1971-1978 Ford Capri/Capri II


William Benton, Lincoln-Mercury general manager, rests on a 1973 Capri, which was sold as a Mercury in the U.S. See more classic car pictures.

Though well-known in the United States, the 1971-1978 Ford Capri and Ford Capri II origins were in Europe. Ford Motor Company thought it was launching a European Mustang when its British and German branches developed the sport coupe. In the process, though, Ford also created a sexy import model for the American market.

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April 17, 1964, was an exciting day for many at the Ford Motor Company. With fingers crossed and hopes high, they were about to unleash a sporty little coupe on the American road. Its release would create a whole new niche market. Within two years, more than 1 million of Ford's new "ponycars" were in garages all over the United States, with some having gone as far away as Europe.

The new car was, of course, the Mustang. It did quite well in Europe, too, but it was still an American export and it was burdened overseas with expensive tariffs, duties, and other related government fees. It didn't take long for those involved with Ford's international operations to realize that there was major sales potential for a kind of ponycar in foreign countries. Thus was laid the groundwork for a European version of the Mustang.

In June 1965, the package goals of this new car were established. Just as the Mustang had been born of the Falcon platform, a similarly utilitarian vehicle was needed to act as the basis for the European version. (Engineering costs had to be kept to minimum by using as many existing suspension, electrical, and drivetrain parts as possible.) Such a car was available in the popular Cortina, produced by Ford of England since the autumn of 1962.

The next ingredients that had to be addressed concerned passenger capacity. It was decided that like its Mustang cousin, it should be a car that could be enjoyed by the whole family with seating capacity for four, and it had to provide as quiet and comfortable a ride as possible. On top of this, Ford executives wanted the new car to deliver responsive handling, and most importantly, have stunning, sales-winning looks.

By July 1966, the new ponycar with continental flair had won final approval for production. Everyone involved liked what they saw, and enthusiasm was not contained just to Ford of England, but also extended to Ford's German headquarters in Cologne. From the start, it had been planned that the European ponycar would be assembled at the Halewood facility in the United Kingdom, plus the Cologne and Saarlouis plants in Germany.

What to call it? Ford of England had been using the letter "C" in naming most of its models. During development, the design team had latched on to the name "Colt" as a working title. However, those in charge of marketing wanted something more powerful that would suggest exhilaration and "pizzazz" to the European buyers for whom they were aiming.

After much discussion and research, one name seemed to meet all these requirements: Capri. Taken from a small island off the coast of southern Italy, Capri seemed perfect for a jaunty little car, conjuring up visions of gentle sea breezes and carefree holidays.

Capri was a name already familiar to European motorists, having graced a sleek hardtop coupe in the British Ford Consul line in the early Sixties. The name also had a history in America, which eventually proved fortunate even though the U.S. market wasn't initially in consideration to get this European ponycar. It had first been used in the States for a special Lincoln Cosmopolitan coupe starting in 1950. From 1952 to 1958, there was a Capri series in the Lincoln lineup. Then Mercury revived the name as a trim level of the intermediate Comet 1966-1967.

Ford waited until the last day of the Brussels Auto Show in January 1969 to unveil its European ponycar. While waiting until the end of the show might seem to be a bit anticlimactic, the effect boosted attendance on the last day to record levels, and the car was hailed as an instant success in design and concept. On February 5, 1969, a few days after the Brussels show closed, Capri went on sale across Europe and the UK.

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Capri Styling

The Capri had a compact, flowing profile and shared styling cues with the Mustang.
The Capri had a compact, flowing profile and shared styling cues with the Mustang.

Promoted as "The Car You Always Promised Yourself," the 1971-1978 Ford Capri and Ford Capri II had something for everyone. The design, created under the guidance of German-born Uwe Bahnsen, was right on the mark for stylish and sporty. Several traits seen in some of Bahnsen's earlier work, including the 1960-64 German Ford Taunus 17M, were carried over to Capri's initial designs.

Engineering and styling details were a collaboration of Ford of Germany and English Ford teams. Stylewise, it featured the long nose that represented performance. The passenger compartment was roomy enough for four, yet created a profile that was compact and flowing, The "notchback" deck was kept short, and while this limited usable trunk space, it conveyed the sports-coupe look.

