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.
That owner is the perfect epitomization of everything this car represents.
He looks like he might be the same guy driving the red one in the ad—plus 30 years and a porn mustache.
While the original Cougar was distinct enough, perhaps, to justify its existence vs. the ’60s Mustang, the Fox Capri never was & simply didn’t have the brand image of the Mustang. As with other Mercurys, there was little besides minor styling differences, & that hatch, to set it apart.
Consider the names: “Capri” sounds European (only true of its ancestor namesake) while “Mustang” sounds as American as Hot Dogs & Apple Pie (to borrow from Chevy’s marketing jingle). The name is now so well-known it doesn’t need introduction to today’s Mustang buyers in Europe.
While Capri does sound European (there is an island named Capri), Ford, actually Lincoln, used the Capri name starting in 1950. At first, it was just the name of a “deluxe” 2 door hardtop but the Capri name soon graced a series of Lincolns with a convertible and 4 door sedan joining the original 2 door hardtop in 1951.
The Capri name was dropped by Lincoln after the 1958 model year, but would be “picked up” by Ford in Great Britain for the “sporty” Consul Capri in the early 60s before migrating to Mercury for use on a “deluxe” Comet series. The Comet/Capri in 66 was a 2 door hardtop, a 4 door sedan, and a 4 door station wagon.
Somewhat ironically, every time the Capri name was used on a Mercury it was outsold by it’s “sister” models. (In the case of the FWD Capri of the 90s, it was outsold by it’s Mazda “sibling”.)
Eric, great article – and the icing on the cake is your “then-and-now” collage at the end. Brilliant.
When I saw the similarity between the two pictures, I knew I just had to make the “then-and-now” image!
Quite right too.
It wasn’t just the nose and bubble hatch that differentiated the two, the subtle yet stunning element they had were totally unique fenders and quarter panels with flaring, giving a chunkier more muscular appearance over the more slab sided Mustang. I think the only sheetmetal they shared in fact were the doors and roof.
IMO the bubblehatch was an eyesore, the original design was much better, even if it was less distinct.
It’s interesting that the “bubble hatch” first appeared on the Mercury LN7, and then migrated to the more expensive Capri. The LN7 was gone after 1983, and the Capri disappeared after 1986, but the bubble hatch had a second life on the revamped 1985 /12 Ford EXP.
Some Mustang fans have either added the Capri glass hatch to a Ford, or Stang front ends/badging to a Mercury. Got to have the Stang image!
I always hated those recessed taillights.
For me it ruined a good looking car.
Yes, the Capri tailights lacked as did Thunderbird tailights of that era.
The tailights should have been covered with clear covers like more modern cars today are…
Agreed and the ASC McLaren versions did just that. it really changes the look…
Great catch. There was a mint, all-original, low-mileage 1986 5.0 at a Carlisle Ford show a few years back. I still wish I had the money to buy it.
“Though clearly a well-used example, hopefully this car will still get to climb many more Western Maryland mountains in the future.” – I think there’s a good chance of that with it having a 302….
That 5.0 should be in the “Engines Hall of Fame” if there was such a thing. When taken care of, these engines would keep going like the Energizer Bunny.
I had one in an ’88 Thunderbird and pushed that car to 236,000 miles. It was still braking the tires loose when the light turned green at the time I traded it in.
The 5.0 L of that era was the engine to have if you were buying a Ford product. The same could not be said of the “Essex” engine, sadly.
Oh, and nice shot of I-68 in Maryland BTW, Eric (ironically at Mile Marker 68). That looks to be just west of Sidling Hill heading west if I remember that stretch correctly.
Didn’t Ford make extensive changes to the 5.0 for 1986 that greatly improved its durability? I read somewhere that the pre-1986 engines could experience the failure of a component at about 100,000 miles that essentially required a complete engine replacement, but the 1986 revisions cured this problem.
Nope. Just more out of the rumor mill.
The one ‘extensive change’ that I recall was the change between 85 and 88 was going from carburetor to sequential port fuel injection. I still remember a guy pulling up next to me at a light back in the nineties with an ’85 Mustang GT, and me in my ’88 5.0 Thunderbird LX (with Sport aspirations – it had options from both trim levels as it was totally loaded). The light turned green and we both took off and although my car was considerably heavier, it beat him to the merge point (2 lanes to 1). When we got up to the McDonald’s about 2 miles up the road and both pulled in for lunch, he asked me what I had in ‘that thing’ and I told him. We were both convinced that I beat him with the same engine in a heavier car because of this changeover to fuel injection. Other than this, I always thought the 80’s 5.0 L (302)s were all the same. One of you ‘Curbside Experts’ please correct me if I am wrong.
1985 was the first year for the hydraulic roller cam in 5.0 HO’s and 1986 was first year for EFI.
