Cheap and Cheerful: The European Ford Capri

The Ford Capri, launched in 1969, was Europe’s answer to the Ford Mustang and one of the first fruits of Ford’s newly unified European operations. This week, we look at the birth of “the car you always promised yourself” — the 1969-1987 Ford Capri — and consider the origins of Ford of Europe.

1976 Mercury Capri badge


To understand the history of the Ford Capri, we must step back some years to look at the origins of Ford’s European operations. The immortal Model T, launched in 1908, was the car that put America on wheels, but it also had obvious appeal for the European market. In October 1911, Ford established its first overseas assembly plant in Manchester, England, followed five years later by a French operation, based in Bordeaux. By the mid-twenties, Ford had plants in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey. The company would have even more by the end of the following decade.

At first, Ford’s European operations were just assembly plants, building “Tin Lizzies” from CKD (complete knocked down) kits manufactured in Dearborn. By the late twenties, however, it was becoming clear that American products were not well suited for many European markets. A major problem was engine size; many U.S. engines ran afoul of local taxable horsepower rules, some of which had probably been conceived specifically to exclude Yankee imports. In Britain, for example, the Ford Model A’s 3,285 cc (200 cu. in.) four had a Royal Auto Club taxable horsepower rating of 24 HP, more than some substantially more expensive cars. With an annual tax of £1 per RAC horsepower (about $5 at the time, the equivalent of perhaps $65 today), that was not an economically viable proposition for many motorists. Sales suffered accordingly, compelling Ford to offer a de-bored, 2,042 cc (122 cu. in.) version with a more affordable 14.9 HP rating.

Aside from the need for products better suited to European conditions, Henry Ford had grand ambitions of building a European empire to rival Ford’s North American operations. His “1928 Plan” called for the creation of full-fledged European manufacturing capacity centered on a new English factory in Dagenham, followed by a German plant in Cologne-Niehl. Those operations would be managed by a new holding company, Ford Motor Company Ltd.

That novel plan was undone by the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Depression. By the time the Dagenham and Cologne factories came on line in 1931, the economies of Europe were in ruins. Many nations imposed stringent import tariffs, which made any kind of transnational manufacturing alliance difficult. Money for new cars was scarce, making Ford’s American products even more difficult to sell abroad.

Ford hastily concocted its first true European car, the Model Y, in early 1932. Designed in Dearborn, it was nonetheless tailored to the needs of the British market, with an 8 HP rating and attractively low price. A German version followed and the subsequent Model C spawned both German and French variants.

1934 Ford Model Y front 3q
The Ford Model Y was powered by a 933 cc (57 cu. in.) flathead four. It made about 24 hp (18 kW), although its RAC taxable horsepower rating was 8 HP. With an annual tax of £8 (about $40 at contemporary exchange rates), it was much cheaper to run than a Model A, which cost £24 ($120) per year. (Photo: “1934 Ford Model Y Junior Fordor Saloon ANR936” © 2009 Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden; resized 2010 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license)

The advent of European products did not mean a common European organization. Although Ford’s British, French, and German products had many similarities, commonality was almost nonexistent and the different national organizations were direct competitors in some export markets. It was a far cry from the unified empire Henry Ford had imagined in 1928.


Henry Ford II, who took over his grandfather’s company in 1945, shared the elder Ford’s global ambitions. As early as 1950, Henry II declared his desire to unify Ford’s European operations into a single organization, based in England. In the forties and fifties, however, Henry was busy rebuilding Ford’s U.S. operations, which had fallen into chaos toward the end of his grandfather’s reign. As a result, when civilian automobile production resumed after the war, Ford’s British, French, and German subsidiaries once again went their separate ways with distinct products, different engines, and separate manufacturing operations. Ford sold its French subsidiary to Simca in 1954, but Ford of Britain (FoB) and Ford-Werke AG (Ford of Germany, or FoG) remained direct rivals.

By the early sixties, this situation was becoming untenable. Ford’s market share was quite high, but it was facing tougher competition, particularly from BMC’s new Mini. It no longer made sense for FoB and FoG not to cooperate.

In 1963, FoB and FoG embarked upon their first collaborative effort, the Ford Transit van, which proved very successful. Henry Ford II subsequently ordered John Andrews, the American-born chairman of FoG, to prepare a study on unifying the British and German organizations. By that point, Henry had become thoroughly exasperated with the balkanized nature of Ford’s European operations, which he saw as not only a waste of resources, but also a challenge to his authority.

At a meeting in Paris in June 1967, shortly after Ford’s second victory at Le Mans, Henry named John Andrews the first chairman of Ford of Europe. The new organization would be based in FoB’s offices in Essex, east of London. Stanley Gillen, the head of FoB, became Andrews’ deputy. Henry warned Andrews that he expected him to make it work.

1964 Ford Consul Capri front 3q
From 1961 to 1964, Ford of Britain offered its first European Capri, a coupe version of the Consul Classic saloon with an American-style pillarless hardtop roof. Most of these early Capris shared the Classic’s 1,498 cc (79 cu. in.) four, which provided sleepy performance. Sales were disappointing and the Capri was dropped in 1964. (Photo: “1964 Ford Consul Capri” © 2009 Martin Alford; used with permission)

The merger was inevitably contentious, complicated by serious culture clashes, language barriers, and the 400-mile (640-kilometer) distance between Essex and Ford of Germany headquarters in Cologne. (Ford eventually established its own private airline to ferry senior staff back and forth, judging it cheaper than the cost of commercial air travel.) In the short term, Andrews and Gillen determined that it was not practical or economical to impose across-the-board commonality. Aside from the need to amortize existing tooling and facilities, they did not want to undermine FoB and FoG’s respective strengths.

