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The Ford Capri, a European Mustang (Part II)

We continue our series on the sporty European market Ford Capri today. Introduced in 1969 as a pony car to suit customers outside of North America, Capri proved an immediate success across Europe and found a more limited customer base in North America too. By the mid-Seventies, times had changed and it was time for a new Capri, the Mark II.

Mark I Capri production ended in December 1973, after the coupe racked up around 1.2 million sales globally. Though its first iteration was produced at five different factories in West Germany, the U.K., South Africa, and Australia, the second-generation Capri saw its production limited to two factories: The Cologne factory in West Germany, and at Halewood in the U.K. Halewood continued production only through October of 1976, after which all Capris were made at Cologne.

Ford wanted to increase the Capri’s appeal to the middle-market family customer who’d loved the first model, so changes made to the Mark II were largely a nod to daily livability. The interior had more room on the Mark II, and the hood was shorter to aid maneuverability. Capri’s form factor also changed: Its rear aperture became a hatch (formerly a trunk), and that meant 22 cubic feet of cargo space. Ford granted a folding rear seat with the hatchback, for even more cargo room. The hatchback as a concept was coming into its own at the time, and consumers were quick to see the versatility appeal. Though the Capri II was larger overall than its predecessor, it remained about the same in length as the Mark I: 167 to 169.8 inches depending on trim. But Mark II was over two inches wider, and nearly three inches taller. Curb weight remained about the same as before and was around 2,150 to 2,500 pounds depending largely on engine size. On the safety and convenience front, disc brakes grew larger in the new Capri, and customers found an alternator was now fitted as standard. Power steering was fitted to higher trim models like the Ghia. The suspension on all trims was softer and more livable than before.

Some Mark II engines were carryovers from the prior Capri, though the V4 Taunus and old Kent I4 engines were no longer an option. On offer were two different inline-fours from the Crossflow (a modernized Kent) family of 1.3-liter and 1.6-liter displacements, as well as 1.6- and 2.0-liter inline-fours from the Pinto. Upmarket engine options were of the V6 variety and included 2.0- and 2.3-liter Cologne mills, as well as the 3.0-liter Essex V6. Inline-four engines made between 55 and 99 horsepower, while the cylinder bump netted 108 horsepower in the 2.3 V6, and 140 in the 3.0-liter. In a nod to modernity, the Mark II Capri offered an automatic transmission for the first time – the C3 used in many wonderful Ford products like the Merkur XR4Ti. The enthusiast’s transmission choice was the four-speed manual, but high trim Capris were often fitted with the automatic.

The new Capri was marketed differently than its predecessor, with Ford playing up the wide variety of trims (there were 12 at once) from bare-bones 1300L to luxurious automatic Ghia, the special Midnight Capri, and the limited edition John Player Special. The Mark II Capri with its focus on livability, luxury equipment, and trims became less exciting and lacked the racy sporting appeal of the original Capri. Sales started to sag almost immediately. Ford took action to cut costs, which resulted in the aforementioned cease of Halewood production in October 1976. Remaining production at Cologne focused on fewer trims, eliminating the wide appealability Ford had trumpeted a couple of years prior. Middle-spec 3.0-liter models went away, and buyers were forced to move upmarket into a 3.0 S (more sports) or 3.0 Ghia (more luxury) instead.

Over in the North American market, the Capri took a hiatus after the 1974 model year. It was a successful captive import from 1970 to 1974, even though trim and engine offerings were more limited so as not to compete with other Mercury products. Though Capri took a year off in 1975 officially, Lincoln-Mercury dealers had a decent leftover supply of ’74s and ran specials to sell them throughout the year. The Capri Mark II returned triumphantly to America in 1976. Its delay was caused by a very late December 1973 start of production for model-year ’74 Capris. Again the US-bound Capri looked different to its European cousin: Affected even further by intervening U.S. regulation it used indicator lights inset into the grille and sealed beam headlamps instead of the square Hella composites from Europe. Five mile per hour bumpers were present and accounted for, color-keyed to the body. A catalytic converter was standard equipment, which meant there were no leads allowed in the fuel tank.

Like with Capri Mark I, the Mark II was limited in its trim offerings in North America. Sold as a compact sports car, the standalone Capri still wore no badging other than its name. The U.S. received the John Player Special trim mentioned above, but it was called S domestically since North Americans were not so familiar with the British tobacco conglomerate. Buyers who wanted more standard equipment and a deluxe interior opted for the Ghia, formerly known on the Mark I as the optional interior décor package. North American Capri II engines were limited to two, and not used in European Capris: The 2.3-liter OHC I4 Pinto engine, or the 2.8-liter Cologne V6 used in the later Capri Mark III.

But there was a problem with pricing for the Capri II in North America. The additional equipment and luxuries on the new Capri made it less of a bargain than before, and expensive German production and exchange rates didn’t help either. Thus Ford imported the Capri II for the last time in 1977, and it lingered on lots well into 1978. As its replacement in 1979, Ford introduced the Fox-body Mercury Capri; a slightly upscale twin to the Mustang.

In Europe, the Mark II Capri had taken the simple driving enjoyment idea of the Mark I in the wrong (too soft, too complex) direction. But Ford was not prepared to throw in the towel on its everyman coupe just yet and worked up yet another Capri in early 1978. In Part III we’ll talk about Mark III, and conclude Capri’s saga.

[Images: Ford]

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