EFI engines generally have better durability since the fuel is metered much more accurately than a carburetor. Unburned fuel and soot from a carbed engine accumulates in the oil and causes it to break down quicker. This is one of the reasons that oil in an EFI car may look quite clean at 3k or 5k miles but in a carbed engine it will look darker at the same mileage. Of course if a carbed car is tuned perfectly then theoretically it is no worse than EFI, but the thing is that is is very tough to get a carb to meter fuel ideally at all of the different RPMs, loads, outside temperatures, etc that an engine has to deal with.
Also, with the 5.0 there were years and years to refine all of the weaknesses out and so, like GM 3.8/3800 engines and later Ford 4.6 engines, by the end of their run they had all of the kinks worked out and became nearly unkillable.
The only real weakness in the 5.0 as far as durability goes was the engine block, the metallurgy and thinwall casting changes it received in the 70s really didn’t have the later 200+ horsepower combos in mind. It’s fairly common for the blocks to crack or even catastrophically split around the mains, even with bolt on HO or Cobra power levels if pushed.
Did Ford ever solve the C-pillar problem on the Mustang/Capri over its long life? The belt line should have had a kick-up at the bottom of that vent panel thingie…as it is, there’s not enough sheet metal between it and the top of the rear wheel opening. It causes the car to look structurally and visually weak at this location.
I’m not seeing it. FYI what lies behind that vent panel is steel subframe, plenty of structure there.
The only weakness structurally was when the HP. got to 200 plus and you beat the hell out of it, the torque would eventually put a bunch of little cracks in the floor pans where the floor pans attached to the side rails.
I think in the mid 90’s you could buy heavy gauge replacement floor pans.
My buddy had that happen on his 89′ but he just BEAT THE HELL out of it for YEARS and it just kept going and going……..
He was pushing about 280 HP.
That 5.0 was amazing.
I know there is steel behind it…I’m not saying it WAS structurally weak, I’m saying it LOOKS structurally weak. The black area is intended to “read” as void, not solid…i.e., as part of the window system, not as part of the steel shell. I haven’t been on my desktop today, otherwise would PS something up.
I think you’ve about an implied (but not actual) weakness there.
I also think that the bubble hatch does not work with the angular style of the rest of the car
My wife owned an ’82 Capri RS with the 5.0 while we were dating, and I always enjoyed driving it. Like the featured car, her Capri had a T-Top roof, and came from the factory with leaky window seals.
XR7Matt and I agree- The subtle differences in the Capri sheet metal made for a better looking car- Especially when compared with the later aero-nosed Fox bodies.
Also, I believe the early models offered the RS package with the 4 and 6 cylinder engines. Later models may have made the V-8 standard, but I’m sure I’ve seen an RS equipped with the mid range 200 straight six.
That makes me wonder if there was ever a 2.3 L Turbo Capri like the ’84 SVO Mustang?
I just answered my own question….
Look at the engine list on the right side of the page. ;o)
There’s also this:
Very nice write-up Dave… Yeah, I see what you mean about the Turbo in the Capri (think ’83 Turbo Coupe Thunderbird) vs. SVO (Think ’88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe). In 87 they added the inter-cooler to the Thunderbird, but I see from your write up that was an SVO engine in 1984.
Relevant C(s)OAL for me:
I test drove an ’83 Turbo Coupe, but purchased 3.8 (dumb!)…
I bought a used ’88 Turbo Coupe, but liked my ’88 5.0 T-Bird better…
Bonus COAL… my ’79 Futura…. I had the lowly 200 Straight-Six.
I knew about the Turbo 2.3L Futura coming out in 1980, but I can’t remember ever seeing one in person. An old girlfriend at the time had a 1978 302 Futura….
Wow, that’s a whole lot of foxes in my younger wilder days. ;o)
In the early 80s I saw a Fairmont Futura 2 door coupe with a “power bulge” on the hood traveling in the opposite direction. I realized later it was a turbo powered Fairmont. (That was in the San Jose area.)
I’ve seen 2 turbo Futuras “in the metal”….about the same number as turbo Monte Carlos.
The 2015 Mustang has a turbo 2.3 EcoBoost available. Oddly enough though, the take rate for these seems to be much lower in the UK than Ford expected:
Ha! Seriously, that article brightens my outlook on humanity!
Apparently 88% of Mustangs ordered in Australia have been the V8. They have started to arrive just before Christmas.
Good ol’ Appalachia with a car and driver that sure fit the area. Western Maryland is the area I am more familiar with and usually think of since you have to pass through there to get to Dixie from the Southern Tier. Usually do not think much about Eastern Maryland unless chatting with my Uncle about his days in Monkton and following the Baltimore Colts of chatting with a friends as people rioted in Baltimore around them. I am going to have to keep an eye out for Capris in Oregon.
