The cars : Ford Capri

The car you always promised yourself…

The Ford Cortina lineup

THE car industry had been going through some liberating times during the 1960s. Fuel was plentiful and cheap, and the Americans were making the most of the situation – offering buyers plenty of V8s to choose from. Even the entry-level ‘college’ cars were packing big (by European standards) six-cylinder engines.The car that epitomised the attractive youthfulness of the American car-buying public was the Ford Mustang – a sporting legend designed for the young free and single. Originally based on the Ford Falcon, the first Mustang rolled off the production line in March 1964 and straight into the arms of public acclaim.

Within weeks of its launch, the Mustang had generated huge waiting lists, and it had become the new cult car for a new generation. Within 18 months, it went from zero to a million sales, and a legend was born. By the time the Mustang was fully up to speed in the USA, Ford of Europe was already looking at doing the same thing over here – making a ‘Pony Car’ out of one of its mass-market saloons…

Development of the European Mustang came under the codename, ‘Colt’ in 1964 – a reference to the car’s role as a baby Pony Car, and was initially undertaken by the engineering team at Dagenham. As the project continued towards its July 1966 sign-off, an increasing amount of co-operation with Ford’s engineering and design department in Cologne resulted in the Capri being the second Pan-European Ford after the Escort.

Ford Capri prototype

…and by late 1966, it looked more like this. The characteristic semi-circular rear-side windows were a last minute change… (Picture: Andrew Elphick collection)

In typical Ford fashion, development was a swift and efficient operation, despite the swooping styling needed changing at the last minute to incorporate the horseshoe shaped rear window line, in response to unfavourable customer clinic comments. As it happened, in this case, the customers were absolutely right, and that uniquely shaped rear window became a Capri styling trademark, which remained with the car for the rest of its life.

Despite CAR magazine’s rather off-hand assertion that the Capri was little more than a ‘Cortina in drag’, the new car actually boasted a bespoke platform developed in the UK that comprised of the best bits of the Escort and its larger brother, the Corsair. Engines choice depended on where the car was being sold- in the UK, you could have either the 1.3- or 1.6-litre versions of the long-lived ‘Kent’ engine, alongside the forgettable 2-litre V4, and crackerjack ‘Essex’ 3-litre V6.

The German versions, on the other hand, used its own V4 and V6 engines, the former in 1.3-, 1.5-, 1.7-litre form, and the latter in 2- and 2.3-litre form. Talk about an abundance of choice. Considering it was a sporting car, Ford decided to launch its vitally important new car in the depths of winter – in Belgium. The January 1969 Brussels Motor Show might not seem the most glamorous location to unveil a car, but despite the winter gloom, the world’s press warmed very quickly to the Capri.

Ford Capri was a useful holiday companion

Early Mk1 Capris had plenty of pulling power, and were marketed very much on that basis…

Ford would have dearly loved to use the Colt nameplate for its new sporting car, but Mitsubishi beat Uncle Henry to the name, leaving marketing gurus fishing through the filing cabinet of defunct names – and drawing out the Capri moniker following its short career on the rump of the short lived Classic-based Coupe of 1961-1963.

Sales kicked off in February 1969, and Ford soon found itself in the fortunate position of having yet another sales hit on its hands – and thanks to a memorable advertising campaign which was cleverly tailored to appeal to the young professional couples who the company wanted to buy the car. If the intention had been to replicate the North American success of the Mustang here in Europe, it soon became clear that Ford had succeeded in its aims. Being a pan-European venture, the Capri was rolling off the production lines at Dagenham and Halewood in the UK, Genk in Belgium (briefly), and the Saarlouis and Cologne plants in Germany.

Rival manufacturers no longer needed convincing that four-seat affordable Coupes were the way forward, and very soon, they all knuckled down to work on their own alternatives. Chrysler and BL’s most striking efforts never made it into production (R429 and Condor respectively), although we did get the Morris Marina two-door fastback… However, the rest made it further – and thanks to the success of the Capri, we ended up with such fine cars as the Opel Manta, Renault 15/17 and Volkswagen Scirocco.

