By on December 8, 2021

Today’s Seventies captive imports trio comes to us via suggestion by commenter MRF 95 T-Bird. He wants to see which of the Manta, Capri, and Arrow warrants a malaise era Buy. We’ll straddle two model years today, 1975 and 1976.

Ford Capri

The Capri is in its fifth model year in the North American market, after Ford began imports of its German-made European market coupe in 1970. For 1976 the Capri II arrives, with new hatchback styling and more refinement over its predecessor. Available engines this year include the 2.3-liter OHC inline-four and 2.8-liter Cologne V6, paired either to a four-speed manual or three-speed auto. Today’s selection is a 2.8 V6 (105 horsepower) with a four-speed manual. Rumor has it the Capri isn’t long for the North American market, as its sales continue to fall.

Opel Manta

General Motors has distributed select German Opel models via its Buick dealerships since 1956. Since 1971 the Manta and Ascona A have been available, the latter of which wears a 1900 badge domestically. Manta is the coupe of the two, and all examples use a 1.9-liter inline-four that produces 105 horsepower. Two transmissions are available, a four-speed manual (today’s choice) or three-speed auto. New for 1975 is a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system on all examples. 1975 is the last year for the Manta in North America, as rising exchange rates force GM to import the Isuzu Gemini and call it Opel by Isuzu.

Plymouth Arrow

1976 is the debut year of the Plymouth Arrow in North America. Dodge imports the hatchback as another entry into its captive Colt lineup, and aficionados know it’s actually a Mitsubishi Lancer. Engines on offer are two, a 1.6-liter inline-four or optional larger 2.0-liter I4. Transmissions have four or five speeds if manual, three if automatic. The 2.0-liter is our engine selection today and sends 100 horsepower through the five-speed manual.

Three fun to drive and economical two doors, which one goes home to your bi-level’s garage?

Have any suggestions for future editions of Buy/Drive/Burn? Leave them in the comments!

[Images: GM, Ford, Dodge]

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43 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Mid-seventies Captive Imports...”


  • avatar
    Doc423

    My first car was a ’73 yellow Capri (2.6L V6, 4-speed) with posi-traction, chirped in 3rd gear, great car, would give anything to still have it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The scenes in all those advertisements are very good.

    Buy: Manta
    Drive: Arrow
    Burn: Capri

    Choices are solely based on styling and model name.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Buy: Capri (the only one that will hold together)
    Drive: Manta (in the short period before it rusts and returns to the ground from whence it came)
    Burn: Arrow (which is just a worse Datsun B210)

    Edit: Was thinking of the wrong Datsun.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Buy: Capri. I like that it’s got the V6. I bet it’s also the one you’d have the less trouble to find parts for.
    Drive: Manta, but why is it paired with the slushbox while the other get manuals?
    Burn: Arrow: If I wanted a Datsun I’d get one

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Buy: Arrow. It’s the newest design.
    Drive: Capri. V6!
    Burn: Manta. Dorky styling.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Burn: Manta; one of the carhops at my local burger joint wanted one “because it looks like a Mercedes”. OhhhhhhKay.

    Drive: Arrow; my very used truck, a backhoe with extra hydraulic hoses, and four round bales of hay got traded for a Caterpillar bulldozer and my Arrow.

    Buy: Capri, a “EuroFord” with the Cologne V-6.

    The carhop is a grandma looking for her third husband. A used CLA will work if anyone is interested.

    The Arrow developed a head gasket leak and got traded in on a used Prelude. It was a sad day when the dozer got sold and loaded on someone else’s trailer.

    I thought about a Capri. Rear-wheel drive, German/Ford engineering, and all that good stuff. A two-year-old Prelude seemed like it was built by space aliens. Benign, caring about you space aliens.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Love the carhop story…

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “Looks like a Mercedes”? He probably meant BMW – most young people in the 1970s didn’t know what they looked like either.

      In the early ’80s I heard a cashier tell another cashier her boyfriend had a BMW, and he just drove up… in a Plymouth Horizon with a BMW grill artfully grafted onto it. As I left, I noticed he’d scored a steering wheel and a bunch of other badges and emblems from a 2002. Whatever gets the girl!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy: Manta. I like the styling.
    Drive: Capri. The six would be nice.
    Burn: Arrow. They were still making these by the time I got my license (late ’79). My local Plymouth dealer had a new ’80 on the lot when I graduated in spring ’81. Couldn’t figure out why no one would buy it until I drove it. Take it from me – it deserves the torch.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Having raced several Mantas in SCCA showroom stock and then B Sedan, I can affirm the Manta was a very fine machine both in stock form and as a base to build on. Only GM Detroit corporate hubris (aka execs who actually believed the Vega wasn’t garbage) kept it from becoming a sales success.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I had a white ’76 V6 Caprii II, loaded, sunroof. Loved it. I’d gladly own it today vs all the electronics overloaded stuff I own.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Oh god, I almost forgot about the damn never ending Toyota ad with the guy with the punchable face. If I read the story I risk an epileptic seizure from all the flashing. I was already putting up with poor writing, bad grammar and lack of content, now I have to stare at the worlds ugliest truck and some useless generic F stick douche trying to sell it. Later I’ll tell you what I really think, at least I can’t see the ad when I’m commenting.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    Buy: Arrow – Nice childhood memory of the Mitsubishi version (Lancer Celeste) that my father owned. Plus, that one lasted 10 years with little trouble.

