While Ford of England first marketed a Capri model in the early ’60s, the Consul Classic Capri, the first one offered in the United States appeared in 1970 and was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Often called a ‘Mercury Capri’, it really wasn’t. It was just the Capri, as borne out in all advertising and brochures. Sporty, affordable little imported coupes were hitting their stride in the early ’70s, and Ford wanted in on it.
By the time the Capri came to the US market, insurance premiums were beginning to have an effect on sales of cars like the Mustang, Javelin, Barracuda and others. In short order, your choices for coupes were down to two basic types: a big, landau roofed cruiser like the Monte Carlo or Grand Prix, or a small, sporty coupe such as the Capri, Opel Manta or Toyota Celica.
The Capri was built by Ford of Germany and introduced as Europe’s answer to the Mustang: a sporty coupe based on a bread-and-butter, high volume line of cars. While the powertrain was largely derived from the Cortina, the Capri also had much in common with other European Fords such as the Ford 20M and 26M two- and four-door sedans.
While the Capri had semi-fastback styling, it was not a hatchback, retaining a conventional trunk lid. Its styling echoed the Mustang to an extent with its long hood, short deck proportions. It even featured similar faux air scoops in the rear quarter panels.
Considering how the Mustang was growing (albeit largely visually, its overall length wasn’t drastically greater than the ’65), by the early ’70s, it would not really be competing with the sporty, svelte German Ford. Though it sought a market not unlike that which drew folks to the original ’65 Mustang.
Like other German and English Fords of the time, Capris featured a front-engined, rear wheel drive monocoque body with front disc and rear drum brakes. It had an independent front suspension and semi-elliptic three-leaf rear suspension.
A four speed manual was standard equipment, with Select-Shift automatic an option. Early US-market Capris made do with a sub-100 hp 1.6L inline four cylinder engine that wasn’t really anything special, performance-wise.
Things got more interesting the following year, when an OHC 2.0L four cylinder became available. In 1972, the Cologne-built V6 was added as well, providing sprightlier motivation for those who wanted it. Regardless of which engine they had, the “Sexy European” Capri was a hit in the States. It actually became the second-best selling import after the VW Beetle, no mean feat.
1973 Capris got a minor facelift with a new grille and 5-mph front bumper. It still retained the slim chrome bumpers, though the front one was now positioned much further from the body. That changed in 1974, when much more substantial bumpers were added front and rear. They still looked better than many other 1974 models, however, as they wore body-colored plastic covers that made them look less tacked on.
By ’74 the Capri came in two varieties, the four-cylinder 2000 and V6 2800. In addition, V6s added blackout trim below the chrome side trim and on the rear taillight panel, plus V6 badges on the front fenders. The Rostyle wheels were still in evidence. It never occurred to me how much they look like MGB wheels. Funny, considering they are virtually identical.
Thanks to the enhanced bumpers, Capris were now 174.8″ from stem to stern, though the wheelbase remained at 100.8 inches. 1974s came in eight colors, including Yellow, Red, Medium Green Metallic and Medium Brown Metallic – perhaps better known as ’70s Brown. Capris were not bargain basement equipped, as all cars came with standard bucket seats, pop-out rear windows, bright bodyside and window trim, and color-keyed carpeting.
As mentioned in previous articles, my Dad was a dram shop insurance investigator in the ’70s, and as a result he got a company car because of all the traveling. His first one was a ’73 Gran Torino sedan, in copper with a brown vinyl roof. He was more used to sporty little cars, having owned several Porsche 356s and a Triumph TR-5. That Torino must have been kind of a drag, because just one year later he was allowed to get a sporty yellow ’74 Capri V6 with four speed from Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury in Rock Island.
It must have been a breath of fresh air after the undercover detective special that was the Gran Torino. His Capri had the “terra cotta” colored interior and a four-speed manual. Unlike many Detroit cruisers of the time, the Capri had full instrumentation instead of a just a gas gauge and speedometer. This was also the car my folks took on their honeymoon. They drove it to Pikes Peak, and there is a picture somewhere with Mom, the Capri, and the mountains in the background.
One funny story involving the Capri happened one day when he was driving back to Rock Island from Geneseo. While he was on the highway, someone passed him and cut him off. Naturally, this ticked him off, so as he was shifting into second, he brought the gear lever back a little harder than he should have, and the entire lever came off. Now the car was stuck in second gear with no way to shift it.
He parked the car on the shoulder just outside of Geneseo and hitchhiked to Porter’s, a little hardware store in Hampton, IL, where he called Mom and told her to please come and get him. The Capri got towed in to the dealership, and was fixed in short order. Things like this can only happen to my Dad.
The Capri was none the worse for wear, and eventually Dad bought it from the company for my Mom when her Diamond Blue ’68 Mustang started getting really rusty. One day she was driving the Mustang, looked down at the floor and saw the pavement go by. Time for a new car! She put an ad in the paper and the Mustang was sold to a guy who seemed nonplussed at the rust and happily paid up and drove it away.
Our featured ’73 model, in oh so 1970s metallic root beer brown over terra cotta vinyl, was recently spotted by your author on Winston-Salem CL. It appears to be in extremely nice shape, with a claimed 50,000 miles on the clock. After seeing this ad, I did a search for Capris online, and very, very few popped up. And most of them appeared to be project cars. Not a lot of survivors here in the States!
I haven’t seen a live Capri in years. In fact, the last one I recall seeing was a faded red one in a junkyard about 25 years ago. I was with my Dad and my brother; Andy and I collected old car emblems, and Dad indulged us from time to time by taking us to U Pull A Part in Milan. I still have the rear deck “Capri” script from that car in a drawer somewhere.
After the 1974s, the Capri II came out as an early 1976 model (there were no 1975 model Capris in the US). It had new front and rear styling and smoother flanks, finally eliminating the fake quarter panel extractor vents. The biggest news, however, was a hatchback. Sales did not really take off though, as the exchange rates of the German-built import were making it prohibitively expensive for many pocketbooks. The last German Capris were imported in 1977, with some leftovers sold as ’78s. For 1979, a new Capri would be essentially a Mustang, with a domed glass hatch and some unique sheetmetal and trim.
As for our Capri, Mom eventually got tired of driving a manual transmission. Her first three cars (’59 Dodge, ’60 Impala and the ’68 Mustang) had all been automatics.
The Capri was traded in on a 1973 Volvo 1800ES with an automatic transmission. So started my parents’ long association with Volvo. Which continues to this day with a ruby red XC60 T5.