Happy 50th Birthday To The Ford Capri

28w ago


The late sixties was a swinging time for people and newly fashionable trends: mini skirts were at their peak, the Rolling Stones had their famous gig at Hyde Park, and in Birmingham, a little man bearing the name of Richard Hammond was born.

Even Bryan Adams wrote a song, describing the summer of 1969 being some of the best days of his life! What a time it must've been.

But one of the most notable things to come from this awe-inspiring time period was a massively famous British icon. Nope, it wasn't a new album by The Beatles or another Mods & Rockers attack, it was this sleek coupe named after a little island situated off the Italian coast.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was the Ford Capri.

What made it such a hit?

A sporty coupe for saloon money? Yes please!

To understand why the Capri was so iconic, you have to put some things into context: the Mustang sold well over the Atlantic because it offered a compact, sporty ethos for the price of an average Fairlaine sedan. If Ford had used conveyor belts to dish each Mustang out of the dealership, they wouldn't have been able to keep up with the sheer number of sales within the first 4 production years.

Clearly, this made money. So, Ford in Europe wanted a piece of the action. They hired Phillip T. Clark - who was involved with the Mustang to design the Capri. They would then keep costs low by borrowing the best bits from the MK2 Cortina. The result? The MK1 Capri was born.

The MK1's success can be described on similar lines as the Mustang; finally, the common man who previously ferried himself around in Cortinas could get a sporting coupe for similar money. And depending on your preferences of speed, there were a lot of engine options to choose from.

Initially, you could have anything from a wheezy little 1.3 litre I4, all the way up to the big daddy: the 3.0 litre Essex V6. Engine options were later upgraded through the car's lifetime. Oh, and if you lived in South Africa, a small block Ford 302 was available with the Perana. Plenty to choose from then...

As a result, Ford were onto a massive sales winner. 400,000 were sold within the first two years!

Racing pedigree and the RS versions

Stiff competition at Spa: anything from 911s to 3.0 CSLs awaited.

Not only was the Capri a great car for Ford's reputation on the road, it was equally as brilliant on the track. And you only have to look at its success at Spa to see what I'm on about.

In 1971, an RS 2600 touring car won the 24-hour endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps, piloted by Alex Soler-Roig and Dieter Glemse. And the same happened again a year later with another 2600 RS.

That said, the Capri's victories were only brought down by the impeccable engineers at BMW's Motorsports division - and that's a big credit game for Ford.

But it wasn't just Spa where the Capri excelled in Motorsport, throw pretty much any European track at it, and it would've quite happily raced heel-to-heel against some of the most established names in history.

But what the public really wanted was a road-going version of these racing Capris. And they got some: the coveted RS models.

148bhp of 3.1 litre goodness. Mmmmmm.

As it stood, there were two RS Capris that were homoligated: you had the RS 2600 and the RS 3100.

The 2600 had a Cologne-based 150bhp V6 with fuel injection. It arrived in 1970 and was capable of reaching 0-60 in 8.6 seconds. It was sold for a short while before an RS for the RHD market finally turned up (the 3100).

The RS 3100 ditched the Cologne engine and used a spiced up Essex V6 instead. But this time around, it was bored up to 3.1 litres and fiddled with by Cosworth. The result was 0-60 in 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. That's quick, even by today's standards. This was thanks to the engine being mated to a sorted gearbox (from a Grenada) and an Atlas rear diff.

It's a rare beast too: just 248 of these road-eaters were ever sold.

The MK2

The second incarnation arrived in 1974 after 1.2 million MK1s were sold... no pressure then...

To put things politely, Ford decided to take a more user-friendly approach to the MK2. It had to undergo several changes, thanks to the Arab-Isreli oil crisis of 1973-74.

Nevertheless, they added a 3-speed automatic gearbox alongside the standard 4-speed manual, as well as the new hatchback rear door. This made the MK2 more practical, and the standard range of 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 litre engines were still available - though in new forms. The Essex 3.0 litre was still around, but by 1976, the sporty GT trim was gone. In it's replacement were the softer 'S' and Ghia trims.

Sadly, in that same year, Ford's Halewood factory (which produced Capris in Britain) had shut down. Production of the Capri moved to 3 other factories in Germany and Belgium from there.

The MK2 never really lit the same candle as the MK1, but it made up for it's lack of cool by starring in the TV Crime show, Minder. Terry McCann was greatly impressed!

Proud moment for Ford.

This relationship between the Capri and TV detective shows would proudly continue throughout the late 1970s and beyond.

The MK3

Ford wanted to up the Capri's reputation again with the MK3. And some could say it worked.

In 1978, the Capri was updated again. This time, Ford wanted to bring back some of the magic that the MK1 had captured.

Firstly, as it was sold throughout the '80s, there were some new hot models for buyers to drool over. The most famous being the 2.8 Injection: the Essex 3.0 litre was dropped by 1982 as there was no chance of it meeting the new emissions regulations. So, Ford fettled with the Cologne V6 to create the 2.8i, which churned out a claimed 160bhp (though it was a bit lower in reality).

The 2.8 Injection was quick - and it kept the Capri in production for years longer than originally planned.

Not only that, the 1.6 and 2.0 litre models were sold in the new 'Laser' trim from 1984 - which added subtle changes such as leather-trimmed steering wheels and gear levers and the distinctive colour-coded grilles. These were some of the last Capris ever sold.

However, don't think the MK3 was only a lazy refresh of the MK2. Because it also had some serious racing pedigree on it's shoulders.

The Zakspeed monster

Powerful beast, this was.

If the MK3 was ever going to be cool, this was the answer. The Zakspeed Capri used little of the standard car and its tiny 1.4 litre engine was twin turbocharged and tuned by Cosworth.

The result? 530bhp and aero parts capable of seducing the air itself.

The Zakspeed Capri entered the 1981 Group 5 season, clocked up 9 wins and effortlessly won the DRM world title in the hands of drivers Klaus Ludwig and Jochen Mass.

If the MK1 Spa victors ever needed a worthy successor, this was it!

Fit for a professional

I can hear the opening theme in this picture.

As Minder starred the MK2 as the weapon of choice for Terry McCann, the MK3 would star in the hugely popular Crime show, The Professionals.

This gave the MK3 Capri the national recognition it deserved - especially considering that a few years after the series, the common man's coupe was about to face the axe.

Since the last Capri was registered in 1987, Ford has never revived the name since. But maybe that's because the Probe or the Cougar took its place in the '90s. But if you ask me, they have nothing on the mighty Capri.

And what better way of entering 2019 than remembering that 50 years ago, one of Britain's best-loved icons had landed. The car that - even to this day - you might still promise yourself.

Sadly though, I don't think there's any chance of bringing the Capri back today. Still, there's one cram of comfort, because Ford already sell a 2-door coupe for saloon money in Britain.

It's called... the Mustang.