A Promise Fulfilled (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on a car that went from cynical marketing exercise to icon for a generation of drivers.

Capri II (c) speeddoctor

The Mk2 Capri was launched in February 1974. In the immediate aftermath of the Oil Crisis and quadrupling of OPEC oil prices, Ford seemed to have suffered some loss of nerve and decided to make the new model rather more practical and less overtly sporting than the Mk1. The bonnet was shorter, the interior enlarged, with a hatchback and folding rear seats instead of a separate boot. The emphasis seemed to have changed to focus on the smaller engined versions and the car’s everyday usability.

Unfortunately, this change of focus had a negative impact on the design.  The straight and shallow DLO and distinctive hockey stick feature line of the Mk1 were gone. Instead, the Mk2 had a much less obvious bodyside crease and an enlarged but slightly saggy DLO. The chrome bumpers front and rear no longer wrapped around the corners of the car and looked rather mean as a result.

The worst aspect of the design, however, was the awkward cut-outs in the leading edge of the bonnet to clear the overly large rectangular headlamps. Uwe Bahnsen, who oversaw the design, would later admit that those cut-outs weren’t Merkenich’s finest work.

Mechanically, the RS3100 was discontinued, so the 3.0L Essex V6 was again the top model. The 2.0L British V4 and German V6 engines were replaced with a 2.0L Pinto inline four and the smaller German V4 engines were replaced by the 1.3L and 1.6L Pinto units. Suspension settings were softened, and automatic transmission offered as an option for the first time on all engines except the base 1.3L.

When Europe was divided
(c) mad4wheels

The Mk1’s X, L and R option packs were dropped and the range was simplified into just six models, from 1300L to 3000GT. The luxury orientated Ghia model was subsequently added and automatic transmission would later become standard on this model, although a manual gearbox remained an option.

The Capri had lost its sporting and aspirational kudos to some degree and sales suffered as a consequence. Just 100,000 Mk2s were sold in 1975, less than half the Mk1’s 1973 peak sales of 233,000. There was also a new kid on the block vying for the attention of the driving enthusiast: the Golf GTI. This was the first of a new breed of hot hatchback that would ultimately lead to a major decline in the popularity of the sports coupé. Over its four-year lifespan, sales of the MK2 Capri totalled just 403,612.

Ford wasn’t ready to give up on the Capri just yet, however, and in 1978 it launched the Mk3 model. This was a cheap but highly effective facelift of the Mk2. The only metalwork changes were to the front valance and the leading edges of the bonnet and front wings. The nasty cut-outs were gone and four circular headlamps replaced the ungainly rectangular units. Between them was a slim aerofoil grille. New black-painted steel bumpers had plastic end cappings that wrapped around to the wheel arches and aligned with a black rubbing strip along the car’s flanks. The chrome trim around the DLO was replaced with black. Larger ribbed rear light units were fitted.

Capri III. (c) adrianflux

The effect of these changes was visually to lower and lengthen the car and restore a much-needed element of sporting intent. There were no significant mechanical changes, but sales nevertheless enjoyed a welcome uptick. It was a temporary phenomenon, however, and sales declined to less than 42,000 in 1980 and less than 26,000 in 1982.

Although in decline elsewhere, the Capri Mk3 enjoyed something of a cult following in the UK, promoted by the car being featured in the UK television crime drama ‘The Professionals’. The two hard-driving, tough guy protagonists each drove a Capri 3.0S, one silver and one gold. Unfortunately, the Capri also enjoyed a less welcome accolade, as one of the most frequently stolen cars in the UK, thanks to its image and Ford’s very rudimentary security.

At the other end of the range, Ford tried to maintain interest by releasing rather unconvincing special editions such as Calypso, Cameo and Cabaret, but the market was losing interest, even in the UK where Ford’s own XR versions of the Fiesta, Escort and Sierra were cannibalising sales of the Capri. Production of the Capri for Europe ended in 1984, with RHD sales continuing for a further two years.

