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Ford/Mercury Capri II

Capri II 2 Chris Hafner whetted my curiosity with his Ford Capri post when he mentioned the Capri II. Though I remembered the Capri well, the Capri II somehow escaped my memory. Sure, the later '79 Mustang clone and the little car from Down Under are familiar, but the Capri II just drew a blank.

Our neighbors had a '72 Capri, so I saw their car almost every day. It was blue, and it represented a slightly more sophisticated means of travel than, say, a Pinto. And the one thing they taught me in that car was to pull way over to the right at an intersection when you're going to make a left. This is just a simple driving courtesy, like dimming your lights.

Hmmm... Mustang II, LTD II, Bronco II, Capri II... there seems to be a pattern forming here. Do you think we will see an Edsel II? Probably not.

So I did some homework on this forgotten car, and here's what I found: First and foremost, it was a hatchback, unlike the coupe version that Chris wrote about. The all-new Mercury Capri II made its debut here in 1975 as a '76 model. Nearly all of the previous model Capri had sold out, so the dealers started with clean lots. In its peak years, Capri sales in North America were the highest for any import model except the VW Beetle.

This car had already been on sale in Europe since 1974 as the Ford Capri Mk I; while it was a brand-new car here, it was not at all new over there. Hopefully, many of the new-car bugs had been worked out in that year.

Mercury capri II The hottest Capri II was the "S" version. This trim package gave you better-bolstered seats, black carpet, a blackout instrument panel treatment, black and gold trim inside and out, dual "racing" mirrors, a tighter suspension, and better sound insulation. For whatever reason, black and gold trim packages were a hot ticket in the mid-1970s. And, thankfully, Ford's celebrated attempts at "Europeanizing" their American cars went back to this time.

The next year, the 1977 Capri II included a $241 "Le Cat Black S" version (Same as the "S" package the year before), and a dealer-installed "Rally Cat Decor Package," which sold you twin hood and deck lid racing stripes, a spoiler, and bold rocker panel stripes. Yippee!

All Capri IIs offered the base 2.3-liter inline 4 engine, built in Lima, Ohio, which made 88 horsepower. An additional $272 would get you the German-made 2.8-liter V-6 and 110 horses. That was money well spent, in my opinion.

Capri Ghia The front seats reclined, full instruments were standard, a fold-down rear seat let you pack in more sports gear, and, for $95, you could have a vinyl roof. Yes, a vinyl roof. What more could you possibly want on a fine automobile in the mid-1970s ... faux opera windows?

Why do I not remember this car? Well, it's getting clear now ... Ford just didn't sell very many of them! Was it the wrong car at the wrong time? This car didn't even say "Mercury" on it, but was sold at prestigious Lincoln-Mercury dealers all across the land. What were they thinking?

Sales numbers by the years dropped like a rock. In 1975, Ford sold 54,586 cars; the second year 29,904 left the lot. The third year, 22,458 went to happy homes, and a few (4,079) leftover '77 models were sold and titled as '78 models. Then that was it. I'm not sure if this car quite falls into the "Epic Fail" category, but it sure seems to come close.

Maybe the reason the car flopped was this: The Capri II's base price in 1975 was $4,117; a new 1974 Mustang II started at $2,895. For 1977, the price jumped about 6%, to $4,361. The final year, 1977, a Capri II Ghia, like the white one shown here, was $4,984 plus options. That was a lot of cash for a small car at the time, even for one with a true European pedigree.

Capri 83 The Capri II was followed in 1978 by an all-new car (a '79 model) that was virtually a clone of the "Fox" Mustang. By 1983, the Capri had separated itself from the 'Stang cosmetically with unique sheet metal, a bulbous rear hatch glass, and special seat trim. But the dash, the powertrain, and just about everything else was the same as a Mustang.

The base "Fox" Capri had a 2.3-liter engine with a turbo option. The 2.8-liter V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8 were also choices. The 1979 brochure does not list any horsepower figures. Fake woodgrain and an incredible 8-track tape player sound system were also available.

And, in this car, the venerable spirit of the Capri II "S" version lived on. You could get a "Black Magic" Capri with the black and gold trim, quite similar to the old "S." A hood scoop, handling suspension system, Michelin TRX tires, and forged metric aluminum wheels finished out the package.

Capri 1990 The summer of 1990 brought us the Capri and Capri XR2 from Ford of Australia. With mechanicals based on the Mazda 323, this roadster gave us 100 horsepower from the standard 1.6-liter engine; the XR2's turbo raised that to 132 horsepower. Five-speed manuals were standard, and a four-speed automatic was available, but only on the base model.

Introduced as a 1991 model, the car was sold for four years. Essentially a competitor of the Miata, the Capri differed with front wheel drive and a tiny back seat. The trunk was deep enough to store grocery bags upright, also unlike the Miata. But this Capri developed a reputation for unreliability, and a good 15+-year-old copy of this model might be hard to find.