Ford of Europe’s first post-merger product was the 1968 Escort, but that was a wholly British design, completed before unification. The new organization’s first truly collaborative product would be a sporty new coupe called Capri.


When the Ford Mustang debuted in America in April 1964, it created a sensation, offering a combination of sporty image, reasonable practicality, and affordable price that many buyers found irresistible. By promoting the ability to “customize” the Mustang with a lengthy list of extra-cost options, Ford also made it a very profitable car.

As successful as it was, the Mustang was primarily an American phenomenon. Ford did sell a modest number overseas, but in many markets, import duties pushed its price well out of the bargain realm. It was also a little too big and thirsty for European tastes, even in six-cylinder form.

1965 Ford Mustang side
Ford sold Mustangs abroad, but with engines ranging from 2,779 cc (170 cu. in.) to 4,728 cc (289 cu. in.), it was an expensive proposition in many European countries. In Germany, the Mustang was badged as T-5 (the Mustang’s internal project code) until the late seventies because of a trademark conflict with the truck maker Krupp, which was already using the Mustang name.

Ford market research suggested that the Mustang concept was perfectly viable in Europe, even if the car itself was not quite right. In the fall of 1964, Ford launched Project Colt, a scaled-down “pony car” for the European market.

Ford’s design studios in Dearborn, Dunton (Essex), and Merkenich each offered proposals for the styling of the new car. The winner was the Dunton proposal, dubbed “GBX,” which was the work of stylist Phil Clark and design executive Uwe Bahnsen under the supervision of FoB chief stylist Duncan McRae (previously a stylist with Kaiser-Frazer and Studebaker). The GBX design was apparently mostly Clark’s work, although it incorporated a number of elements from Bahnsen’s earlier German designs. It bore no specific resemblance to the U.S. Mustang except perhaps in the fake louvers ahead of the rear wheels, but was clearly the same sort of car, with the familiar long-hood, short-deck proportions.

The GBX design was approved in July 1965. It was very close to the car’s eventual production form; the only elements that changed significantly were the shape of the C-pillars and rear quarter lights, which were altered after marketing focus groups complained the original “hockey stick” quarter windows made the already-cramped rear seat so dark and enclosed as to be claustrophobia-inducing. (After seeing photos of the original design, your author, not normally prone to claustrophobia, was inclined to agree.)

Project Colt received production approval in July 1966 with a development budget of £20 million (about $55 million). As with the styling, engineering development took place primarily in England, albeit with considerable input from Cologne. The coupe remained primarily a British design, but Hans Muth’s German styling team was heavily involved in refining the car for production, recognizing that the “Colt” would eventually be an international car.

1969 Ford Capri 1300GT front 3q
British-built four-cylinder Capris were initially offered in both standard and GT forms. GTs had more highly tuned engines, better seats, and full instrumentation. With 64 hp (48 kW), a 1969 1300GT like this one could go from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a little under 15 seconds with a claimed top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). (Photo © 2009 Martin Alford; used with permission)

Just as the Mustang was based on the Ford Falcon platform, the new car was mechanically related to the British Ford Cortina. The Capri eventually got a unique floorpan, but it shared the Mk 2 Cortina’s suspension, brakes, and other components. British and German versions had different engines and gearboxes, but all were drawn from existing models. Mechanically, the new coupe was unexceptional, but its commonality with other Ford products kept the cost down, which was a major part of the design brief.

As the project name implies, the new coupe was originally supposed to be called the Colt, but by the time the car was ready, Mitsubishi had already registered that name. In November 1967, a month after the production design was locked, the new coupe became the Ford Capri, a name Ford had previously used for a short-lived coupe version of the Consul, the Cortina’s predecessor. (In the U.S., there was also a Lincoln Capri from 1952 to 1959.)


Early production of the Capri began in November 1968, months behind schedule and 10% over budget. The car made its public debut with great fanfare at the Brussels auto show in January 1969 and went on sale on February 5.

The Capri’s marketing campaign echoed the themes of early Mustang advertising. The emphasis was not on performance per se — Ford recognized that the market for hard-core performance cars was relatively small, particularly given the high costs of running any car in many European countries — but on image and individuality. As with the Mustang, you could tailor a Capri to suit your tastes and budget with a bewildering array of trim series, option packs, and engines (see sidebar), ranging in output from 50 to 136 hp DIN (37 to 100 kW). Ford immodestly proclaimed the Capri “The Car You Always Promised Yourself” (or, if you prefer, “Das Auto das Sie sich schon immer gewünscht haben“).

For all the hype, the Capri was in many respects a very ordinary automobile. Handling and braking were okay but not great, which also summed up interior accommodations and fuel economy. The smaller engines provided snail-like acceleration and even the biggest V-6s were no threat to American muscle cars, although they were quick by British or European standards. Nonetheless, the Capri looked sporty, it felt sporty, and it was cheap — a basic Capri 1300 started at only £890 (about $2,150) in the UK, 6,993 DM (about $1,800) in Germany. In 1969, very few European cars offered all three of those qualities simultaneously — in the UK, for instance, the closest equivalent was probably the MGB GT, which cost £175 (about $420) more than a Capri 1600GT.

