong circuit racing career. For European touring car racing, Ford built the RS2600 and later the RS3100 versions. The RS2600 had a version of the Cologne V6 engine assembled by Weslake, featuring their special all alloy cylinder heads and Kugelfischer fuel injection to raise power to 150 bhp, also forming the basis for the Group 2 RS2600 used in the European Touring Car Championship. The RS2600 also received modified suspension, a close ratio gearbox, lightened body panels, ventilated disc brakes and aluminium wheels. 0-60 was achieved in 7.7 seconds. Dieter Glemser won the Drivers’ title in the 1971 European Touring Car Championship and Jochen Mass won in 1972.
How good the Capri was to drive was often a moot point for discussion – it was not a BMW or an Alfasud but it wasn’t a Morris Marina either. The leaf sprung rear axle was not really an asset, except to the modification industry; many of the smaller engines were pretty humdrum too. The Capri with a V6, either a British 3.0 litre or the German 2.6 litre, was one of the more characterful car and engine combinations of the 1970s, similar to the Rover 3500 SD1. Crucially, the Capri was always sold on value, offering the most glamour for the money, and not by trying to price match more sophisticated coupes from BMW or Lancia, among others.
In 1974, Ford effectively broadened the car’s appeal by adding a hatchback and a larger interior, selling it as the Capri II. Some of the compact sportscar appeal was lost, but Ford effectively had a multi-tasking competitor – it could be a sports coupe or 3-door family hatchback, albeit with relatively cramped rear seats and somewhat limited luggage space. And, against the conservative nature of Ford’s saloon offerings in the mid 1970s, its charm was still clear.
The red car is a rather basic 1977 1600L; this bronze car is a 1977 3000 Ghia Automatic, the brougham of Capris.
Ford followed their usual course, offering as many engines and options as possible, from the 1.3 litre, that was advertised against the Vauxhall Chevette at one point, to the 3000 Ghia, which featured all the trimmings you’d expect.
Perhaps the best remembered is the 3000S, with a sports emphasis and the JPS special. JPS was a popular brand of cigarettes (maybe still is? I don’t know anything about cigarettes!), which sponsored the Ford-powered Lotus Formula 1 team for several years from 1972, including Mario Andretti’s world championship car of 1978. Like the Lotus Formula 1 car, the Capri was black with a classy gold coachlining and quickly became one of the winners in the school playground Dad’s Car Competition.
In 1977, Ford gave us the ultimate Capri, known unofficially as the MK III. By dint of Uwe Bahnsen’s careful restyle of the nose to accept a four headlamp configuration and new rear lights, Ford created a car of much stronger visual appeal, that implied a much more modern and firmer (or not so soft) style for the car. A 3000S in this configuration is perhaps the most preferred Capri in the UK now.
But by 1977, the true competitor to the Capri, the hot hatch, was beginning to make its mark. These cars showed that you had to make no compromises, in terms of practicality, to own a sportscar. Within a few years, the range of hot hatches on offer included cars from VW, Renault, Fiat, Vauxhall and Chrysler (later Talbot). Add to this the fact that Ford’s key, high profile, motorsport activity in Europe was rallying, for which the Escort was used (cars like the Escort RS1800 and RS2000 are truly revered now) and the reduction of the Capri’s profile was almost inevitable.
By 1980, Ford was offering a hot hatch as well – the Escort XR3, the ultimate version of the Mk3 European Escort, with a 1.6litre CVH engine and later, as the XR3i, fuel injection. In terms of presentation and impact, this was one of the best of the bunch, even if ride and handling were somewhat compromised. However, it was a successful car, both in terms of sales and in adding some pizzazz to the Escort, and deserves a spot in the history of hot hatches and fast Fords. I must say, though, I can’t remember Ayrton Senna advertising them in Europe!
In 1981, Ford finally let the 3.0 litre Essex V6 go to rest, and UK market cars used the fuel-injected Cologne 2.8 litre, now hooked to a five-speed transmission, in its place. From 1984, the Capri was sold in the UK only (though British production had ended in 1976), and the range was trimmed back to just two specifications: the Laser, in 1.6 and 2.0 forms, and the 2.8 Injection Special, which featured a limited-slip differential and partial leather seating.