It was no mistake that these styling cues were also shared with the American Mustang. From the basic profile of the car to the sculpted bodyside features -- including simulated air vents in front of the rear wheel housings -- Capri was following a winning formula (though in just one body style instead of Mustang's three). Up front was a simple horizontal grille featuring two rectangular halogen headlights that smartly held the turn signals inside the fixtures. To the rear, a clean presentation of combined tail, brake, and signal lights were housed in large pods.

In the passenger compartment, comfortable seating for four was presented in a choice of nylon-weave fabrics or textured all-vinyl coverings. Like the Mustang, many items that were optional on other cars were standard on Capri, such as styled steel wheels and interior appointments including dual sun visors and arm rests for all passengers.

Existing drivetrains were selected for installation in the new Capri. British-built engines went into vehicles assembled at Halewood, while those assembled at the German facilities used power-plants from the Taunus and several light-duty commercial vehicles.

A British prototype of the Capri wears a rear-quarter window design different from the production version. A British prototype of the Capri wears a rear-quarter window design different from the production version.
A British prototype of the Capri wears a rear-quarter window design different from the production version.

Taking another page from the Mustang sales strategy, several levels of engine size and horsepower were offered right from the start. The standard engine for customers of the British Capri was the "1300," an overhead-cam inline four-cylinder displacing 1,298 cubic centimeters. Rated at 52 horsepower, this engine was capable of going from a standing start to 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 mph) in about 20 seconds with a top speed reported at 137 kph (around 86 mph). Known as the "Kent" engine, it had originally been developed for use in several English Ford products. A larger "1600," which measured out at 1,599 cubic centimeters, was available; it was good for 64 horsepower and 0-100 kph times in the 16-second range.

For the shopper purchasing a German-built Capri, the engine selection was a little more varied, starting with a different 1300, one displacing 1,302 cubic centimeters and rated at 50 horsepower. With it, 0-100 took 24 seconds and a top speed of 133 kph was reported. However, a 1,488-cubic-centimeter V-4 could be ordered. With 60 horsepower, it brought the 0-100 sprint down to 18 seconds. Released in April 1969 was the sporty "1700-GT," a beefed-up 75-horsepower V-4 design that was capable of 0-100 kph times of 15 seconds and top speeds in the 148 kph range (about 90 mph).

Another parallel drawn between the Mustang and the Capri was the fact that people couldn't wait to push either into competitive events. For those looking for performance on a budget, two German-built V-6 engines were introduced before the 1969 summer season. The "2000-GT," with 1,998 cubic centimeters, was rated at 85 horsepower and could reach 100 kph in as little as 12 seconds, topping out at 157 kph. To go faster still, there was the 108-horsepower "2300-GT," which was pushed out to 2,298 cubic centimeters and could take a Capri to 100 in as little as 10 seconds.

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Capri Ride

While customers were happy with the feel of the Capri, handling in early models was an issue.
While customers were happy with the feel of the Capri, handling in early models was an issue.

The front suspension on the 1970 Ford Capri used a MacPherson-strut design with independent spring-type ball joints and double-acting hydraulic shocks. Supporting the car were two helical coil springs that some found a bit soft and a little mushy in hard turns. In the rear, a triple thin-band leaf spring was used in conjunction with hydraulic shocks mounted in a staggered pattern to absorb quick acceleration. Wheelbase came to 100.8 inches and bumper-to-bumper length measured 167.8 inches.

While the body looked good, customers were happy with the fit and feel, and the consumer press had plenty of good things to say about the new Ford Capri, not everyone was happy with the car's handling capabilities. Going in a straight line was fine for many, but Europeans have lots of roads that go into mountains or wind through the countryside, and the need for an anti-sway bar was duly pointed out in several enthusiast publications.

Despite this small complaint, the first year of Capri sales in Europe was astounding: more than 156,000 units, the most of any European Ford model ever produced. Most of that first year's production came off the German assembly lines as labor and supply problems seemed to plague the British production.

