(first posted 3/10/2017) Ford’s Capri, intended to be a European Mustang, was a huge hit there, essentially recreating the Mustang’s genre-defining impact. And perhaps somewhat surprising, the Capri was very successful as an import sold by Mercury dealers, and was the #2 selling import for a couple of years. Like the original Mustang, it was a lot of (import) car for the money, and its light weight and lithe handling made the most of its mostly four-cylinder engines. Towards the end of its first incarnation, Ford’s 60 degree V6 also became optional, upping performance a considerable notch during a time when that was not a given.
The Capri was re-skinned for 1975 in Europe, and almost a year later, it arrived in the US as an early 1976 model. In addition to its sleeker lines, it now sported a hatchback, which was as seventies as wide ties and lapels. R&T tested two early models, and found it generally improved.
Related: CC 1973 Capri
Of all the used cars I ever looked at and almost bought it was the Capri II that eluded me the most. One was white with the gold package, a ’76 with the true dual exhaust. The engine sounded like a Porsche 911’s. I was just a kid and couldn’t talk the guy down on price. Found an orange ’77 Ghia a few years later and had saved up enough to finally close the deal. When I called to set up the appointment someone beat me to it. Still plan on owning one some day, if California smog excludes pre-’80 model year like it’s supposed to soon. I bet having to smog took them off the road more than anything. The VV carb must have been a bitch to keep running properly. My dream machine would be a left-hand drive German-built Capri III from one of the final years.
I had the 76 gold on white 2.8l car back in about 78 – 79 … I’ve owned a lot of nice cars since then, but that was a beauty. I’ll never forget driving that first night from Killeen, Texas, back to Austin, Texas …August with the sunroof open, the stereo blasting,and I was on top of the world. Heck, yeah — life doesn’t get any better!
I had a 76 ‘Black Cat’ V6 4 speed. I had a B&W picture up on the fridge from MT or R&T for months, just waiting for it. It was my 5th and favorite Capri. I finally got it in mid-January 1976, using my per diem from NET&T to pay for it, LOL. At that time, it was my most expensive car, $4,800 and $40 per week through the Boston Telephone Workers Credit Union. It would cruise all day at 80 MPH, even on the Merritt Parkway in CT, I loved taking the curves in it.
My first new car was a 1972 Capri V6. There were none available, and I even considered a 1972 Honda Z600 Coupe, out the door with tax $1967. Just then truckloads of VG Capris rolled in.
As I recall, the price was just over 1/2 of the price listed for the 1976. Lots of inflation in 1972/73. I sold my Capri when it was a year old for exactly what I had paid. Got a 1970 Triumph GT6 and a 1972 Z600. I kept the GT6 for several years, but the gas crisis of 1973 made the Z600 more valuable, and I sold it.
The 1975 Capris were nice but
Oh, I remember the TV ads for these, in the summer of ’75. A man with a hard-to-place accent proclaiming, “1976 is here today!”
“The last Capri was produced at the factory in Cologne, West Germany, on 19 December 1986, ending an 18-year production run which had seen nearly 1.9 million units produced …”
Ironically it would have been a RHD model for the British market.
“Production had ended at Halewood, UK in 1976 and the Capri was made exclusively in Germany from 1976 to 1986.”
“… production of the LHD version of the Capri ceased on 30 November 1984”
“For its final year production, it had only been produced in right-hand drive form for the British market.”
Never knew that. I did find it amusing as a kid that it was built in Germany when it seemed such a British car to me in a way – a real Essex-boy Ford.
Young guys with long hair and sideburns, the Capri owners as I remember them from my youth. In retrospect, the angry looking 1978-1986 Mk3 is my favorite. Being a teenager in the early eighties I was highly impressed by the Capri 2.8 Injection (160 hp, 5-speed manual). The combination of looks, a V6, fuel injection and a 5-speed manual was pure magic.
Formerly young guy with long hair and sideburns here! I mosied into the local Merc dealer to have my 70 Cougar serviced from time to time, and spent plenty of time ogling the Capri II.
Then Mario Andretti starting winning in a Lotus sponsored by John Player, and painted black with gold striping. Of course, the Lotus was powered by a Cosworth-Ford V8.
That gave Ford an idea….
Unfortunately, the Capri II was lacking in the headroom department, and, iirc in legroom as well. It’s the rare car that fails to fit me so completely. I thought Germans were supposed to be tall.
Ford went nuts with the black/gold color scheme, offering it on several models. The Capri was the only one that went all the way though, with all the bright aluminum trim blacked out. The Granadas and such that had a black body and goldish vinyl roof still had all the chrome in place, which ruined the effect.
(pix scanned from the original brochure I picked up all those years ago)
The Capri Mk2 Ghia was aimed at a completely different clientele, the brochure made that very clear.
I didn’t know that Anton Chigurh had a Capri in his younger years.
Javier Bardem complained about having to adopt such a terrible hairstyle for that role. A terrible hairstyle for a terrible character!
I’ve driven at least 6 or 7 of the 1st generation Capri, pretty much evenly split between 2 liters and V6s, and always preferred the 4 cylinder models. The V6s always felt like such heavy cars, and not in a good way, very heavy over the front wheels.