So the Capri name has faded away, like my memory of the Capri II. Maybe for good reasons. Will there ever be another Capri? I'm guessing not for a long time.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

"How Stuff Works" was a source for technical information for this post and the first image. The Capri II Register gave great assistance as well. ASCMcLarenCoupe.com provided the brochure information. The white Capri II photo is from philseed.com, and the Capri S image is from blogHemmings.com. The last image is from MercuryCapriParts.com. Wikipedia supplied some facts as well.

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I have always, always, *always* loved these cars. They just look so good, especially in that iconic "John Player Special" black and gold trim.

At the risk of offending our august Mustang II devotees, I'd actually argue that the Capri II's price premium over the Mustang II might have been justified.

The dash and interior shown in the brochure are identical to my '83 Mustang GT convertible, except mine is all black. The Capri is still held in very high regard by the "Four-Eyed Pride" guys (the '79-'86 Mustangs and Capris had four square headlights, not the conformal single light on each side they introduced in '87...I like the four-eyed look better, myself), and the Four-Eyed Pride forums still get lots of Capri questions to go with all the Mustang questions.

In today's world, a refined small car is appreciated, regardless of the price. But 1975 was just two years after our first oil embargo, and most small cars here were rubbish. Many Americans still liked a large car because of its "ride," and they wanted enough trunk space to hold all of Old Rose's luggage that she took to the Keldysh in "Titanic."

Seems most people back then didn't enjoy the pleasure of good handling smaller car. When they could get a full-size (though stripped-down) Bonneville for about the same price as a loaded small car (they were giving away big cars for a while at that time), they drove home the spartan land yacht instead. That was their choice then, and some people would still make that choice today.

I remember seeing the Capri IIs around the midwest, I think.

(To play devil's advocate a bit) I still think the American predilection with large cars owes a lot to history; cars here were far more utilitarian than in Europe where shorter distances and more densely packed urban landscapes (and narrow roads) made rail common and smaller vehicles almost a necessity. I would guess families were probably larger here, too.

My impression growing up was that small Euro cars were fun, but horribly unreliable and expensive both to buy and to fix. Why spend 50% more on a hot little Euro coupe that would be in the shop at least as much as your Chevy and cost you probably twice as much in repair bills when it was, and not have nearly the overall utility? Plus, they'd all rust out at probably the same rate, so you'd be getting even less use out of it.

The Capri (versions I and II) was clean and restrained when nearly everything else around it had formal grilles, opera windows, carriage lights, and was otherwise eye-deep in mid-70s rococo-a-go-go. It was light and tossable, better driving dynamics than the typical Yankee road barge, or even the typical Detroit compact.

Why they sold it through Lincoln-Mercury dealers, whose product line otherwise consisted entirely of mid-70s rococo-a-go-go Yankee road barges aimed at the Lawrence-Welk-and-Florida-condo demographic. Considering that the typical L-M customer was probably looking for the exact opposite of light and tossable, it's a minor miracle they sold as many as they did.

I've researched these cars a number of time in the past. For years, one of my neighbors had an early Capri V6 with dual exhausts and only a driver's seat sitting in front of his house. This was in the late '80s, so it really wasn't such an old car at the time. He and his wife had moved on to big Volvos and the Capri just sat quietly rusting. A buddy and I tried talking him into giving it to us, but he was unmoved. I was home recently, and the Capri and its owner are long gone, but the guy's neighbor still has the carcas of a 1969 Alfa Spider Veloce 1750(the one that people THINK is a Duetto) disintegrating in the same spot it has been since it broke down in 1975, having already been restored once in its first 5 years on the road. Back to Capris. I really wanted one of these, and read everything I could find. What I found was that many of the original owners were not happy campers. Many people liked the performance or looks, but few liked the quality and durability. That may be why there are so few that have survived.

It should also be noted that the "Ford" Capri was far more successful in Europe. It underwent a final revision, but was sold in essentially the same basic form all the way up to 1986.

It has an additional cult following in England, where it was prominently used on popular tv show The Professionals.

The great British tv show Wheeler Dealers was so fond of the Capri that they featured one on their very first season. Their conclusion was that these cars rusted especially bad which makes them hard to find. They actually lost money on the car they chose to restore primarily because of its extensive body work needs.

I used to see a white Capri convertible at my apartment complex in Virginia. There are many good places to own a convertible, and Norfolk in the spring is one of them - at the time I was driving a '94 Mustang, and there was also a VW Cabrio that lived there.

I must protest at the description of a Miata trunk as unable to haul grocery bags upright. There's a well in the center that will hold tall items, and a gallon of milk fits just fine in the raised part forward of the taillights.

Theodore, I have a 2001 Miata SE, and the trunk space is configured different that a pre-1999 model. Yes, those earlier ones have a deeper well for groceries, and I'm not familiar with the newest ones. Mine is as flat as the state of Kansas, and covers the spare tire, which lays flat.