Even before the first model year was completed, studies were launched into the feasibility of bringing the Capri to America. Since the close of World War II, there had been several European Fords imported into North America. They had some success in Canada, but U.S. shoppers generally preferred their domestic products. By the early Sixties, with Ford U.S. producing its own compact Falcon, the European imports seemed to go away almost entirely. Later in the decade the Cortina drew a few sales, but it was with baited breath that the idea of another imported Ford was greeted in America.

However, times were changing. Japanese compacts were beginning to catch on in America and motorists' attitudes were starting to shift. While the Capri was marketed as a Ford in Europe, it was decided that the Lincoln-Mercury Division would be a better outlet for the "Sexy European," as it came to be advertised Stateside. The Ford Division had just released another compact in the Maverick, and the Capri surely would have been in direct competition with it. Furthermore, the first U.S. Ford subcompact -- the Pinto -- was about to hit the streets.

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Capri in the U.S.

Calendar-year sales of the Capri in America topped 90,000 in 1972, the year a 2.6-liter V-6 was first offered.
Calendar-year sales of the Capri in America topped 90,000 in 1972, the year a 2.6-liter V-6 was first offered.

On April 17, 1970, six years to the day since the Ford Mustang's introduction, the 1971 Mercury Capri was placed on sale in dealerships across the land. The reaction to Capri in the U.S. was immediate: Americans liked it.

Capri's physical appearance was transferred to the U.S. with minimal changes. Most notable was the front-end design, which received the federally approved standard quad sealed-beam headlights and a modified grille with independent pods for the combination parking/turn-signal lamps. Block letters that spelled out "CAPRI" on the hood replaced similar "FORD" identification seen on Euro models. As in Europe, Capri's standard package included the use of styled steel wheels, 165 × 13 radial blackwall tires, and power front disc brakes with drums on the rear. Among the few performance options in that first season were larger 185 × 13 steel-belted radial-ply tires.

For a sexy European, the Capri had to maintain an image of color. Six exterior selections were offered in that first year, including Red, Blue Mink Metallic, Ermine White, Fern Green, Aquatic Jade, and Amber Gold. Interior selections were full-vinyl with bucket seats in front and a full bench seat for the rear.

For a very reasonable $75, a Capri buyer could opt for the plusher Decor Group, which featured bucket-styled rear seats with a fold-down arm rest, fully reclining front buckets, a woodtone console with a clock, a map light on a flexible extension mounted to the inside A-pillar, leather-covered steering wheel and gearshift knob, brake warning light, and bright pedal trim. Also included in the Decor option was a special "black-out" grille and dual horns.

However, the Americanized Capri had a few drawbacks. While European buyers enjoyed a virtual buffet of powertrain packages, initial U.S. customers had just one engine available, the 1.6-liter British inline four, backed up with a four-speed manual transmission and a 3.89:1 rear-axle ratio. Federalized versions were rated for 71 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. The car was quick enough for day-to-day driving, but lacked a little of the hoped-for sports-car feel and response.

With dealer prep and destination charges typically adding another $75 to the base port-of-entry price of $2,295, the Capri was priced slightly above the Ford Maverick, but considerably below the Mazda RX-2 coupe, which was one of its main competitors. Other popular Capri options included an AM radio ($75), vinyl roof ($65), manually operated sun roof ($119), and air conditioning ($395).

In its June 1970 issue, Road & Track offered this summation of the Capri: "It's good looking, it's a practical automotive package, and it's being offered at a competitive price. It's a Ford that makes sense." But the lack of performance options was noted. Car and Driver really drove the problems home in its May 1970 issue. "Let the bad part be recorded forthwith: The car is coming to the United States with the wrong engine," said C/D, which compared its performance to that of the Volkswagen Beetle.

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Capri Performance

Front and rear spoilers on this V-6-powered 1973 Capri are aftermarket add-ons.
Front and rear spoilers on this V-6-powered 1973 Capri are aftermarket add-ons.

