9th August 2019

The Ford Capri at 50

According to Ford, when the Capri launched in 1969 it was, “the car that you always promised yourself.” With over 1.8 million sold over twenty years, it seems that Ford were right on the money in launching a practical sports car for the masses. When the final Capri rolled off the production line in December 1986 it was the end of an era for UK buyers.

In two decades and three different guises, the car had enjoyed global sales success, racing victories, and had become a familiar sight up and down the UK, both on the roads and on screen. However, the sudden rise in popularity of hot hatches meant that the sales of sports coupes dwindled and the Mk III Capri’s days in the sun were over.

It was launched after the huge success of the Mustang in the USA, where Ford sold over a million cars within 18 months of launch. It made sense to try and replicate this success on the other side of the Atlantic, so the winning formula of prosaic underpinnings, a rakish body, sporting potential and a modicum of practicality was duly recreated for European tastes. Launching in 1969, it was initially offered with 1300cc and 1600cc 4-cylinder engines and a 2000cc V4, but the British public was hungry for greater performance, so the 3000GT came into production at the end of 1969.

As sales rolled in, Ford launched a motorsport division and took the Capri into competition. It proved hugely successful from the outset, with an all-wheel drive variant storming British rally stages in 1969, and Jochen Mass winning the 1972 European Touring Car championships with the Capri RS. As the turbo era took hold, Ford teamed up with Zakspeed to produce the Group 5 Turbo Capri. With over 400 bhp from a 1400 cc engine, this was a racing car built to win - clocking up multiple victories over two years and fanning the sales of Ford’s roadgoing RS models.

The 2600 RS was an instant success in dealerships, buyers loved the performance that the fuel injection and an alloy head gave the Cologne V6, and with its links to the touring car victories at the time, these cars enjoyed considerable kudos on the road. By 1973, however, BMW had launched the CSL, and Ford needed to regain its edge or risk losing out on the track.  The RS3100 was launched as an homologation special, allowing the Capri to enter the 3000cc classes where it proved itself a worthy racer. A truly specialist and rather pricey machine for the road however, less than 300 of these cars were sold. With 150 bhp, upgraded brakes, suspension, a five-speed gearbox and flared wheel arches, they are considered to be the ultimate Capri by collectors, and prices today reflect this. Good examples can now fetch upwards of £50,000 at auction, or nearly double what a buyer might pay for a 3.0 GT in similar condition.

As the 1980s drew on, the Capri began to struggle against the popularity of newer high-performance models. Ford had launched the XR range of its Fiesta and Escort hatchbacks that offered front wheel drive, nippy performance and hatchback practicality for the latest wave of buyers and, suddenly, the sports coupe began to look dated. As a final celebration of the model, the 280 was launched as the run-out edition. With a specially fettled fuel-injected 2800 cc V6 engine, and just about every conceivable option available, the 280 proved a good swan song for the Capri.

As a car that appealed to everyone from the style conscious young driver in a 1300L, through to the wealthy buyers of the Tickford Turbo conversions, the Capri was an unarguable success. Designed by an American, built in Dagenham and named after an Italian island, it may have been conceived as a mere copy of the Mustang, but time has shown it to be true thoroughbred in the Ford stables.

What are your memories of the Capri? Do you own one now, or did you grow up with one? Let us know your stories in the comment section below.