Looking back at my younger years when I happily changed vehicles as frequently as most people change the oil in theirs (okay, maybe not *that* frequently!) something that has really come to my attention: just how many ‘rare’ cars I have actually owned. I wrote previously about my 1983 Mustang GLX 5.0L coupe, which was already limited in production when it was new. This 1982 Mercury Capri RS Turbo that found its way into my possession during the late 90s was certainly no exception.
I have always had a fondness for Ford’s Fox body products, especially the early ‘four eyed’ Mustang and the Fairmont Futura/Zephyr Z7 coupes. The all-new Mercury Capri, which made it’s debut on the Fox platform along with the Mustang in 1979, was far more unknown to most of us back in the day. It’s fresh Mustang-inspired styling combined with its signature wheel well ‘hips’ made for an attractive looking package, though seeing these cars even when they roamed the streets in numbers was rare in my small northern BC hometown.
Going back into the chronology of my vehicle ownership during my late teens we arrive back to the summer of 1999, when I was picking up the pieces and moving on from my coveted 1992 Tempo GLS V6 coupe, which was involved in an unfortunate freak accident and written off. After paying out the bit of loan remaining on that car, I was left with a handful of cash and the need to find a replacement ride and as quickly as possible. It was through the local newspaper classifieds that I located the subject vehicle, briefly described as a 1982 Mercury Capri.
I was intrigued right away, of course, and made my way over to see it in person. While this particular car was not in immaculate condition (and who would expect it to be so for the $1,200 asking price?) it was solid enough and clean enough to take on a test drive.
The first thing I noticed about the car, it was carrying the 2.3L turbo 4, the same carbureted turbo engine that arrived in 1979 as the alternate top powerplant choice in the new Mustang (and Capri). While this engine, well known for durability issues, was dropped from the Mustang after 1981, I learned that it was offered in the Capri until the end of the 1982 model year. In fact, the car sported ‘Turbo RS’ graphics on both front fenders in the same place where 5.0 badges would be found, with the more commonly seen ‘turbo’ badges on the non-functioning hood scoop.
While the 2.3L engine seemed to idle faster than normal, it certainly still had plenty of life and the turbo would audibly spool up with a good push of the pedal. It did not immediately react, of course, but the turbo would send the car quickly up to speed as it whirled away under the hood, with a green ‘turbo’ light lit up on the left side of the dashboard, letting you know the car was in full performance mode. It responded well with the manual transmission and overall the driving experience was quite positive. I took it home for a thousand bucks.
As the Capri obviously had multiple owners in its time, there were numerous modifications to it. My assumption is that this car originally rode around the TRX wheel & tire package that was popular on the top trim level Mustangs and Capris at the time. The expense of replacing the metric tires often resulted in the owner finding alternate wheel & tire choices for these cars, the ’83 GLX coupe I owned had also seen it’s original TRX package replaced with later Mustang GT turbine wheels. I firmly believe this was the same case with this Capri, except a previous owner moved to the stock steel 14″ wheels and a set of Ford Aerostar wheel covers, they actually didn’t look that bad. I added the two white racing stripes to the hood myself to give it a more sporty flavour.
It also had a set of t-tops, the right side leaked water during heavy downpours and unfortunately for the passenger, any sudden braking would see a trail of water rain down on their lap. I spent many summer days cruising about with the windows down and the T-tops off, getting the full effect of the trendy 1980s design, not too bad at all!
Inside the Capri, it was the standard RS package, ‘whorehouse red’ interior with the black bezel around the instrument panel and black panel above the glove box where both the ‘RS’ and ‘turbocharged’ badges were found. The car did have power windows originally, as the driver’s side still had a functioning power window and controls for both sides, though the right side had a manual roll down window, I assume the door perhaps was replaced after a collision or something. No air conditioning was originally ordered, the T-tops providing all the refreshment needed at the time. It also had delay wipers, the infamous horn button on the turn signal, the full console with diagnostic centre and the swivel, roof mounted map light.
