I met John in the Industrial Design program at Georgia Tech in 1983, and we became fast friends (and remain so to this day). We both enjoyed road racing, and managed to talk the folks at Road Atlanta into free pit passes in exchange for putting up race posters all around campus. I only have this single photo of John’s RS alongside my ’71 Vega, and if I remember right, it was taken where we parked near Turn 7 (sleeping in the cars overnight) one race weekend. John kept the car absolutely spotless, and was always looking for extra weight that could be removed without impacting function or form. The Kamei front spoiler and sunroof were aftermarket, and really enhanced the looks of the car. The rear window louvers (very popular in the early 1980s) were a dealer option.
I forget whether John bought his Capri RS new or slightly used. It had a 85hp (1-barrel carb) 3.3L straight six mated to a four-speed manual transmission (the straight six was only available from ’80-83). The ’81-82 sixes got a 2-barrel carb, bumping power to 98hp. While no barn-burner in straight-line acceleration (in part due to a very tall 2.49:1 rear axle ratio), I do remember it handled quite crisply with the upgraded suspension bits that came with the RS package. Early RS Capris used a non-standard (and unpopular) 390mm (15.35″) wheel diameter with Michelin TRX tires – these were later revised to a standard 15″ size.
The Second-gen Capri (or third-gen Mustang, depending on how you want to count) was only available as a hatchback, with 1983-86 models sporting a unique “bubble back” rear lite (interestingly also used on Mustangs sold in Mexico). The Capri bubble back had significantly less drag than the Mustang hatch (even when the bubble back was fitted to the Mustang!), so Ford used the Capri extensively, and quite successfully, throughout the 1980s in the Trans Am series. Other than the distinctive grill and fenders, there were few other differences between the two models.
I was never really into Fox Mustangs, but I think this generation Capri successfully interpreted what a “classier” pony car could be.
UPDATE – John just emailed some additional photos of his RS:
My then girlfriend, now wife bought a use ’82 RS with the 5.0 and a four speed (as I recall, it was the only year of the 2 bbl 5.0 H. O.). It came with full boat load of features, including T-tops. A very fun car, but I was glad to let it go. The T-tops leaked regardless of attempted fixes, and the 5.0 filled the engine bay to excess, making maintenance an on-going nightmare.
Still, I always enjoyed running through the gears from a green light.
When I was in high school a local grocery store magnate bought two of these (probably MY 80) for his twin daughters.
From the art on the front fender, it looks like the Vega is sporting a Buick Turbo V-6 under the hood. If so, that thing would be a real screamer.
It had a Buick 3.8L under the hood (mated to a THM350), but it was naturally aspirated, not turbo’d. The logo was a bit of “paint-on performance.” It *was* a screamer, tho. Outran a Maserati once as we were leaving Road Atlanta. (c:
I was a teenager at the time, and wasn’t impressed by the close brand engineering between the Mustang and Capri of this generation. Especially considering, the previous Capri was so distinctive. The ‘bubbleback’ hatch helped. But I always saw them as fancy Mustangs.
Impressive, to see a Vega in such great shape, lasting into the 80s.
Ed, those are two sharp looking cars.
Another car,I’ve never seen in the metal.Nice looker but not different enough from the Mustang for me.Were they much more expensive than the Mustang?Ford was always careful to not make a Mustang fighter,look how the Cougar changed over the years and how Mopar sunk the new E bodies with the Demon and Duster
A quick search yielded a price of US $10,072 for the 1984 Mustang GT 350 and $10,950 for the 1986 Mercury Capri RS 5.0L, so it looks like they were fairly close in price (Merc slightly higher).
79,000 Capris were sold in 1980 vs. 270,000+ Mustangs the same year. Capri sales sunk to only 18,657 in 1985.
IIRC, the Fox-platform Capri had by far its best sales year in 1979, and by far its second-best sales year in 1980, just like the Fox-platform Mustang. Capri sales dropped steadily after its first year for the same reasons as the Mustang (second oil crisis, recession). Unlike the Mustang, it never bounced back, but continued to slowly decline. I think it’s fair to say that the reason the Capri was dropped after ’86 was slow sales.