The car did, however, enjoy a wonderful last hurrah with the launch of the 2.8i in 1982. This version was created by Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering division in Dunton, Essex and featured a fuel-injected Cologne 2.8L V6, lowered and stiffened suspension with wider pepper pot 7J alloy wheels. Inside, Recaro seats with plaid upholstery gave a suitably sporting flavour. The 2.8i engine replaced the venerable Essex 3.0L V6, which could no longer meet stricter European emissions standards.

A five-speed gearbox was installed in 1983 and velour upholstery replaced the plaid pattern. Meanwhile, the lesser Capri models were rationalised to just two, a 1.6LS and 2.0S. The 2.8i retains a cult following today and good examples are highly prized and valuable.

Capri production ended in December 1986, with a total of 324,045 Mk3 models sold over eight years. Ford Europe did not attempt to replace the Capri directly until 1994, when it introduced the unfortunately named but otherwise quite pleasant Probe, a rebodied Mazda MX-6 coupé imported from the US. It sold poorly for three years.

Swansong 2.8i. (c) speeddoctor

Only around 15,000 found buyers in the UK before it was in turn replaced, after a year’s hiatus, by the Cougar. Another US import, this fared little better, surviving for four years in Europe but only just over two in the UK, where just 12,000 found buyers. The Cougar was reportedly a good drive, but its New Edge design was controversial and the car looked over-bodied and under-wheeled to be considered seriously as a sports coupé.

There was still some demand for attractive coupés in Europe, as demonstrated by steady sales of the Opel/Vauxhall Calibra, VW Corrado, Peugeot 406 and 407 coupés and the Japanese offerings, but Ford’s 1990’s efforts were half-hearted, unconvincing and resoundingly failed to reprise the wide appeal of the Capri.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

25 thoughts on “A Promise Fulfilled (Part Two)”

  1. “The only metalwork changes were limited to the leading edge of the wings and bonnet”
    There’s also a new front valence completing the lower front styling surely?
    Sorry to be a pain.

    1. Hi James, you’re right and thanks for pointing it out. Text updated accordingly.
      Incidentally, when researching this piece I stumbled across this photo of a neat aftermarket twin-headlamp conversion kit for the Mk2:

      This makes me think that it wasn’t the bonnet cut-outs per se that was the real problem with the Mk2’s appearance, but rather the overly large rectangular headlamps.

  2. The Mk2 might have looked quite different, judging by these prototype photos:

    The first, designed by Claude Lobo, is a two-sided clay model which retains more of the Mk1 than the production model. The second, designed by Hans Muth, is more like the production model, but with a radical front end with pop-up headlamps. Henry Ford II allegedly liked neither, so the front end of the Lobo design was grafted onto the Muth body for the production car.

    These photos came from Steve Saxty’s book ‘The Cars You Always Promised Yourself’ and were reproduced on the Autocar website.

  3. I always disliked that sagging lower DLO on these; second only to the “sagging gut” feature lines on the side of the Audi A5 in my mind!

    1. What tops both of them is the line on the sill of the first 1 series BMW. In German, this car was called “Hängebauchschwein” (pot-bellied pig).

    2. Same here David.
      I also don’t like capri’s DLO tear drop shape, especially at the drivers door- window area.
      I think that’s the reason I consider the Opel Manta to be a similar but better design.
      And Simon you made me laugh with the german nickname of BMW 1.
      It suits it fine, unfortunately, and maybe that may have influenced its “correction” in series 2.

    3. I used to think the 1 Series will line was the worst until I saw this, the second generation W246 B-Class:

      Yikes!

  4. Whilst I may not like the design per-se, it’s wonderful to see what was in the designers mind when having these two clays sculptured. I’d be heartbroken if after going to all that trouble the boss dismissed my ideas. But that’s probably one of the many reasons I’m no car designer.

    As for those special editions, there’s a guy who gets show goers salivating by bringing his Brooklands to local car shows. One of the last ever made from memory and is pristine. Worth the proverbial, too. Along with the Professionals motor which sold a few years back for something like £60k. Used on set, crashed through boxes, et al. Bodie and Doyle oversteering to catch the bad guys…good memories.