Maryland has one of the most unusual shapes, and wonder how the far west section decided in Colonial times to say “we want to be part of Maryland”.
The narrowest section is 2 miles wide and I-68 barrels along it. Driven across this parcel on US highway and can be in 3 states in a few minutes.
The dude driving the black one kinda looks like Matthew McConaughey. Maybe that car is a “mule” for the new Lincoln Sports Car based on the Mustang?
…said with all facetiousness. 😉
The first year ’79 Fox Capri benefited from sales momentum of the Imported Capri coupe. A young woman in my neighborhood got a new ’79 and to her it was “I got a Capri, always wanted one!”
But, seems like L-M dealers gave up on it after a few years, and hardly advertised it compared to the Cougar.
Judging by the license plate, that could be the original owner to the car. 1986 was also the first year of the Maryland shield plates(a variation of the 350th anniversary tags offered in 1984-1985) The JML part of the plate number means the tags were issued in 1987 and that the owner bought the car in late 1985 or before March1986 when the old 81-86 tags were still in use. Up until 1986 Maryland folk had to renew the registration every year in March of the next year regardless of when you got the tags, in 1986 they decided to make the registration every year according to the month it was issued (i.e. if you got the plates in Nov 1986 then you renewed in Nov 1987(in July of 1992 Maryland switched to 2 year registrations)
Those folks that still had the old 81-86 plates could keep them until 1987(in March 86 they would get a 87 sticker) owing to the fact that the last of the 81-86 style plates issued started with J**, Maryland opted to start the new tag with N** until 1987 when they then started offering tags in the new style starting with a letter before N.
My guess is that the owner of this car got tagged with the 1981-Feb 1986 style tag and then got the JML tag after he had to turn the old plate in at renewal time in 1987 since it was not allowed to be renewed again.
Thanks for the information about how Maryland re-plated for cars with pre-’86 plates — I never knew how that was done.
I might be wrong about this, but I thought the J** series plates were issued in about 2000. I recall the shield plates starting at N** and then running through ZZZ-999, then starting over at AAA and running through MZZ. After that, Maryland begun the confusing mixed letter/number sequence.
I recall the M sequence was reached in the early 2000s — so that’s why I thought about 2000 for JML.
Regardless, the plates have been on that car for quite a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an original-owner car.
One of the best things about these hatchback foxes is their pickup truck like utility. Try to move an upholstered chair in any of the new pony cars.
I always thought the 85-86 Capris were the best looking of the Fox-stangs, the combination of the upright front-end and aero-styled bubble-hatch was very appealing.
Apparently it was also effective, supposedly it was preferred for Trans-Am because the grille had better airflow and the back end generated more downforce.
I like the Capri styling especially with the bubble hatch. The 5.0 is a very good mill, I test drove pace car replica turbo Mustang and can tell you that the driveability and power were pretty poor. Hatch backs in general are so much more useful than coupes. My 77 Datsun 280Z 2+2 could haul quite a bit with the rear seats down. Miss that car.
If I recall correctly, the Pace Car replicas were first-year models (1979) and Ford definitely didn’t have the bugs worked out of the turbo engine at that time. Ford later made several improvements, but with the availability of the improved 5.0 beginning in the 1982 model year, few buyers cared.
The Turbo Limas of that era had a draw-through carburated design that was pretty bad.
By 84 or 85 they got EFI and new turbo routing and became a completely different proposition.
Love the Fox Capris, particularly the ’86. My absolute favorite ’80s car by far. Always thought they were much better looking than the Mustangs of that era. Fox Capris were the big dream car among my high-school crowd in the ’80s, I really wanted one back then myself, and at least 5 guys I knew owned one at some point in the ’80s or other.
Great capture and write up! It sure took me right back to my younger years.
Back in 1999, I was in need of a cheap car to get around in after I lost my ’92 Tempo GLS coupe in a bad car accident. I happened to stumble across an ad for a Mercury Capri and went to check it out.
That particular car was a unicorn even back then. 1982 RS model equipped with T-tops, the Capri’s unique dual snorkel (and non functional) hood scoop and the infamous carbed 2.3L turbo 4 which was mated to a very bizarre “5” speed manual. The transmission I have never understood… it had reverse on the top left position next to first… but the “5th” gear was over and to the right of 4th… no idea where or what that transmission was all about… but it was definitely an independent gear.
I suspect that car was one of a few back in ’82… and that transmission might have been planted from elsewhere somehow.
It actually scooted along alright… but I recall it never idling properly and even with a brand new carb and professional tuning it would still ‘diesel’ after shutting it down.
Nice trip down memory lane!