The impact the Capri made on the buying public and popular culture as a whole was even bigger than on an industry that had been caught napping. Ford’s laser-sharp marketing gurus correctly figured that as buyers were becoming increasingly affluent – with many cars now being bought by companies in the UK and offered to their employees as inflation (and tax-proof) ‘perks’. They put out an inspired series of adverts, depicting the Capri in all manner of exotic locations, and added the unforgettable tagline, ‘The car you always promised yourself…’

They figured that married-with-children middle managers liked the glamorous image of the Capri, and desperately wanted to identify themselves with the ‘bachelor-and-leggy-bird’ lifestyle depicted in the cheesy advertising.

One of the greatest aspects of the Capri wasn’t so much about how it drove, or even the way it looked – but the keen pricing. At the time of its launch in the UK, the entry level 1.3-litre Capri would set you back a very reasonable £890 – nearly £100 less than one of the year’s other big launches, the Austin Maxi 1500. And that’s a lot of money in an era when you could buy a semi-detached house in Essex for £6000…

Having said that, the 1.3-litre Capri was a bit of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, with a 0-60mph time of 18.8secs and a top speed of 84mph. But none of that mattered, because it looked good, and made its driver feel like Jason King. Nevertheless, the road testers liked the Capri, and the normally sanguine Autocar proclaimed the 1600GT XLR as, ‘the best car Ford has ever produced.’ And although we consider the Capri a bit medieval today, its handling was blessed as some kind of minor miracle: ‘On corners, this Ford is quite unlike any other. It is balanced neutrally and in some ways feels like a four wheel drive car.’

We wonder how many GT40 owners would agree to the sentiment.

Originally, the 2-litre V4 sat atop the Capri range, but it was merely keeping the daddy’s seat warm. Towards the end of 1969, the 3-litre version was rolled out – out went the form-guide, and in came a new benchmark in performance for accessibly priced cars. Using the 2994cc 138bhp ‘Essex’ engine in the light Ford Capri bodyshell, the pretty if non-too flighty Capri became a genuine performance car bargain. For just over £1000, you got a 120mph top speed, and 0-60mph of less than ten seconds – in 1970, you needed to spend considerably more than this to get comparable levels of performance.

Ford Capri RS2600

Ford Capri RS2600 was a true competition thoroughbred.

But if the 3000GT wasn’t quick enough for you – then the RS2600 would have been right up your street. Featuring Kugelfischer fuel injection and 150bhp of muscular power, the special model was offered to customers on a limited in order to make Ford’s Group 2 activities in the European Touring Car Championship nice and legal. The RS2600 handled like a thoroughbred thanks to modified suspension, and was usefully quick thanks to the power boost and close ratio gearbox. Ford was never one for resting on its motor sport laurels, and within a couple of seasons, upgunned the RS2600 replacing it with the phenomenal RS3100. Although it was no more powerful than its predecessor, it was even more special…

The Capri went on to become one of the most successful sporting coupes ever built, and by 1973, a million had been built. Despite the roaring success, Ford developed the Capri continuously in order to keep it at the head of the pack. In 1972, it received suspension upgrades and a new interior, and the ghastly V4 engines, as well as the ‘Kents’ were replaced by the overhead cam ‘Pinto’ engine, as used in the USA.

In February 1974, the Capri Mk2 was introduced. After a run of 1.2 million cars sold, and with the post-1973 mood being rather glum in the wake of the oil crisis, Ford appeared to lessen the Capri’s glamour with the Mk2 version, and made it a whole lot more versatile with the addition of a commodious hatchback rear end, and split folding rear seats. So for all those, who said the Fiesta was Ford’s first economical hatchback, we present you with the Capri Mk2 1.3L…

The newer car built on the successes of the flamboyant original, but many purists felt that it looked a little on the ‘soft’ side. Perhaps it was the big and friendly looking headlights, penned by Peter Stevens – or maybe it was the fact you could now buy a Capri L, GL or Ghia – just like a Cortina or any other run of the mill Ford. Sales did take a hit with the new car, and although the 3000S, Ghia and JPS Special edition added much needed testosterone-fuelled appeal, it was clear that a little more va-va-voom was needed…

Ford Capri MkIII

Capri comes of age: styling tweaks applied to the former Mk2 model make the MkIII far more appealing in the showroom.