When the Capri II was 1st tested by Car&Driver they noted that power steering was now optional….and necessary, even on the 4 cylinder models.
I really like the Capri II, and it’s one of those rare cars where the 2nd generation really is an improvement over the 1st generation, BUT…let’s face it, it’s not a sports car, just a sporty looking compact.
It is, however, miles better than the Mustang II which most likely inspired the folks who designed the Capri II.
And I liked the 1st generation car enough that I bought one….and wish I still had it.
More about the UK Capri market:
“… the car had something of a cult following there. Unlike sales of the contemporary 4-door Cortina, Capri sales in Britain were to private buyers who would demand less discounts than fleet buyers …”
Yep. People were rocking on the floor in the foetal position when it was canned and for years wailed for “the new Capri” – then in ’93 Ford gave them the Probe, which didn’t really cut it.
I bought a 1976 Capri II back in the mid 90s at a car show / swap meet.
Kane county fairgrounds in Saint Charles, IL
The car was a gold color v6 5spd, the previous owner had a Borla exhaust system installed. It had a very sporty sound and was in near prefect cond. inside and out.
I paid $1800 and only kept it for a short time before advertising and selling it for a nice profit. The buyer flew into Midway airport Chicago and took a cab to my home. He was from Ohio and said that had a warehouse full of early Capri parts that he sold. He called me later the next day and said that he drove it all the way home after he left my house. I still have the Chilton’s Capri II repair manual that was in the car.
I assume this is the same 2.8 Cologne German V6 that went into the Mustang. If so I would totally pass on this car so equipped. My Mustang obsessed friends have little good to say about these engine and recommend avoiding them in the Mustang II and 1979 Fox cars. Is the 2.8 series engine in the Capri different/better?
It seemed most of the Mustang IIs with V6 went out the door with the automatic and air. Combine that with maybe 150-200 pounds more curb weight and they were pretty gutless and ran a bit hot. The 2.8L Capris I drove had a stick and maybe better gearing than the Mustang. They were as quick as a Scirroco and almost as fast as a 280Z or so it felt. The feeling was of a lot of torque. These engines had solid lifters and for some reason there was always more valve noise in the Mustang II than in the Capri, which gave a negative impression on the engine.
It was also my “seat of the pants” driving impressions that the V6/automatic powertrain was slower than expected.
I seem to recall that FoMoCo’s 3 speed automatic transmission of this period was very “loose” and sloppy on initial hook up, take off and gear changes.
I thought that even the 4 cylinder/4 speed models steered harder than I expected; the V6 models needed power steering as a “mandatory” option.
As Calibrick noted, the solid lifters on the V6 engines could have some objectionable clatter to them, even when fairly new.
All in all, a fun, competent car, but nowhere close to the light steering, smoother riding, supremely competent & “toss-able” Opel 1900/Manta.
Pity the exchange rate made both of these German cars SO very expensive after about 1973!
To my (limited) knowledge, the Cologne V6s problems were mostly in the heads/valve train. The heads developed cracks (I’m guessing due to an inadequate design for the water passages) and these V6s were equipped with mechanical lifters (sorry, I’m not a mechanic) that the owners never knew needed to be adjusted periodically.
But the Cologne V6s are decent engines when properly maintained. My sister had a 74 Capri that was nearly trouble-free, what finally “killed” that car was badly rusted “A” pillars that couldn’t be repaired.
They get a bad rep from Mustang guys because it’s not a 5.0.
The 2.8 in my 79 notchback was rev happy and plenty powerful even with the C3 automatic behind it.
I got to drive one of these one day, and it was about as much fun as I’d ever had in a car. My GF and I were visiting her sister in Oakland CA; sister had a new guy to hang with and turned us loose with her Capri V6, suggesting that we explore the very fun local canyon roads. That turned out to be an excellent suggestion. I found the car to be both willing and honest, easy to drive through any bend and just as easy to kick its butt sideways when things tightened up. We were not out to set lap records, of course, and seldom exceeded the posted limits, but it was a lovely and exhilarating exercise.
As for how well we fit, I was 6′ and slender in those days and my companion just four inches shorter, and we both had plenty of room. The wheel, pedals and shifter were exactly where they were wanted. The only problem I had was when I wanted something from the back seat, and I had to pull over and get out to get to it. Very sweet car, though.
In England, the Capri was launched as “the car you always promised yourself”.. Well I was promising myself a Lotus Cortina, so the Capri was a damp squib. A friends’ father bought a new Capri – with the 1300 motor and Ford carburetor….
The only one I ever drove was a nearly new 1600 with the bells and whistles, but it still didn’t do it for me, though I realise the very last 2.8 ones were actually pretty good.
For how many model years was the Capri II sold in this country? I ask because I remember seeing quite a few original Capris running around when I was a kid in the 80’s, but not many of these updated versions at all.
I believe it was just an extended ’76 model year (introduced early), ’77, and leftover ’77s retitled as ’78s.