Thanks both,will keep a look out for one at shows
The Mercury Capri vs. Mustang was a bit different than the Plymouth Barracuda/Duster situation. The Chrysler E-body was a mostly new platform (albeit derived in certain respects from the B-body intermediates), and so losing sales to a cheaper and probably less profitable derivative of the existing A-body platform was a costly problem.
With the Fox-body Mustang and Capri, they were basically the same car underneath and so from a corporate perspective, sales of either still helped to amortize the tooling and development costs. Lincoln-Mercury dealers generally appreciated having popular models to sell (the whole point of pairing Mercury with Lincoln was that while Lincoln sales tended to be profitable on a unit basis, they were fewer and farther between, so the Mercury line helped keep dealers afloat between Mark or Town Car sales). The only ones who probably weren’t too keen on it were Ford Division’s managers, but having a certain rivalry between your divisions isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It wasn’t just the bubble back that was unique to the Capri. The Capri had flared fenders that were unlike the Mustang but IMO looked much better.
I like the Capri fender treatment better as well as the front fascia however I’m not a fan of the bubble back’s tail lights. Of the four eyes the early Capri is my favorite.
My mother had a new orange ’79 Capri with the 2.8L Cologne V6 — sweet little ride that was amazingly modern for its time. I remember being appalled when they put the 3.3L straight-six in it starting around 1980. It’s a heavy old, yet reliable, lump that started life in the 1963½ Falcon. (Disclosure: My ’62 Falcon Ranchero has the similar 170 cid predecessor).
In any case, it seems like sacrilege to mate the RS handling package with that cast-iron lump on an engine!!!
I believe that the 200 CID six actually replaced the 2.8L V6 in Mustangs and Capris during the 1979 model year as a running change, after Ford encountered a supply problem with the V6. The 2.8 was a carryover from the Mustang II. Other Fox-platform cars like the Fairmont and Zephyr always used the 200. The only other U.S. Ford models that used the 2.8 were the Pinto and Bobcat, although it wasn’t commonly ordered. When the supply problem with the 2.8 came about, the 2.8 was simply dropped from Pintos and Bobcats and not replaced.
Ed’s article states that the straight six was offered until 1983, but I thought the Mustang got the 232/3.8 V6 in either ’82 or ’83. Or were both engines offered simultaneously for a year or two? The Fairmont and Zephyr kept the 200 all the way to their last year in 1983, and I thought they were the last models using it at that point.
The ‘wireframe’ horizon graphics on the Vega are very early 80s period correct. And would have looked cutting edge.
My own design, as part of a respray after replacement of the driver’s side fender, door and rear quarter after an accident. Glad you liked it!
Looks sharp! I appreciated the Vega notchbacks for their rarity, and their resemblance to the Ford Escort Mark II…
Now then you mention it, I wonder if the designers of the Ford Escort Mark II could had been inspired by the design of the Vega?
Here’s the 1968 concept for the Vega:
I see a lot of ’75 Nova in the lower body of that Vega concept.
That would be a 1-barrel, not a 2.
You are correct, for the 1980 RS. I had mis-remembered John’s RS as being an ’81, and he emailed a correction. The ’81-82 RS did have a 2-bbl carb; non-RS’ still had the 1-bbl. Fixed.
And sporting the ubiquitous TRX tire / wheel package too!
You misspelled “beshitted” in describing the TRX package. 😉
in ’81, I bought my first new car: 1981 Mercury Capri Black Magic. Basically like the RS but with the Mustang hoodscoop and gorgeous gold strips and tail spoiler out back. It had the infamous TRX’s painted gold. Man, those Michelin tires were EXPENSIVE.
Mine had the 255 2bbl V8, Auto Tranny, roll up windows and no t-top. Loved the faux turned dash and the gold cloth inserts. I didn’t realize how rare these cars were. My bother was jealous and wanted one too. He found another one. It was loaded but had the V6. IIRC, it had the T-Tops. but, it did have power windows. I need to look for those photos of the two sitting side-by-side. Quite a treat!