The final – and some would say ultimate – Capri came in 1977, and with the minimum of effort on Ford’s part, it put right just about all of the Mk2’s wrongs. Designated Project Carla, the re-invigorated car looked mean and moody, and proved that the Ford styling boffins had not lost their magic touch. In fact, it is hard to believe that in terms of styling, the only major differences between the Mk2 and Mk3 amounted to a re-profiled bonnet leading edge, some natty ribbed rear light clusters, and wraparound bumpers.

Once again, the Capri became the pushy young exec’s weapon of choice, and the ‘S’ versions did all they needed to impress potential buyers who may have otherwise been tempted to go and buy a Manta. The 3-litre version remained the performance bargain of the decade, which no rival could answer – and although the Essex engine was beginning to be seen as a bit on the long-in-the-tooth side, there was no denying it delivered the goods.

However, time wasn’t kind to the Capri. By the ’80s, buyers were beginning to see the Capri as a bit of a hangover from a by-gone era, and just like stragglers at an overnight party the morning after, turfing out time was upon us. Except the Capri didn’t give in to the ravages of time without a fight – despite the arrival of the new generation hot hatchbacks as epitomised by the Golf GTi and Escort XR3. Ford dropped the Essex engine in 1981, replacing it with the ‘Cologne’ V6 – this creating one of the coolest named cars in the world – The Capri Injection…

Boasting 160bhp and a 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds, the Capri was able, once again, to punch above its weight, and give the snobs from Germany and Italy a bloody nose… However, in real terms, that was it for the Capri. Final development was little more than a marketing exercise, with a raft of special editions seeing it into old age – you could buy the Calypso, the Cabaret, the Brooklands. But in an era of engine management and digital dashboards, uncle Henry’s European Pony Car has passed its sell-by date.

In 1987, time was called on one of the defining cars of a generation, and a run of nearly two million cars, the book was closed on a legend. The Capri was a social phenomenon and attracted a loyal army of fans during its lifetime – it was the introduction to Coupe motoring for many a young blade – and let’s not it’s rather lucrative Television career. The irony was that in 1989, Vauxhall launched the Calibra – truly a modern day Capri – and caused a storm with it.

Just as Ford had no answer…

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

Ultimate Capri? The 280, known as the Brooklands featured 15in RS alloys and Recaro seats.

Thanks to Andrew Elphick

Posted in: Capri, The Rivals

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34 Comments on "The cars : Ford Capri"

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  1. Will says:

    “Just as Ford had no answer…”

    Ford did try and fight back against the Calibra with the Probe 2, an import of a Mazda-based US coupe which itself was the second iteration of a car initially designed to replace the Mustang. Unfortunately, it was seen as too US/Japanese to replace the Essex bruiser – the name didn’t help nor did another fantastic piece of car-casting from the petrolhead Steve Coogan with one of his intentionally irritating characters!

    Ford replaced the Probe with the Cougar, which was a Mondeo-based coupe, more in the vein of the original the Capri, but it didn’t sell well because coupe buyers were, at that stage, unfortunately going Bavarian.

    This is why it is difficult to find a mainstream marque (though certain ‘premium’ marques are now more mainstream than the mainstream…) coupe or large saloon.

    However, every now and then certain tabloid car magazines show a photoshopped rendering of a Focus-based coupe with the headline “The Capri is back!”, but this usually gets watered down to be a glimpse of the CC or the three-door model.

    There are, though, rumours of an official import for the next-gen Mustang, as Ford tries its One Ford strategy yet again across the board (which almost worked for the Escort Mk3, Mondeo Mk1 and mostly worked for the Focus Mk1 until the bloodlines split). Presumably Hybrid and TDCi options will be available, as running a V8 is no longer economically (or low oil resource) viable…

  2. Simon Hodgetts says:

    Regardless of any criticism that could be levelled at the Cap-ri, the Mk2 was notable in that it set the template for many modern-day coupes – the idea that a young family man can have a stylish 3-door hatchback, that seats 4, has a large boot with a tailgate, and is available with the same level of comfort and safety as a saloon car all stems from the Mk2 Cap-ri… fact my next car will be from the same mould – the Alfa GT….. On the question of ‘will Ford ever replace the Cap-ri’ – Ford should, but somehow I don’t think it will – the RS versions of the Focus and Fiesta are extremely capable, and unless Ford decides to go after VW Scirroco sales, very successful (and cheap to manufacture) variants of existing cars.