These are incredible cars. Sadly I never appreciated them in my teens and 20’s. But I like them now.
Nearly 5K for the base model V6, and 6K for a loaded Ghia edition! The devalued dollar really inflated American prices for German products during the ’70s. Parts prices were high for these cars and their weight got inflated too. The V6s also had problems stripping the plastic teeth off their timing gears.
I wonder if LM dealers were any better at selling the Capri, than Buick was with the Opel.
I remember quite a few of the early Capris on the roads. But only recall seeing a handful of the Capri IIs. Still, I did prefer the styling on the ‘II’, and they were way better than the absurd Mustang II.
Happy Motoring, Mark
All these V6 engines, up thru the 2.9 used in the Ranger/Bronco II had mechanical lifters. A proper valve adjustment goes a long way towards silence. It wasnt until the 4.0L came out in the Explorer and Ranger did they get a juice cam. And I have always liked these Capri’s, and fantasized many times about swapping the 4.0L into a first gen Capri. Having driven 4×4 Rangers and Explorers with this engine, that Capri would be…ahem…fun 🙂
Epic brain fart. The 2.9 had a hydraulic flat lifter cam, the 4.0 got roller lifters.
I loved this post and reading the original article. A ’76 Capri II was “the one that got away”… Test drove one that was for sale in ’91 for $800, when I was in high school. Fear of scarcity of parts kept me away. I regret not pulling the trigger from time to time.
My mom bought one of these new, a ’76 Tomato Red Ghia with the 2.8, and a black interior, I thought the 2 way sunroof and maplight were neat. I was 10 at the time but thought it was so cool. Of course my older brother was given it when he got his license and proceeded to destroy it in short order. Her next car was a ’75 Coupe De Ville. My mom seemed to have eclectic taste in cars. After the Caddy was a ’83 Grand Prix, then a ’91 TBird Super Coupe, then her last car a ’99 Camaro SS.
How difficult would it have been to get a V8 into the Capri’s engine bay? It’s somewhat similar to the Vega in that Ford had a decent European car that could have been used as the basis for a better 1974 Mustang to replace the bloated 1973 barge instead of the lame Pinto. The biggest issue would be insuring that a Capri-based Mustang would be able to take a V8.
In fact, I wonder if the later timing of the Capri II was directly influenced by the introduction of the Mustang II. Ford waited on the US introduction of the Capri II so as to minimize cannibalization of any Mustang II sales.
Have a look here: http://www.themotorhood.com/themotorhood/2015/9/3/south-african-wildlife-1970-ford-capri-perana-v8
Hey, if a Pinto or Cologne engine fits, a V8 would have to fit, as they did in Fox body cars.
So Basil Green Motors in South Africa mixed and matched various engines, like putting an Essex V6 in a MkII Cortina or a Pinto engine in an Escort 1600.
They were the first to put the Essex V6 in the Capri. Ford liked it so much they started offering it themselves, which led Basil Green’s outfit to kick it up a notch with the 302 Windsor V8, which transformed the Capri into a 140-mph screamer. Each of these hotrods bore the name Perana.
Making your own should be mostly a bolt-in affair.
I built a 76 Capri II for my first car. When complete I was at car shows then the drag strip every other weekend. Mods were … Holley 390 cfm 4 barrel on match ported offenhauser 2 piece intake and ported heads. Aluminum timing gear on the cam. Norris ground cam from a Ed Iskenderian racing cam blank, forged 9:1 pistons, Strut crossbar connecting Bilstein struts (all 4) with caster/camber correction plates. Mono-leaf rear springs with home made traction bars (parts sourced from a Mazda I found behind the auto shop). 2 inch dual exhaust with Monza dual tips (dual dual’s out the back). Reupholstered seats using cloth matching the new recaro seats in the SVT Mustang. Ummm… lots more but I’m fifty-something now and can’t recall everything. What I do remember is paying more for the PERFECT black paint job than I did for the car. I joined a car club called Breakaway Street Machines and the fun began. I won best paint at a car show that had tons of insane multi-colored low riders and thought I was going to get shot before I could get away. I could easily leave IROC Camaros and 5.0 Mustang’s in my dust because the Capri left so hard they never had a chance. At Carlsbad I ran 13.90’s on the 13X7 wheels I ran everyday, and If I went racing with the car club I race prepped the car (and towed it to the track) with racing slicks and removed the HEAVY 5 MPH bumpers and could run low 13’s until 2nd gear would explode. Fun! The tiny 60 degree V6 had its quarks indeed, but the aluminum timing gear along with monthly valve adjustments made it all worth while. The exhaust note at the 7200 rpm shift was epic. If I could purchase a rust free 76,77 or 78 (or euro car through 86) Capri today I would. However I would install a Turbo K24A Honda 4 cyl tuned to 500-600 hp and a sequential 6 speed for sub 10 second drag racing fun! Anyone have one for me?
Ever consider building one with a 4.0L V6 ?
I currently have a Capri II Ghia/V6/4 speed and dual exhaust. Will be having it painted the original deep brown metallic non clear. I remember it was stunning when new and it was my first new car.