This car was also the basis for a sequence of special models with an increasing emphasis on distinctive equipment, along with some mechanical changes, culminating in the Capri Tickford Turbo, with 205 horsepower (forty-five more than the regular 2.8) and a price tag twice that of the 2.8 Injection. I’ll let you decide if you’d prefer a 1969 3.0 litre V6.
In 1983, to add to the Escort XR3i and the Fiesta XR2i, Ford offered the Sierra XR4i, (also the basis for the Merkur XR4Ti). This was the final signal that the Capri was due to be retired, and it was finally put out of production in 1986, after seventeen years. Ford would have preferred to discontinue the model two to three years earlier, but the continued popularity of the 2.8 Injection kept the car popular in the UK a little while longer. The final send off for Ford’s European coupe was the Capri 280, which was painted in Brooklands green and featured fifteen inch alloys and a full-leather interior. Turbo models, converted by Technics, were also sold in limited numbers and featured a healthy 200 horsepower, but unlike the Tickford models, were only regarded by Ford as semi-official.
Ford have tried to recreate the Capri magic, although seemingly without putting their heart into it, as was clearly the case in 1969. In 1994, Europe was offered the second generation Ford Probe and in 1998, the Mondeo/Contour/Mystique-based Cougar was offered. Ford sold 12,000 in 2 years in the UK, and didn’t replace the car when production ceased in 2002. Europe also got the Puma, based on the 1996 Fiesta, from 1997 to 2002.
Do you recognise that rear window shape?
CC Mercury Capri (US import version)
I had a ’71 Mk I and a ’76 Mk II; the 2 liter motors. Two of the best cars I ever owned. Both loved to get up and go. Could have used a fifth gear to settle rpms down at highway speeds. I look back on that time fondly. *sigh*
I had a Pinto with the 2.0L and a stick, what a fun car to drive! I agree that it did need a fifth gear though.
I almost bought a 1.6 litre Capri as my first car, but wound up with a 2 litre Cortina instead. Same price. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice.
Friend of mine had a mercury capri in about 1975. It was better than it had to be. That wasn’t a hard task because he mostly drove it from the barracks to the Chief’s club. I don’t recall being real impressed with it. Possibly because of the 67 Chevelle I was driving at the time. One of the cars I should have kept.
Always thought these were great little cars and was considering a 77 model but compared to its Japanese rivals, it was significantly more expensive – and I ended up buying a Plymouth (Mitsubishi) Arrow – that was about $1K less, big money in late 70s……….
Would love to have one now.
My guess was wrong, like thats a surprise, these Capri were nice cars an immigrant from England in the 60s in our town brought the first one I ever saw but eventually more appeared and they became fairly popular some have sporting abilities some look like they have my brother backed one into a tree at speed so some have suspect roadholding, a friend had a LHD 2.3L Capri from Germany yellow and black looked cool at the time very fast geared for autobahn use Ive been in it at well over 100mph I dont think anyone ever got it flat out in top gear but it didnt cope with our low speed limit at all so it got traded for a Celica an early 75 twincam which felt gutless compared to the Capri, A guy where I worked used Capri heads and a Granada camshaft in a 3L Zodiac MK4 with great results that thing hauled ass the Capri was meant to be a higher compression engine than the common or garden Essex motor, I dont know for sure but that old Zodiac could see off 302V8 converted MK4 Zephyrs at a traffic lights THeres a few Capris around here I shot a brown 2.8 for the cohort a while ago MK2s like these are rarer and Classic Capris are hard to find but they are around my Favourite for sure.
A car I regret not buying when I had the chance.I’ve always liked them and went to see one in 1980,it was a POS with a serious dent the whole driver’s side full of body filler.I walked away and bought a lemon of a Sunbeam Rapier auto instead.Like the Mustang the Capri was available as a basic run about or a tyre burner with everything in between,the UK opposition was no where near as attractive, a badge engineered Vauxhall version of the Opel Manta,the Sunbeam Rapier and the laughable Marina coupe made it an easy win for Ford.The Vauxhall Cavalier/Manta,Rapier and Marina were thinly disguised versions of the workaday saloons a non car person could see,the Capri hid it’s Cortina DNA much better
I’d still like a Capri now,make it a V6 manual please or the baby bubble top.Thanks for another great read Roger
Other than the V6 I’d take a Rapier H120 manual in preference to the 4bangers.
