By on November 22, 2021

We continue our series on the sporty European market Ford Capri today. Introduced in 1969 as a pony car to suit customers outside of North America, Capri proved an immediate success across Europe and found a more limited customer base in North America too. By the mid-Seventies, times had changed and it was time for a new Capri, the Mark II.

Mark I Capri production ended in December 1973, after the coupe racked up around 1.2 million sales globally. Though its first iteration was produced at five different factories in West Germany, the U.K., South Africa, and Australia, the second-generation Capri saw its production limited to two factories: The Cologne factory in West Germany, and at Halewood in the U.K. Halewood continued production only through October of 1976, after which all Capris were made at Cologne.

Ford wanted to increase the Capri’s appeal to the middle-market family customer who’d loved the first model, so changes made to the Mark II were largely a nod to daily livability. The interior had more room on the Mark II, and the hood was shorter to aid maneuverability. Capri’s form factor also changed: Its rear aperture became a hatch (formerly a trunk), and that meant 22 cubic feet of cargo space. Ford granted a folding rear seat with the hatchback, for even more cargo room. The hatchback as a concept was coming into its own at the time, and consumers were quick to see the versatility appeal. Though the Capri II was larger overall than its predecessor, it remained about the same in length as the Mark I: 167 to 169.8 inches depending on trim. But Mark II was over two inches wider, and nearly three inches taller. Curb weight remained about the same as before and was around 2,150 to 2,500 pounds depending largely on engine size. On the safety and convenience front, disc brakes grew larger in the new Capri, and customers found an alternator was now fitted as standard. Power steering was fitted to higher trim models like the Ghia. The suspension on all trims was softer and more livable than before.

Some Mark II engines were carryovers from the prior Capri, though the V4 Taunus and old Kent I4 engines were no longer an option. On offer were two different inline-fours from the Crossflow (a modernized Kent) family of 1.3-liter and 1.6-liter displacements, as well as 1.6- and 2.0-liter inline-fours from the Pinto. Upmarket engine options were of the V6 variety and included 2.0- and 2.3-liter Cologne mills, as well as the 3.0-liter Essex V6. Inline-four engines made between 55 and 99 horsepower, while the cylinder bump netted 108 horsepower in the 2.3 V6, and 140 in the 3.0-liter. In a nod to modernity, the Mark II Capri offered an automatic transmission for the first time in Europe: the C3 used in many wonderful Ford products like the Merkur XR4Ti. The enthusiast’s transmission choice was the four-speed manual, but high trim Capris were often fitted with the automatic.

The new Capri was marketed differently than its predecessor, with Ford playing up the wide variety of trims (there were 12 at once) from bare-bones 1300L to luxurious automatic Ghia, the special Midnight Capri, and the limited edition John Player Special. The Mark II Capri with its focus on livability, luxury equipment, and trims became less exciting and lacked the racy sporting appeal of the original Capri. Sales started to sag almost immediately. Ford took action to cut costs, which resulted in the aforementioned cease of Halewood production in October 1976. Remaining production at Cologne focused on fewer trims, eliminating the wide appealability Ford had trumpeted a couple of years prior. Middle-spec 3.0-liter models went away, and buyers were forced to move upmarket into a 3.0 S (more sports) or 3.0 Ghia (more luxury) instead.

Over in the North American market, the Capri took a hiatus after the 1974 model year. It was a successful captive import from 1970 to 1974, even though trim and engine offerings were more limited so as not to compete with other Mercury products. Though Capri took a year off in 1975 officially, Lincoln-Mercury dealers had a decent leftover supply of ’74s and ran specials to sell them throughout the year. The Capri Mark II returned triumphantly to America in 1976. Its delay was caused by a very late December 1973 start of production for model-year ’74 Capris. Again the US-bound Capri looked different to its European cousin: Affected even further by intervening U.S. regulation it used indicator lights inset into the grille and sealed beam headlamps instead of the square Hella composites from Europe. Five mile per hour bumpers were present and accounted for, color-keyed to the body. A catalytic converter was standard equipment, which meant there were no leads allowed in the fuel tank.