    Drive: Manta – It’s good looking, and has a reputation for their handling. At least while they last.

    Burn: Capri – I just can’t get past its looks. It also seemed more like an European Mustang than anything. In which case I’d rather get the original.

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      The Capri WAS a European Mustang. Unashamedly so.

      As beloved as it was, it was also derided for being rather crude, just like the Mustang. The Brits jokingly called it the “Crapi” and it was driven by the same sort of people who drive Mustangs here. And remember it stayed in production in Europe until 1986.

      The same actually applied to the Manta as well, especially in Germany where it and its drivers were the butt of many jokes.

      But the really nice Manta was the second generation car, never sold here but prized in Germany. They just might have a sense of humor after all.

      For some real fun, compare the Capri to the Mustang II, same size, same engines (Lima 2.3 and Cologne V6), both Mark I and Mark II Capris much better looking, etc.

      As for Mitsubishi, they put the 2.6 engine in the Arrow and called it the Fire Arrow. Still not in the same league as the other two, though.

      I grew up a GM kid, so I’m going with the Manta, with the MkII Capri right behind. Arrow goes straight to the burn pile.

  • avatar
    miguel gordini

    I can’t stand the Toyota ad, the guy is awful.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Buy: Opel Manta – my father had a series of Opels in the 1970s and 1980s and they were decent if a tad boring cars. The Manta A is lovely, unlike the Manta B which replaced it.

    Drive: Plymouth Arrow – I know nothing about this car and have never heard of it but it looks interesting and I want to test drive it.

    Burn: Ford Capri – I always hated the styling of the Capri Series I to III. Burn.

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      I actually like the Manta B better. Maybe it’s because we never got in in the US.

      I do wonder, though, how Detroit engineers convinced themselves that the small cars they developed themselves, the Pinto and the Vega, were in any way comparable to what their European subsidiaries were building. It’s one thing to think you can do better, but that only works if you actually DO better.

      None of GM or Ford’s international subsidiaries marketed the Vega or the Pinto. They sold the T-car (Chevette, Isuzu Gemini, Opel Kadett C) and the Escort.

      • 0 avatar
        ThomasSchiffer

        The Manta B is the endless source of jokes in Germany. Compared to the Manta A it lacked both a muscular and elegant design. I believe the closest counterpart to the Manta B in the USA you had was the Chevrolet Monza?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    It’s mandatory that I chime in.

    Buy: Opel Manta – I have a soft spot for these since my dad owned a 72 1900 sedan. It’s the closest thing to a BMW 2002 when it comes to an entry European sport sedan as far as driving and handling. His, like many of that era had some electrical gremlins after a while as well as tin worm. I had a neighbor with a Manta Luxus (Luxus was the branding on some upscale Buicks like the Regal Luxus, more European than Brougham)who liked it a lot.
    From what I understand the later models with the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection were much better. Oddly enough he later drove a Chevette Diesel as well as a couple of Isuzu I-Mark Diesels.

    Drive: Mercury Capri – The least Ford could do was to give us one of their better European vehicles as a bridge between the Pinto and Mustang II.

    Burn: Plymouth Arrow – An ok Mitsubishi as they were getting their foothold in the states with the 71 Dodge Colt.
    Our Rabbi owned a later 79-80 one with the flashy graphics on the side and hood. His previous car was a 72 Oldsmobile Toronado so he probably wanted a car with better fuel economy.

    Honorable mention: The non captive import Datsun 610 coupe.

  • avatar
    myllis

    Capri Series II series was the worst -model in Capri Series. Series III models goes back to the original track and have the best styling. Fastest factory Capri III was Capri Brooklands (Cologne V6 with Bosch K-Jetronic, 5-seed manualbox, 158hv/DIN, 210 km/h). Series III includes also turbo -models from Zakspeed, Tickford and Turbo Technics. Zakspeed and Tickford were done under Ford umbrella and available from Ford dealer. Production was small scale only 155 Zakspeed and 80 Tickfrod Capri’s made. Heavy price tag might be the one reason eg. Tickford Capri costs twice as much as standard 2.8 injection model. Turbo Capri’s are nowadays very rare and “if you have to ask the price, you don’t have afford for it”. The last Capri was made on 19 December 1986.

    Cause you have Series II Capri.