As with the Mustang five years earlier, the Capri struck a nerve with buyers and early sales exceeded Ford’s most optimistic projections. Thanks to the production delays, demand outpaced supply for months after launch. Total first-year production was 217,834 units, rising to nearly 240,000 in 1970, which gave the Capri a market share of more than 3% in both Germany and the UK.

To bolster the Capri’s sporty appeal, Ford promptly took it racing. At the time, Ford of Europe still maintained separate competition departments in Britain and Germany, each of which pursued different avenues with the Capri. The British focused on rallying; a few of the early Capri rally cars even had Ferguson 4WD, very similar to that of the Jensen FF (albeit without the Jensen’s Dunlop Maxaret ABS). The German racing division, headed by Jochen Neerpasch and Michael Kranefuss (later the head of Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) unit), focused on European Touring Car (ETC) Group 1 competition.

The Capri did poorly in its inaugural season, but the better-prepared RS2600 — known as “Plastikbombe,” for its fiberglass outer panels — scored well in 1971 and dominated the 1972 season, winning eight out of nine races. In 1973, however, the Capri lost out to the newly bespoilered BMW 3.0 CSL “Batmobile,” which had far better high-speed handling. Ford campaigned the Capri a final time in 1974, but the OPEC oil embargo led FoE to shutter both the British and German competition departments late in the year. Capris continued to race in private hands well into the eighties, often with a fair measure of success.

1973 Ford Capri Hans Heyer side
Driver Hans Heyer on the north curve of the Nürburgring in July 1973. Racing Capris were fast, but drivers found them evil-handling at speed. (Photo: “Heyer, Hans – Ford Capri – 08.07.1973” © 1973 Spurzem (Lothar Spurzem); resized 2010 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Germany license)


The launch of the Mustang in 1964 had caught Ford’s rivals flatfooted and it had taken General Motors nearly two and a half years to prepare a direct response. The Capri was not so fortunate; GM launched the sporty Opel Manta coupe less than a year after the Capri’s debut. The Manta, styled by former Cadillac design chief Chuck Jordan and based on the Opel Ascona sedan, was aimed at the same market as the Capri and proved a formidable rival, particularly in Germany.

1971 Opel Manta A side © 2006 Pibwl (CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic
A somewhat modified early-seventies Opel Manta A at Kielce Race Track in Poland. (Photo: “Opel Manta A PICT0012” © 2006 Pibwl; resized 2010 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic license)

Ford gave the Capri a mild going-over in the fall of 1972, adding a new dashboard, bigger headlights, and various detail changes. There was also an effort to simplify and rationalize the proliferation of models and engines. German-built cars traded their V-4s for a new 1,576 cc (96 cu. in.) OHC inline four, shared with their British-built counterparts. British cars dropped the GT versions of the 1300 and 1600 models.

Despite those changes, the Capri’s market share dropped substantially between 1969 and 1973, falling by nearly 60% in Germany and almost 25% in the UK. The Capri hadn’t really caught on in non-European export markets, either. Sales in Australia and New Zealand ended in 1972, South African sales a year later, despite the Capri’s impressive record in South African sedan racing.

By then, Ford was already working on Project Diana, the second-generation Capri. It was a cautious redesign, 2.1 inches (53 mm) wider, slightly taller, and fractionally longer than the Mk 1. Some of the Mk 1’s details were eliminated, including the fake scoops on the rear fenders. The big change was the addition of a rear liftgate, making the Capri a hatchback. Model and engine choices were much the same as before, but there was a new top-of-the-line “Ghia” trim series.

Enthusiasm for the Capri II, which arrived in early 1974, was dampened by the OPEC oil embargo, which sent demand for all new cars plummeting. The embargo also contributed to skyrocketing inflation, which pushed the base price of a British 1300L to £1,731 (a bit over $4,000 at contemporary exchange rates) and a 3000 Ghia to a hefty £3,109 (about $7,300). Capri production fell about 20%. Reflecting the anxieties of the time, a high percentage of those sales were the 1300 and 1600, which had anemic performance but respectable fuel economy.

1976 Ford Capri 1600L front 3q
The Capri II looked cleaner than the Mk 1, but was also a trifle bland. It was also heavier with softer suspension tuning, making it less sporty than before. This is a 1976 1600L, which had 72 hp (54 kW), giving 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 14.5 seconds and a top speed of 98 mph (157 km/h). (Photo © 2009 Martin Alford; used with permission)

With demand slipping, Ford of Europe scaled back Capri production dramatically in the mid-seventies. In 1975, German production was cut from two plants to one and the following year, Ford shut down the Capri line in Halewood, Liverpool, consolidating all remaining production in Cologne. By that point, annual sales had fallen to around 100,000 units worldwide. If the Capri’s commonality with other Ford products had not made it relatively cheap to build, we doubt it would have survived much longer.


Ford introduced the Capri in North America in the spring of 1970. To keep it from cannibalizing Mustang sales, it was distributed through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, although it bore no marque identification at all; badges read simply “Capri.” At first, there was only one model, a British-built 1600 with manual transmission. The 2,994 cc Essex engine and automatic would have better suited American tastes, but the 1600’s 1,598 cc (97 cu. in.) Kent engine, also used in the Pinto, had already completed EPA emissions certification. With 71 hp SAE (53 kW) in federalized form, 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took more than 17 seconds. American advertising for the Capri called it “The Sexy European,” which was faintly ironic considering that the Capri was fundamentally a very American concept.