+1 despite the agro I had I’d like an H120 if having to choose a 4 cylinder coupe
Amazing how — on paper — the Capri and the Mustang II were so similar, yet in execution there was a world of difference.
Don’t know about a world of difference, but at least a few continents of difference!
Nice overview Roger. I believe a guy called Phil Clark was the stylist of the MkI.
I see this MkI around my suburb quite a bit, makes for a pleasant change from the typical black behemoths. I’ll take a silver MkIII with a gold one for my partner, thanks.
Yes, Phil Clark did the basic design. I don’t know who did the reshaped rear windows, but that was the main element that departed from Clark’s treatment. His boss in Dunton at that point was Duncan McRae, formerly of Studebaker, who went on to run Ford’s Australian studio for a while some years later.
The upswept rear window was axed at the very last minute; test mules had the “Colt’s” window shape almost up until the official debut. Ford apparently rethank (likely wisely) as a result of constant complaints of the rear seat being too claustrophobic during the consumer clinics they held during development.
Another interesting bit worth noting is at the official press debut in Cyprus, there was a Cosworth 1.6 powered model available to test that never reached full production. If only…
I don’t have the sales numbers at hand but I guess the Capri was, by far, the best selling coupe throughout the seventies and early eighties. In my childhood these were really everywhere you looked.
The last model with the 2.8i engine was one of my favorites back then, a black one please.
The Capri had the bulk of its sales in its first few years and then really dropped off. After the U.S. version was dropped in 1977, the Capri was in an odd sort of limbo — it sold well enough to be worth keeping alive (indeed, for longer than Ford expected, as Roger notes), but not well enough to justify replacing it or doing much more than equipment changes and the odd nip and tuck. The Mk3 cars looked different (and are arguably the best-looking of the lot), but still basically had a 1967-vintage Cortina floorpan underneath.
Uwe Bahnsen told Jeremy Walton at some point that Ford kept toying with ideas for some kind of successor, but every time they ran the numbers, it was clear that hot hatch versions of the standard cars were a much safer bet financially. Cars like the XR2 and XR3 sold about as well as the coupes would have and didn’t involve any great tooling investment.
The seventies, peak time for (affordable) coupes. Ford and Opel alone had 6 of them: Taunus-Granada-Capri and Kadett-Manta-Monza.
Around 1980 the hot hatch became more popular, every Euro-brand could offer one or more and the coupe models (fastbacks) faded away.
Ah, yes – the Ford Capri – another Ford product I really liked. These were all over the place when I was in the air force, and several were seen on base.
Seemingly 90% of them were yellow, but so was my avatar – they all looked very good in that color.
Also, another car I never got to drive or even ride in. Unfortunately, they all seemed to disappear rather quickly, too.
Try a V6 if you get chance,you’ll not be disappointed even with an auto box they were quite fast
I do wonder whether Ford would’ve had better initial luck with the Sierra if it had been launched in XR4i form only as a Capri replacement with base 3-door, 5-door and wagon models gradually taking over from the Taunus/Cortina over the following 18 months to 2 years.
Very nice article. Haven’t really thought much of the Capri these days; but back in the day, they seemed to be everywhere in New Jersey. Looking at the pictures of the early Capri, I’m reminded of how much more I miss the Opel Manta, with it’s cleaner styling at that near-Camaro like shark nose front end.
Here in the states, an alternative to the first OPEC price gouging extortion were the Capri, Mustang II and Opel Manta, Nice cars for their time.
I never drove one, but I carpooled to school in the backseat of one…the driver complained about how SLOW it was, 4 cylinder automatic, and preferred his mother’s Datsun 810 wagon, which was a screamer, relatively speaking.
The Capri strikes me as being wider than the Mk2 Cortina but perhaps not as wide as the Mk3, would that be right? There are lots of Mk1 versions here in Australia, half of which seem to have V8s fitted these days, they dropped it later but there are lots of private imports. The V6 GT was popular, and came in bright colours from the Falcon GT and had the bonnet pins too.