While 1971 Mercury Capri customers were pleased with the car's sporty appearance, the lack of engine and transmission choices turned off other shoppers. But even with the limitation in powertrain selection and the midyear introduction date, he 1971 Capri still set records for calendar-year sales of a first-year import: 17,258 units, and dealers were taking confirmed orders for twice that number for the upcoming year. Sales in the first month alone came to 2,021 cars, which effectively cleaned out all existing dealer stock.

In another parallel to the first Mustang, despite their spring release, these early units were titled as next-year models in the U.S. Then, when the "true" model year began later in the year, there were a number of small changes that added up to some major improvements.

To address the requests for more potent performance, another engine selection was made available beginning in the fall of 1970. American buyers could opt for the larger "2000" inline four, displacing 1,993 cubic centimeters and rated for an even 100 horsepower at 5,600 rpm. This peppier little four could pull itself right along with 120 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 revs.

A derivative of the British "Kent" engine family, it featured a single overhead camshaft with a single downdraft Weber carburetor and solid lifters. Furthermore, it could be teamed with a three-speed automatic transmission, a $185 option. Meanwhile, a compression boost hiked output of the base engine to 75 horsepower.

In the wake of these improvements, Road Test named Capri its "1971 Import Car of the Year," and other enthusiast publications of the day did an about-face in light of the available extra horsepower. Even with improved 0-60-mph times, the Capri was actually capable of producing better fuel mileage ratings, partially due to the 3.44:1 rear axle that came with the 2.0-liter engine. As Road Test stated when the award was made, "We feel that when quality, appearance, luxury of trim, utility, handling and performance are all evaluated as a package at a given price, the Capri clearly shows as a winner."

Even Car and Driver changed its tune about the Capri, saying, "It certainly is no stone, as astonished owners of Fiat 124 coupes, Porsche 914s, BMW 2002s and fuel-injected Alfas will begrudgingly attest. The Capri will not only out-sprint these traditional heavies on the enthusiast scene, in the hands of a capable driver it will leave them embarrassed in the corners." Other benefits C/D pointed out were passenger comfort and usable storage space. All of this came for a price of about $2,600 delivered, far below several of the other cars mentioned, such as the BMW 2002, which opened up in the $3,300 range, and the Porsche 914/4, pegged at $3,595.

Needless to say, there were no notable exterior or interior differences between early- and late-production 1971s, with the exception of color selections. Two new choices were fielded: Silver metallic and one of the most popular colors for this model, Capri Yellow. Life was good for the Capri family as more than 53,000 were delivered in 1971.

Not everything was perfect within the Capri camp, though. Customers complained about squealing brake pads, a problem that would plague Capris until 1976, when a new semiabrasive pad material was employed. Door-hinge squeaks and some electrical problems were also common in production models. Ford worked diligently to take care of these complaints, and overall, the Capri was actually constructed to higher quality standards than many contemporaries.

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Capri Models

Among the external changes ordained for the 1973 Capri was a stouter front bumper.
Among the external changes ordained for the 1973 Capri was a stouter front bumper.

While Americans were falling in love with the 1971 Mercury Capri, in England, Capri fans were being tempted with a vehicle that would never reach the "colonies." Among the Ford Capri models available was the 3000-GT, featuring a 2,994-cubic-centimeter Kent V-6, which many consider the pinnacle of the car's first spin on life.

To the usual standard equipment, GTs added a close-ratio four-speed gearbox, two-speed windshield wipers, and full instrumentation including a tachometer. Those equipped with the new V-6 received a power-bulge hood.

If the Capri looked like it could travel at breakneck speed, the 3000-GT made it live up to those expectations. It went from 0-to-60 mph in just a tad more than nine seconds and hit a top speed of 113 mph. Its beefed-up suspension made it handle like a true sports car. To make Yanks really envious, a 3000-E edition was released in the fall of 1971; it upped the top speed to 122 mph and cut 0-to-60 times to well below the nine-second mark.

Still, there were some exciting things in store for U.S.-bound Capris. "Passion" and "Wow" described the reaction the release of the Capri 2600 in 1972. Introduced in February, it was the cat's meow for this baby brother to the Mercury Cougar. Its proven powerplant, derived from the German 23-liter V-6, was a 60-degree design that displaced 2,568 cubic centimeters, or about 155.5 cubic inches, and was capable of belting out 107 horsepower at 5,000 rpm.

