Ford Capri History & Facts
Here’s the Ford Capri story. You want a car with street cred, right, something that will make you popular with the ladies?
Well, you don’t want to be poncing around in an SUV or crossover. If you want to stand out, you need some style to show you have the right stuff. You need a muscle car. And what better than the Ford Capri or My Little Pony, as I like to call it, it’s got the power you need with a beautiful three-liter V-6 engine.
What, you want to know more before you buy one? All right, the Capri name has been used on many since the early 1950s, starting with a Lincoln cosmopolitan Capri in 1950 and the Lincoln Capri in 1952, but it was first used on a European car with the 1961 Ford console. The console was a Ford or saloon, and fittingly, the console Capri was a two-door coupe that looked so American. It looked like it had just got something from a Drive-In burger joint in 1964.
The Ford Mustangs release in North America was a jolt to the car industry, with an amazing one million sold in the first 18 months.
Ford’s European arm took note and wanted something to replicate its success.
Ford Capri design
It’s unclear who first designed the Capri. Sources differ on it being either Phil Clark or Gordon McCrae in either 1964 or 1965. However, both reported to Ford in Detroit. So the Capri started life in America.
And Phil Clark was sent to Europe, where Ford’s the UK and German arms were collaborating to build their own pony car.
Aptly called the Colt Ford’s German designer, Ouvea Bahnson. Phil Clark and Neil Bertolli worked together to realize the final design that was greenlit in 1966. Early designs didn’t include the classic D-shaped rear window, but when prospective customers complained, the rear felt dark and cramped. The iconic windows were added. The car will be a two-door four-seater, and it was styled like its Mustang sibling to have a long front nose with a commanding stance on the road.
With films like Goldfinger and Bullitt showing the Mustang sleek lines and drivability, Ford was sure European customers would lap up their new European pony car to save costs.
The car will be built using the underpinnings from the upcoming 1968 Ford Cortina to meet its 20 million pound budget. The designers borrowed various parts from the Corsair, with escort realigns and staring.
American in Europe and European in America
Up until this point, Ford had a bit of a stodgy image in Europe. The new cult would change this, but the turnaround would start with Ford’s hot Cortina models, starting in 1963, before the cult could be released.
It hit a roadblock. Mitsubishi owned the Colt name, and although Ford took them to court in 1968 to get the name released, they ultimately failed. Leaving Ford to fish around for an alternative, given the Capri name had been used on the two-door coupé.
Ford Capri, this seemed like a good name to choose from. Like Cortina, Capri evokes thoughts of exotic Mediterranean towns, a far cry from the rainy northern European cities where they would be driven.
So, Ford Capri, it was. Ford also played on the Capri name as being aspirational. By buying it, you were joining the fashionable London Jetset without breaking the bank, and you could still take the kids to the supermarket and get all the shopping in the boot. Production started in December 1968, so every dealer could have at least one stock before its release at the Brussels Motor Show in January 1969.
Throughout the whole show, a large wooden box stood on the Ford stand. And it was only on the last day of the show that the box was opened to reveal the Capri and the clever marketing didn’t stop. Their dealers left them parked at public locations like train stations. To be sure, you didn’t miss this new car. It was launched with the tagline The car you’ve always promised yourself. And demand was brisk. Ford wanted to make their new coupe as accessible as possible.
So ad engines from a tiny 1.3-liter to a 3-liter V-6 beast. They weren’t afraid of diluting the car’s performance credentials. They were just looking to sell, sell, sell.
With prices starting at just eight hundred and ninety pounds, it was certainly affordable. That’s around 15000 pounds in 2019, which would buy you an entry-level Ford Fiesta. But that affordability came at a cost.
The entry-level 1.3-liter engine would take 23 seconds to get to 60 with a top speed of just eighty-four miles an hour.
If you went for the 3-liter 3000 GT, that not a 60 time was slashed to 9.2 seconds with a top speed of 140 miles an hour.
The Capri might look quick, but only the badge on the back would tell you it was actually quick. But the car had light and precise handling an excellent if limited travel suspension. Despite its fast cooping image, the fastest 3-liter capris were made.
The story of Ford Capri success
He sold with newfangled automatic gearboxes that snapped some of that speed. Like with the Mustang, Ford had a hit on the hand with a Capri, over 400000 were sold in the first two years. Production expanded from Germany and the UK to Australia in 1969 and South Africa in 1970. It was exported to New Zealand and Japan with a 2-liter engine. In particular, it was a hit, and German-produced Capri were exported back to Ford’s home base to be sold not in Ford showrooms, so as not to upstage its Pinto, but by its Mercury division.
As Americans were used to larger cars, it was sold as an inexpensive compact.
It's amusing that in Europe, the Ford Capri was sold as a bit of American, whereas in America it was sold as an exotic car from Europe. It seems you can have your cake and eat it.
Ford even tested a convertible Capri through Crayford Motors as the Crayford Capri and the Abbott convertible. These were only made in limited numbers, and Ford didn’t take them into mass production with such a sporty image. It was natural that Ford would produce a racing version.