The most intriguing item in this car was easily the manual transmission paired up with the turbo 4. This particular transmission had an additional gear which was to the right and down of 4th, which did reduce RPM slightly but not as much as one might expect, due to the rear axle gearing. I am not sure exactly what this transmission was about or where it came from as I cannot find any real relevant information online, so perhaps the CC community can offer up more details! (It was a Tremec V140, and the gear ratios were 4.05 in first, 2.43 in second, 1.48 in third, 1.00 in fourth, and 0.81 in 5th — first four gears were the same as in the four speed; upshift speeds happened faster, thanks to an axle-ratio change from 3.08:1 to 3.45:1. In mid-year 1983, this transmission was replaced by the T-5. PN)
To re-cap, here’s the car in what I believe was the original form: 1982 Mercury Capri RS, turbo 2.3L carbureted four, 5-speed manual, TRX wheel & tire package, T-Tops, power windows, delay wipers & full diagnostic console. I don’t expect there were many of these made for 1982, I expect the actual number is a few hundred built in total.
The car itself was a pretty durable unit during the year or so I owned it, though moving into full daily driver service for a 20 year old guy did increase it’s wear rather quickly. In September 1999, I made my first move out of province to Calgary and it carted all of my possessions and myself on the long trip with relative ease, the hatchback & fold down seats offering up plenty of cargo space. I did encounter a stalling & hesitation problem early in the trip which was easily remedied with a bottle of carb cleaner in the tank, smooth sailing after that and on the trip back to northern BC.
In the late spring of 2000, it was time to get serious about my relocation and I put the car up for sale, selling it quickly to another Mustang enthusiast who was excited to take it on as a ‘project’. Where it ended up or what its final fate was I am not certain, hopefully it is still out there somewhere as a restored garage queen only seeing the streets on the weekends, but given the condition of the car at the time and the lack of real interest in fully restoring what was an 18 year old Mercury Capri, it likely has long met the crusher, a sad end to what was another one of my rare rides!
Three decades ago, I test drove a turbo-4 Mustang with several years on it, and was unimpressed with the turbo-lag. It reminded me of that veggie-juice ad-slogan “Hey! I could’ve had a V8!”
But a friend bought one new and he liked it, except his suffered from chronic overheating.
I thought the TRX option was a big joke! Every car I’ve seen that came with it has been converted to ‘normal’ wheels.
Happy Motoring, Mark
I like these Mustang based Capris. Not a bad effort at giving Mercury something a little different. But, I recall these being quite rare even when new. The Mustang name just had too much brand equity for a Mercury badged car to deal with.
One of my beefs with the Fox Mustang is the framed door windows. And Ford had to mess with the greenhouse endlessly to eventually account for convertibles, T-tops and styling updates, resulting in some compromised styling that was usually rectified with all the contortions blacked out. While the end result on this Capri isn’t terrible, it is unfortunate that Ford never did bite the bullet and invest in a proper hardtop greenhouse for these cars.
Not too many true hardtops on offer when these were introduced. Roll over standards that never came about had the companies dropping pillarless hardtops to be able to comply with proposed crush regulations.
A shame. I truly believe two doors would have retained their popularity if the rear windows rolled down, even with stout b pillars.
Making the rear seat uninhabitable for passengers in two doors was inexplicable to me, once the “opera window” fad died.
No reason an 86 Coupe Deville [or fill in the blank: N Body 2 door, etc] with it’s generous rear side glass should have had fixed rear windows.
The lack of hardtops is a great loss, as was the elimination of a useful passenger feature.
A boon for body integrity, leak prevention, fewer rattles, production fit and finish and for less rubber rot as the car ages though.
Personally I think the greenhouse looks fine. Imagine the water leaks with frameless windows and t-tops. Or frameless glass and a B pillar even.
Ask Gen 1 Dodge Neon owners what they think.
But I get what you are saying: a genuine hardtop Mustang or Capri would look a lot cleaner and sleek.
The Mustang notch does have a pedestrian 2 door sedan look to it.
Style definitions being as fluid as they are, I’m okay with a small coupe being a hardtop with a frameless door glass, even if the rear side quarter window is fixed.
While I can see it in the pictures, if you saw these cars up close, you’d see how Ford stuffed weather stripping into the A pillar on these cars, and the B pillar is a mish-mash of limited production weather stripping as well. The weather stripping is bespoke on these limited production body styles, and not very well done. The quarter window is obviously a compromised design trying its hardest to look like a hardtop.