Like with Capri Mark I, the Mark II was limited in its trim offerings in North America. Sold as a compact sports car, the standalone Capri still wore no badging other than its name. The U.S. received the John Player Special trim mentioned above, but it was called S domestically since North Americans were not so familiar with the British tobacco conglomerate. Buyers who wanted more standard equipment and a deluxe interior opted for the Ghia, formerly known on the Mark I as the optional interior décor package. North American Capri II engines were limited to two, and not used in European Capris: The 2.3-liter OHC I4 Pinto engine, or the 2.8-liter Cologne V6 used in the later Capri Mark III.

But there was a problem with pricing for the Capri II in North America. The additional equipment and luxuries on the new Capri made it less of a bargain than before, and expensive German production and exchange rates didn’t help either. Thus Ford imported the Capri II for the last time in 1977, and it lingered on lots well into 1978. As its replacement in 1979, Ford introduced the Fox-body Mercury Capri; a slightly upscale twin to the Mustang.

In Europe, the Mark II Capri had taken the simple driving enjoyment idea of the Mark I in the wrong (too soft, too complex) direction. But Ford was not prepared to throw in the towel on its everyman coupe just yet and worked up yet another Capri in early 1978. In Part III we’ll talk about Mark III, and conclude Capri’s saga.

[Images: Ford]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Ford Capri, a European Mustang (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    I was offered a free Capri (4cyl, auto, black plastic interior with no air – in Sacramento! Yeah, screw that) when I turned 16. I think my sis was hoping the folks would upgrade her or something. She was pissed when I flat out turned it down and rode my bike for 2 more years until I saved up for something I wanted. These were shitboxes even by malaise standards.

  • avatar

    Free capri or keep riding the bike for 2 years?
    Dont understand it though.

    That black and gold job is sharp. I like it.

  • avatar

    Ford sure got plenty of mileage (see what I did there?) out of the OHC “Pinto” engine. Something like 40 years, which is a heckuva run. On top of that, it was very successfully modified for many forms of 4-cylinder racing.

    It would be interesting to see a complete list of vehicles that got that engine.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I really admired these from afar, but they were more rare and pricey than the Pintos I was driving at the time, so no go.

    The problem with the Capri wasn’t the car itself. At the time, there was a weird aversion in the US to foreign-built cars with domestic badging (the Ford Fiesta and Dodge Colt suffered the same fate, not to mention the beautiful Merkur xR4Ti). Perhaps it seemed dishonest to sell a Euro-built Ford Capri as a Mercury in the US. Meanwhile, this car had to compete with Rabbits, Accords, and Celicas by the mid-70s.

    As for Mercury, by the mid-70s it had already become a badge-engineered copy of Ford cars, setting the stage for its demise 35 years later. Cougar, Bobcat, Comet, Zephyr, and the 79 Capri had nothing unique to offer, not to mention every Mercury after that (LN7, etc).

    It’s hard to believe FoMoCo maintained the Mercury charade as long as they did.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      More thoughts:

      This car appeared during the ‘foreign invasion’ of non-domestic brands into the US market. Cute cars like the Beetle were tolerated, but nothing else was taken seriously until gas prices tripled.

      Then, the crap quality of domestic cars was being exposed at the same time, when early adopters realized the features and performance they could get from a ‘foreign’ brand.

      So the Big 3 tried to have a foot in two camps:
      – Flag-waving about the US-built products they had, extolling the virtues of their power and size, while trying to convince us that a 75 Comet could get 24 mpg highway.
      – Offering exotic ‘European’-designed and built cars to appeal to more sophisticated tastes. Problem was, these buyers saw through the smokescreen and went straight to the import dealers.