This new package came standard with larger 185/70HR × 13 tires, a stiffer suspension, full instrumentation with a 140-mph speedometer, dual exhausts, and exterior dressings such as the obligatory badging, and blacked-out rear-end and lower rocker panels. As the size of the engine increased, so did the base price, to $2,821. With the addition of extras such as the Select-Shift automatic, AM/FM radio, and air conditioning, price tags for new Capri coupes were often topping $3,500 delivered.

For those who were satisfied with "peppy" versus "neck-snapping" performance, the Capri 2000 returned basically unchanged from the previous model year, with the exception that a price increase raised base cost to $2,598. The Capri 1600 came in at $121 less than the 2000. Still optional were the instrumentation package (though the 140-mph speedo was reserved exclusively for 2600s), sunroof, full vinyl top, and the Decor Group.

As the 1973 model year dawned, one model would be leaving the Capri lineup: the underpowered 1600. Remaining models now featured a newly styled blackout grille. The simulated side vents in the rear quarter panels were shortened and taillights were altered to include the backup lights. A new federally mandated impact-resistant front bumper system was employed to meet federal requirements. Several vibrant colors were also added to the Capri lineup, giving the car an even stronger European appearance.

Full instrumentation came standard on the V-6 models in 1973. Full instrumentation came standard on the V-6 models in 1973.
Full instrumentation came standard on the V-6 models in 1973.

Interior changes included a new two-spoke steering wheel and a new dashboard layout with simulated walnut trim. (Several gauges on the Capri 2000 were replaced by warning lights, however.) For the first time, a dash-mounted storage/glove compartment was included in all models.

Stricter emission controls led to the horsepower rating of the 2.0-liter engine being scaled back a bit to 85 horsepower -- a loss of one from the year before. (The V-6 was unchanged in that regard.)

Power brakes -- still front disc/rear drum -- were now standard on all Capris, and a much-requested rear stabilizer bar was added for better handling. Advertised as a "silky smooth" four-speed gearbox, the base transmission was improved by being fully synchronized.

Base prices took a steep increase for the year with the 2000 going up nearly 13 percent, or $385, to $2,983, while the base V-6 Capri 2600 shot up to $3,261. Still, about the toughest problem dealers faced was keeping cars in stock. Capri sales literature proudly noted that the Capri was "outselling every other European car in America, except one!" That one exception continued to the be the Volkswagen Beetle, but that was an entirely different market. For calendar-year 1973, the Capri was at the top of its game, posting more than 113,000 sales in the United States, a mark it would not achieve again.

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1974-1975 Capri

Displacement of the U.S. Capri V-6 grew to 2.8 liters for 1974, although horsepower slipped to 105.
Displacement of the U.S. Capri V-6 grew to 2.8 liters for 1974, although horsepower slipped to 105.

In the fall of 1973, as the 1974-model cars were hitting the market, the first Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo went into effect. It left an immediate impact on new-car sales, including the 1974-1975 Mercury Capri. All of a sudden it wasn't horsepower people wanted, but miles per gallon. The Capri was ready with strong numbers from its tried and true 2000 inline four, although overall sales would fall drastically. (Even stricter emission controls cost this engine another five horsepower, taking it to an even 80.)

The most impressive change for the 1974 Capri was enlargement of the V-6 to 2,792 cubic centimeters. Advertising said it made for a "much more powerful Capri," though output was rated at 105 horsepower, two less than the previous 2.6-liter edition (again in pursuit of cleaner running). The admen obviously had torque in mind when they spoke of power: The 140 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm generated by the new engine represented a healthy boost over the 2600's 130 pound-feet at 3,400 rpm.

Another change to North American models was the introduction of "Hi-Flex" color-keyed molded urethane front and rear bumper covers. This was the Capri's solution for meeting new U.S. government standards that required cars to withstand impacts with little or no damage in collisions under 5 mph. Most automakers produced less-than-artistic protrusions from the fronts and rears of their products, but on the Capri, the result came off a little better. The new snubbers added a full seven inches of length to the car compared to its original dimensions.