Hardtops are not inherently leaky (wind or water) if designed properly. The Neon gets criticism, but also suffered a more than a few other economy car compromises.
Just about every US Ford product built in the ’70s above the compact size range had frameless door glass, and our family had a few of them. They were leak free and generally more quiet than our GM products with framed windows. The smoother hardtop and pillared hardtop greenhouses were part of the reason why.
Makes sense , Dave B.
I’ve had [and still have] hardtops and they were all rattly squeaky and draft prone. They still looked superior to their two and four door sedan/coupe counterparts with all the windows rolled down.
Our experiences seem to vary.
Ford must have been on top of it with their frameless glass. GM had problems with theirs on the 65 B bodies. Chrysler, the same with the Valiant hardtops.
Can’t remember if my parent’s 74 Mustang II had frameless glass or not, but it was tight as a drum if it did.
I usually buy for the long term and view it from a functional 20 year ownership perspective, Dave. It colors what I look for in a car and I always thought framed glass was more stout and durable over the long haul over rubber.
Some designs were better than others, and I think some old hardtops get a bad rap because they are old. The weather stripping in my 2002 Durango has shrunk around some of the doors, and suffers wind leaks at highway speeds that some of our hardtops never had.
My sister had a ’74 Mustang II and while it was pretty tired by 1982, the frameless windows may have been the best thing about it. They should have used the window seal material in the 4 cyl engine, my Dad’s driveway would have been a lot cleaner!
At least the 1983 and later Capris got the unique ‘bubbleback’ rear window glass and taillights. Not sure if it actually helped sales any but it went a long way to differentiating the Capri from the Mustang.
I feel the same way, I know there’s a faction of people who despise frameless glass but this is the only generation of Mustang that had a window frame on standard roof models, and going with them seemingly only created the headaches you describe. T-tops were always intended to be available as far as I know, so they should have just designed all bodystyle s around the frameless T-top doors from the start. The 87s are the most egregious, the door frames look really out of whack with the newly flush quarter glass that year.
Yes, the ’87 restyle, along with the ‘verts and T-Tops are the three biggest sins of the framed door glass on these cars.
I rented a Capri Crimson Cat from Tilden once, the car NEVER let me down as I cruised through Downtown Victoria, and it was lightyears ahead of ANY Mustangs that I had, let alone some of the so-called “muscle” at the time German or American (except Porsche’s 928 and Chrysler’s Laser XT!) Canadians knew what they wanted, and Capri was king! In Saskatchewan it outsold Mustang and RX-7 6-to-1.
Love the read. I’m fascianted by rare cars like this that didn’t really catch on, and seem to disappear into oblivion.
Just like your mentioning of the 1992 Tempo GLS V6 coupe. Did I miss the COAL on that? I want to hear more. And I’m biased, because I had a 1992 Tempo GLS V6 5speed sedan. 😀
Stay tuned… I’ll get it up one of these days! 🙂
Looking forward to it. Hoping it was either Bimini Blue (like mine) or Oxford White (the best color for them, especially with the color matched wheels).
Carey, I liked these better than their Mustang kin. Except for the cutline for the hatch in profile.
They look even better now than the current Mustang, something clean and honest about them, as well as trim and taut in it;s sheet metal.
My 63 Valiant was 18 years old when I bought it for a daily driver. I still have it, so be optimistic. If the guy loved it, your Capri is still rolling.
This morning the Valiant is taking me to the Dr and grocery shopping. I just had the AC reconnected and converted to use modern refrigerant, and new rear brakes and lines.
I think it’s likely your Capri lives. The crazy is everywhere.
One of my high school dream cars. Thought these were better looking than the Mustangs they were based on by a country mile. A friend had one, I want to say an 80 or 81, with the turbo and 5-speed (no T-tops though, alas) that he and his father painted a custom burnt bronze orange. Looked cool as hell, had sporty handling and was actually fun to drive.
I always read that 80s-era Capris were relatively rare, but for some reason they were big where I went to high school in the mid/late 80s- I can think of at least 4 other guys that had ’em too, and everyone else wanted one.
As a side note, I always thought a sporty liftback coupe with T-tops was the perfect automotive body style, as it gave you a little bit of everything in one package – a fun drive, open air motoring when you want it, closed hardtop when you don’t, and the utility of a hatchback.