Lucky South Africans got the Perana V8 Capri which had a 302 and 4 speed.Never seen a genuine one but there have been many home brewed versions in the UK
Because the 302 fits so does a 351 its the same block then your talking weapon, rear axle change required to a 9 inch Ford and your away burning rubber, plenty have been done, handling does not improve with the extra weight up front.
The late 2.8i Mk3s also benefited from a rethinking of the suspension tuning by Rod Mansfield’s Special Vehicle Engineering team; it was their first production model. The suspension was very basic (struts in front, a live axle on single leaf springs, anti-roll bars front and back), but SVE was able to work out the proper balance of spring, damping, and bushing rates and the results were really quite impressive. The lesson there is that sometimes a well-sorted if old-fashioned layout provides better results than a theoretically more sophisticated one that isn’t as well-considered.
As a minor correction, the early Fiesta XR2s did not have the “i” — both the Mk1 (which was SVE’s second project) and the Mk2 were carbureted. The injected XR2i didn’t come along until the Mk3 in 1989.
“including North America, where it was sold as the Mercury Capri”
I don’t believe that the European Capri, while sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers, was ever marketed as “the Mercury Capri”. That particular designation did not arrive until the 1979, Fox-based Mustang/Capri debuted. It was Ford Capri….versus (later on)….Mercury Capri. “Capri….the sporty European….at your Lincoln-Mercury dealers now…”
You are correct that it was never marketed as the “Mercury Capri” but my recollection is that’s how it was commonly referred to. It had neither Ford nor Mercury badging in North America.
+1 – I think this is absolutely right, including the part about people commonly calling it a “Mercury Capri” even if technically it wasn’t.
Holy Hell, I had no idea something like the 1961-64 Capri existed! That is one seriously fine piece of automotive design I’d like to have in my possession, but I’m guessing the number of these that migrated across the Atlantic could probably be counted on two hands.
It looks like Christine got pregnant and had a litter of awesome car pups!
Still a few of the ’61-’64 Capris here in New Zealand, and they pop up for sale every now and then. The back “seat” on the ones I’ve seen is hilarious, it’s basically a flat unpadded vertical surface and a flat unpadded horizontal surface with seatbelts.
Theres possibly as many Consul classic Capris around as Consul Classic sedans Roger mentions they were Vauxhall like for aping US styling well they sure were Vauxhall like for rust they were almost biodegradable and a very popular parts donor for OHV conversions for 100E Prefects and Anglias when I was a teen, nobody in their right mind wanted a Consul Classic too big and heavy for the 1340cc engine so they got junked and the parts went into 100Es
these were fairly popular back in the day in jersey. i remember being impressed by these as a kid. i think these and the opels from the buick dealer sort of set the stage for the bmw’s and audi’s to come. up until then, most of us thought of small european cars as noisy and underpowered (vw) or totally unreliable (triumph/mg). the capri’s were beautiful and comfortable and they were as easy to keep running as any other ford/mercury.
The US-market Capri used to be quite common during the 1970s, and one almost ended up being the car that I had my first automobile memories in. My mother recalls that she really wanted one as her first car in 1972, but that my father (who had a GM-only attitude and totally ignored Ford and Chrysler) thought that she was asking for a Caprice coupe. The Caprice that he thought she wanted being too big and extravagant, she ended up with a 1972 Chevy Nova 2-door instead. Even thought she has no real interest in cars, she would have been happier with the much sportier Capri, I am certain.
Thanks for this write up, Roger. This is easily my favorite Ford. There is one standing in a driveway in our town. It hasn’t moved an inch since 1986 and most likely years before that. I would love to have it for my first classic car restoration project.
A very good treatment of an interesting car, Roger. I did not know about that pre-1969 version. There is a lot of American 1960 Ford in that one.
A neighbor had one of these – maybe the only car ever in their driveway that was not a Pontiac or a VW. A 1973, IIRC. This was always a very attractively styled car that hit its little segment of the market perfectly. It’s a shame that exchange rates went so wrong in the mid 1970s, as it made these cars way too expensive, ditto with Opels.
I’m sorry that we never got any of the later version here in the U.S. Those final ones were very attractive cars.
Anybody know what years they were available in North America? I recall them being fairly common during my childhood (early seventies) and being slightly confused as to why they didn’t have the euro headlamps like my Matchbox car.