The RS 2600 was launched in 1971 using the 2.6-liter engine and fuel injection to get the car from 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds.
Ford won the touring car championship in both 1971 and 1972 before BMW. CSL swept the board in 1973 to respond.
Ford created the Capri, using the board out three-liter Essex engine. This time there was no fuel injection, leading it to have the same 148 brake horsepower as the Ford Capri RS 2600. But with a lower stance and a rear spoiler, this car had better handling at high speeds and improved aerodynamics. Ford in South Africa had more fun deeming the current engine lineup to be too wimpy. They shoehorned a 5-liter V8 Winzer engine under the bonnet and called it the Parana with the monster of an engine under the hood.
It was likely to bite your leg off. It had a 0 to 60 time in just 6.6 seconds and was entered into South African sports car races where it cleaned up in 1970 and 1971, before being banned due to its dominance.
- Capri received a light facelift in 1972. The suspension was improved, the dashboard was altered. He got new seats and the small Kent engine was changed for the Pinto in 1973. North American versions would get those large, ugly bumpers that grew like warts out of cars throughout the 1970s.
- By that same year, Ford had already sold over a million capris, selling them faster than discounted Ed Sheeran bobbleheads, adventure, and concert tickets. The competition came out to make this new cheap coupe.
Challenger was the first out of the gates in 1970.
This was joined by Forenza in the same year. European Poni cars were the latest fashion, but the Capri continues to rule the roost. Even British Leyland took notice designing but ultimately killing their Capri competitor that would have replaced the Triumph Stag. By 1973, sales started to flag, so Ford worked on a redesigned code-named Diana. The big changes to give the Capri a hatchback, something that was becoming more and more popular in the 70s. And in fact, it was Ford’s first-ever hatchback. But the car also got a larger cabin by shortening the bonnet.
The dashboard and steering wheel were updated to make them look more modern, although it helped sales in the short term.
It didn’t stop the Ford Capri’s sales slide, and Ford stopped making them in the UK in 1976, moving all Carbury production to Belgium and Germany.
And America’s short love affair with the European Capri ended in 1977. With the US dollar being unfavorable for European imports. Ford of North America revived the name in 1979 by rebadging the Ford Mustang as the Mercury Capri, and it lived on until 1996. In the late 70s, Ford’s European marketing team kicked into gear again, getting its sporty Capri into films and TV shows like Branigan, starring John Wayne in 1975, Minde in 1979 and most famously, the ride of choice of Bodie and Doyle in the Professionals from 1978 to 1981.
However, it's unlikely Ford's marketing team had anything to do with Ford Capri. It only fools and sales was starting to flag as the Trendy Capri went out of fashion, but it wasn't done yet. Ford released a Capri update in 1978.
The car was more slippery. Being more slippery meant it was faster and it went longer. Between visits to the petrol station outside, the changes were small, with a revised front end, some trim changes, and new round headlights under the covers. The car suspension and better Antero bars production were now confined to two German plants, showing that sales continued to decline. Although it was now made in Germany, most of the Capri sales ended up in the UK as it had developed a bit of a cult following there, something that continues to this day.
But if sales were failing in the late 70s, the popularity of hot catches in the early 80s sounded the Capri’s death bell.
The Capri looked like a relic from another age. Left-hand drive production ended in 1984, and it was sold as a UK right-hand drive model until 1986 when the last Capri rolled off the production line after selling nearly two million cars just three years after preproduction ended.
In 1989, Ford of Australia used the name for their new open-top, taking many of its parts from the master three to three.
Ford of Australia always had an eye on the North American market with this new car, and it was sold there as the Mercury Capri again in 1991. It used many mouths to pass with Ford and Mazda having a partnership at that time. So it’s funny that its main competition was Mazda launched around the same time, but with the Capri’s poor reliability, the Mazda model won out and production ended in 1994. Ever since production of the original Capri ended, European customers have been yearning for an affordable coupé.
They got their wish in the 1990s, first with the imported North American Ford Probe in 1994, then with the Ford Puma in 1997, and the Ford Kuga in 1998. But none of these cars caught on with the production of the Probe ending in 1997 and the Puma and Cougar in 2002.
Every few years, rumors circulate about a new Ford Capri being released first in 2003, then in 2009. Things hotted up with the Evos concept in 2011, with Ford shift to only making SUVs and trucks in North America and likely a scaling back of co-pays and hatchbacks in Europe.
It’s a real shame that we’re likely to see a new Capri anytime soon.
But this wasn’t the end of Ford’s muscle cars in Europe. In 2018, the granddaddy poni car of them all, the Ford Mustang, finally came to European shores as both a left-hand and right-hand drive car. Although with high prices, it’s hardly the affordable car the Capri had been when it was launched. But then the Capri didn’t have the option of a 5-liter V8 capable of getting it to 60 miles an hour in a blistering 4.6 seconds.