The press liked the Capri’s size and looks, but its lackluster performance and lack of automatic transmission limited its early sales. Ford boasted that the Capri had the best first-year sales of any imported car ever sold in America, but its margin of victory over the new Datsun 240Z was only about a thousand units despite the Z’s much higher price.

1976 Mercury Capri rear 3q
The Capri II’s rear hatchback was more practical than before, but it was heavier and less aerodynamic, with an annoying propensity for rattles. This is a later U.S. Capri II with the bulkier body-colored bumpers added to comply with federal safety regulations. This car has non-standard 14-inch alloy wheels, borrowed from a later Mustang.

Ford scrambled to get the U.S. Capri more power, boosting the base engine to 75 hp (56 kW) and adding the Pinto’s 100 hp (75 kW) 1,993 cc (122 cu. in.) OHC four to the options list. The 1,993 cc engine could also be had with automatic, which did wonders for the Capri’s popularity. The updated Capri also earned a 1971 Import Car of the Year award from Road Test, one of the least credulous of the American magazines.

In 1972, a protracted strike at the Halewood plant compelled Ford to source North American Capris from Cologne instead. Since German sales were falling rapidly, the switch also allowed Ford to better utilize the Cologne plant’s capacity. Such moves, which would not have been feasible before 1967, tended to validate Henry Ford II’s decision to unify the European operations.

Switching to German-built cars also led to the launch of a U.S.-market Capri 2600, with a federalized version of the German 2,550 cc (156 cu. in.) V-6 making 107 horsepower (80 kW). The Capri 2600 was probably what the U.S. Capri should have been from the beginning. It cost nearly $350 more than the 1600, but was nearly as quick as a base Mustang V-8, got better gas mileage, and was easier to park. U.S. Capri sales climbed to just under 92,000 for 1972 and hit a peak of more than 113,000 for 1973.

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.

1976 Mercury Capri front
All U.S. Capris had quad sealed-beam headlights; the European Capri II’s rectangular units were not legal in the States at the time. American Capri 2800s, like this Ghia model, had a bored-out 2,795 cc (171 cu. in.) version of the 2,548 cc (156 cu. in.) Cologne V-6, rated at 109-111 hp (81-83 kW). The 2800 was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 10 seconds with a top speed of perhaps 108 mph (175 km/h).

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.

1976 Mercury Capri Ghia badge
In 1967, the venerable Carrozzeria Ghia was purchased by Alejando de Tomaso, who sold his interest to Ford in 1970. Just as Chrysler did with LeBaron, Ford promptly turned it into a trim series, starting in 1973. The Ghia design center in Turin continues to develop Ford of Europe’s concept cars.


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.

1986 Ford Capri 2.8i front 3q
The Capri III sported a narrower slatted grille, quad headlamps, and an under-bumper spoiler to improve aerodynamics. In late 1981, Ford replaced the older 2,994 cc (183 cu. in.) Essex V-6 with the fuel-injected 2,795 cc (171 cu. in.) Cologne V-6 from the Granada. The new 2.8i had less torque than the Essex, but more power (160 hp/117 kW) and was faster all out. (Photo © 2008 Martin Alford; used with permission)

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.

1986 Ford Capri 2.8i rear 3q
Even the final Capri III models had a live rear axle on semi-elliptical leaf springs with radius rods for axle location. Its smooth-road handling was fine and contemporary critics liked its crisp steering response, but the Capri’s ride quality was notably harsher than rivals with independent rear suspension and its manners in the wet were never particularly good. (Photo © 2008 Martin Alford; used with permission)


By 1983, it was clear that the Capri was approaching the end of the line and there were rumors that it would be gone within a year. In many markets, that was true: Ford terminated production of left-hand-drive models in November 1984. The Capri soldiered on in Great Britain, still selling around 25,000 units a year. To maintain buyer interest, Ford trotted out an assortment of special editions like the Laser and the semi-official turbocharged Tickford Capri 2.8T. Developed by Aston Martin Tickford, the 2.8T was nearly twice the price of a 2.8i, but with 205 hp (150 kW), it was fast enough to see off a Porsche 944, an Audi Quattro, or a BMW 635 CSi. Only 100 Tickfords were built between 1983 and 1987.

In 1985, Capri production dropped under 10,000 units. At that point, it was no longer economical to build and its volume wasn’t high enough to compel Ford to spend the money on a new or substantially updated design. Production ended in December 1986 with a last-of-the-line special edition called Capri 280. The Capri’s demise left many British observers misty-eyed; it marked the end of an era. Total production for all three generations amounted to 1,922,847, an exceptional figure for a European car and respectable even by American standards.

Ford never really replaced the Capri, at least not in the hearts of British customers. In the late eighties, Mercury applied the name to an Australian-built roadster of no particular distinction, but it was not the same thing. The closest equivalent to the old Capri was probably the FWD, Mazda-based Probe, but it met a rather cool reception in Europe.

1987 Ford Capri 280 front 3q
There were 1,038 of these final Capri 280 models in 1987, all painted Brooklands metallic green with red-and-white pinstripes, trimmed with leather upholstery and fitted with 15-inch alloy wheels. (Photo © 2008 Martin Alford; used with permission)


The unification of Ford of Europe was a very protracted process. Ford did not really finish rationalizing products and engines until the eighties and even then it retained separate development teams in Britain and Germany.

