What is the Capri? The car itself was gorgeously self-evident, a lively looking sport coupe that handled as good as it looked. The Ford Capri burst on the scene at the start of the 1970s, a collaboration between the British and German engineers and designers of the most globally diverse of all car companies. Lovers of sport sedans throughout Europe knew the racy coupe wore the blue oval proudly on its bonnet. It was the Ford Capri and they loved it. But when it came to America, Capri’s many fans were less clear what to call this racy little coupe. It wasn’t a Ford. Ford dealers here already had a sporty coupe to sell. That was called the Mustang, and rumor has it, it did pretty well. So the Capri was sold by the Lincoln-Mercury division. But it wasn’t a Mercury. No Mercury ever handled like a this. Things didn’t get any clearer over Capri’s two+ decades in America. It took different forms, spanning four generations and as many continents. It wasn’t really a Ford or a Mercury. We can only call it Capri, the subject of our next Makes that Didn’t Make It.
Fords from Europe
Ford Motor Company began importing English Fords to America soon after the end of WWII. For the first decade or so they didn’t import very many. Their presence in American showrooms was more a result of pressure applied by the British government and its “Export or Die” policy, rather than on any actual demand for the small, well designed, but poorly made cars.
Things changed abruptly in 1958. In the aftermath of the Edsel debacle, the parent company reorganized its brand structure. The Lincoln-Mercury Division was formed to sell the company’s larger, more prestigious offerings. L-M was also given the task of selling European Fords. This turned out quite well for dealers during a severe recession that lingered into 1960. They had ample supplies of low priced economical cars for penny pinching customers. Mercury sold nearly 100,000 English Consuls, Zephyrs and Zodiacs over the next 4 years.
As the sixties arrived, bringing with them the homegrown Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet compacts, sales of Fords from across the pond petered out.
That was too bad because at about the same time, Ford of Britain was introducing a nifty little coupe called the Consul Capri. With the Capri, the high volume Consul sedan’s ungainly backwards canted roof was ditched in favor of a sleek fastback and pair of tail fins. It looked a lot like a 5/8 scale American Ford Galaxy. The Consul Capri was a nice little car but only lasted a couple of years before the Consul line was replaced by a more modern Ford Corsair. An updated Capri version was not commissioned.
The Sexy European
The Ford Mustang was arguably the most successful and profitable new model in the history of the automobile. What made the Mustang a hit was its aggressively sporty shape that was just what the first of the Baby Boomer generation now coming of age craved. Why it made so much money for Ford was that beneath that sexy body were the ubiquitous and cheap underpinnings of the Ford Falcon compact sedan, loved by gramps and grammas everywhere. With a suitable platform already in place and paid for, Ford spent a pittance developing the Mustang. Then they sold millions of them. Soon after it became apparent that the Mustang would be a hit, European managers at Ford asked the question, if the Yanks can do it, why not us?
As timing would have it, the Capri was one of the first collaborations between the newly merged Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany. They applied much the same formula for their coupe as the Mustang’s. Take a compact sedan - in this case the new Ford Cortina Mk III - push the cockpit back on the frame, then dress it in a sleek, sculptured coupe suit, a ground breaking new model for a fraction of the cost of an all-new car.