    Buy: Opel Manta GT/E

    Drive: Opel Ascona 400 (family car look). It was a street legal version of Rothmans Ascona 400 rally car which one Walter Röhrl won World Rally Car Drivers Championship in 1982. Opel has two drivers Walter Röhrl and Ari Vatanen. Rally version gives 340 hp (2,4-litre normally aspirated engine)

    Burn: Plymouth Arrow (Mitsubishi Celeste in Europe)

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’d buy the Capri just because that Cologne V6 was so long lived you can get a reasonably modern version. The Explorer got a 4.0 OHC version and even after that the Mustang V6 got some flavor of it. The other 2 are a toss up.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Bought a used Opel Sportwagon from my wife’s boss. Same color as the picture here. It was reliable and we eventually traded it to my son’s babysitter in exchange for getting the front hallway of our house wallpapered. She and her husband got a few more years out of it until it failed inspection when one of the upper strut mounts was on the verge of going its own way. It had survived 10 NE winters so I thought it was a pretty good little wagon. And it did handle well.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Friend of mine had a Capri with the 6. Thirsty motor, but it could scoot. Always liked the Manta, wish you’d included a better picture.

    Buy: Capri, for power, reliability, and hatchback utility.
    Drive: Manta. I like the looks, probably a fun slow-car-fast ride.
    Burn: Arrow. Plymouth will come out with a Fire Arrow in a few years anyway, why wait?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I saw a lot of Plymouth Arrows on the road. And a lot of Capris. Even had a few friends who owned Capris.

    Had friends who had such strange/rare vehicles as Ford Cortina, Envoy Epic, Vauxhall Viva (wagon), and a Vauxhall Viva badged as a Pontiac Firenza (the vehicle that launched the first auto based class action suit in Canada), and a Plymouth Cricket. Had neighbour who had a Renault Dolphin and others with a Morris Minor and a Nash Metropolitan.

    But I cannot remember ever seeing a vehicle badged as a Manta.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Capri all the way

  • avatar
    conundrum

    The Opels weren’t sold in Canada. Vauxhall was until it imploded with such bad quality, GM stopped importing them. The Firenza, crap on wheels, and subject of a class action lawsuit. Not even an old-style dolt of a GM exec when that company was #1 in sales by far thought of importing Opel to replace Vauxhall. Another European GM tin box was unlikely to sell. So Canadians shot themselves in the foot and bought Vegas/Astres instead by the rusty pail full. Before they rusted to oblivion in three or four years, and the buzzbox engine belched blue trails of smoke, well, hell, at least, it DROVE well. Toyota became very popular here in the ’70s over Datsun, and then Honda happened beyond the shoebox Civic with the Accord, which was Jetta sized then.

    The Capri was a far better driving car than the L’il Fat Albert, the Mustang II — what a useless thing that was, dead to drive, completely joyless, even with the 2.8l V6. I think Cologne sent the factory irregulars to Dearborn to stick in Mustang, because the supposedly same engine in the Capri was almost jaunty.

    But the worst car I drove in the ’70s was the Arrow. Oh sure, it was probably “reliable”. It was airport rental fodder. If you suckered yourself into buying one, you had years to live with awful recirculating-ball steering, and a sensitivity to crosswinds that the loose, vague steering couldn’t compensate for. Really out-of-date load of rubbish, and rode badly. Good thing Mitsubishi improved during the ’80s from this level of incompetence.

    I guess the Capri wins.

  • avatar
    Sigfried

    I owned both a 73 Capri v6 with manual sunroof and a 74 Opel 1900 Sedan when they were on their last legs. Loved both cars. The Capri was peppier but the Opel was roomier. My sister had a 74 Manta.

    One interesting experience with the Capri was that the pedals were so close together that my size 12EEE feet tended to overlap between the brake and clutch. Especially when wearing work boots, the foot stomping on the clutch sometimes snagged the side of the sole of the foot on the brake, causing an unexpectedly jerky stop.

    Buy Manta
    Drive Capri
    Burn Arrow

  • avatar
    285exp

    Buy Capri
    Drive Arrow
    Burn Manta

    Had a friend with a V6 4Spd Capri and it was relatively quick and fun. If I was unbiased, I’d probably switch the Arrow and Manta, but I’m not. My first car was an Arrow 1.6 4 spd, no ac, living in southern Alabama. My dads best friend was a Mopar dealer, and dad generously went in half on the car. The first one he brought home was a 73 Dart, 318 auto, mold green, with ac. I wouldn’t be seen dead in it, and the Arrows had just come out. Had that one for a year before one of my college buddies borrowed it and someone rear ended it, totaled. Replaced with a 77 Arrow 2.0 5 spd, with ac! Loved that thing. Yeah, it was probably a crappy car, but nostalgia makes up for a lot.

  • avatar

    Buy the Capri, Drive the Manta, burn the Plymouth, then put out the fire, restore the Plymouth, and burn the Plymouth again.

  • avatar
    Pianoboy57

    I actually had both in the same year, a’71 Manta and a ’74 Capri. Both were manuals and both had 4 cylinders. The Capri seemed to be built more solidly but was slower than the Manta. The Manta was a lot more fun to throw around and it was more comfortable.

    Buy the Manta,
    Drive the Capri,
    Ditch the Arrow. We have a ’78 RWD Colt. Not nearly as fun as the other two.

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