Classic Cars – The Ford Capri

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In January 1969, a few months before man walked on the moon, Ford introduced the new Capri into Europe, in a bid to capitalise upon the massive success that the Capri’s American cousin the Mustang had enjoyed in the pony car and sports coupe market throughout the decade.

When the Mark 1 Capri was launched at the Brussels Motor Show with the slogan ‘The Car You always Promised Yourself’ it became an instant success with the baby boomer generation.

Within a year of production, almost one in four of all cars that Ford sold in Europe, was a Capri.

In 1970 nearly 250,000 Capris were sold. The car was assembled at Liverpool and Dagenham in the UK and at Ford’s plants in Ghenk in Belgium and Cologne in Germany. By 1973 the millionth Capri an RS 2600 rolled off the production line at Ford’s Halewood plant in Liverpool.

The early success in Europe led to Ford introducing the car into the US and Australian markets in 1970 and guaranteed the production of two further models, the Mark 2 and Mark 3 Capris.

The Capri Mark 1 was a sporty looking fastback with a long bonnet, wide opening two doors, low roofline often in black vinyl, rounded side windows, fake air intakes and alloy wheels and the distinctive hockey stick shaped indent that ran the length of the side of the car. Inside the car was designed with plastic and fake wood which was to become synonymous with cars of the 1970s. Inside the car was roomy with a rear bench seat and according to an advert by Ford at the time ‘We were going to call the new Capri a 2+2 but there’s too much room in the back’.

The Capri came in a multitude of engine configurations with many of the components and parts borrowed directly from the Ford Escort which had launched two years earlier. This meant the car had the usual front mounted engine and rear wheel drive.

The most popular Capri sold in the UK was the 1600cc version with either a L, GL or XL trim deciding its look and interior design. With a manual gearbox the car would struggle to reach 100 mph but the buying public were not that concerned with performance in 1969, they were more interested in value for money style and price. The base 1300cc model for the petrol frugant or timid driver started at just £890 on the road. The zippy two litre version was sold for a meer £1088. The range of Capris on offer was so large that no dealer could stock every variety. Incredibly the car featured front disk brakes and rack and pinion steering as standard, but in early models you had to request seatbelts as extras!

In its base form the 1300 Capri was a sluggish drive with its pushrod engine, but the 1600 crossflow Kent engine with its Pinto derived overhead camshaft cylinder head gave the car a lively performance. The 2000 was a different machine again with a V4 Essex Ford engine.

The Ford Capri’s handling could best be described as awkward and like the Mustang involved large amounts of oversteer. In the dry the car was maneuverable and fun to drive, but when it rained it could punish the unaccustomed driver with very poor rear wheel traction and a slippery drive.

This became even more apparent with the larger engined later versions such as the 3000 GT and the mark 3 2.8i, which quickly became rated in the high insurance groups. The Capri, like most cars produced at the time was also notorious for rust.

The iconic design was favoured by good and bad. The car was regularly featured on TV screens and films and in cops and robbers style car chases. This may have led to the rise of the British ‘Boy Racer’ who loved the souped up and modified later versions. The Capri was also favoured by the ‘joy-rider’ car thief and its poor security led to the Mark 3 becoming the most stolen car in the UK during the 1980’s.

As the Capri aged the model changes tended to be more cosmetic than mechanical, for example the distinctive square headlights of the Mark 2 Capri, which as a result left the winning sales formula intact. Production of the Mark 1 ended in 1974 and was replaced by the Mark 2 Capri which was built from 1974 until 1978. The Mark 3 Capri was built from 1978 until the last car rolled off the production lines in 1986. All in all nearly two million Ford Capris graced our streets in the 1970s and 80s.

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