Was the Capri a model or a make? The car that burst on the scene at the start of the 1970s was itself gorgeously self-evident, a lively sport coupe that handled as good as it looked. Capri was a collaboration between the British and German designers of the most globally diverse of all car companies, Ford. Sport sedan aficionados across Europe knew this 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 here were less clear as to what to banner this racy little coupe drove for. Was it a Ford? Ford dealers in the States already had a sporty coupe to sell. It was called the Mustang…and as rumor has it, did pretty well. Capri in America were sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers. But was it a Mercury? No Mercury ever looked or handled like a this. Things didn’t get any clearer over Capri’s two-plus decades in America. It took different forms, spanning four iterations and as many continents. Was it 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 under 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 the severe 1958 recession that lingered into 1960. Lincoln-Mercury sold nearly 100,000 English Consuls, Zephyrs and Zodiacs over the next few years. As the sixties arrived however, 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. 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
Back in America, the 1964 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, just what early members of the Baby Boomer generation who were now coming of age craved. The reason Mustang made so much money for Ford was that beneath that sexy body was 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 but a pittance developing the Mustang. Then they sold millions of them. It wasn’t long before European managers at Ford asked the question, if the Yanks can do it, why not us?
The 1969 Capri was one of the first collaborations between Ford’s newly merged British and German operations. The two groups did not always see eye to eye but they did agree to apply much the same formula for their new coupe as the Mustang’s. Take a compact sedan - in this case the Ford Cortina Mk III - push the cockpit back on the frame, dress it in a sleek, sculptured coupe suit, and get a ground breaking new car for a fraction of the cost of an all-new car.