Junkyard Classic: 1991 Mercury Capri – Showroom Fresh But Past Its Expiration Date Even When New

I, as with all of us curbivores, enjoy coming across cars that aren’t seen too often anymore and while I’m fond of the ones that lived a well-lived life, I really like documenting the ones that somehow beat all the odds on the street but then somehow took a wrong turn way to this last stop.  After all, I may be the last person able to appreciate it before it becomes a cube.  I normally don’t photograph the ones that are so snow covered but I figured that I’d better clear it a bit and do so, lest it otherwise become picked over before I return.  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, I saw it again since I took these photos in November but last week it was gone, the whole time with almost nothing being removed from it.  As when new, it was more or less unwanted and unappreciated; if this were a food item it would have been stamped “Best By Feb 11, 1989”.

February 11, 1989 was the day the Mazda Miata officially debuted at the Chicago Auto Show.  And the day it single-handedly killed the market for the Capri which wasn’t even introduced over here until over a year later.  Curiously, the Capri more or less WAS a Mazda as well under the skin with lots of Mazda 323 bits.  Ford decided they wanted a piece of the small convertible action (at the time more or less handled by the VW Cabrio and Geo Metro Convertible) and engaged its Australian division to create one for them, then built it in Australia, slapped Mercury badges on it and shipped it over here on permanent walkabout alongside the Mercury Tracer, which while hailing from Mexico, also had a lot of the common Mazda components.

As it turned out, the Capri was basically a failure.  Sold from 1991-1994 the only way it perhaps improved on the Miata was that it had a tiny rear seat, which A) wasn’t really useful and B) perhaps hurt it more than it helped specifically by not being a two-seater.  Not improving on the Miata but trying to be a sports car included minus points such as being FWD, persistent quality issues, and a higher price tag.  In total there were almost 56,000 sold over the run with another 10,000 or so sold in its Australian home market where it was badged as a Ford.  I don’t know if it might have done better as a Ford, possibly, being in the same showroom as a Mustang convertible may have swayed some more people that way.  By the early ’90’s, this didn’t seem to really be anything that Mercury intenders were looking for.

I can’t go so far as to say it’s actually ugly or anything, the shape IS interesting and fairly unique without a lot of other cars being seen in it, something that can’t necessarily be said of the Miata.  However, I also can’t really say that sort of copying a Lotus Elan was a bad way to go on Mazda’s part either so here we are.  I do know that when I decided to buy a Miata of my own I didn’t give one second of thought to getting a Capri instead.

While this one isn’t a top of the line XR2 model, it’s fairly well equipped with the optional hardtop and alloy wheels sporting 185/60-14’s (same as a Miata) , as well as being finished in Cardinal Red, which only makes sense for a small sporty-ish convertible.

Underhood is a 1.6liter, 16valve, DOHC 4-cylinder engine from Mazda producing 100hp at 5750rpm and 95lb-ft of torque at 5500 rpm.   (The optional XR2 packed a turbocharged 132hp engine).  In this particular example it is paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, although a 4-speed automatic was also available.  Base weight was 2385 pounds for our base model with probably a little more for the hardtop and the A/C components.

Looking in the trunk felt a little eerie, I may have only been the second person who ever looked in there.  That folded convertible top looks brand new, I have the distinct impression that the owner never took the hardtop off the car.  In fairness it was likely not a one-person job, and not everyone has the storage for it.  But still, the hardtop is what’s almost always missing from a convertible, I thought for sure it would be gone.  An equivalent aged Miata, even in poor condition, is usually stripped to the frame within a few days, literally EVERY piece goes.  Not so with the Capri.  The piece of chipboard hides a space saver spare below it and also looks brand new.

Looking inside, there is a fairly natty gray cloth that looks pretty durable facing a dashboard with none of the charm that the Miata has.  This one could just as easily be in an Escort or a pickup truck.

That’s not to say they were bad, the steering wheel is attractive (to me), I liked this era of Ford stereos with the little knobs at the bottom, everything is pretty intuitive and this car even has the optional A/C (button at the top).  The little cubby shelf in the dashboard above the glovebox is useful as well.

74,172 miles is all this one managed, with a very legible set of gauges not containing any blanks or clocks or whatever.

The backseat is pretty useless and a horrible handicap if commuting anywhere that requires three to have a carpool unless it’s a two-seater such as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and several other places around the country, i.e. not eligible unless you can find someone who’s into discomfort.

In past episodes of this series, some commenters have continually expressed surprise that some of the nicer examples (and even some of the not so nice examples) went to the junkyard, this time I emphatically agree, there was nothing about this one that made it a candidate for this fate, and being a red convertible really should have given it a much longer lease on life.

Born in the Australian winter, died in the American winter.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and so on…


Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1989-1994 Ford/Mercury Capri – Unfashionably Late by William Stopford

Curbside Classic: 1991 Mercury Capri – Birds Of A Feather by Richard Bennett