By my teens, they were all gone and I’m not sure why. I never got to drive one, but I rode in the back of one just once. I remember it was very cramped for a 6 footer, and when I opened the pop out window it indeed popped right out and was hanging by the latch. Driver said “oh, that always happens, don’t open the window”.
As always there is a great Top Gear episode where James May gets a semi-functional Capri and takes it on a road trip.
Going by memory here, but I believe it showed up in the US for the 1971 model year. Aaron notes above that it was discontinued in 1977.
Based on the Capri’s Wikipedia article:
–It was introduced in the U.S. in April 1970; I’m unclear if it was considered to be a late 1970 model or an early 1971 model. Was the introduction timed to fall on the anniversary of the Mustang’s introduction in 1964? Ford had done something similar with the Maverick in 1969.
–The last model year for the the Mark I in the U.S. was 1974. There do not appear to have been any 1975 models sold in the U.S. — I’m not sure exactly why — although the revised ’76 version (see next bullet) went on sale early.
–The Mark II version went on sale in the U.S. as a 1976 model.
–The last year these were really imported was 1977, but some leftover ’77s were sold as ’78 models.
–The U.S. never got the Mark III version.
For some reason, the Capri was probably my favorite Matchbox when I was a kid. I think I had two in the standard reddish color, plus an orange one that came out of some kind of multi-pack, and a “Rolomatic” (?) model based on the Capri casting which had an oversized, partially exposed engine that shook back and forth when the car rolled. I may even be forgetting another variant. I’m not sure if I even realized that it was the same car sold in the U.S. at Lincoln-Mercury dealers. I remember feeling disappointed one year when I looked in a Matchbox catalog and saw that the Capri had been replaced by a new model.
I guess everybody forgot about the rare 2600 RS model.
Probably only sold in continental Europe, LHD only?
It had quad head lights and different alloy wheels
F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi had one.
Here’s the interior
The Capri was introduced in America in the spring of 1970, and was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers, who had no idea what to do with it. Initially it was sold only with the 1600cc pushrod engine. The 2 litre Ford of Germany OHC engine became available in the autumn, if I remember right, and the German 2600 V6 arrived around January 1972. I drove all three and found the 2 litre to be the best considered combination overall.
I had a ’74 2.8 V6, root beer brown like the one in this picture. Electrical gremlins scared me out of it after a year and a day. Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d held onto it and simply got them sorted out. I loved driving it, loved the look and they’re so rare now.
Should be illegal to put auto trannys in certain cars, and these are one of them.
I still regret the fact my parents passed the Mercury Capri over for a Honda Civic when they were shopping for a second, small car in 1975. Though tellingly, my memory of the Lincoln-Mercury showroom was sitting in a Mark IV, silver wiht a lustrous silver interior and begging my dad to take that home instead!
I dated a girl with a yellow – call it a ’74 – Mercury Capri. Sort of the perfect car for a college age girlfriend.
It is just me, or do I see what the AMC Marlin should have been. Just without the excessive size and awkward lines.
Very nice article Roger. I have been looking off and on for a 1977 Capri V6 Ghia for about five years now. Extremely hard to find.
Agree the MkIII was the best looking. I spoke to someone at Team Blitz once about finding a Capri II and modifying it to look like a MkIII with the wrap around bumpers using their kits. They said folks aren’t doing that any more because the 25 year rule allows old cars into the US and it’s easier to bring over a MkIII from Europe.
I believe I read in the article that the last MkIII Capris were built in Germany is that correct? Were all of the final MkIIIs RHD for the British market only or was there a LHD version for places like Germany?
As Gworl notes below, the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and no. Production was eventually consolidated in Cologne, but after the demise of the U.S. car, most Capris went to the British market. There was still a LHD car through the end of the 1984 model year, but the final 1985–1987 models were all RHD.
Very helpful thank you Ate up with motor. One more question for you or anyone who might know…
There are three MkIII front views in this article. The first two have what I call the straight across front hood edge. The last one has the more traditional Capri look.
In what model year did the hood edge go straight across? I love that look.
If you’re talking about the dark green MkIII in front of the white house, the top bar of the grille looks like its the leading edge of the hood. That straight edge was carried through the MkIII.
So the dark green car and silver car have the same front end and hood? The eyes on the silver car look squinty-er but it may be the angle.