The “blistered” flared fenders were very ’80s, think Audi Quatro and Porsche 944. The 95 Mustang incorporated this design before the “New Edge” styling was adopted. I especially liked the updated bubble glass hatchback. The later 5.0 models are sought after.
See, in that instance I would prefer the Mustang over the Capri bubble back, Jose.
It just seems to throw the whole thing off. Like the Honda Crosstour: it looks top heavy from the 3/4ths rear angle.
Thanks for the brochure shot !
I have to agree. The bubble hatch and sloping taillight panel do an admirable job of differentiating it from the Mustang, but the overall aesthetic of it is just offputting to me.
There’s always been a part of me that thinks the Capri design is a better Mustang. A lot of Foxbody detractors are quick to say “it’s just a shortened Fairmont”, and I think one meret of that claim is the flared wheel openings are very similar between the two, and that’s a big detail when both cars are otherwise pretty slabsided. The Capri however doesn’t’ think have those, instead the whole fenders are bulged out, which gives it a much more aggressive look at certain angles. That and the blunted front end, which just looks more naturally timeless than the 80s slope IMO.
I think I’ve seen 2 of these in the last 30-35 years. I always assumed that they had either the automatic transmission or the much more common 4 speed manual transmission. This is a fairly rare car. As far as the equivalent Mustang GT turbo, I think I’ve only seen 1 of those.
Folks are “dissing” the TRX wheel and tire package, yet BMW saw fit to offer this wheel and tire on at least one of its models, the “6”, IIRC. I believe Volvo or Peugeot also offered them on at least 1 model.
I think the dissing mostly comes from the fact that a set of tires for them costs in the ballpark of a set of supercar tires to get from the one and only manufacturer of them.
Back in the early 1980’s a full set of TRX tires would run about $1,200. An acceptable cost for a BMW 6 series, but not for a lowly Mustang or Capri.
You could get TRX replacement radials and even retreads at Sears. The retreads were just fine and much less expensive. That’s what I did with my TRX equipped Capri.
Until I had come across this car in 1999, I had never seen a Capri with the turbocharged engine in the flesh, and I have never seen another one since then.
I had a friend who was a huge early Fox Mustang enthusiast (owned a light blue 82 GT) and had all sorts of production data and I believe it was under 500 ‘turbo Capris’ produced in 1982.
One of my college buddies had an ’80 Capri RS with the straight six, which he kept absolutely immaculate at all times. Great car!
The genuine spirit of the original 65 there, Ed.
A lot of early Mustangs were sold with a straight six. Similar length and width. Style with economy. Option to your taste.
It’s still a great concept.
Seems like there were a lot of Capris in the Bangor area, maybe because there was a strong dealer in town, Rapaport Lincoln-Mercury. I like the early Fox Mustangs, but that flat, squared off face on the Capri looks tough.
Ohyeh, another of Ford’s lame “better ideas”, you betchya. I would still like to know—just out of forensic curiosity—what idiot at Ford thought that was a good idea…and why.
IIRC, there were two stated reasons for the turn-signal stalk-horn. The first was that it was more ‘European’, that Europeans drove around with one hand on the horn stalk and it was easier to use it that way since they, supposedly, used it a lot in the congested urban Europe environment.
Then there was the theory that Ford was being proactive in preparing for the possibility of mandated airbag regulations. I’m not really buying that one, either, since neither GM or Chrysler did anything similar to prepare for airbags.
Personally, to me, the real reason was the same that automakers change anything: profit. It was simply a few cents cheaper to move the horn from the steering wheel to the turn signal stalk and the reasons given were just excuses to more easily justify it. I think the German Fiesta, imported 1978-80, may have been the first car in the US that had this horn configuration and, believe me, that was one cheaply built car.
Ultimately, when airbags did come into widespread use, the horn buttons were simply moved to the steering wheel spokes, eventually being moved back to the traditional center of the steering wheel position.
My ’74 Cortina had that horn on the stalk setup. Production of that model started in 1970 in the UK, so that part was well and truly paid for by the time it turned up in the US!
