Ford Capri – the Mustang from Europe

Paulius Gaurilčikas

The Ford Mustang that came out in the US in 1964 triggered a real revolution, so the company yearned to repeat this success story on the other side of the Atlantic. And the situation in Europe at that time was very favourable. Of course, all of the other manufacturers had sporty coupés or convertibles in their range, but they were usually little two-seat roadsters or expensive, top-of-the-line four-seat coupés.

Ford understood that a sporty-looking yet roomy and cheap four-door coupé was bound to succeed, because people wanted cars like these but they were simply not available. Indeed – boring, unattractive sedans dominated the European market of affordable cars in the late 1960s, and the 30-something baby boomers needed something more interesting. Most of them were married, had children and planned their family budgets responsibly, but they didn't want to look any worse than those playboys with their Jaguar E-Types or MGBs.

1969 Ford Capri
1969 Ford Capri
© Ford archive
Ford Capri Mk1
Ford Capri Mk1
© by Paul Horn, Flickr
Ford Capri
Ford Capri
© Shutterstock

Named after an island in Italy, the Ford Capri debuted at the 1969 Brussels International Motor Show with the resounding slogan “The car you always promised yourself”. American Philip Thomas Clark came up with the design for the Ford Capri, but the product itself was purely European. The car used as many mechanical components as possible from the British Ford Cortina. The Ford Capri was basically the same Cortina, just with a much nicer body. However, the Cortina's guts made it possible for the Capri to achieve a decisive advantage: it cost just 10% more than the Cortina, making it an unparalleled offer. The shared components also meant that the new Capri would be cheap to run, so the family head who had long dreamed of the Jaguar E-Type could finally buy a sporty looking car without sacrificing the next few family holidays.

Ford Capri GT
Ford Capri GT
© Ford archive
Ford Capri Mk1
Ford Capri Mk1
© Paul Robertson, Flickr

Not surprisingly, the Ford plants in England and Germany couldn't make the Capri fast enough – in the first two years, customers bought 400,000 of them. Ford expanded the range cautiously, offering 2.3, 2.6 and 3.0 L V6 versions instead of the four-cylinder 1.3–2.0 L base engines. In addition, the model was not limited to Europe alone – they began exporting it to Australia, Japan and even the United States, where it was sold through Mercury dealerships starting in 1970. This "sexy European" was popular in the States, even spending a few years as the best-selling import car after the VW Beetle.

1973 Ford Capri RS
1973 Ford Capri RS
© Ford archive
Ford Capri Mk2
Ford Capri Mk2
© Ford archive

In 1974, with more than a million cars sold, the Capri got an update. The Mk2 was supposed to reinforce the Capri's market dominance even more, but the situation was no longer the same as it was five years ago. Most of the people who wanted this kind of coupé had already bought it, and a new type of car had begun to emerge in the market – the hot hatch, which for many seemed more acceptable than the Capri. In 1976, with demand down, Ford stopped production of the Capri in the UK, leaving it to Germany alone, even though Great Britain was still its main market. By then, the Capri had already become something of a cult car in the United Kingdom, and you could say that it was only because of the UK market that the model got one more update.

Ford Capri 3000 GXL
Ford Capri 3000 GXL
© pyntofmyld, Flickr
Ford Capri
Ford Capri
© grassrootsgroundswell, Flickr

The Capri Mk3 was introduced in 1978. This car looked a little strange next to the Golf GTi and the Escort XR3, but British loyalty guaranteed it enough orders right up until 1986. And as it entered the 1980s, the back of the Capri was embellished with the magic letter "i", which spoke of what was then new technology: injection. The 2.8i version with a 160-hp V6 was the best Capri there ever was. And in its last year of production, it also got a limited slip differential and a five-speed gearbox – these models are now the most valuable Capris around.

Ford Capri Mk3
Ford Capri Mk3
© pyntofmyld, Flickr
1987 Ford Capri
1987 Ford Capri
© The Car Spy, Flickr

The Ford Capri epoch ended in 1986, with nearly two million cars produced; even though the Capri had practically become a joke in Britain in the 1990s, nostalgia currently has the upper hand and Capri prices are being revalued – a decade ago, you could get a well-restored Capri for less than USD 10,000, but now even more than USD 20,000 is being asked for models like these. So there probably won't be a better time than now to buy a Capri.