Right from the start, Ford’s Capri was a star, and in the showrooms it could do no wrong for several years. Like the Mustang that inspired it, the Capri appealed to a class of driver who had been ignored for far too long.
The Capri was just right for drivers who needed more than two seats but still hankered after a sports car, and one with family-car running costs. The new car’s style, its performance, value-for money and character were a revelation.
The opposition reeled, went green with envy, and looked around to see how they could fight back. It took years before they made it, and it was never easy. Every time a rival produced a car to fight the Capri , Ford moved on another step. The restyled MkII, a hatchback instead of a coupe, arrived in 1974. The smoother MkIII followed in 1978, while the best Capri of all the 2.8i did not appear until 1981.
This is a story that doesn’t only bristle with mushy memories of style and performance, but with the sheer volume of sales. This is an 18-year saga of three distinctly different Capri types, built at two sites Halewood in the UK , and Cologne in Germany . It is a saga where model followed model, engine, transmission and trim choices proliferated, and the cars seemed to sell well everywhere.
One figure tells the story: between 1968 and 1986 no fewer than 1,886,647 Capri ‘s were built. Perhaps the Mustang had sold faster in the USA in the 1960s, but in European terms these sales were unique. In the 1970s the sales figures proved that Ford had got its forecasting exactly right. In 1970, the first year in which all Capri types were on sale at the same time, no fewer than 238,914 were produced. Nearly a quarter of a million in a year! That’s impressive enough but there’s an even more impressive statistic that shows how well the Capri was received – in 1970 one out of every four new European Fords was a Capri
The MkI Capri, complete with cramped four-seater coupe design and that characteristic ‘hockeystick’ styling crease along the flanks, was introduced in January 1969. British deliveries began in March. On the day the car went on sale, Ford’s direct astute move, made sure there was Capri’s parked in hundreds of public places, notably outside the commuter railway stations of southern England.
Anyone who missed the launch was blind, out of the country, or asleep. This was the period in which 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0-Iitre engines were already available. The customer could order a ‘base’ car, or could dress it up with one of three different ‘packs’: X (for extra equipment), L (for Luxury) or R (for Rally equipment). But take care, this gets more complicated some cars came as XLs, others as XLRS, and some as Ls, but I also saw a few Rs on their own!
Incidentally, scat belts (fixed or inertia reel) cost extra. Prices? That was the most amazing thing. The base 1300 sold for £890, the 2000GT for only £1088. So many different types of Capri were available that no dealer could possibly stock them all. If the truth were told, there were too many derivatives at first. This catalogue traffic-jam was slimmed down in the years that followed.
It was no wonder that the public flocked to Ford showrooms to buy the car ‘they always promised themselves’. For the next two or three years the Capri always seemed to be in the news, for this was the period in which Ford aimed for market leadership.
Motorsport at Boreham built a handful of four-wheel-drive 3000GTs, in which Roger and Stan Clark amazed TV viewers in the winter rallycross series. The production 3-litre version went on sale at the end of 1969.
The company organised one model celebrity races in which characters like Colin Chapman and Frank Williams behaved like bump-and-bore stock car drivers, and from which few of the factory-owned fleet of cars emerged without bent panels. Ford Germany went their own way and developed the V6-engined RS2600 as an homologation special. Somehow they convinced the FIA that it was a four-seater saloon car (well, if BMW could do it with the 3.OCSi, why not Ford?), then went on to dominate the European Touring Car Championships of 1971 and 1972. Sales boomed all round the world. A total of 213,979 cars were produced in 1969, 238,914 in 1970, and 209,839 in 1971.
Many more Capri ‘s were built in Germany than at Halewood, because a large number of Capri ‘s were exported to the USA , where they retailed through Ford’s Lincoln Mercury Division. Here in Britain , the hairy-chested 3000GT and 3000E models made all the headlines, but it was the 1600s which sold fastest.
The 1300s were puny, entry-level machines that no self-respecting enthusiast even considered. It’s not surprising that a season rarely passed without changes being made to the line-up. As early as 1970 the small capacity engines were uprated. The first facelift came in 1972, when the cars got a new facia (the type which would be used for the next 14 years), new rear suspension with an anti-roll bar as standard, larger lamps front and rear, and a bulged bonnet (previously V6 only) as standard. The 1300GT engine was dropped, the overhead-cam 1.6 litre Pinto engine took over from the 1.6-litre ‘ Kent ‘, and the 3-litre got more power.