“European” does seem a pretty flimsy excuse. The Renault Dauphine had a similar horn switch, as seen at 1:01 in this advert (the Dauphine, as it seems, was the first car imported to the US with this setup), but aside from Fords of various nationality, who else did this?
When I got my ’83 Ranger in 1990, for almost a year I thought the horn was broken. Not a priority with me, only A-holes use them anyway. The symbol was worn off the stalk. One day, attempting to stuff my carcass under the dash to wire the tach I installed, I accidentally “found” the horn. How stupid. Since I’m not a A-hole and don’t use them, the horn got tossed when I did the 302 swap.. But I bet the thinking was to be able to hit the horn without taking a hand off the wheel OR to keep said A-holes from blowing the horn while giving the one finger salute at the same time? Best answer I can come up with
I remember when the ’79 Capri came out. It was Lincoln-Mercury’s replacement for the European Capri II which had gotten quite pricey. (The European Capri and Capri II were only sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers. There were a fair number of Ford-Mercury dealers and a few stand-alone Mercury dealers, but they could not sell the European Capri, however they could sell the ’79 Capri which was officially a Mercury. Previously “Capri” was considered a make all by itself.
In consumer marketing clinics, the ’79 Capri tested quite well and many people thought it was a based on the European Capri II. In 1979 it was available with the same 2.8 liter V-6 as was found in the European Capri II. Most of the V-6 models came with the automatic transmission, but a small number of them, late in the production run came with the 4-speed manual transmission. The V-6 was replaced by the 3.3 liter inline 6 for the 1980 model year.
You can find a copy of the 1982 Mercury Capri sales brochure at the following link on the “Old Car Brochures” website:
The brochure mentions an optional 3.45 to 1 axle ratio (but doesn’t say what the standard one is). It also lists three different axle ratios as being available with the optional limited-slip differential: 2.73, 3.08 or 3.45 to 1.
The “Old Car Brochures” website is at: http://oldcarbrochures.com
It’s a fun website for browsing and great for research.
Back in the 1970s
I drove both a Mercedes and a Mack truck that was made in France both had the stupid horn stalk. My daily driver was a 1978 Ford Fairmont with a stalk horn………
All 3, on the tree.
The ’79 model year had the highest sales for the Fox Capri, and then steady decline. Saw quite a few 79’s in Chicagoland that summer. Neighbor girl had a brand new one as her first car, in light blue.
I was at a Ford meet at Rt 66 Raceway in Joliet one time and were a sprinkling of modded Capris running with the Stangs down the 1/4 mile. Was cool to see the ‘luxury version Mustang’ barreling down the track, too.
I’ve mentioned this on here before that I owned a 1980 Capri RS turbo. It had all of the toys, the Recaro seats, TRX wheels, sunroof, etc. At the time it was a rather expensive Fox, I think it went for $13 or $14K, list price. I bought it in late 1980 after the 1981’s were out with a pretty decent discount. It was a great car for the first year or so, then it started having issues. Most issues were with the motor and turbo, but there were others that I’ve largely blocked out of my memory.
It was my first car that I bought on payments and when the problems started happening and the dealer was unable/unwilling to fix them, I was in a world of financial hurt. I now had a car that was worth less than 50% of it’s purchase price that couldn’t be fixed. Oddly, that didn’t stop me from buying more mistakes, like my 1983 Pontiac Trans Am WS6 or my 1985 Mercury Capri RS 5.0L. I just kept on rolling over that negative equity…
Ahh, to be young again…
Great thread here. My very first car was a 79 Capri RS base 2.3 4speed. I bought it the summer of 86’ while in high school. It was green with lime stripes. It was a very cool looking car and served me for several years. I got curious the last few years if any of them still existed. I searched and only saw few modified basket cases but I wanted something clean and as original as possible. Low and behold I found the Holy Grail. I came across a 79 Capri RS Turbo 4 speed all original 62k one Owner time capsule! Silver with orange stripes. Of course as a kid I knew of the Turbo car and wished mine was one but I never actually saw one. Come to think of it, the one I currently have is the only one I have seen in person. Love sharing car stories. Now I have my first car back I found my high school dream car. I just purchased a 90 Lotus Esprit SE. Life is good :).
My 90 Lotus Esprit SE Turbo. Quite a bit of a difference in performance;)