  3. Nate says:

    The moment Ford went FWD with the Capri replacements such as the Probe/Cougar was when they lost it in the Coupe sector (with the smaller Ford Puma being an exception), Ford should follow the example recently set by Toyota with its GT86 as to what a properly Coupe should be.

    Am actually surprised a Lotus Capri / Ford Capri Twincam was not considered for the mk1/2 considering the 1.6 Lotus Twincam engine was used in both the Cortina and Escort or that the mk3 never received a turbo 4-cylinder as an alternative to the Essex / Cologne V6s along the lines of say 150-165 bhp 2.0 Pinto / I4 or a 155-205 bhp 2.3 Lima.

  4. Hilton D says:

    The Capri always looked great in all its generations. I particularly liked the MK2 Ghia & S versions in 2 & 3 litres. If I could have afforded a Capri back then I would have settled for a 1.6GL – not being greedy! It wasn’t till 1976 that the car I then aspired to own was the Cavalier Coupe, then Sportshatch that followed. Great times!

  5. David Dawson1 says:

    As a teenager in the eighties I remember the 2.8 injection as a pretty cool car. Saw one quite recently – still a looker!
    Hard to believe the MkIII is just a tweaked MkII. In my eyes it looks so much better – somehow wider, longer, lower.

  6. Leon B says:

    The Capri Mk I & II was sold in the USA under Ford’s USA only Mercury brand to give them a car to attract younger buyers. It used the same engine as the Pinto, so no problem there. It came just as fuel prices jumped up in the 1973-74 oil crises, offered a sporty, ‘European’ car backed by a major NA carmaker and it looked good. Alas, our emmission standards, poor rust resistance, some parts not up to our poor roads and some too cheap to properly maintain them led to their decline by the early 1980’s.

  7. Yorkie says:

    The Capri is actually my all time fave car, and I came very close to owning a Mk1 many moons ago, I had the cash in my hand but the garage had sold it the day before 🙁 I do hope to own one someday, preferably a 3.0S or Ghia, but they are now going for silly money

  8. Christopher Storey says:

    A friend of mine had two Turbo Technics 2.8 Capris in succession . They were stunningly accelerative, if a touch noisy, and surprisingly reliable apart from a regrettable tendency to eat gearboxes . He was so enthusiastic about them that he kept the second for 18 years until 2004 when at the age of 57 he replaced it with that elderly fogey’s car ………..a Lotus Elise

  9. STUART C says:

    I bought into the marketing hype from day 1 and I’m still there – just love these cars….I had two Series 1’s – a deep red 1300L and a yellow/black 1600XL….The red one was bought second hand from a Jaguar showroom and was just a couple of months old….Despite almost 20 other ( and expensive ) new cars since then, I’ve never been so excited and felt so pleased with myself as the day I drove it home….Who cares that it couldn’t even out-accelerate a VW Beetle – it was heartbreakingly beautiful to look at parked outside our house….One evening, I was asked to collect an Italian work coleague from the airport and take him to his hotel….On the way, he told me his hobby was cars and motoring, and so I was absolutely convinced he was going to be impressed and fall in love with my gorgeous Capri….As he got out at his hotel, he said nothing, didn’t even look back at the car as he walked to the hotel door and I thought ‘ probably, he’s just jealous ‘….A year later, I saw him on TV – Vittorio Brambilla, driving around Monza in the Ialian GP….Jealous, did I say ?? A couple of years later we replaced it with another one, a mark-1-and-a-half, this time new, and yellow with the obligatory and fashionable black vinyl roof….Ordered and delivered with a sun roof, it was also stunningly attractive but in a more aggressive way – the original red one was just beautiful whilst the yellow one was also a bit sexy….We kept this one for almost five years and only sold it when we went to live / work in France….If I won the lottery, before the yacht and the Ferrari, I would buy a Brooklands 2.8, green, black leather, and then I could die happy….One day I will buy one,just wish it could be sooner than current finances allow….

