By on May 28, 2019

The Rare Rides series has featured two Capri-adjacent vehicles in past: This car’s immediate predecessor, the ASC McLaren Capri, and its contemporary competitor, the Lotus Elan. Let’s find out how much better the final Capri was than either of those two (or not).

The era of the rear-drive Capri as Mustang sibling ended after the 1986 model year, when it was cancelled due to a distinct lack of buyer interest. The Cougar lived on, carrying Mercury’s performance car flag alone, albeit under the cover of a personal luxury blazer. However, as the Nineties dawned, the performance roadster segment was heating up quickly. Mazda introduced its new Miata for 1990, faithfully blending the old British roadster recipe with a helping of reliability.

Not to be outdone by Japan, Lotus got in on the new roadster hotness with its M100 Elan. Ford wished to compete with cars like the Mazda and Lotus, too, so it placed a call to those ultimate roadster aficionados — Australians — and also to Mazda.

Mercury’s new Capri went on sale in 1991, derived from one of Ford’s favorite Nineties platforms: the Mazda BG. From that platform sprang the 323, the Australian-market Ford Laser, the American-market Ford Escort, the Capri, and later the Kia Sephia.

The Capri was a unique offering on North American Lincoln-Mercury lots; there was no Ford sibling to be had anywhere (a first for the two brands since 1978). Built in Victoria, Australia, the Ford Capri was turned into a Mercury via some new gauges, airbags, and body-colored bumpers. Like the Lotus, it was a front-drive affair, and like the Mazda it was available with a removable hard top. Since it was similar to the Mazda 323, it was sold with that car’s 1.6-liter inline-four engine, in either standard (100 hp) or upmarket XR2 turbocharged (132 hp) guise. A four-speed automatic or five-speed manual sent power to the front wheels of the 166-inch long cabriolet. XR2 models benefited from an independent rear suspension and more beefy sway bars front and rear.

From 1991 to 1993, the Capri remained unchanged, though it received some visual upgrades for 1994. New, more prominent bumpers meant overall length increased by a full inch. There were also new tail lamps. All these features were available a year earlier on Australian-market Capris.

Ford knew its audience, pricing the Capri just like the Miata; both cars were much less expensive than the Isuzu-powered Lotus Elan. But it didn’t make much of a difference, as evidenced by flagging sales figures. The Capri was cancelled without a successor for 1994, and Mercury never again offered a convertible or any vehicles bearing the Capri name.

Today’s Rare Ride is a clean example from 1994, sporting rarely seen front and rear refreshed visuals. With aftermarket leather seat covers, EPIC-ally bad chrome wheels, and 80,000 miles on the odometer, it asks a reasonable $2,800.

[Images: seller]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1994 Mercury Capri – Miata’s Serious Competitor...”

  • avatar

    Can’t figure out why the seller doesn’t have a shot of the car with the top down. These aren’t great looking cars, but putting the top up doesn’t do them any favors.

    I had one as a rental for a couple weeks in Hawaii. It was…OK. Probably the 5-speed would have added a little life to it. But compared to a Miata, this didn’t have a whole lot going for it.

  • avatar

    I’d argue against calling this rare. But with that out of the way, this would be a cheap, fun little weekend runabout. With all the Mazda bits it wouldn’t be much trouble to keep running either.

  • avatar

    I remember the Capri very well when it came out. When mentions started in the press I was excited. Turbo version was basically a 323 GT in a 4-seat convertible body (well 2 seat with a parcel shelf that happened to have seatbelts. Hard top option, FWD (I lived in New England). This was an exciting car for me. I was driving 50K miles a year at the time so good fuel economy, on paper a nice chassis in turbo form, Mazda mechanicals, FWD for New England winters (along with that hard top).

    Australian build quality was horrific.

    FoMoCo positioned this as a “chick” car to the core in their marketing. I vividly remember the marketing material showing young women in their late 20s in bright skirts carrying shopping bags with a cougar kit following them around highlighting the features.

    The RWD Miata was a vastly better car by every objective measure (a tad ironic given the platform the Capri was built on).

    Mercury tried to switch up the marketing after launch but then the messaging just became confused.

    As a matter of face, here is the marketing material in all it’s early 90s woman focused glory.

    • 0 avatar

      “Women-focused marketing” is exactly the right term. My HS science teacher had a white Capri. I don’t remember a single thing about him except he was my science teacher and that he drove a “women-focused” Capri.

      Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it’s sometimes striking what you remember (hey that’s a girl car!) and then what you don’t remember (a teacher’s name.)

      • 0 avatar

        “Women-focused marketing”

        I’m pretty sure Capri buyers cross shopped the Miata and Golf cabrio- which was another contemporary car that, while a very competent sports car, had an unshakeable reputation as a chick car. As for Miatas, same perception problem. Funny thing about the Miata is the ride quality, which, as any Miata enthusiast will enthusiastically tell you is anything but “chick car.”

        “parcel shelf that happened to have seatbelts”

        Heheh, that one gave me a chuckle. That’s a good way to describe any 2+2. The thing with sporty convertibles is that a true four-seat convertible with a useful trunk just doesn’t look right (i.e. Toyota Solara). It ends up being a pretty bulky machine trying to do more than one thing at the same time—be fun car and a practical car—but not very good at either.

