Living in America

An Unauthorized History of Capris in North America

by David R. Wells and Lawrence H. Wells

Last updated: April 20, 2002

A Brief History

Note: Traditionally, the "model year" started in September of the previous calendar year, so for example, the 1972 "model year" would start in September 1971. This history will classify Capris by model year, not calendar year, unless otherwise noted.


1. Prehistory, 1950-1960: The Hot Rod Lincoln
2. 1962-64: The British Invasion
3. 1966-67: The Missing Mercury
4. 1970-78: The European Capri
5. 1979-1986: The Mutant Mustang
6. 1991-1994: The Australian Convertible

1950-1960: The Hot Rod Lincoln

1950-51, 1952-55, 1956-60, Racing

Ford's Lincoln division sold a car called the Capri from 1950 to 1960. They had nothing in common with the later European sport coupes, with one exception: They were also successful race cars.

1962-1964: The British Invasion

The Capri reappeared in 1962 in the form of the British Ford 117E Capri derivative of the Ford Classic. It was produced until the end of the 1964 model year. Powered by a 1500cc "Kent" 4 cylinder engine in either 54 HP standard or 78 HP "GT" tune. The "Classic" Capri was badged as a Ford, unlike all Capris sold in the USA before or since. Approximately 1400 were sold in the USA, which represented nearly 20% of the total production run. Several still exist.

1966-67: The Comet Capri

There were also domestically produced Mercury Capris in the US during the 1960s - sort of. They were a part of the Mercury Comet line, and were more of a trim level than a distinct model. In this era, the Mercury Comet was a mid-sized sedan, with a wheelbase around 114 inches. Weight was in the 3500-3700 lb range.

The Capri was the "base" model Comet, with minimal chrome. Numerous options were available, though, which could make these cars much more interesting. Engines ranged from a basic 200 cubic inch straight-6, to a 289 cubic inch V-8, up to a 390 cubic inch V-8.

We still have very little information on these Capris; If anyone else does, please let us know.

The European Capri, 1970-1977

Mark I: 1970 1971 1972
Mark I "Facelift": 1973 1974
Mark II: 1975 1976 1977
Specials, Racing Leaving the US Market

The European Capri sport coupe is a significant classic. It was originally conceived as a "Mustang for Europe". Just as the original Mustang was a Falcon compact sedan chassis with nice 2-door body work, the Capri was a British Ford Cortina chassis with nice 2-door body work. It was nicely proportioned, with a long hood and a short trunk. The wheelbase was fairly small at 100.8 inches. Into this body, Ford put quite a variety of different engines: the 1600cc Kent Crossflow, the 2000 OHC, various Cologne V-6s and the 2.3 liter "Lima" OHC 4 cylinder.

Differences Between Capris in North America and the Rest of the World

The Capri was badged as a Ford in most of the world, but in North America it was sold through Ford's Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. This was evidently done to bolster Mercury sales, which were sagging at the time. Capris in North America are therefore registered as Mercury Capris, though they do not carry any Mercury badges. Mercury Capris do not have any "FORD" lettering on the hood or trunk. Mk I Capris have "CAPRI" lettering on the hood, whereas Mk II Capris have "CAPRI" lettering in the grille.

"Federal" Capris had to meet numerous US emissions and safety regulations.

While the European Capri was built in both the UK and in Germany, only the German (left-hand drive) version came to North America. North Americans missed out on a number of British engines, such as the 3 liter "Essex" V-6, and its V-4 cousins.

A number of the German "Cologne" engines didn't make it to the US either. The smaller the 2000 and 2300 cc V-6s and their 1300 and 1700 cc V-4 cousins were not imported to North America. No RS-2600s were ever brought to the North America officially, but we have some conclusive evidence that a few made it here anyway: We own one!

Do You Remember Back When Things Were Rotten?

The 1970s were a bad time for cars in general in North America, and an especially bad time for performance cars. Primitive emissions controls badly degraded the performance of American muscle cars and pony cars, and the added weight of federally mandated bumpers and catalytic converters made things worse still. On top of this the 1973 Energy Crisis suddenly made gasoline very expensive. Octane ratings also dropped precipitously, adding insult to injury. The low-octane fuel combined with the emissions controls forced newer cars to have low compression ratios (reducing both power and fuel economy) and made older, high-compression cars all but unusable.

Inflation was another unpleasant fact of life in the 1970s. Prices for nearly everything escalated rapidly, and cars were no exception. The price of a European Capri nearly doubled between 1970 and 1977. In some cases, it was possible to sell a used Capri for more than its original purchase price!

As if all that weren't enough, the Federal government imposed the unpopular 55 MPH national speed limit in 1974. In theory, this was in response to the energy crisis, but we were sometimes lead to wonder if something more nefarious was involved. This was not a good time to be an automotive enthusiast.

