Ford’s mid-sized four-seater coupe created a European market for ‘pony’ cars and lets its rivals stumbling to come up with suitable rivals. But it was a simple recipe for success – combine great styling with straightforward mechanicals and brilliant marketing, and watch the customers flood into the showrooms.
That legend started with Ford’s own advertising strapline, which described the Capri as ‘The car you always
promised yourself’. And, in just five years, almost 1.5 million customers added a Capri Mk1 to their lives. The Capri was unashamedly inspired by the Ford Mustang and buyers really didn’t mind that it was a close relative of the Cortina and Escort, dressed in a fetching party dress. Like the Zephyr and Zodiac Mk4, it had a long bonnet – although it wasn’t as exaggerated as its executive car cousin, it had an engine bay large enough to swallow the ‘Kent’ 1.3- and 1.6-litre engines with room to spare. It also had little trouble accommodating the Zephyr and Corsair’s V4 2-litre unit.
The most memorable (and valuable today) Capri Mk1s were the 3000 models, available as the performance-orientated 3000GT, the more luxurious 3000E and (from 1972) 3000GXL. It was an enticing proposition, as with 0-60mph times of under 9.0 seconds and a top speed approaching 120mph, the Capri three-litre was only outrun by much more expensive cars. The top models were distinguished by their bonnet bulges until 1972, when the smaller-engined models gained them.
Refining the breed…
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.
But it was better to drive than the original Capri, with a more civilised interior too. Currently less valuable than the Mk1 and Mk3, making this the thinking man’s Capri – the 3000S and Midnight Special are the ones to have.
Saving the best ’til last
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.