Yep. I think this is one of the first production cars to ‘clip’ the top of the headlight. E39 BMW did same thing, but more slightly. I’ve got a theory about this, linked to the way the human eye has an iris ‘clipped’ at the top by the upper eye lid. Not a fully formed theory yet, but thinking of writing about it.
I got it… all MkIIIs had the squinty eyes, all were German-built and the LHD production ended in late ’84.
The Jensen Interceptor also had the clipped look. It’s sexy.
If you want to see some MkIIIs in action, look up a British TV series called ‘The Professionals’. Early eps had a white MkII and later ones featured some MKIIIs.
Serious business, an angry look, don’t mess with me. That’s what those relatively small “clipped” dual headlights say. Or, as the Germans call it, Überholprestige.
I mean, just look at that sissy hairdressers Puma….Or any other modern car with today’s oversized aquarium headlights for that matter.
The final MkIIIs were available new in New Zealand too (alongside the Sierra XR4i).
I learned how to drive a stick wcou csd
Never leave the computer when a 5 year old is around. Should know better by now.
Anyway I learned to drive a stick on a 1972 Capri 2.0L engine which was forgiving. Then moving to a 911E was a whole other world from the Capri. My younger sister had a 1974 Capri with the 2.6L and an auto which was still a nice quick car. It was also the one car in the family that eventually got phased out and I never knew exactly what or why. Compare those two to my younger brother’s 1971 Pinto 4spd with a 2.0L 11:1 compression engine. That car would scare the crap out of you when nearing 100 which it did easily. My brother was the budding engine mechanic.
My brother-in-law had a ’73 Mercury Capri with the stick and V6. I had just turned 16 and he let me drive it!! What a car!! He later turned it in for a ’73 Super Beetle with automatic in order to make my sister happy. I think he regretted letting go of the Capri.
The Mark I version was the best. When the Mark II came out, Capris were too expense and too dull….
Being a fan of “English Fords” , just about the time I think I got most of the lineage down I find a new one, like the early Capri, so thanks Roger for this history of the 70s Capri. I test drove one of these in the 70s and loved the 4sp and V6 and had a nice rumble to the exhaust. The dash reminds me of the ’68 Cougar XR7 that I bought shortly afterwards; although what I’ve learned on CC that was a copy of another British car, namely the Jaguar XJ6. The only thing I was wondering about, and don’t want to start any cross pond family squabbles, but when you said:
“and this was probably Ford’s most successfully styled car since the war, and maybe still is”
you were referring to the “European” Fords and not all Fords, right?:-) As I could think of a number of Fords I would put in a list starting with the ’68 Cougar I mention above.
In response to calibrick’s question, the Capri III, which was officially called “Capri ’78” by Ford, was introduced in March 1978 and exclusively built in Germany. From around November of 1984 on it was built as RHD only and Ford stopped to sell it in LHD-countries like Germany. I remember that there were still some unsold cars at German Ford dealers left throughout 1985. My first car was a 1980 Capri 2.0 V6 S and later on I used to own a 1979 Capri 3.0 V6 S. I finally had to sell it because of lack of time, but I might get me another one someday. I am going to treat myself to my dream car first – a new Ford Mustang. Being German it means a lo to me to finally being able to walk into my local Ford – dealership and order a 2015 Mustang.
This place is awesome. I spent hours once online trying to get an answer to that question and gave up. Didn’t know Ford was going to sell the 2015 in Europe 🙂
Many thanks Gworl!
Only on titles, licences, and registration forms was it called ‘Mercury Capri’.
While L-M dealers didn’t know how to sell them at first, when Gas Crisis I hit, they sure were glad to have them!
The Puma reminds me of the Mazda MX3.
Always liked the looks of “The Sexy European”. I learned a lot from Roger’s fine article. I thought the car was of German decent, never realized the English ford connection. The V6 4 speed cars would really move. In the 70’s and early 80’s they were all over the place. But they seemed to vanish almost overnight, for some reason. The only bad memory I have is being T boned by one in my 66 Bug with a 60lb bag of pizza dough flour in the back seat. I looked like a ghost when I got out of the car, the bag exploded and white powder was everywhere. My boss was not happy when my insurance company went after his because I had not clocked out when he sent me to the other store to get the flour. That was the end of my pizza job.