Drove the wheels off that car and, at 160K, it was really used up. But, I wish I could find another Black Magic in good shape. I remember that the previous generation (1978 I think) introduced the Black Magic.and the package is rather striking on that body style too. In ’81, you could also get a white version of the “Black Magic” where the body and seats were white with the same gold accents. Very cool too.
They introduced the bubble windows in ’83. It just wasn’t the same car.
Ed, my ’80 RS came with the 1 barrel, but I added an adaptor plate and a Holley 2 barrel. Didn’t seem to make much difference. Torque was decent for the day but once you hit 3rd gear around 45 mph, it was over. The trans was actually a 3-speed with overdrive for the “4th gear”. Great article. Brings back many memories. I had that car for 9 years with no trouble to speak of.
Thanks for piping in, John! I had forgotten about your carb mod, and that you kept the car that long. Them was some fun days… (c:
I loved the Capri hood scoop at the time, but I’ll be darned if modern living hasn’t groomed me to see a recycling station when I look at it, in today’s context… lol
Aluminium on the left, paper goods on the right… (c:
That Capri is IMO the best looking Fox Body of them all. Love the color, louvered taillights, domed hood & flared fenders. Are tires available for those wacky rims anymore?
It’s too bad you never see these things anymore.
Michelin stopped building them a while ago, but they sold the molds to Coker, which has kept them in production.
man, that Merc is WAY sharp looking! I like the front clip on these a lot–the aero look on fox stangs after ’87 always looked like total ass to me. This is so much more ‘muscle car’. I never liked the bubble back, but love the louvers! Just too bad its a 6 cyl, if this were a 5.0L or even a turbo 2.3 (not sure if the Merc ever got that plant) it would be all win. I always HATED the ‘Capri’ name. Not fitting for a pony car at all. Merc was all about the feline names so why not Panther or Lynx? ‘Capri’ is a brand of ladies cigarette that one of my exes always smoked. Tar and nicotine be damned….she always looked sexy holding one (stained with her red lipstick) in her red-nailed hands! Whenever I see one of these cars, that’s what I think of.
I like that vega too! Even with no turbo, that engine in such a light car would be a total screamer.
I gotta agree with you why you like the Capri: I like it for the same reasons and likewise I HATE the bubbleback.
I must admit…your “Capri” rant/story is freakin’ hilarious — it paints a vivid picture!!
That’s what I was goin for!
Ed, this column reminded me how long it’s been since I last saw one of those “bubble-back” cars, which I always found attractive.
For those wanting to recapture their youth, there’s a one-owner 1984 Capri (5.0, automatic, slightly leaky T-top 107K) on eBay now:
I grew up with my dad driving a Fox Mustang, actually the same vintage as I am, 1985.
Aside from my VWs, I usually gravitate toward the unusual in cars and I asked him why he bought a Mustang like everyone else, why not a Capri to be a bit different.
Yeah, that’s more my way of thinking rather than his, haha.
If I was going to have a Fox body, I’d want either a Capri or Mustang SVO. Again, I like the oddball stuff.
Or, if you *really* want unique, you could have the best of both worlds (my son’s first car – an ’84 Mustang L, base *everything*, FTW!):
I always preferred the Mercury hatchback version but the Ford notchback was still the coolest. The Mercury worked well and the boat anchor six wasn’t bad about town at all. I have experienced lots of Foxes with the 3.3 straight six and they are torquey up to about 80 km/h and then run out of wind, like another poster stated. Any kind of mountain road, like the Malahat north of Victoria, required a lot of patience and resulted in angry local yokels in V-8 trucks giving you the finger a lot of the time. I took a fully loaded Fairmont up the Coquihala Highway, again with the six and three speed auto, and it could barely hold 50 km/h in sections since I was afraid to floor it all the way to the top since many the car has been toasted on that road.
Nowadays, even the four banger family sedans smoke up there at 130 km/h no problems and get good economy doing it.
