Unfortunately, the American Capri’s performance continued to be sapped by federal safety and emissions standards, which added weight and subtracted power in roughly equal measures. By 1974, the four-cylinder Capri 2000 was down to 80 hp (60 kW) and even the new 2,795 cc (171 cu. in.) Cologne V-6 could only muster 105 hp (78 kW). Meanwhile, the base price of the 2800 had climbed to just over $3,800, making it about $900 more expensive than a Ford Maverick Grabber and around $30 more than the new Mustang II, which offered the same engine. The Pinto-based Mustang II was heavier and slower than the Capri, but was significantly plusher and had the undoubted advantage of the Mustang name. Capri sales fell to about 75,000 in 1974 and there were so many unsold cars at the end of the year that Lincoln-Mercury decided not to import any 1975 models at all, giving dealers time to clear their unsold inventories.
A federalized Capri II arrived in the U.S. in 1976. Like the European version, it was a hatchback, but it sported bulkier bumpers and sealed-beam headlights. To cope with the extra weight of the bigger car with its 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers, the base engine was now the 2,301 cc (140 cu. in.) OHC Pinto four with 88 hp (66 kW).
American critics loved the new Capri, in large part because of its European character, but the American public was apparently not convinced, particularly with rapidly increasing prices. Capri sales fell to less than 40,000 units for 1976, dropping under 25,000 for 1977. Lincoln-Mercury stopped importing the Capri in the summer of 1977, although around 4,100 leftover cars were sold as 1978 models. The Capri III never came to the U.S. at all, but Mercury confusingly applied the Capri name to its clone of the Fox-body Mustang from 1979 to 1986.
While U.S. sales totaled over 465,000, amounting to nearly 25% of all Capri production, the Capri never made the kind of impression on the U.S. market that it did in Europe. American buyers had far more options when it came to affordable sporty cars and the U.S. Capri was not the bargain it was elsewhere. The base price of a V-6 Capri swelled from around $2,800 in 1974 to more than $5,200 in 1977, largely because of the falling Deutschmark/dollar exchange rate during the same period. Even with a unified European organization, Ford was still not immune to currency fluctuations and other hazards of export sales.
PROJECT CARLA: THE CAPRI III
By 1977, Capri production had fallen below 100,000 units a year and we suspect that Ford of Europe seriously considered letting it die a natural death. Development of the Capri III, known internally as Project Carla, did not begin until April 1977, less than nine months before production of the new model began. The Capri III was more of a facelift than a redesign, aimed at cleaning up the Capri II’s dodgy aerodynamics. The interior and running gear were basically unchanged.
Although production was now entirely based in Germany, the Ford Capri had become an icon in the UK, thanks in no small part to its television career. Starting in 1978, the Capri 3000S played a starring role on the British TV series The Professionals, a popular action show in the mold of Starsky & Hutch. With its tire-squealing car chases, The Professionals did for the Capri what The Dukes of Hazzard did for the Dodge Charger or Magnum, P.I. later did for the Ferrari 308 GTS. The show was hardly great art (although it had its moments), but it thrilled a generation of young male viewers.
Despite the Capri’s undoubted celebrity, the redesign proved to be little more than a holding action. There was a brief blip in sales in 1979, but it was downhill from there. As sales declined, Ford began to prune the model range, dropping the 1300, the 1600S, and the 3000. The latter was replaced in 1981 with a new fuel-injected 2.8i model, capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than eight seconds and a top speed of 126 mph (205 km/h). Like the North American Fox-body Mustang, the Capri was a little crude, but few rivals could touch its performance for the price.