Unsurprisingly, the chairmanship of Ford of Europe became a highly political position, under much closer scrutiny from Dearborn. Henry Ford II was heavily involved in European operations throughout the seventies and turnover of chairmen was rapid. John Andrews retired after only a year and died not long after. Stanley Gillen, former head of FoB, succeeded him for a year, followed in short order by Paul Lorenz, Phil Caldwell, Bill Bourke, John McDougall, Harold Poling, and Bob Lutz. Many former Ford of Europe bosses went on to higher positions in Dearborn.

Ford of Europe remained based in the UK until 1999, when then-president Jac Nasser transferred operations to Cologne. Since then, Ford automobile production has dropped substantially. The Dagenham plant, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2009, stopped building cars in 2001, although it remains an important engine plant. The factory in Halewood, opened in 1963, was converted in the early 2000s to Jaguar and Land Rover production, but Ford sold those marques to Tata in March 2008. Ford’s European passenger car production is now concentrated in Germany, Spain, and Belgium; Ford’s only remaining British plant is the factory in Southampton that produces the Transit van and that plant’s long-term future seems gloomy.

In recent years, the focus (no pun intended) of Ford’s international operations has been on eliminating the differences between its European, North American, and Australian products. Early efforts at “world cars” like the FWD Escort, Mondeo/Contour, and Mk 1 Focus were more different than alike, but current Ford CEO Alan Mulally has pushed for greater commonality, bringing models like the European Focus and Fiesta to North America.

In the past two years, there have been rumors that Ford will launch a new Capri based on the FWD Focus platform and sharing most of the same engines. In objective terms, a new Capri would almost certainly outperform its famous predecessor, although we expect the usual kibitzing about its worthiness to wear the storied name. Admittedly, the old Capri’s image remains a trifle naff, recalling as it does the era of bell-bottoms, gold medallions, and shaggy seventies hairdos, but it was as close as many Europeans ever came to owning a real muscle car. It’s still remembered with bemused affection, particularly in Britain.

Whatever its eventual virtues or failings, the new Capri (if it ever materializes) will never have the same impact as the original. There’s no longer anything particularly novel about inexpensive sporty coupes and modern buyers have far more choices than they did 40 years ago. A new Capri might well be a good car, even a great car, but it won’t be “the car you always promised yourself.”



In 2011, Kacper Kasperkiewicz and translator Marcelina Trybuła translated this article (with our permission) into Polish for the Polish website (In the interests of full disclosure, Oldtimery was kind enough to link to Ate Up With Motor on their Partners page, although we did not charge Oldtimery for either the use of the article or this link.)


We would like to extend a special thanks to Martin Alford, who graciously allowed us to use many of his photos for this article.


Information on Ford’s European operations and the origins of Ford of Europe came from Chris Arnot, “When the wheels came off the dream,” The Guardian 25 February 2009,, accessed 31 January 2009; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1951-1956 Ford Consul and Zephyr,”, 11 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1951-1956-ford-consul-zephyr.htm, accessed 10 January 2010; Gérard Bordenave, “Ford of Europe, 1967-2003,” Cahiers du GRES, Cahier No. 2003-11, Groupement de Recherches Economiques et Sociales, September 2003; “FORD (England) 1911 to date” (n.d., Voitures Europeennes D’Autrefois, www.vea.qc. ca, accessed 28 January 2010); Ford Motor Company, “Ford in Europe: The First Hundred Years,” 3 March 2003, com, accessed 28 January 2010; “Halewood is great survivor,” BBC News 24 September 2009,, accessed 31 January 2010); “Henry Ford II’s big idea: A pan-European car company: He saved his grandfather’s company and made it a powerhouse in Europe,” Automotive News Europe February 2003, www.autonews. com, accessed 10 January 2010; Paul Hudson, “80 years of Ford at Dagenham: Edsel Ford cut the first sod of Ford’s new British manufacturing plant in the Dagenham marshes on May 17, 1929,” The Telegraph 15 May 2009, www.telegraph., accessed 10 January 2010; “Isadora – 1930 Ford Model ‘A’ De Luxe Fordor Saloon,” Duchy Bus Cars, n.d., www.duchybus., accessed 28 January 2010; Karl Ludvigsen, “A GT for the Seventies,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car May 2006; Simon Reich, “The Ford Motor Company and The Third Reich,” Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1999), www.adl. org/ Braun/dim_13_2_ford.asp, accessed 10 January 2010; Peter Weir, “Check Your Engine’s Capacity and British RAC Horsepower Rating,” Veteran Car Club of Australia (N.S.W.), n.d., www.vccansw. org/ articles/vcca_article02.htm, accessed 28 January 2010; and Mary Wilkins and Franck Hill, American Business Abroad, Ford on Six Continents (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964).