With the OPEC embargo spilling over to early 1974, the bottom fell out of the new-car market in America. The industry saw auto sales drop 19.6 percent, the biggest one-year decline since the 1957-58 recession. Capri calendar-year sales fell even more than the industry norm -- about 33.4 percent -- to just 75,260 units.

The Capri's beefier bumpers for 1974 were wrapped in body-color molded urethane. The Capri's beefier bumpers for 1974 were wrapped in body-color molded urethane.
The Capri's beefier bumpers for 1974 were wrapped in body-color molded urethane.

Effectively, Lincoln-Mercury did not offer a 1975 Capri. In the very limited sales literature that year, 1974 photos and details were recycled, stressing that the Sexy European still had great style and performance. By February 1975, there were few, if any, carryover Capri coupes to be found, and that pleased dealers who wanted a clean showroom floor for March, when they would be welcoming the all-new 1976 Capri II.

Europeans had been driving the second-generation Capri, marketed there as the Mark II, since 1974. Keeping most of the original package concepts in mind, advertising said the new edition was road-proven from Morocco to Finland, and that the "Europeans knew what they wanted."

Design for this new coupe was touted as being an inspiration from Italy's Ghia design studios, which just happened to be a recent acquisition of the Ford Motor Company. Capri was no longer just a two-door coupe either, for it sported the hottest new selling feature of the mid Seventies -- a hatchback.

Overall styling was softer without the distinctive side accent lines and imitation air inlets on the rear quarters. Up front, U.S. versions kept up a link to the previous generation by incorporating Hi-Flex bumpers. With the fuel tank repositioned to behind the rear axle under the floorpan, some safety concerns raised by consumer groups and safety advocates were satisfied.

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Capri II

Despite their 1975 arrival, the first Capri IIs were sold as 1976 models.
Despite their 1975 arrival, the first Capri IIs were sold as 1976 models.

One item that was totally new for the 1976 Mercury Capri II package was a new 2,300-cubic-centimeter overhead-cam inline four produced at Ford's Lima, Ohio, engine plant. It weighed nearly 500 pounds more than the British 2.0-liter it was replacing, but was rated for 88 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and developed 116 pound-feet of torque at 2,600 rpm.

Available for an additional $272 was the German-built "2800" V-6, now capable of 110 horsepower with the four-speed transmission, 111 with the automatic (109 in California) -- all at 4,800 rpm. Torque peaked at 146 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm.

The standard package included some familiar features from the past plus improved front and rear stabilizer bars, 165SR × 13 steel-belted radial tires, fully reclining front bucket seats, the return of full instrumentation, and a fold-down rear seat to accommodate large loads that could be placed in the car through the lift-up hatch. Also new, though less positive, was a starting price that shot up to $4,117. Another $217 fetched the Decor Group option that included, among other things, embossed vinyl seats, contoured rear seats, imitation wood trim for the instrument panel, opening rear-quarter windows, lighted locking glove-box, assist straps, and a center console.

Doting on Ford's new relationship to the Ghia design firm, Capri II offered a ritzy Ghia version that included high-back bucket seats covered in Comfort-Weave knit fabric or plush vinyl with map pockets behind the front seats, contoured rear seats, deluxe center console with clock, woodtone instrument-panel trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, plus grab and assist handles. On the exterior, color-keyed bodyside moldings and racing mirrors were utilized, accented by some very stylish cast aluminum wheels. The Ghia sold for a $623 premium over the base model.

Sporty types for 1977 included the "S" model. Sporty types for 1977 included the "S" model.
Sporty types for 1977 included the "S" model.

The ultimate Capri II was the "S" package. Finished in glossy black with gold accents, it was a sign of the times. Anodized gold was applied to the standard black steel styled wheels or cast-aluminum rims, the latter of which were a $113 option. "S" interiors included black vinyl bolsters with gold soft-weave fabric, black carpets, and blackout trim for the instrument panel. Dual racing mirrors, a heftier suspension, and upgraded sound insulation were also included.