The millionth Capri was built (an RS2600, in Germany ) in August 1973. By the end of that year, though, the MkI Capri’s career was almost over. There was one final flourish: limited numbers of the RS3100 ‘homologation special’ were built at Halewood. Then, at exactly the time when the prospects for fast motoring in Europe were at a low ebb due to the energy crisis, the original car gave way to its successor.
Perhaps this change came quicker than most enthusiasts had expected, but the second version was more versatile than the original. A total of 1,172,900 MkI Capri’s were built. Officially the new MkII Capri was a re-skin of the MkI, but apart from the floorpan / platform, front scuttle / bulkhead and much of the inner engine-bay panels, the rest was new.
The truly important change was that the MkII was a hatchback, with a slightly bigger and more-airy cabin than before. And the rear seats could be folded forward to provide a lot more stowage space than before. There was a specification reshuffle, which included the lumpy old V4 engine being consigned to the parts bin and replaced by the modern overhead-cam Pinto ‘four’. The confusing nonsense of X, L, and R packs was swept away.
There were only six MKII Capri models, starting with the 1300L and topping out with the 3000GT. It wasn’t long, though, before a new trim specification – Ghia – arrived on the scene. On the surface, all was serene at Ford, but behind the scenes there were many worried faces. Would the public like the revised car, which was so different from the last? The production figures seem to show that Ford had made a mistake, as 1975 sales were less than half what they had been in 1973 (100,000 instead of 233,000). But this was mainly because Ford had pulled the Capri out of the North American market, and only a few MkII’s were sold over there during 1976 and 1977.
The fact was that in Europe , as in the USA , the public was now getting a wider choice in the Mustang/Capri market, and in any case the fizz had gone out of this sector. In Europe , the Capri had to sell against Opel’s Manta, a good and pretty car, no matter how pro-Ford your sentiments are – so annual sales gradually dropped through the decade.
The first firmer-suspended Capri S types arrived in 1975. UK assembly (at Halewood) ended in October 1976, Federal-specification assembly at Cologne ended in 1977 and the 3000S continued winning touring-car races all round Europe . The MkII Capri, though, only had a four-year life the MkIII was on the way. Total MkII production was 403,612.
The arrival of the MKIII did not make many headlines, for it was no more than a mild facelift. here is no doubt that this was an even-better car than before. Visually the major change was the adoption of four headlamps for all models, though there was a pronounced chin spoiler at the front, a rear spoiler for most models, and soon justified claims for improved aerodynamic performance.
It was so easy to convert a MkII into a MkIII that Ford Motorsport issued conversion kits – front-end/bonnet panels, headlamps, plus a spoiler or so to allow racing customers to upgrade the looks of their cars. Even though the UK range had risen to 10 types (from 57 bhp 1300 to 138 bhp 3000 Ghia), world-wide sales continued to drop to 41,753 in 1980 and less than 26,000 in 1982.
The Capri was still a handsome car, but it was not moving with the times, and until 1981 there were no mechanical innovations. Limited-edition Calypso, Cameo and Cabaret types did little to stem the decline. The fabulous 2.8i model a remarkable redesign job by Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering department at Dunton changed all that. By combining a 160 bhp fuel-injected Ford Cologne V6 engine with 7J wheels, stiffened suspension and an altogether more-urgent character, it immediately ousted the dear old 3000S and kept the Capri flag flying for several years.
At the 2.8i’s peak, nearly 5000 were sold in a single year in the UK . But the public was clearly getting bored with what was obviously an old model, and the end of the car’s career was within sight. Without buoyant sales of 1600s and 2000s in the UK the model would have disappeared long before it did. Ford Germany built a limited number of Capri Turbos (we never saw them over here), the 2.8i was given a five-speed gearbox for 1983 and became the Special, with a limited-slip diff, in late 1984.
By this time, Tickford had put their heavily restyled Capri Turbo on sale, but in the end only 100 of those very-expensive cars were delivered. By 1985, Capri ‘s were only being built in right-hand-drive for sale in the UK , and only 9262 cars were produced.
The final fling came in 1986 when the last limited-edition model, the 280 in Brooklands Green (1038 were produced), was put on sale. The last Capri was produced on December 19, 1986 . It brought the total to 324,045 MkIII’s built in eight years.