Very popular cars in the 60s and mid 70s then they put them in TV shows like Minder where Dennis Waterman’s character Terry was a bit of a loser and Only Fools and Horses with David Jason’s cockney wide boy Del Trotter driving one.
These were quite popular in New Zealand, still a reasonable number around too. We had them from 1969 right through until the end (although the only 280s I’ve seen here are ex-UK imports, so we may not have got those new). As I was growing up through the 70s/80s, the Capri had a bit of a bad-boy image – a bit of glam and a bit lairy. Oddly, one of my vivid childhood school memories is our class of 10-year-olds being taken up town one day in 1984, and we walked past a brand-spanking new MkIII Capri 2.0 S. It was bright yellow with a black interior and the black S side stripes. I remember marveling at how outrageously boyracerish it looked! Sadly most of my classmates didn’t care…
Until recently, the offices I worked in was adjacent to an auto-trans shop, the owner of which (and also our landlord) modifies and races MkII Capris. He has several of them at his premises. I’ve no idea what engines are in them, but they are all very highly worked. The last one I heard sounded almost like an F1 car, and from what I’ve read online, is very, very fast. He also has an Austin Montego van, which is actually the Montego body fitted to the floorpan of a 1989 Nissan Bluebird Attesa turbo…
Another great write-up Roger, thank you!
Very inspiring inputs from all – well done.
Only challenge is….in the US I cannot see much support for the Capris.
I have one, and I am tempted to restore it. However there does not seem to be much online and offline support for it. Mine will need all new rubber, bumpers re-straightened, etc.
When I got it I had plans of a showroom level restoration, or a sleeper/ canyon carver with a 500hp+ Ford v8 ( i have the engine & trani off my old mustang ). Problem is, it would twist the Capri like a pretzel. To do it right I would have to reinforce the whole Capri, change front and rear suspension, brakes etc. A lot of money to do it right.
If anyone knows of place ( or places ) in the Northern CA please feel free to let me know.
Hello fellow Capri-friends – I am looking out for a pre-facelift model – built between 1970-1972 – please contact me if you sell one or know somebody who does.
Roger, thanks for this excellent write-up on one of my favorite Fords, from any continent. William Stopford’s article on the 3.0L from today led me to search for more Capri articles. Seeing pictures of the MKIII reminded me of the thrill of seeing a Capri in its native Europe when I was there in the mid-80’s.
One of the best looking cars ever made to me. Just perfect.
I’ve always liked those cars but haven’t seen one in probably 30 years, not even at a show. The bodies didn’t fare too well against rust here in the States, and I remember they have pretty much been extinct since probably the mid-1980s but they sure did look great. Friends of my parents had one when I was a kid-a brown ’73 or ’74 with rallye wheels, and I remember she was always complaining about no power steering or air conditioning, but I still liked riding in it because it looked cool.
Quite possibly the most vulgar European car ever made. Although the Manta B beat it to that role in Germany.
I’m curious why so? I’ve heard it’s similar to the image used Camaros and such achieved towards the early ‘80’s as second hand vehicles, but was that accurate when they were new? I’m sure some sort of cultural difference is at play, because I don’t hear that from people “over here” in the US. In fact, they seem to have somewhat of a highly regarded reputation, both then and now when someone references a Capri (and the Opel Manta, for that matter). Trashy Flashy? Or something else?
It’s always looked mullety to my U.S. eyes. Even as a naive teen, I could not warm up to them. I could tell I was supposed to find it good looking, but it’s really just a bunch of stylistic ideas cobbled together with no sense of a whole. Interesting to learn that the horseshoe rear window, which has always bugged me, replaced a reverse slant window. That suits the overall form much better: it gives a sense that the entire shape is reclining, with the legs (hood) stretched out in front.
It’s a class thing, unsurprisingly. In Europe, the Manta and Capri opened up a huge market of affordable sporty cars to a blue collar demographic right at the time when their real incomes were rising strongly (Europe’s income rise was a bit behind the US’). Meanwhile, the educated/elite/professional caste had been buying BMWs and Alfas and Mercedes and Audis and even VWs (think GTi) and other brands, and had been moving away from Opels and Fords in general, due to their increasingly downscale image. The Manta and Capri were the extreme examples of that.
