Cars We Love: 1970 – 1974 Capri Imported by Lincoln-Mercury

1970 – 1974 Capri

The Capri was a European version of the Ford Mustang, designed and built in Europe and the U.K. by Ford. Impressed by the sales of the Mustang, the Ford hierarchy decided there was a vital market for a corresponding car outside of the U.S. and set their designers to work. The result was the Capri, a smaller, European-sized pony car having the long hood and short rear deck styling cues of its American cousin. The relationship between the Capri and the Mustang was more than skin deep – the Capri had genuine Mustang DNA thanks to Phil Clark, one of the principal Capri designers, who also created the famous galloping horse logo for the Mustang.

Sales of the foreign Capri soar

The Ford Capri went on sale abroad in early 1969 and sold 185,000 cars in its first year. Although the underpinnings of the Capri were based on the mundane Ford Cortina, the foreign markets gave their customers a large choice of engines, ranging from a 1.6 liter four to a 2.8 liter V6. The Capri could be tailored to be a good-looking economy car or a high performance coupe.

The ‘70s look bleak for Lincoln-Mercury Division

In the late ‘60s, the looming arrival of the 1970s presented a bleak picture for automobile companies. Primitive emission systems would degrade performance and fuel mileage, and the government-mandated impact bumpers would add weight and complexity. The Ford brand would have the Pinto coming on line in 1971 to keep up with the smaller, more fuel efficient compact cars entering the market.

Lincoln-Mercury Division, on the other hand, had nothing to offer. Part of Mercury’s business plan, unlike that of Lincoln, was to compete in the economy car market, but their lineup for 1970 included only the midsized Montego and Cyclone, the full-size Marquis and Marauder, and the floundering Cougar. Cougar offered only big V8 engines and by the end of the 1969 model year, Cougar sales had dropped 34% since its introduction in 1967. It was not a happy time for Lincoln-Mercury dealers – they needed something to sell until they could get their own version of the Pinto.

Capri rescues Lincoln-Mercury

Ford Motor Company leaders saw the hot-selling European Capri as the answer to Lincoln-Mercury Division’s economy car crisis – Capris would be imported and sold through L-M dealers. Although it had a performance personality in Europe, only Capris with the 75 horsepower, 1.6 Liter, four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission were initially imported. The Capri officially went on sale in the U.S. on April 17, 1970, and if that date sounds vaguely familiar to you Mustang fans, it was exactly six years to the day after the Mustang first went on sale in 1964.

Opinions of the car magazines were generally favorable, but all remarked about the lack of power, with Car and Driver pointedly noting that, “The … car is no better than the Beetle in performance.”  But with a base price of $2,295, the Capri sold briskly and by the end of the model year, Lincoln-Mercury Division sold more than 15,000 Capris, giving the L-M dealers a solid entry into the economy car market. Oddly enough, the Capri was never badged as a Lincoln or a Mercury, and neither name ever appeared on the car. It was advertised only as, “The sexy European. Imported by Lincoln-Mercury.”

1970 – 1974 Capri

Capri chosen as 1971 Import Car of the Year

Choosing not to rest on their laurels, Ford offered more options for Capri buyers in the 1971 model. Foremost was a 2-Liter, overhead cam, four-cylinder engine rated at 100 horsepower that gave the Capri a much-needed performance boost. An automatic transmission was now optional and new colors were added.

The changes were appreciated by the Capri enthusiasts, as sales of ’71 Capris reached 53,000 units. Road Test magazine chose the Capri as its 1971 Import Car of the Year, noting that, “When quality, appearance, luxury of trim, utility, handling and performance are all evaluated as a ‘package’ at a given price, the Capri clearly shows as the winner.”

Capri improvement continues

The Capri continued on its upward trend for 1972 with the introduction of the 2.6-liter V6 engine into the U.S. market and sales climbed to over 80,000 Capris. Mandatory front and side impact protection made the ’73 and ’74 Capris heavier and detracted a bit from their appearance, but enthusiasts were happy with the new availability of the 2.8-liter V6. Capri’s highest sales were achieved in 1973, with 113,000 cars finding happy owners. There were no new Capris for 1975 and Lincoln-Mercury dealers sold leftover ‘74s while waiting for the all-new Capri II to arrive in 1976.

Mercury began selling the Bobcat, its version of the Ford Pinto, in March of 1975 and continued inflation made for an unfavorable exchange rate, increasing Capri prices. Despite the arrival of the all-new Capri II in 1976, with Mercury’s own entry into the economy car market and inflation continuing to drive up Capri prices, the Capri became expendable. Model year 1977 marked the grand finale for “The Sexy European” in the U.S.

 

 

 

Sources:

How Stuff Works: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1971-1978-ford-capri-and-capri-ii.htm

Automobile Catalog: http://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/mercury/capri_mercury_1gen/capri_mercury_1gen/1971.html

Curbside Classic: http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/1971-1978-capri-ponycar-reborn/

Capri Club of North America: http://www.capriclub.com/featured_grm.htm

Frontier.com: http://myplace.frontier.com/~capriclubchicago/caprihistory.html

Chevrolet Auto Store: http://chevroletautostore.com/chevrolet-cosworth-vega-vs-mercury-capri-ii/

Hemmings: http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2010/09/16/capris-designer-a-mystery-no-longer/

http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2015/08/25/the-sexy-european-1970-ford-capri-brochure/

The Man Behind the Pony: http://www.ponysite.de/phclark_LM.htm

 

Photos by Sicnag (1), (2)

 

3 thoughts

  1. Hi Bruce, Interesting article about the US sales of the Ford Capri from Europe through Lincoln Mercury. However both of the cars you have shown are not Lincoln-Mercury cars.
    The are actually unique Australian assembled GT 3000 V6 cars, One is authentic, the orange one looks like a fake GT . Although you could delete some of the distinctive options.
    The most obvious give away is they are both RHD cars which is UK, Aus, NZ, Sth Africa. The second is they are not UK spec as the chrome trim on the front guard door and rear guard is higher on UK model and is three pieces on the door crease. One piece on the rocker panel for Australian assembled.
    Only Australia had the side stripe, GT badge on rear qtr, Superoo sticker and XA Falcon Mirrors and hood pins.
    The orange car has the wrong hood pins, and mirrors.
    The wheels are special order on both and the over-riders on the purple car, the real one, are a dealer option.
    As far as I know US cars came from Germany for the LHD and had side indicators etc for US compliance.

    Cheers Kiwi. 1970 V6 3000GT numbers matching Sydney build.
    1969 1600 GT English assm. 1982 Mk3 2000 S German assm. RHD. Called Lazer in Uk but not here.

  2. I owned a 74 that I bought with 80k miles for $500 in 1976. I met my wife with is car. I loved it. It had large carrying capacity and it was a comfortable road car for 4 people. It’s biggest failing were the back winglets kept unhinging. Eventually I traded it in 1979 for a Chevy Luv truck. Honestly I wouldn’t mind owning a Capri as a classic.

  3. I purchased new in 1973, and still own a yellow 1973, 2600cc V-6, 4 speed manual. It has never seen winter weather season, stored in garage that doesn’t allow sunlight in except when door is opened, so no paint fading over the last 44 years. It has less than 39,000 miles on it and is completely original. Obviously I love it.

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