Friday 22 March 2019

The classic car that will never go out of style

Nearly two million Capris were produced before the model's demise in 1986, writes Brian Twomey

EUROPE’S MUSTANG: The Ford Capri GT XLR
EUROPE’S MUSTANG: The Ford Capri GT XLR

Brian Twomey

The car you always promised yourself. The tagline for what was basically a Cortina coupe. But it is a sign of Ford's marketing strength that two million customers treated themselves to a Capri over an 18-year production run with one million sold in the first five years alone.

Unveiled at the Brussels Motor Show, of all places, the Capri took off-the-shelf Ford bits and with a bit of fettling and some fine styling created a cheap, relatively roomy and desirable car. The engines were a mix of Escort and Corsair, much of the platform was Cortina and bits of suspension from the Ford Zephyr. The cool styling belied the weedy performance of the 1.3 but if you didn't need the space it was a sexy alternative to an Austin 1300. If you wanted a Capri that really swings you could have a 1.6 or a 2-litre while a 1.7 V4 or a 2.3 V6 was on offer to European customers. The Capri was basically Europe's Mustang. It was even given a Mustang-like name. However Mitsubishi owned the rights to Colt and Ford named their new coupe after an Italian island.

In 1970 the Capri everyone wanted arrived on the scene equipped with a lusty 3-litre V6 engine and tagged with exotic names like GXL, XLR, GT or you could go mad and have the GTXLR complete with a raft of dials, bucket seats and a four-speed manual gearbox. Luxury orientated customers could plump for the plush GXL with a vinyl roof and an optional automatic gearbox for a car that did a very good Aston DBS impersonation at a fraction of the price.

Early Capri's were handsome and fun to drive but somewhat untamed so a 1972 facelift aimed to make the 3-litre models less hairy and improve overall refinement. All models get the bonnet bulge previously reserved for V6 models and turn signals moved to the bumper to make the headlamps larger. Suspension work improved handling and ride while the interior got better seats while a more comprehensive taillight treatment included integrated fog and reversing lamps. Sales continued apace and limited edition models designed for racing like the RS3100 and fuel-injected RS2600 gave the Capri some street cred.

An oil crisis and increasing competition saw Ford introduce the Mk2 in 1974. More modern and more in tune with styling of the rest of the Ford range; the Mk2 also introduced a tailgate and folding rear seats for added practicality. It was still a Capri though and one heavily based on the original car so dimensions were broadly similar while the curved quarter lights and low slung driving position survived. The options list and range of models was less comprehensive now but it was still a car designed by the buyer. The full engine range survived and power from the V6 had gradually climbed to 138bhp. Luxury Ghia trim replaced the GXL.

Sales started to slip at this point and the onslaught of more practical quick cars such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and even Ford's own respected range of hot Escorts started to nibble at Capri sales quite badly so the Mk2 had the shortest lifespan of all three variants. In 1978 Ford went back to the drawing board again for the Mk3. The new Capri was again a facelift rather than a clean sheet design. Indeed some panels like the doors were carried over unchanged. The more macho styling went down well though and the Capri now gained four halogen headlights and an integrated steel spoiler under the bumper to improve aerodynamics.

FUN TO DRIVE: Capri Mk1
FUN TO DRIVE: Capri Mk1

Gradually Ford trimmed the range as they identified the market the car appealed to. The 1.3 models got the chop and the range was rationalised from 1983. Gone were L, GL and Ghia variants even though the Ghia sold well enough. Now the Capri gained the Laser tag. The 3-litre V6 S models, as driven by TV tough guys, were replaced by the 2.8 Injection from 1981. Now sporting Bosch fuel injection the 2.8i was arguably the best Capri of the lot. It gained a cult following and was constantly developed gaining bigger wheels a limited slip differential and a five-speed gearbox.

The rot had set in now and the Capri was labouring under elderly design and a somewhat low-rent image. Left-hand-drive sales ceased in 1985 and for the last two years the Capri was sold exclusively in the UK and Ireland. Sales in the US finished in 1977 and neither Australia nor New Zealand got the Mk2 or Mk3 models. In December 1986 the last Capri, a limited edition Brooklands 280 rolled off the line.

A surprising number of Capri's have survived in one form or another and motoring media constantly seems to think that Ford is going to bring the model back. Sadly Ford makes no promises about a future for the car you always promised yourself.

STREET CRED: The RS2600
STREET CRED: The RS2600

Sunday Independent

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