In the US, it was essentially the opposite: all import brands, even Opel and the Capri, invariably were bought by those with higher levels of education, profession and incomes, compared to the domestic brands. This went back to the beginning of the import/sports car boom of the 50s. So the Manta and Capri were seen as very legitimate import sporty coupes, with inherently positive social standing. Meanwhile the domestic Camaro and Mustangs and such increasingly became blue collar “mullet mobiles”.
It’s a prefect example how context is everything with cars. It had nothing to do with the Manta and Capri themselves; the were both quite decent cars. It’s all about prestige value, and the European class system back then was even more sharply defined than in the US. But now we’re pretty much in the same boat, at least in regard to certain brands and models.
Shall we ask Bewo what his class background/educational level and profession is/was? His comment is all about these cars’ social standing and nothing about their actual qualities.
Spot on Paul. The cars themselves weren’t really the issue, although they were crude. Even when new, they were affordable, blue collar muscle, at least optically. My firmly middle-class grandmother, who’s got a very sensitive vulgarness antenna, put it very clearly: “the krauts drive those”. Not a compliment in the Netherlands until about 2000.
The same lot befell the Manta, which became legendary for its tacky owner demographic. So much so in Germany it became the subject of two films parodying the phenomenon: Manta, Manta and Manta, der Film. Most American cars that made their way here carried the same image.
The Capri combined both: mulleted owners and very overt American styling. As for me, I only saw them when they were already pretty old, with their owners still sporting mullets years after they’d gone out of style.
Today, Ford seems to have shed much of the lower-class reputation, starting with the Focus. Opel, which used to be somewhat more upmarket than Ford until it dropped in the 70s, still struggles with it somewhat. “Great car, but it’s still an Opel” is not an unusual comment, including in car magazines. In any case, the best-selling midsize cars of today carry a propeller, a star, or four rings.
Exactly as BeWo describes. I remember when growing up finding the Capri quite attractive but hey! it was a Ford. Same for the Manta, especially the first series which was very nicely styled, but it would almost be a shame to be seen in one. Come on, surely not own an Opel?!?!
To this day I will rather not own a Ford or Opel. Stupid I know but years living with prejudices still have that effect.
It always amuse me to see Heineken is a “premium” import beer in the USA. Here in the Netherlands it is (or was) low on the scale of good beers. Heineken was/is the #1 most sold beer, if possible you would choose another (Grolsch, Dommelsch, Hertog Jan or whatever).
Could be worse. I’ve seen Landerbräu and Hollandia, the actual lowest-budget paper-thin can el cheapo crap, seriously offered as premium beer at Walmart in Culiacán in Mexico. That’s akin to selling a Yugo as if it were an Alfa Romeo.
(They did offer actual good Belgian beer, too)
I have to laugh at how in North America, Stella is regarded as an upscale import beer, and in the UK it has been given the nickname of “wife beater”.
Personally, any car associated with mullets is a good car in my eyes.
Much is clearer to me after reading everyone’s input. Dion’s Heineken analogy makes a lot of sense to me in that I was aware Americans have a skewed perspective with that particular product, and I somehow don’t drink beer. Thanks to all!
Interesting discussion. But I would never look at a car and say “Nice looking car, too bad it’s a brand for the working classes.” I don’t see the badge when I judge a Capri (or Opel or Dodge). I see the external shape/details/aesthetic sensibility of the car itself. If I think a car’s styling is well done, I’ll like it. If it’s a competent driving car, I might buy it. If I see an ugly BMW, and there are more than a few, I’ll avoid it. (EDIT: I’m not drinking Heineken just because some people think it’s premium. I hate the stuff!)
Peter Stevens claims credit for the Mk 1 and Mk 2 headlamp treatments.
The first picture of a silver car doesn’t have the curved design? Is it a prototype?
It was the intended rear window shape that was cancelled at the last minute after consumer clinics determined the rear seat was too claustrophobic. I think it looks better, but Ford felt sales wouldn’t be up to what was required if they kept the upswept shape.
I think the model in the ad, “The car you always promised yourself” is George Lazenby, who starred as James Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
1974 Mercury Capri V6 4Speed was a very capable car for its class.