  • avatar

    My dad had a pre mid-life crisis back in 1994-1995 and was looking to get a used small-ish convertible. Chrysler Labaron was pretty junky, Mustang too expensive, Chevy Cavalier convertible was junk, but he came upon one of these. He kind of liked it, particularly the room inside as opposed to the Miata. The car was kind of ugly and felt cheap inside. In the end he did not buy it but got a Honda Del Sol Si which was great for the next 5-6 years. Extremely reliable, but not very sporty.

  • avatar

    Yeah, this probably would have done better on the market if it weren’t for the Miata. I, too, recall when these came out. The more practical size and FWD theoretically made these a better choice for many people. Alas, the poor quality of these and the “meh” driving experience quickly had the car’s reputation go a very different direction than the Miata’s did. I only drove one once, and while I don’t recall it driving badly, it was just hard to not compare it to the grin-inducing purity of the Mazda.

    The styling didn’t help matters, nor did the Mercury brand and dealer network, I’d assume.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This is well worth the price considering the mileage and the body and upholstery appear to be in good shape.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Racking the old memory banks and can’t remember knowing anyone who ever owned or drove one of these.

    Certainly from all descriptions, recollections it appears that it would suffer in comparison to the Miata. So probably preferred only by FoMoCo stalwarts?

    Still a drop top, with Mazda mechanicals, and pop-up headlamps, with 80,000 miles for $2,800. That seems like one heck of a summer toy for a fair price. And at the 25 year mark, insurance costs would be negligible.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m old enough to remember these being on the road, but I also can’t think of a single person I know who’s so much as sat in one.

      There are some positive comments (and some negative ones) at the Hemmings article APaGttH linked above.

      I lean toward liking any car but especially cars which show pride of ownership on someone’s part. It’d be nice to see this one live on as summer toy (which I infer it’s always been) rather than something that a kid trashes.

  • avatar

    The origin of this car was the 1983 Ford Ghia Barchetta, which was a very cleanly styled two-seater based on a Ford Fiesta platform. When it was shown as a concept car, the only semi-affordable roadsters still on the market were a couple of geriatric Italians. In the eight years it took Ford to drag an attractive concept to production as a plain convertible, the Mazda Miata moved the roadster market out of sight of the Capri. The only thing left from the concept was the XR2 designation for the performance model, which it shared with the hot-hatch version of the Fiesta. Throw in Australian assembly quality, and it was a complete dud. Had Ford brought it to production in four years by making it at Ghia, they’d have had the market to themselves for a couple of years to determine if it was worth going all in with a true Miata competitor.

  • avatar

    $2800 and you have a very nice teen car especially for that aspiring cheerleader… or hairdresser ;-)

    Hey, I’m woke

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    Those interior pics highlight how cheap the interiors were in these, as practically all non-upholstered surfaces were rendered in brittle, hard, thin plastic. Contemporary Miatas masked the cheapness much better, in addition to their superior driving dynamics.

    Without the rear spoiler, I always thought the refreshed Capri’s sloped trunk lid and pronounced bumper underbite sorta recalled the early-1990s Alfa Romeo Spider from the back.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t remember any of the Capris having an interior like this. It appears they are seat covers, I don’t even think leather was an option (could be wrong). I know the stock seats and foam likely fell apart years ago.

  • avatar

    This is missing the standard rear spoiler on the XR2 and has the base model trunk lid.

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t mind seeing some evidence for the claim that there is IRS on the XR2. I was the ‘design’ engineer on the suspension for the Capri Turbo. The Turbo with the 5 speed manual and the Michelin tires was a fun thing to fling about on the back roads.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry,I’m questioning whether it had a different suspension on XR2 as opposed to the 323 or base model. I’m pretty sure they were all IRS

  • avatar

    The one thing Ford got right was cramming in a “back seat” to beat the insurance penalty on 2 seater cars. They were useless but the car was a 4 seater.

  • avatar

    “Miata’s serious competitor?” Lol.

  • avatar

    I remember wanting one of these, but I wound up buying a Thunderbird instead.

  • avatar

    We had a white 1991 XR2 5spd, bought on the local lot probably around 1995; dad and I went to get an air filter for the lawn tractor and came home in it.
    The interior was nice, the seats were kinda “tweedy” and grippy, and the seat belts came out right at your shoulder, felt like they held you down a little. Back seat was big enough for my then 7YO sister, or my brother and I if we sat sideways and only for a couple miles. Only issue I remember was the pop-up headlights would sometimes complain, but I think almost all cars with them eventually had issues. Top started to crack where it folded. Fun car to drive, would roast those front tires, and everybody loves turbo whoosh. Dad kept it about 4 years until a Corvette replaced it, it was his daily through NE summers and winters. Lots of good memories winging around the backroads.

  • avatar

    I’ve thought about these over the years. Sure the Miata is much more of a “driver’s car” but for me convertibles are more about casual cruising than carving corners.

  • avatar

    Automatic and missing the correct decklid? Pass.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I worked at a Lincoln Mercury dealer while these were still being sold. All the knocks on it are accurate, however the XR2 with the 1.6 turbo would walk away from a Miata all day. It was quick.

  • avatar

    Or you go over to the Dollar General in the background and buy 2800 items.

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