Curbside Outtake: 1972 Ford Capri 1600GT – Understanding The Appeal

Do you remember the compact but family capable coupé? Based on a regular family car, usually, but with the kind of styling that could go most of the way to satisfying those sports car urges many have, or being able to add a piece of glamour to the everyday. Maybe no more performance or better handling, almost certainly less practical and more expensive, but often the car best remembered by many. Mustang or Falcon?  Renault 17 or Renault 12? Opel Manta or Ascona? Toyota Celica or Carina, or was it Corona? You get the drift.

For a Curbivore growing up in the UK in 1970s, there can be no better example than a Ford Capri. First launched in 1969, it was not Europe’s first interpretation of the formula, or even Ford’s, but it was perhaps the most successful, enduring and recognised.

Ford had a Capri before of course – from 1962 to 1964 Ford in Britain sold the Consul Capri, with a few exports as well. It was actually built, painted and trimmed by Pressed Steel Fisher, not then part of BMC, and then completed by Ford at Dagenham or Halewood. An expensive and very un-Ford way to produce a car, and after thirty months and fewer than 20,000 sales it was retired. The 1962 Cortina, and its derivatives, was to be Ford’s mid market future.

All these derivatives were conventional to the point of ordinary, even for 1962. OHV engines, leaf rear springs, four speed gearboxes, saloon or estate styles. Nothing to frighten the children, fleet buyers or conservative buyers as BMC were starting to do. Or the horses, as these were not performance cars and did not claim to be, Lotus Cortina aside.

The first one was the 1963-70 Ford Corsair saloon – a lengthened Cortina with Bullet Thunderbird imitating styling and larger 1.6, 1.7 and 2.0 engines, including the Essex V4.

Successful, selling over 300,000 copies in the UK and some in Europe, but now overshadowed by the Cortina in popular memory.

The next variant one was the best known of all though – the Capri we all remember came in 1969, with one of the most memorable strap lines in British car advertising. “The car you always promised yourself” Cue bonuses in Marketing. And unlike the Cortina and the Corsair, this was a Ford of Europe product, not just the UK. So, well known across Europe as well and considered a home team product in Germany as well.

Style wise, the Capri managed to bring to Europe many of the styling cues seen on cars like the Mustang or Camaro – the long bonnet, short rump, the lowered roof line, raked screen and power bulges, which were even filled on some models.

Whilst the styling of the Capri was clearly a major factor in its success, there were other reasons. It was a Ford, so it was easy to find. In the UK, Ford had several hundred dealers, more than anyone except BMC/BLMC with their duplicatory networks and probably ten times as many as a continental sports brand such as Lancia, Alfa or BMW. And as many as Fiat, Opel, Renault and VW combined. There was one reason among the many that allowed Ford to have 30% of the market.

And whilst it may have been a Cortina in disguise in many ways, it was very well disguised, and distinctly upmarket of the Cortina. Few cared about the simple rear suspension when it looked like it did, and for many families (those with only young children for example) it did the family car as well as a Cortina. Compare this car’s profile with its primary UK competitors – the Morris Marina Coupe, the Sunbeam Rapier or the Vauxhall Firenza, Magnum and Viva Coupes.

The Marina was really a two door saloon with fast back rear end that more resembled a VW Type 3 than anything else, the Rapier (as Paul showed us recently) was a crib of the Barracuda, even if well executed, and the Vauxhall just plain mismatched front to back, with styling that tried to ape America and got lost in translation. All these cars suffered from something Ford went to a length to avoid, by sharing the front end (up to the B post for the Marina and Viva) with the saloon variant. The Marina even shared the doors of the four door saloon. The Rapier might have hidden its Hillman Hunter/Sunbeam Arrow origins under a sharper skin but the relationship between the cars was obvious when they were together.

Ford, however, added almost three inches to the Cortina MK2’s wheelbase and looking at the front of the car in profile there’s no doubt where they went – ahead of the screen, behind the rear wheels. Maybe they weren’t needed there for V4 and V6 engines, but who cares?

There was another reason for the appeal too. In a word, variety. More variety than Heinz. Engines ranged from 1.3 litre to 3 litre, a wider range than any other European Ford. UK built cars had 1.3 and 1.6 litre inline fours, a 2.0 litre V4 and by the end of 1969 a 3.0 litre V6. German and Belgian built European market cars had 13, 1.5 and 1.7 litre V4 and 2.0, 2.3 and 2.6 litre V6 engines and the trim levels went through four levels or more. Add manual or automatic on many versions as well.

Trim levels were almost as complex. L, XL, GXL, and GT were all used, as were 2.0S and 3.0S and of course Ghia on the later Capri II, a 1974 hatchback or liftback derivative of the original car. Truly, this a version intended for Lee Iacocca himself.

Our feature car is a 1971 Capri 1600GT with evidence of the other secret weapon on Ford’s catalogue – an extensive range of accessories. This car shows the black bonnet, rear window louvres, vinyl roof, Rostyle wheels, swept back mirrors, rear ski blade spoiler, foglights, and, yes, furry dice. All things you could ask Ford to build in or for the dealer to add.

Motorsport success, mostly circuit racing rather than rallying for which Ford used the Escort and something the competitors could only dream of, added to the glamour. Buy a Capri 1.6, take the family shopping on Saturday morning and see something looking like it racing on the TV after lunch. No Marina ever did that.

And if you ever see a Marina now, it won’t look like this either. Truly, an impressive presentation for a modest car. Just like it was fifty years ago.