Background on Ford’s other European products of this era came from John R. Bond, “Miscellaneous Ramblings,” Road & Track Vol. 14, No. 1 (September 1962), pp. 15–17; and “New from Europe: Taunus: Taunus now has V-4s and V-6s in all models,” Road & Track Vol. 16, No. 4 (December 1964), pp. 96–98; Andrew Connochie, “Mk. I Cortina,” The Ford Cortina Website, 30 June 2009, www.pixelmatic. cortina/cortina.html, accessed 10 January 2010); the Ford of Europe press kit “Ford Escort: 40 Years,” 2008, www.fordmedia. eu, accessed 10 January 2010; “Giant test: Ford Corsair V4, Hillman Super Minx,” CAR February 1966, pp. 42–47; Max Gordon, “A Corsair Is Born,” Ford Consul Corsair, 11 October 2008, www.fordconsulcorsair., accessed 10 January 2010; Gary J. Hanson, “History of the Ford T5,” The Ford T5 Registry Site, n.d., www.fordt5. com/ history.html, access 10 January 2010; L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1971 (Bronxville, NY: Herald Books, 1971), and World Cars 1979 (Pelham, New York: Herald Books, 1979); Oscar Moore, “Ford Consul Capri,” AgeCars, 30 August 2008, agecars. com/ coupes/ford-consul-capri/, accessed 10 January 2010; Graham Robson, Cortina: The Story of Ford’s Best-Seller, Second Edition (Dorchester, England: Veloce Publishing Limited, 2007); Hans Tore Tangerud’s Autoblog website (; and “Z cars Mk IV,” Motor 23 April 1966, pp. 44–54.

Information on the Capri came from Martin Buckley, Mike McCarthy, and Jeremy Walton, “Classic Profile: The Car You Always Promised Yourself?” Classic & Sports Car May 1987, reprinted in High Performance Capris: Gold Portfolio 1969-1987, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990); Holly Clark and Wolfgang Kohrn, “The Man behind the Pony & More – Phil Clark,” The unexpected Ponysite, 15 November 2006, www.ponysite. de/ phclark_capri.htm, accessed 10 January 2010; Mike Covello, ed., Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946–2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Ford, “Ford Capri: Bilen De alltid har dromt om” [Norwegian brochure 748661/691/15M], 1969; Ford-Werke AG, “Ford Capri RS” [German brochure, ca. 1971]; Richard Franks, “Capri celebrates 40th anniversary,” @Ford July/August 2009, pp. 8-9; Mark Graham, “Top of the Pops,” CAR July 1997, pp. 58-59; Chris Rees, Essential Ford Capri: The Cars and Their Story 1969-87 (Bideford, Devon: Bay View Books Ltd., 1997); Phil Skinner, “1971-78 Capri/Capri II: Ford’s Foreign-Exchange Program,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 19, No. 1 (June 2002), pp. 42-51; the website, accessed 18 February 2010; and emails between the author and Virgil Exner, Jr., 18-22 January 2010.

We also consulted the following period road tests: “Fastest British Ford yet: The Capri 3000 GT,” Motor 11 October 1969; “Autotest: Ford Capri 3000 GT XLR,” Autocar 30 October 1969; “Capri 3000GT — A Lazy Man’s Sports Car,” Motor Racing January 1970; “Three Sporting Coupes: Comparing the Opel Rallye 1900, Toyota Celica ST and Capri 2000,” Road & Track Vol. 23, No. 2 (October 1971), pp. 32–37; “Group Test: Ford Capri 2000GT, Opel Manta 1.6S, Vauxhall Firenza 2000, Morris Marina 1.8TC Coupe, Toyota Celica,” Motor 23 October 1971, pp. 74–79; “Tested in Europe: Capri RS 2600,” Road & Track, December 1971; “Ford Capri 3000E – Brief Test,” Motor 5 February 1972; “Autotest: Ford Capri 3000 GXL: Executive sports car — 1973 style,” Autocar 8 March 1973; “Comparison Test Super Coupes ’74: Mazda RX-2, Open Manta Rallye, Toyota Celica GT, Capri 2800, Vega GT, Mustang II Mach I,” Car and Driver Vol. 19, No. 11 (May 1974), pp. 58–69, 86; “Autotest: Ford Capri 3000S,” Autocar 13 November 1976; Tony Howard, “‘What a lucky boy you are!’ Ford Capri 3000S – 12,000-mile Report,” Autocar 13 November 1976; “Road Impressions: The Ford Capri III 3000S: Excellent performance and driveability, fantastic value,” Motor Sport August 1978; Michael Scarlett, “A Tale of Two Capris,” Autocar 1 December 1979; “Autotest: Ford Capri 2.8i: Straightforward enjoyment”, Autocar 20 June 1981; “RoadTest: Ford Capri 2.8 Injection” Motor 27 June 1981; Roger Bell, “Vee-Six Appeal,” Thoroughbred & Classic Cars October 1981; “The tide turns: Group Test: High Performance Coupes – Renault Fuego Turbo, Ford Capri 2.8i, Cold Cordia Turbo, Lancia HPE VX,” What Car? February 1984; “Tickford Capri: Ford with a touch of class,” Motor Sport February 1984; “Buying Secondhand: Ford Capri III,” Autocar 31 March 1984; Bob Cooke, “Autocar Road Test Update: Ford Capri 2.8i Special: The Primitive Appeal of Ford’s Capri,” Autocar 7 November 1984; “TwinTest: Fast Fords Fight It Out,” Motor 27 October 1984; Mike McCarthy, “On the end of the line,” Autocar 4 March 1987, and “The last of its kind,” Autosport 19 March 1987 all of which are reprinted in High Performance Capris: Gold Portfolio 1969-1987, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990); and “Autotest: Ford Capri 2000GT (1,996 c.c.) 2247,” Autocar 10 July 1969, pp. 8-12; “Giant Test [Capri 2.0S vs. Celica ST vs. Colt Celeste],” CAR July 1978, pp. 48-53; “Giant Test: VW Scirocco TS v. Capri 2000GT v. Toyota Celica ST,” CAR December 1974, pp. 72-79; “Group Test: Ford Capri 2000GT, Opel Manta 1.6S, Vauxhall Firenza 2000, Morris Marina 1.8TC Coupe, Toyota Celica,” Motor 23 October 1971, pp. 74-79; Bob Hall, “Black Gold,” Motor Trend Vol. 27, No. 10 (October 1975), pp. 102–105; “Road Test: Capri 2600 V-6,” Car and Driver Vol. 17, No. 7 (January 1972): 26–28, 82; “Super Coupe Comparison Test,” Car and Driver Vol. 16, No. 6 (December 1971), pp. 25–32, 68–70; and Jonathan Thompson, “BMW vs Ford,” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 11 (July 1973): 81–85; which are not.