      As for the Capri, it had to be poison on the dealer lot. Margins had to be slim with the added transport and Federalization costs, and the Capri lived near the bottom of the Mercury line. I’m sure dealers were more eager to sell a Montego or even a Comet.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford continued the “charade” because it worked. I recall an article in which a customer drove a Mercury, identical to the corresponding Ford, and opined that it was more solid feeling and handled better.

      That was after there was minimal differentiation between the Ford and Mercury versions, just the same model with different trim. Earlier, they were the same car under the skin, but the skin was different (1960s Montego vs. Torino). At least they could say the Mercury versions looked nicer then.

      By the time Ford killed off Mercury, the list of recalls for the same problems was a long one, and people finally figured it out (or Mercury owners finally admitted they’d been buying Fords).

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Buy/Drive/Burn mid-70’s captive imports.
      Opel Manta/1900
      Mercury Capri
      Dodge Colt/Plymouth Arrow

    • 0 avatar

      The Fox Capri varied quite a bit from the Mustang and certainly way more than any Buick or Olds in the era, from a Chevy. Ford had the right idea with Mercury, but the Lincoln/Mercury network needed a GMC type line of pickups, vans and SUVs to complete the package.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid, 3 brothers probably in their late 20s lived in the rear unit of our house. One of em drove a brown MkII 2.8 Ghia. If it wasn’t for that I don’t know how familiar I would’ve ever been given how scarce they were in the US.

  • avatar

    2 points-
    -The Capri was never sold as a Mercury…it was a stand alone brand until the US built Fox version appeared
    -I have every year of brochure for these and can assure you that an automatic
    was offered right from the beginning in 1969.

    • 0 avatar

      I found a brochure as well. Interesting the automatic was offered in NA but not overseas. Also interesting that in the Mark II Ford used entirely different engines than Europe. Made corrections.

    • 0 avatar

      @roger628 – incorrect.. partially. The Capri was sold stand alone and under the Ford and Mercury banners. I distinctly recall the name Mercury Capri.

      “Capri (later Mercury Capri) is a nameplate marketed by the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company on three distinct series of automobiles between 1970 and 1994. From 1970 to 1978, the Capri was a sport compact marketed without any Ford divisional branding,sourced as a captive import from Ford of Europe. From 1979 to 1986, the Capri became part of the Mercury model line as a pony car. From 1991 to 1994, the Mercury Capri was a roadster, sourced as a captive import by Ford of Australia.

      In North America, the Capri was marketed without a direct Ford-brand counterpart for its first and third generations, although sold elsewhere under the Ford brand.”

  • avatar

    My first new car (and car payment), 1976 Capri II 2.8 S 4-speed manual in black JPS trim, of course. Picked on the basis of the R&T review and the ad above. Great car for a then 22 year old computer programmer who liked to drive long twisty roads in New England and New York. Not exactly muscle car fast, but much better handling and still capable of cruising for hours at high non-legal speeds. Capable of carrying six friendly twenty-somethings or a full size bookcase in a pinch. Not a snow friendly car, though.

  • avatar

    Roman numerals make everything worse.

    • 0 avatar

      @ToolGuy – see Jaws, Saw, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, some Rocky films…

      The gold standard for Roman numeral cars that reek of an open septic tank is still the Mustang II

      Maybe The Godfather bucked that trend.

  • avatar

    @Corey Lewis and @FreedMike – I’m posting this here because Corey, as an ex-VW owner (smart with the ex- part) and FreedMike as a current GLI owner, go back to this link, scroll to the last comment for the latest update. And then please reply back with how fast you think I need to drive into something where a) I will still survive and b) it would kill the car. Thank you…

  • avatar

    The very last model car kit I purchased in high school was of this car. But the last one I actually built was a 1975 Chevy Monza; I went off to college and never built the Capri model. I still have the Monza model – it has no doubt lasted longer that almost all copies of the actual car!

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