  10. Will M says:

    Every now and then, on a slow news day, and as Autocar does with the ‘Baby Jag’, AutoExpress reports that Ford is resurrecting the Capri when Ford wheels out a coupe concept at a motor show.

    However, with rumoured plans to introduce a proper RHD version of the Mustang, and with Ford concentrating on the small car and SUV sectors, it is unlikely.

    The Cougar, in my opinion, was a fine replacement. While it was RWD, so was the car it was based on (Mondeo v Cortina), offered US-coupe style while also being sold as a Mercury.
    Best looking saloon-based coupe of recent years has to be the 406 coupe or the Brera.

    In some ways the A5 is a spritual successor to the Capri, if the A4 is the modern Cortina.

  11. Hilton D says:

    @10 Stuart – reading your comments almost had me drooling at your descriptions of the Capri’s you owned. I’ll bet the yellow 1600XL was Ford’s famous “Daytona Yellow”. My Dad very nearly bought a MK1 Capri 3000E (or was it GT?). In the end though he got a Mazda RX4 Coupe in 1973, which was also a lovely car.

  12. STUART C says:


    Yes it was….Registration was PMB 7L….Bought it from a Ford dealer somewhere close to Manchester Airport but can’t remember the name….After a year or so, I bought some alloys, unusually for the day they were black ones, and it looked even better….

    The red one was registered SBA 132H bought from a Jaguar showroom on, IIRC, King Street in Central Manchester and with about 2k miles….First saw it surrounded by new Jags of all types, but shining under the spotlights I thought it was better than all those put together….

    Huge, huge smile on my face as I’m typing this !!

  13. Hilton D says:

    @13 Stuart C. I know what you mean! Also agree that getting a Capri Brooklands 280 would be great. Like myself you seem to be able to remember all your old reg plates – and the memories that go with them. Good Luck…

  14. Spyder says:

    @4 Nate. At the press launch of the Capri in 1969 there were several cars fitted with the Twin-Cam engine. The press loved them but unfortunately they never made production-

  15. Richard Davies says:

    It’s also interesting that the 2.5 & 2.3 V6s were never used as a “gap filler” between the 2 litres & the bigger V6s.

  16. Ford Germany fitted the 2.0 and 2.3 litre V6 Cologne engines to the cars for sale across continental Europe. I cant remember if we ever got the Essex engine in any car over here (apart from kitcars!). IMO the Mk1 was using a 2.6 as top of the range, Mk2 and 3 the 2,8 with injection.

  17. BTW, the small engined Mk1s here in Germany had the local V4 engines, just as the old (pre-Cortina joint) Taunus and also the Consul/Granada.

  18. Glenn Aylett says:

    Always a good looking car and a clever marketing tool, just as the Mustang used tame six cylinder cars as entry models, the Capri used a sluggish 1.3 model as the base of the range, just so people could say they owned a Capri, even if the car had no go at all. However, it was built to suit all pockets and most probably sold were the capable 1.6 and 2 litre models, the 2 litres offering decent performance in return for four cylinder economy.

  19. Jon says:

    I bought a tatty 3.0 manual Ghia Mk2 back in the early nineties for £400 from the auctions as a ‘stopgap’ car. It was woefully underbraked and undertyred (the Mk2s all had the same brakes from 1300 to 3 litre) so I sold it a few weeks later – almost doubled my money on it! Replaced with a 2.8 injection Granada which was a far better car.

    A friend of mine had the 1300 version, it was incredibly slow and made an 1100 Escort seem like a ball of fire in comparison!

  20. Duncan Duncan Macrae says:

    I had a Paris Blue 1.6 Laser , a Diamond White 2.0S , a Diamond White 2.8i Special and a 280 ‘Brooklands’ , love the Capri , just a shame they are so expensive now or i would have another!

  21. Tony Evans says:

    The car I never promised myself….