Some facts about the Capri’s most famous television role came from Dave Matthews, “Star Cars,” The Authorised Guide to The Professionals, 1 June 2005, www.personal.u-net. com/ ~carnfort/Professionals/profcars.htm, accessed 11 January 2010.

The typeface in the engine tables is Liberation Sans, one of the Liberation Fonts (version 2.00.1 or later), which are copyright © 2012 Red Hat, Inc., used under the SIL Open Font License, Version 1.1. Liberation is a trademark of Red Hat, Inc. registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and certain other jurisdictions. Red Hat is a trademark of Red Hat, Inc., registered in the United States and other countries.

Historical exchange rate data for the dollar and British pound came from Werner Antweiler, “PACIFIC Exchange Rate service, Foreign Currency Units per 1 British Pound, 1948-2007,” fx.sauder.ubc. ca, accessed 2 January 2010. Exchange rate data for the dollar and the mark came from Harold Marcuse, “Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page,” UC Santa Barbara, 19 August 2005, www.history.ucsb. edu/ faculty/marcuse/projects/currency.htm, accessed 9 December 2009. Our inflation estimates were made using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, All equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and are provided for illustration and informational purposes only — this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!



Add a Comment
  1. Enlightening article, Aaron, and well-written as always. I never did understand why the marketing of very good (if esoteric) captive imports was assigned to divisions whose dealerships their target buyers pretty much found repellent. Opel never had a chance while yoked to Buick, just as Mercury hadn’t a clue how to sell Capri.

    Speaking of which, I hope you’ll write about the Merkur XR4Ti/Scorpio debacle.

    1. I think many of these pairings reflect the push-me/pull-you relationship between automakers and dealers. Dealers tend to get pushy when they don’t have something to sell in a particular class, and they don’t necessarily think very far ahead — if you’re selling cars, your priority is selling cars now, not three years from now.

      The Buick/Opel pairing came about during the Eisenhower recession in 1957. Buick was in a bad way at that point. They had let their production capacity overwhelm their quality control (gee, does that sound familiar?), the public was bored with the styling of the ’57 and disliked the ’58, and sales plummeted. As the recession deepened, mid-priced cars in general became abruptly unpopular. I’m assuming that Buick’s sales organization got a lot of screaming from dealers that they had nothing to sell. Buick started working on the first Y-body Special, but it wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of years, so the Opel Olympia Rekord was a stopgap. Buick dealers sold a modest number of them, but they didn’t like the idea of investing a lot of money in parts and training to fix them, and individual salesmen would rather sell a Buick, with the prospect of a much higher commission. The same happened with the Vauxhalls sold by Pontiac.

      (By the late sixties, Opel would have been a better fit with Pontiac, but I’m not sure Pontiac dealers would have done any better selling them than Buick dealers were.)

      With the Capri, you can see the logic, just as you can see why it didn’t work. If they’d badged it as a Ford, it would have competed directly with the Pinto, the Maverick, and the Mustang; Ford already had a problem with each new model cannibalizing its existing products. Lincoln-Mercury was a different story. L-M was moving the Cougar into the personal luxury class, so it was aimed more at the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix than the Mustang, and Mercury didn’t have a Pinto equivalent. (The Bobcat didn’t arrive until 1975.) I’m sure the idea of bringing over the Capri 1600 seemed like a great way to kill two birds with one stone — a junior sporty car to fill the gap left by the Cougar, and a compact economy car to fill in for the Pinto.

      I think the Capri suffered two major problems in the U.S., aside from a more crowded market. First, Matt McLaughlin, who was L-M general manager when it was introduced, didn’t think Mercury should do sporty cars. He felt it was too much of a stretch from Mercury’s existing brand. Second, there was the inevitable “not invented here” problem. If L-M had marketed the Capri the way it was marketed in Europe — with a fuller range of models and engines — it could have been very successful here, but I don’t think L-M (either the division or the dealers) ever really saw it as [i]their[/i] car.

  2. The Capri wasn’t really viewed as a bona fide sports car , in the same way as an MGB-GT , since in basic 1300 or 1600 form it had no performance and little glamour. The 3-Litre V6 was a serious piece of kit, but lesser versions were simply fancy Cortinas , and they didn’t have the competition pedigree or street cred of the Cortina.

    1. Well, the analogy to the American Mustang is quite pronounced. You could make the Mustang into a credible competition car, but the basic six-cylinder Mustang was little more than a sportier-looking Falcon Futura, with less rear-seat and boot space. (The Mustang’s body had less structural commonality with the Falcon than the Capri did with the Cortina, but in hardware and specifications, the point remains.) Even in the States, few people would have called the Mustang a proper sports car; in the vernacular of the time, it was a "sporty car," a subtle but important distinction.

