Ford’s UK operations were generally quite successful, and eventually became the #1 brand there. But there were a few missteps along the way, none more so than the Consul Capri and its sedan stablemate, the Consul Classic. They sprung from the the same basic assumption as did the Edsel in the US: that the market was ripe for a boldly-styled new upmarket car. We know how that unfolded here; within two and half years, the Edsel was (ugly) history.
Although it all happened three years later in the UK, the Consul Capri (and Consul Classic) followed a remarkably similar trajectory—thanks also to styling dictated from Dearborn—with the Capri exiting also after some two and a half years. Turns out the market wasn’t hot for a British Starliner. Ford UK learned its lesson, and its highly successful Cortina would be strictly a home-brew job.
Ford UK was strong in the low-cost sector, with its Prefect and Anglia, but had nothing in the next class up, where cars like the Hillman Minx and the BMC “Farina” cars dominated. In 1956, styling work for what would become the Consul Classic (also known as the 109E). The goal was for it to be “suitable for the golf club car park”, clearly more ambitious than previous Fords.
The styling direction (and cues) were straight from Dearborn, starting with its 1958 Thunderbird front end.
If the Consul Capri was to be Britain’s Starliner, then the car it was derived from, the Consul Classic would have been Britain’s Edsel. It was intended to be a stylish up-market car, but it came two years late to market, looked utterly out of date when it finally arrived well into 1961, was way too expensive to build, and turned out to be a major flop. And just like the Edsel, it was withdrawn from the market after only two and a half years, replaced by the much more pragmatic Cortina-based Corsair.
Then there was the ’58 Continental reverse-rake rear window and its 1960 Ford “side-fins” that curved back down into the rear end. None of it was organic or harmonious, and reflected late ’50s American styling, and not at its best.
That wasn’t the extent of its woes: for various reasons, the Consul Classic appeared two years later than it did; it might have been better received in 1969 than in mid-1961. There were numerous issues in getting into production, and then it turned out to be a much more expensive car to actually build than had been anticipated. Ford UK knew it had a problem before it even arrived.
Meanwhile, the Anglia was a huge hit, so production capacity was bestowed on it, and less for the Consul Classic, which looked like it would never be able to be built profitably.
None of that stopped the plans for a hardtop coupe, a Starliner version, with a semi-fastback coupe “bubble-top” hardtop roof, to use up a few more American stylistic leftovers.
It wasn’t just stylistic cliches; the Consul Capri was the first to use the term “Personal Car” in the UK, a term essentially invented for the original Thunderbird.
This page from the brochure makes its intended buyers and marketing positioning quite obvious. Unfortunately, they mostly failed to materialize, undoubtedly in good part because the Capri already looked dated and their eyes were looking elsewhere. A Ford just didn’t convey the kind of prestige that so many other marques did. How about a nice Alfa coupe?
Looks racy, no? Under its hood beat a 1340 cc three-bearing “Kent” ohv four that churned out all of 56.5 hp. Due to fairly common issues with its crankshaft, a five bearing unit with 1498 cc was available a year later. That upped output to 64 hp, but was still a bit lackluster in terms of any genuine sporting ambitions.
So in February 1963, a GT version arrived, with its engine tuned by Cosworth, featuring a higher compression, a twin-throat Weber carb, larger exhaust valves, an aluminum intake manifold and a four branch exhaust header which bumped output to 78 hp. It’s the same engine that powered the Cortina GT, where it found a much more successful life.
The Capri came with either a column shift or floor shift for its four speed transmission; this one appears to have the latter.
I should point out that technically the Consul Capri was sold in the US, but I’ve never seen one, ever; even back in the day. There were plenty of Anglias and then Cortinas, but nary a single Consul Classic or Capri. Now that would be quite a find; anything’s possible. Maybe there’s one rusting away in some overgrown lot or out in the desert somewhere. Keep your eyes peeled!
The little bat wings make it pretty easy to spot. Ironically, that rear lower bright panel looks a lot like…
an Anglia grille.
And from the side, its profile is unmistakable. And not in a good way.
The Capri’s body was mostly made by the Pressed Steel Company, which added to its cost and production inefficiencies. A total of 19,421 Capris were made in its two and a half year run. Time to move on…
But the Capri name came galloping back in 1969, this time for much longer. The new Capri was of course a massive hit in Europe, where it took the Mustang Formula and applied it properly (and locally), not just a jumble of American leftover styling cues. Of course things had changed too, in terms of the market, as incomes rose strongly during the sixties in Western Europe, making the Capri, even if it was just a 1.3 L four, very affordable. It was now a Mustang instead of a Thunderbird. And of course it came to the US too, where it was also a hit, the #2 selling import car for a few years.