Yet somehow, in this auto-hostile environment, the Capri managed to thrive. Its small size and light weight made it easy on gas, and yet reasonably quick. Handling and braking were a revelation to those used to American behemoths. While the North American specification Capri did suffer from the heavy hand of Federal regulation, it managed much better than many of its contemporaries. The Capri was one of the few bright lights in a very dark time.

The European Capri was taken away from us in 1978, even though production continued in Europe until 1986. It is remembered fondly by former owners and still commands the loyalty of a small group of dedicated Capri fanatics.

The Original Mk I

Special Capri models in the US, 1979-1986

ASC/McLaren Capri

The most famous and most important of the Capri specials was the ASC/McLaren Capri. ASC, (also known as American Sunroof Corporation) of Livonia, Michigan, made a number of different special Capris during the later years of the "Fox" Capri's production. There was a hard-top ASC McLaren Capri, and a nice convertible. A sales brochure for the convertible (which never mentions the name Capri, BTW, they call it "The ASC McLaren 5.0 SC Convertible) lists the following features:

874 ASC/McLaren Capris were built between 1984 and 1986: 552 convertibles, and 322 coupes.

When Capri production ended in 1986, ASC continued production using the Ford Mustang.

Racing the "Fox" Capri 1979-1986

Like the Lincoln Capri and the European Capri before it, the "Fox" Capri was also a successful race car, especially in the Trans-Am series.

Ford's wind tunnel testing revealed that Capris fitted with the "bubble" hatch had significantly less drag than its Mustang sibling, even if the Mustang was also fitted with a "bubble" hatch. The difference amounted to about a 2 MPH advantage in straightaway speed for the Capri, so once the "bubble" hatch was homologated the Mercury Capri became Ford's primary Trans-Am weapon. Mercury Capris dominated the series in the mid 1980s.

In 1984, Team Roush Protofab of Livonia, Michigan began running a pair of "Fox" Capris in the Trans Am racing series. The team owners were Jack Roush and Charlie Selix. The engine builder was Bob Kerns. Their drivers were Willy T. Ribbs, (who later drove at Indy) and Greg Pickett. Their major sponsor was Motorcraft.

Tom Gloy was also racing a Capri in Trans-Am that year, in his own car, sponsored by 7-11.

After a slow start of the 1984 season, Pickett won at Sears Point and Portland. He was third at Detroit, fourth at Brainerd, Minnesota, and second at both Trois Rivieres, Quebec and Mosport Park, Ontario. He won again at Seattle and the second Sears Point race (appropriately called The Mercury Capri Fall Classic). A broken gearbox lead to a disappointing finish at Green Valley, Texas, but he placed a respectable fourth at Las Vegas. He ended the season with 189 points, second overall, with four victories and two seconds.

Although he missed the first four races, Ribbs finished second at Detroit, and then won the Paul Revere 250 at Daytona Beach, and the next race at Brainerd Minnesota. After a DNF at Road America, he won again at Watkins Glen. A punctured tire prevented a good showing at Trois Riveres, but he placed third the next week at Mosport. He placed second behind Pickett at the second Sears Point race. He won again at Green Valley, Texas. Despite a disappointing finish in the final race at Las Vegas, he finished the season with 155 points, third overall, with four victories and two seconds.

Tom Gloy, like Pickett, got off to a bad start at Road Atlanta, but finished third at Summit Point. He was second behind Pickett at both Sears Point and Portland, and was the winner at Detroit. (A 1-2-3 victory for the Capris!) He was second at Road America and Watkins Glen. He won again at Trois Riveres, and placed fourth at Mosport. He placed second in Seattle. Brake problems held him down to a fifth place finish at the second Sears Point race, and he took fourth the next week at Riverside. Gloy left the race at Green Valley early due to a shift linkage problem, but he went on to win the final race at Las Vegas. Despite only three wins to the other Capris' four each, Gloy's six second place finishes helped to give him a total of 225 points and the championship.

With eleven Capri wins in sixteen races, Lincoln-Mercury easily won the 1984 Trans-Am Manufacturer's championship.

Roush prepared Mercury Capris enjoyed even greater Trans-Am success in 1985. Willy T. Ribbs returned to win seven races, while Wally Dallenbach Jr. won five races and at age 22 became the youngest Trans-Am series champion (Ribbs finished second overall). The twelve victories in fifteen races again handed the manufacturer's championship to Lincoln-Mercury.

Chevrolet posed a serious challenge to the Capri's Trans-Am dominance in 1986, winning five of the first six races. Lincoln-Mercury and Team Roush rose to the challenge, and Capris won four of the final five races to capture the manufacturer's championship for the third year in a row.