    Excellent review, Daniel

    1. I think I prefer the flatter line. That ‘uptick’ at the front is still alive and well in design – the 2020 Honda Jazz has it, as does the Volkswagen I.D. 3. I don’t mind it.

      I enjoyed seeing the facelift proposals – Claude Lobo deserves a profile article, given his CV. He features in this BBC programme about the Capri:

    2. Daniel: I did a version where the bonnet line continues straight through to become the base of the DLO. It means the
      C-profile of the rear side glass takes a smaller ratio. And, I had to squash the bodyside by 1-2%. This was because a shallower side glass makes the bodyside look too tall. That tiny dip in the DLO really affects one´s perception of the proportion of the bodyside. I am unable to post images in my replies though.

    3. Hi Richard. Studying the original photo of the yellow car in detail, I think what really jars is not the curving lower DLO line per se, but the fact that it has a noticeable kink in the door, about 6″ aft of the A-pillar. Rather than straighten it out completely and cause the proportion problem you have identified, I have raised it a little and smoothed out the kink instead.

  5. So then I thought the slimmer DLO would benefit from a slightly faster rake on the windscreen:

  6. I seem to recall reading a CAR magazine interview with Peter Stevens in which he claimed to be the guy who “put that crummy chamfer on the top of the headlights on the Capri Mk2”. He then went on to say he was relieved when they took it away again…

    1. You’re right, Michael. I recall the interview, but couldn’t remember who was the interviewee! Thanks for reminding me.

  7. Richard has analysed the problem with the Capri Mk2 window line as follows:

    The disturbing aspect of the sagging line is the bump it makes at the A-pillar as marked in the drawing above.

    Straightening the leading corner of the DLO so it does not rise up to the A-pillar creates an odd area pointed out in the drawing above.

    1. The sagging line is best understood if you look at the car from front 3/4 view. The title image at the top of the article is this view. The sag is there to lead the eye around from the side to the base of the windscreen. Why is the line lower on the side than at the front? It might not have been possible to lower the bonnet and maybe designers liked a deeper DLO to suit the passengers. In the 1970s a deeper DLO might have been viewed as an attractive proportion to pursue. Quite a few cars had this sagging DLO, indicating a height difference between the base of the windscreen and the base of the DLO. Eventually the base of windscreens has increased over the years to the point now where most cars have absolutely no flow from side to front around the A-pillar. Mini and LR, pointedly, do have flow around the A-pillar though.

    2. That was an odd time, wasn’t it, aiming for deeper DLOs. Imagine how naked and exposed you felt in such a car.

      I think a bit later came an era where the bonnets were actually lowered – in the 80s we don’t find these lower window lines so often any more. What they started to do instead was actually to interrupt that flow around the A-pillar. I don’t actually dislike this solution if it’s done properly, but that itn’t an easy task. I remember our discussions about the Xantia…
      https://driventowrite.com/2015/01/12/armchair-designer-1993-citroen-xantia/

      There are nicer ways to solve this problem, and we don’t have to go too far: The XM even makes an unique feature of this step, mirroring the kink in the rear door:

      By the way, in the article linked above there is also the Peugeot 406, where this issue is resolved in an entirely inoffensive and natural-looking way.

  8. The thing I always disliked about the Capri in both Mk1 and Mk2 / Mk2.5 guises was the flat windscreen, and the straight lines of the preceding scuttle and following roofline – seems to me with just a hint of a curve at the top and bottome the whole thing would be better resolved, especially with the curvy and swooping DLO following down the sides

    I’m not talking about an extreme ‘Lancia Stratos’ / Saab 99 style wrap-around here – but it’s almost agricultural in its flatness. More so than it’s brother the Cortina – which seems crazy.

    Seems the Ferrari Daytona is a the perfect period-similar model of scuttle line leading into a swooping DLO.

    I had a play in Potatoshop: Not great but you get the idea.

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/b841fcmq08btfw3/capri-windscreens.jpg?dl=0

    1. Nice work Huw. (I’ve taken the liberty of embedding the images directly into your post.) The second image has a hint of menace about it, which I rather like!

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