    The Mk1 was a nice looking car but the Mk2 lost the plot and the Mk3 was only marginally better.

    I remember the Mk1 1.3 being barely faster than my Hillman Imp, and definitely slower through the bends. I also remember repairing catastrophic rust in the sills and rear wings.

    The cooking 1.6 was a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the 2.0 was acceptable and the 3.0 and 2.8i were pretty good. But the live rear axle would tramp like made when you gave it some welly and it was no better than a contemporary Cortina in the handling department.

    Triumph of style over substance other than the V6s … and I’d still rather have a Dolly Sprint.

  22. Hilton D says:

    Just noticed the orange Capri MK1 at the top of this feature says “Capri 2600GT”. Yet the text says the German market got a 2300 engine as the largest(?)

  23. Richard16378 says:

    The IIRC the Capri 2600 was a homoglamation special, & along with a 3100cc limited edtion.

  24. Hilton D says:

    Thanks Richard… very useful to know. The Capri was very much a car providing sporty looks, but on a budget. No wonder it enjoyed success in those days.

  25. Glenn Aylett says:

    Often wonder why they kept the 1.3 L on for so long as everyone knew this was a joke.
    A far better idea in the early eighties would have been to have the XR3 engine in the 1.6 and have fuel injection on the 2.0.

  26. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion says:

    @26 I think all manufacturers list a feeble engine as a starting price (not sure on the actual availability even though in the price lists), It drags the punter in the showroom, However The Salesperson could then bump the price up by selling the more common bigger engines (In the Capri’s case the 1.6 or 2.0) remember it wasn’t so long ago you could still buy a VW 2.0 SDi non Turbo Diesel that couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, Marketing Men always know Best.

    I often wondered why Ford didn’t discontinue the old Pinto Engines, (1.6 version at least) when they had the Constantly Very Harsh Escort Engines, I think the 1.8 Sierra/ Early Granada Engine’s were CVH? But then again the old Pinto Lumps (Camshaft aside) usually out lived the newer CVH unit.
    However I think Ford wanted to kill off the Capri (original XR4i was meant to be its unofficial replacement) but sales kept in production, probably why it didn’t receive many updates.

  27. Richard16378 says:

    I know some “cooking” models were tax specials for certain markets.

    Opel offered the Manta with a 1.2 engine, which must have been interesting to drive.

  28. Sandy says:

    Hello…I currently own a 1971 Ford Capri, engine from Cologne, Germany…I am in the United States and have searched many hours for some good sites for any kind of specs or technical data on her…if anyone out there has any suggestions it would be greatly appreciated…I love working on her and driving her, Eve, but actual data would be so helpful…
    Thank you & Have a great day

  29. Anthony says:

    It was a shame the Capri died BUT VW’s Golf GTI 8v and 16v literally bit it up the rear end and showed the car buying public how to do it basically with a bit more get up and go and a much classier inside and a bit of high powered oomph to the proceedings too.

  30. David D says:

    Hi all. I’m from South Africa. In the early 70’s a guy by the name of Basil Green upgraded the mk1 capri to run the same speed as a ferrari at that time. His company fitted a 302 V8 with a top loader 4 speed box and 292 diff all this was sanctioned by Ford UK. 550 units were made I have one. Its value in Rands is around R250,000.oo

  31. HUGO MONZON says:


  32. Jack says:

    We in the USA lost the real Capri after 1978. Ford came out with the Fox Body Mustang/Capri and she was just a simple knock off. I so enjoyed working on these gems back in the 70’s and would love to have a V6 4 spd Capri today. They were excellent for a Ford!

  33. Mark says:

    I had a white(ermine?) 1969 H registration Capri that I bought for £500 in 1980.
    It was a 1600 GT Kent engined model with a sliding metal sunroof and a tan coloured interior if memory serves.
    For it’s day it was reasonably quick and In the dry handled well but this changed drastically even after just a shower. You really had to respect how light the back-end was and drive very delicately.
    I can still remember the novelty of the windscreen washers being activated by the floor mounted foot pump, the Rostyle wheels and the sunroof open on sunny days. As a 19 year old I really thought I’d arrived.

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