Additional information on the Capri's Trans-Am racing exploits can be found on the official Trans-Am page's history section .

The Australian Convertible, 1991-1994

1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 Power & Weight Specs

In 1991, we got a small, Australian convertible, based on a Mazda 323 chassis. This car was also called a Capri. The origin of this car can be traced to the Ford "Barchetta" show car displayed at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. The show car's Ghia designed body and Italdesign designed interior were refined and fitted to a modified Mazda 323 chassis. The Mazda chassis incorporated two features not found in previous Capris: Four wheel disk brakes, and a fully independent rear suspension.

The new Capri was first introduced in Australia in 1989, with a single overhead cam engine. It was apparently fairly wimpy, so North Americans didn't miss much. These early models are referred to as "Series I" cars.

The DOHC and DOHC Turbo versions came out in 1991. These are called "Series II" cars. These had airbags and other modifications needed to make them legal in the USA.

In 1994, the Series III was introduced. The body and suspension were slightly modified. Some parts, such as the tops and the bumpers, are not interchangeable with the Series II Capris.

Ford intended to use the Capri convertible to rival the Mazda Miata, which, as strange as it may seem, was also based on the same Mazda 323 chassis! The Miata was not really the right target for the Capri, for the two cars were actually very dissimilar: The Miata was a pure sports car, with only two seats and rear wheel drive. The Capri traded off pure sports car characteristics to gain practicality. It had front wheel drive, and was at least nominally a four seater. "Sporty, not sport" was the way Road & Track magazine described the Capri, and it was an apt description. The Capri was significantly less expensive than the Miata, and was in fact one of the least expensive convertibles available in the US. A removable hardtop was also available, although it was a fairly costly option.

There were two versions imported to North America: the base version, and the hotter turbocharged Capri XR2i. Both had Mazda DOHC 1.6 liter engines. The base version was rated at an even 100 HP at 5750 RPM, and 95ft/lb of torque at 5500 RPM, while the XR2i's turbo engine was rated at 132 HP at 6000 RPM and 136 ft/lb of torque at 3000 RPM. The compression ratios were 9.4:1 for the base model and 7.9:1 for the XR2i. A five speed manual transmission was standard. A 4 speed automatic was available only on the base version.

Instrumentation was (thankfully) analog, with a 125 MPH speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, water temperature gauge, volt meter, and oil pressure gauge.

The XR2i package also included air conditioning, a number of appearance items, and an upgraded suspension. Oddly, some reviewers found the XR2i exhibited more understeer than the base model; apparently those extra "comfort and appearance" items extracted a weight penalty. The steering mechanism was apparently the same in both the base and XR2i models: power assisted rack & pinion with a 17.6:1 ratio.

Both models had four-wheel disc brakes, with 10.2 inch vented discs in front and 8.7 inch solid disks in back.

The front suspension was a fairly conventional MacPherson strut system, with a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension was a fully independent trapezoidal link system, with MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar.

Road & Track ran a comparison test of the Capri XR2i and the Miata in its July 1990 issue. The Capri had better straight line performance than the normally aspirated 1.6 liter Miata. The lighter Miata naturally handled better than the Capri, though the difference in slalom speeds was actually fairly small (62.4 vs. 62.0 MPH).

The "sporty yet practical" Capri appeared to be just what the market wanted, and initial interest was high. Unfortunately, things began to go awry even before production started. An expected exclusion of convertibles from US passive restraint laws failed to materialize, and the Capri had to be redesigned at the last minute to include air bags. This delayed the car's US introduction by almost one year. Thanks to the production delays and subsequent poor marketing support from Ford, the initial enthusiasm waned. When it finally became available, sales were poor. It was discontinued after the 1994 model year.

Power & Weight Figures
Capri Series I-III Power & Weight figures, 1989-94
Engine/Trans Combination Engine Power (HP) Curb weight (Lbs) Acceleration, 0-60 mph (Sec)
DOHC NA/5MT 103 2379 10.7
DOHC NA/4EAT 103 2467 14.3
DOHC TC/5MT 133 2441 8.2
SOHC/3AT 81 2341 14.9
NA naturally aspirated
TC turbo-charged
5MT 5-speed manual trans
4EAT 4-speed electronic automatic trans
Note: These engine power ratings are taken from a German table. Due to differences in the test methods they are slightly different from the figures found in US literature.

This page has been bought to you by David & Larry Wells, who can be e-mailed by clicking on their names below.
David R Wells
Lawrence H Wells
Copyright ©2000, 2010 Lawrence H. Wells and David R. Wells. All rights reserved.
We wish to thank all those who provided valuable assistance in the preparation of this page

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