I once owned a 79 Capri Turbo RS 2.3 with the overly priced TRX wheels, For the first year it was a fun ride. Then things started to happen, 1st I had to replaced one the special TRX tires (That really hurt the wallet). Then the turbo failed, and not just me, I knew 2 other people on the island that had the same problem. I was pissed when FoMoCo did not cover the cost of replacing them. It was a major problem nation wide with these things. It really soured me on Ford products for long time.
My ’84 Mustang GT had the TRX wheels/tires and I don’t remember them as being a problem. I do know they provided better rain and/or snow traction than the Goodyear Gatorbacks that came on my ’88 GT. By the time I needed to replace the tires I was able to source them at Sears (they might well have been made by Michelin but Sears sold them more cheaply). I actually did not remember that the 200 CID six was available in the Fox bodies; likely because by the time I became interested in buying one I wanted the 5.0. One of my sisters purchased a 1979 Mustang (her first new car) that had the 2.3 liter four. That car was an absolute dog, noisy, rough and under powered.
TRX tires are available through Coker:
…for only $355. Each.
Ouch! I looked into buying an older (I think ’85) BMW 635csi a few years back that still had the original TRX rims on it. The guy told me that you could still get tires, but he didn’t tell me for how much…yikes.
Great Capri. I have seen one of the bubbleback Capris on the road around me, but have not found it parked to get any shots of it.
You remind me that I looked into a Capri in 1985. I just never cared for the style of the bubbleback so much, and also didn’t like the idea of having to say “just like a Mustang” in response to the many glazed looks I expected I would get from friends. Can’t say that I regret not buying that one. I had no idea they were selling so poorly at that time. However, I also can’t say that the Mercury salesman tried very hard, either.
The V8 powered, pony car Capri was a different animal than the ‘sexy European’ car. With the huge 5.0 L aftermarket, some are turned into drag cars, and race in NMRA events. Definitely not ‘Christie Love’s car’ in those races.
Is it weird that for a second I thought the Vega was a MKII Ford Escort because of the color and the greenhouse shape?
A friend of mines grandfather had cheapo version of one of these early 79-80 Capri’s with the 4 banger and hubcaps that we nicknamed the Crapi.
Call it the CC effect. I saw this yesterday.
It was still raining more than the photos suggest so I didn’t get out and get any more. Maybe if I see it again.
Actually…you could get the 3.3 straight six in 79. There was a special model made with an auto trans. It was my first car. To get parts I had to tell the dealer it was an 82. It was a factory option and my mother purchased the car new from a Mercury dealership in Chicago. Have always had a passion for Capri’s since then and just recently acquired an 1985 ASC Mclaren convertible that I am restoring.
Here is a pic of the ASC Mclaren
Always liked these! I had an ’86 Mercury brochure that had one featured in the Capri section. I thought it was beautiful, but I felt it was kind of like cheating to put it in the Mercury brochure like any, old Lincoln-Mercury dealer would have them sitting on the lot.
I love the looks of that car. From the hood to the fender bulges to the split-lines of the c-pillar to the upright grill it is awesome. I didn’t like the rounded hatch at all. It ruined the angles to me. Those wheels are beautiful. If these had the later developments of the SVO or later 5.0s they might be even better. But I’d take it and die happy even while getting blown away by every Cam-Cord on the road.
Well hello, me!
This must be one of my first comments.
Didn’t plan to use the pretentious nickname for so long but it’s kind of established as a brand now.😀
Plus, it would feel weird to just use “Mike” now.
Had a 1980 ts with 255 (4litre) v8 add the after market michelin TRX package later. Had a problem we with the cats and fuel as it got some leaded gas. They were crazy expensive so replaced the exhaust system. That created less back pressure had to reset the carbs and finally recurve the distributor with stiffer advance springs. At the same time plate of.f the EGR system. The car went like stink! Had a lot more power. Ate Z28’s for breakfast. Family came and couldn’t afford tires. Then it was time to say good bye. 205 000 ks on her.
I had a beautiful red one in the 1990s, I put a Mustang 5.0 body kit with spoiler on it. It was amazing! I would buy this blue one, if I could!