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