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.”
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.
How Stuff Works: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1971-1978-ford-capri-and-capri-ii.htm
Capri Club of North America: http://www.capriclub.com/featured_grm.htm
Chevrolet Auto Store: http://chevroletautostore.com/chevrolet-cosworth-vega-vs-mercury-capri-ii/
The Man Behind the Pony: http://www.ponysite.de/phclark_LM.htm