      Where the analogy breaks down a bit is in the fact that, as you say, Ford managed to establish a fair pedigree for the Cortina, with the Lotus Cortina and GT. By contrast, while the American Falcon became a serious rally competitor in ’63-’64, Ford’s efforts to sell a performance-oriented Falcon in the U.S. came up short. (It would fall to Ford Australia to make that particular equation work.)

      It would be interesting to compare the sales for the sporty Cortinas to those of the lesser Capris. There are always those who are more interested in performance than style and vice versa, and I would be curious to see which was larger at that point. I would suspect the Capri, but I don’t know offhand.

  3. Being only a minor facelift “Project Carla” should have better been called “Capri ‘78”. Its beginnings however were much more substantial. Work began in early 1976. Sketches and tape drawings led to two fibreglass models of differing content and appearance. New sheet metal up front, new headlamps, changes to the rear quarter panel including rear side glass and a modified tailgate. Market research was conducted, comparing it to the Opel Manta, VW Scirocco and the Renault 17. Results were good, but apparently not good enough to convince management to spend the amount of cash needed to earn a decent return. So “Carla” ended up being a minor freshening and series realignment. Given a declining segment and therefore reduced investment levels, the resultant design was probably the best achievable.

    An interesting side story can be told about the “Capri Modular Aerodynamic” concept shown at the 1976 Salon d’Automobile in Geneva. Contrary to popular belief it had no relationship to “Project Carla”. It featured a changed front end similar to the Escort RS2000. The production-based model was modified and produced in the Cologne design studio within four weeks. The prime purpose of its existence was to showcase the concept of the self-blocking louver grille and the related patent filing. The first production application of the new grille would debut on the all-new Fiesta in May of 1976.

    1. Thanks for the info!

  4. Very good article about the European Capri. I spotted a interesting variant of the Ford Taunus TC(who borrowed lots of styling cues from the Cortina MkIII) in Argentina, a coupe version in fastback style similar in design to the Capri. I don’t know what they didn’t used the Capri moniker there however.

  5. Aside from the Ford Windsor V8 powered Capri Perana, curious to know whether Ford ever considered developing V8 versions of the UK Essex V6 and German Cologne V6 engines.

    1. Not that I know of, but I can’t see why they would have wanted to. A 60-degree V-8 poses a variety of balance problems, so you’d end up with an engine that’s less refined than the smaller and cheaper V-6. Either an Essex or a Cologne V-6 (assuming it was created in the same manner as the V-4 and V-6 versions) would have been in the same displacement range as the Windsor V-8 family, not as well-balanced, and probably nearly as heavy. (The initial 3.6-liter Windsor V-8 from the 1962 Fairlane was only about 90 lb heavier than a 3-liter Essex.) The only obvious advantage I could see would be shared tooling, but since it’s hard to see there being a big market for V-8s in Europe or the U.K., it seems like it would have been just as well to import a few 221/260/289 engines for the purpose.

      1. Width would be the only reason, just like the 60 degree V8 in the Taurus SHO designed by Yamaha I believe. Obviously, an OHVV engine has less of a width issue to worry about.

        1. That’s true, and is a significant consideration in some V-8 engines developed for applications where NVH is a lower priority. Regarding the Taurus SHO V-8 specifically, I realize I don’t know off the top of my head what tooling relationship that engine had to existing Ford V-6s. My understanding is that the earlier SHO DOHC V-6 was, in an architecture sense, still based on the Ford Vulcan engine, but with new Yamaha heads and an extensive makeover to go with them. (Yamaha previously did similar work for a number of other manufacturers, including Toyota; Yamaha did the twin-cam heads for some of Toyota’s -G engines, which in a similar fashion were not truly clean-sheet designs even where the changes were extensive.) I don’t know if that was also the case with the V-8, but that wouldn’t surprise me, given the low volume and sui-generis oddity of the V-8 SHO.

  6. The Essex V6 was popular with British Hot Rodders, although never as in demand as the Rover V8. They were fairly plentiful and had some tuning potential.
    Strangely, imported Small block Chevrolet and Ford V8s were actually cheaper than either motor to tune for more power. Certainly parts were cheaper even after import duties and shipping costs, simply because the economy of both engines enormous production scales compared with the British engines.
    I have seen some European Fords with V8 power under the hood, mostly cars built for the South African and Australian market.

    1. I know Reliant used the Essex 3-liter for quite a while, eventually switching to the Cologne V-6 after the Essex was terminated, and I’ve seen some aftermarket conversions, including Mk2 and Mk3 Cortinas and Mk1 Escorts. Parts cost aside, my impression was that, at least in the U.K., the 2,994cc Essex was about at the edge of what was affordable to live with, assuming you weren’t building an all-out track car. Obviously, Australia had different standards in that regard. I don’t know that much about the South African market; the various semiofficial V-6 and V-8 conversions are well known, but not necessarily numerically common, having often been conceived primarily with homologation in mind.

      The Rover V8 may be ubiquitous, but being aluminum, I don’t suppose it was especially cheap. Even in mass production, aluminum costs more than iron and cylinder liners add to that. It does have the advantage of being a bit lighter than the iron Essex engine. In those regards, the Ford 302 makes a certain amount of sense insofar as it’s cheap, also ubiquitous, and not disastrously heavier than the Essex engine. (It is heavier, of course, but I think the difference is on the order of 80–90 lb, which for 2 additional liters isn’t awful.)

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