But I just got back from the grocery store, and a case of bottled water almost filled the trunk area. There was little space, if any, above the case to put anything.

I gotta say, those top two photos make that look gorgeous.

Chuck, your BRG is gorgeous. I have a '91 BRG that looks good on the outside, but its interior is in very rough shape owing to neglect by previous owners. I also have a white '97.

The current Miata has no spare tire, so its trunk is relatively roomy. The first generation cars wedge the spare into a corner of the trunk over by the battery. I find the inside of the spare makes a convenient storage space for small items - tools, jumper cables, flashlight, gloves, etc. The well makes a world of difference, but - as you know - Miata owners pack light. I'm pretty sure I've seen Harleys with more cargo room.

Thank you, Theodore. And yes, Harley-Davidson BOOTS seem to have more trunk space than my car sometimes LOL.

Try packing for a week on holiday!

In England it was a classic for petrolheads, same as the Opel Manta in Germany, cheap fast car.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brannigan_(film)

It was good enough for John Wayne in Brannigan. Yellow one just like I had.

Packing for a week in a Miata is no problem as long as you're visiting people who will let you do laundry.

How is this a hatchback? Looks like it just has a small trunk, not a hatch.

Rob, check out the rear view of the white Capri II. You'll see the body panel cut lines around the backlight (rear window) area, and the rear wiper blade.

Also, they said it was a hatchback.

Ha! I was just out for a walk and saw a mint one driving around, befitting my status as a resident of Car Lust central.

Amazingly enough, I have seen four different Australian faux-Miata Capris in the last week.

In recent trips to the UK, you rarely see Capris (Is or IIs) anymore. They've all rusted away. Yes, the Capri was seen as a European Mustang, and braodly speaking,it attracted the smae type of owners. At the air base I was stationed at in the UK in the late 80s, a couple of guys would go to the base Burger King every weekend in their Capri after jet skiing in the North Sea (sound like fun). Young guys eating burgers, jet skis, pretty much sumed up the Capri for me. And like the Mustang, it could be ordered in many ways, from soft to fairly racy.

As far as the Capri convertible goes, there are a lot in this town..they seem to come here to die.

I'm not sure I would call the sales of the Euro Capri a failure in the US. Something like half a million were sold there. As with any European car of that (and later) era is it had to be extensively altered to meet US emission and safety laws. By doing this, the car lost a good amount of it's sportyness/pedegree. Addition of 160 lbs of federal bumpers, A/C, etc, and smog restricted engines did the car no favors. It was also marketed poorly and unfortunately became associated with the Pinto and Mustang II, which is shares nothing but an engine with in the US. The Euro Capri has a real racing pedegree, it was a force to be reconed with on the worlds circuits in both factory and private teams.
Having owned 18 of them over the years on both the US and Europe, ranging from a 1300 Cameo, up to a later 2.8 Injection and a handful of federal cars in the US. The real Euro-spec Capri's are a completely different animal the the sad excuses that made it to the US.

I had 2 of these cars when I was younger. One was a 1974 4 cyl auto which my dad bought new. I got it after it had almost 200k miles. The car had a front end shake that no one could fix, so I got a 76 v6 4 speed with sunroof. Later found out it just needed bushing between the body and struts replaced. The 76 got totaled while I sitting at a light by an RX7 that skid into the Capri. I really enjoyed both car am looking to get aonther one. Sure there were issues but the Capri was a fun car to drive and esay to fix, lot of room in the engine bay. I realy want another 1 as a weekend car.

The English Capri and the mustang share only one point They both started as boring family sedans the mustang is a falcon underneath and the Capri is a Cortina and shares the running gear 1300cc 1600cc 2000cc and 3000cc from the Zephyr 2300 was a german engine.They were a boyracers favorite for years and stayed pretty much the same where the mustang went from sport coupe to overweight gutless barge after 1969. The Aussie Capri was a Mazda cabriolet with a sharp nose and by far the WORST car ever made by Ford Australia it was a mobile pool, gutless and poor handling,most people were astounded that it found an export market in the US it was so bad. But then later Ford tried to bring the Taurus to Aussie OMG what a heap of shit, it explains the capris success you guys build and buy rubbish.

How could anyone forget these. That black S was just a beautiful car. I never saw a stock one I didn't like the look of...even with a vinyl top. I remember my older sister trading in her '71 four cylinder for a new '74 V6 in steel blue with a red interior. I harbored some resentment when Ford replaced them with the Fox body version, knowing the Europeans still got the real thing. In comparison it (the Fox) lacked all style, soul and character.

I had a 78 Capri II (Euro, actually a 77 model that was sold as a 78 when they stopped importing them in 78) back in the day, with the 2.8 six and 4 speed tran. It was painted a gorgeous emerald green, with a nice tan interior. My wife hated the color, and made me sell it five years later. I'd give a lot to buy it back today.

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