How the Ford Capri became a British Cult Classic

Resident automobile authority, engine expert, connoisseur of the convertible, habitué of the hatchback, the one and only Mr Frank Evans makes his long awaited return to The MALESTROM HQ. He’s cleared his desk, dusted down the typewriter, rifled through April’s issue of What Car, binged on the latest series of Top Gear, slurped down a cup of strong English Tea with a dash of Dalwhinnie (purely medicinal) and taken his love of all things on four wheels back to a time when style and substance went hand-in-hand. A period when car manufacturers took innovative steps to produce vehicles that not only looked the part, but performed to a level normally reserved for the race track, and all of this without blowing a hole in the life savings.

One such car that has stood the test of time in the style stakes is every child of the seventies and eighties favourite car, the Ford Capri. With that in mind Frank jumped behind the wheel, buckled up and burnt some rubber to bring us the lowdown on the evolution of the most nostalgic of nostalgia inducing cars. Take it away Frank…

In the late 60s and early 70s if you wanted a GT car, there was the Aston Martin Vantage, if money was no object, or if your budget did not quite stretch that far, there was always the Ford Capri.

Towards the end of the 60s, the boffins at Ford decided they wanted a car to compete with the likes of the MGB or the Triumph Stag but they also wanted a car that had the qualities of a Ford motor car.

The Ford Capri was designed by Philip T. Clark and was built between 1969 and 1986. The original cars had components of the Mark 2 Cortina and were intended as a European equivalent to the Ford Mustang. There were 3 different body styles throughout its life, with the mark 1 built from 1969 to 1974. The mark 2 was made from 1974 to 1978 and the mark 3 from 1978 to 1986. The Capri sold 1.9million models over its 17 year history.

The Capri was one of the earliest examples of a mass produced GT car and was launched in January 1969 with the slogan, ‘The Car you always promised yourself.’ The car was classed as a poor man’s Porsche with it’s fake alloy wheels and air intakes, but it had great looks with its famous hockey stick crease along the length of the car. The UK vehicles were built at the Ford car plant at Halewood on Merseyside. This was the era when Britain was a major player in the car manufacturing world.

The Ford Capri was advertised as the working man’s chance to own a true GT car. The car buying public loved the car so much that 250,000 were sold in the 1st year and by 1973 the Capri had sold over a million.

The Capri could be bought in all sorts trims and engine sizes. You could purchase a basic model with a 1.3 litre engine for as little as £890.00 in 1969, and for the more adventurous, you could have a sporty 2 litre engine in XL trim for £1088.00. Given the choice, I would have picked the 2 litre over the 1.3, as I imagine it could have been quite sluggish while overtaking, especially when the top speed for the 1.3 litre engine was under 100mph. Trim wise there was the the L model, GL and the top model was XL.

In the early days, it was said that there were so many trims/engines and colours that the average Ford dealer could not stock all the different types on offer. The Capri had the advantage over other competition of having plenty of room in the back for a family of four if you didn’t mind only having 2 doors. 0 to 60 was 7.7 seconds and there was a choice of 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 litre engines. Top speed was from 89 mph depending of the size of the engine you chose.

In 1972, the Ford Capri was revised with improved suspension, new seats and larger tail lights. The previous engines were replaced by the American Ford Pinto engine. This was reliable and was used by Ford throughout the 1970’s and 80s. The British 2.0 litre engine was still used in the UK.

The Mark 2 car was made between 1974 and 1978 and was influenced by the 1973 oil crisis. The car had a shorter bonnet, larger cabin and was classed as a hatchback as it no longer had a boot. This was the first Ford to be classed as a hatchback design. Engine wise there was still a 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 litre engines with an addition of a 2.3 litre V6 engine. The car had a choice of a 4 or 5 speed gearbox.

In less politically correct times, there was a special edition made in 1975 after a cigarette brand and was called the John Player Special and came in black or white to match the formular one car colours.

In October 1976 changes came in the UK which meant that car production moved from Merseyside to Cologne in Germany and also to a site in Belgium. The following year saw the car no longer being produced for the US market. Top speeds were as follows, 1.3 89mph, 1.6 104mph, 2.0 108mph, 2.3 V6 111mph and a special 3.0 litre engine delivered 122mph.

The Mark 3 Capri was made from 1978 to 1986. The front of the car was totally redesigned with a set of 4 head lights now at the front and a rear spoiler at the back. This improved aerodynamics and performance.

By the 1980’s the 2-door sports car was going out of fashion. British Leyland for example ceased production of its 2-door MG and Triumph models and concentrated on 4-door saloons instead.

The Capri had been a star throughout the 1970’s and was now seeing its star slowly fade. The rise of the hot hatch in the mid 1970’s saw the demand for 2-door GT cars fall. Ford itself launched the Fiesta XR2, the Escort XR3i, the Orion Ghia injection and the Sierra XR4i, all of which sold in good numbers.

The Ford Capri had become a cult car in the UK and was believed to be the most sporty car sold in the UK in the 1970’s and also had the less glamorous honour of being one of the most stolen cars during the 1980’s. A British Government Home Office report classified the Capri as a ‘High Risk’ in terms of being stolen.

As with other cars I have covered, the Capri was a bit of a TV star. The 3.0 litre S version appeared in the UK TV show, The Professionals, and was the car of choice for our hero’s Bodie and Doyle. This also helped maintain good car sales throughout the 1980’s in the UK.

From 1982 strict emission regulations meant the 3.0 litre engine was no longer viable. Ford instead show cased a new 2.8 litre V6 engine at the Geneva Motor Show. Power was now 160bhp with a top speed of 130mph. The car now had a 5 speed gear box as standard. The 1.3 litre engine was no longer available, but you could still get a 1.6 and 2.0 litre engine.

Towards the end of its life, special edition Capris were introduced. One such model was Tickford Capri Turbo. The engine was a turbocharged 2.8 litre engine and developed 205bhp. The top speed was 137mph and 0 to 60 was achieved in 6.7 seconds. The car had luxury leather seats with Wilton Carpeting and a large rear spoiler. Only 80 cars were sold, so it would have been a rare car on the streets even in the 1980’s. Due to the hours used to produce the Tickford Capri, it was twice the cost of a normal 2.8 litre Capri. The last registered Capri is thought to be a Tickford Capri on 11/9/91 with reg plate J4 AJA.

As mentioned earlier,the British loved the Capri and sales continued throughout the 1980’s, however by 1984, production of the Capri had ceased in the European market and from now on only right-hand drive models were to be made. Due to the success of the sporty XR2, XR3i and XR4i models, Fords of Europe decided that there would be no replacement for the Capri when it production was due to end.

The last car came off the production line in November 1986 and was registered in the May of 1987. The model was called the Brooklands in British Racing Green and was priced at £12k . Registration number D194 UVW is still in use today and is now part of a collection of classic cars located in Kent. The Total numbers made were 1,886,647.

Ford continued to make 2 door coupés for the UK/European market but had little success with the Probe in 1994. Production ceased after just 3 years. The Cougar was another attempt at a 2-door coupé in 1998 but only lasted 4 years. There was also a small car called the Puma and was sold from 1997 to 2002. Although this car sold well, Ford did not replace it and instead made sporty versions of the Fiesta and Focus.

It seems that the 2-door GT cars like the Capri, no longer have a place with most mass produced car manufacturers, however, I am sure they will have a place in the hearts of many car lovers.

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