(While there was no mention of it in the American sales literature, the color combination reflected the schemes used by Ford-powered John Player Special Lotus racers that were tearing up the Formula 1 circuit at the time. In England, this package was officially known as the JPS edition.) Later in the model year, a white version of the svelte "S" hatchback would become available.

For all other Capri IIs, there was a choice of nine colors, with five interior color combinations. Also offered in black, dark brown, or white-depending upon the exterior color-were vinyl tops, a $95 option.

Some of the more popular extras available on the Capri II included the $276 Select-Shift automatic transmission, air conditioning for an additional $429, the manually operated sunroof at $181, rear-window defogger for $69, as well as a rear window wiper costing another $48. Most important was the addition of the AM radio at $71, or the much more desired AM/FM unit at $136. With the new hatchback design, a vinyl tonneau-style luggage compartment cover was a new extra-cost item at $29.

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Capri II Performance

Nine exterior color choices were offered on the new hatchback body for the Capri II.
Nine exterior color choices were offered on the new hatchback body for the Capri II.

As with the earlier Mercury Capri model, the American press couldn't wait to put the 1976 Mercury Capri II to the test. Road & Track tried two V-6 Capri IIs, one a fully equipped Ghia, and the other a standard model.

"It goes, it stops and handles, it's well built and it has that sturdy, precise European character that makes it something special for Americans and Canadians," R&T proclaimed in its summation of the V-6 Capri IIs. "On top of all this, it's a more practical car because of its new hatchback body. A quality European car at a realistic price -- what more could one want?"

The press might have been in love with the new Capri, but the public's ardor for the "sexy European" seemed to have cooled. During 1975, a total of 54,586 Capri IIs were reported to have been sold and just 29,904 in all of 1976.

Premature wrinkling of the plastic insert moldings in the urethane bumpers started to pop up in 1974. This required warranty work to replace the strips once a suitable substitute material was found, a remedy not found until spring 1976. Clutch shudder was noted on a number of the V-6 models; this was later attributed to the routing of the cable too near to the exhaust manifolds. However, all manufacturers in the mid-Seventies were experiencing these and many other minor problems as they learned to deal with new materials and government requirements.

If 1977 was to be the last full model year for the Capri in the United States, one couldn't tell from the number of improvements and model name additions. The V-6 received a compression boost to 8.7:1 and the Dura-Spark ignition system. This boosted horsepower and torque very slightly, but still decreased reported fuel consumption by up to three miles to the gallon. Meanwhile, the base four-cylinder engine picked up 3.5 horsepower through tuning improvements, going to 91.5 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, and was teamed with a numerically lower 3.22:1 rear axle to keep up fuel economy.

The base price of a Capri II in 1976 was $4,117; the 2.8-liter V-6 and Decor Group on this one raised the tab. The base price of a Capri II in 1976 was $4,117; the 2.8-liter V-6 and Decor Group on this one raised the tab.
The base price of a Capri II in 1976 was $4,117; the 2.8-liter V-6 and Decor Group on this one raised the tab.

Referred to in factory advertising as the "Capri for 1977," there were a few new items to be touted. Basically, the exterior was unchanged from the 1976 season. One marketing change was the renaming of the sporty "S" package, now promoted as "Le Cat Black 'S'," for after all, it was being sold alongside Mercurys and was still a cousin to the Cougar under the "Sign of the Cat." This sporty appearance group, which included all the features from the year before, cost $241. (Also, a dealer-installed Rally Cat decor package added twin racing stripes on the hood and decklid, a rear spoiler, and bold rocker-panel stripes.)

Prices were on the way up with the standard 1977 Capri hatchback climbing to $4,361, or about a 6 percent increase over the previous year. For those stepping up to the luxury of the Ghia edition, the tab came to $4,984, a boost of $244.

As though the wind had gone from the sails, 1977 calendar-year sales fell to 22,458 units. By the early summer, importation of the Capri was put on hold until existing stock could be sold off. The final 4,079 examples were sold -- and titled -- as 1978s and then the books were closed on the car in America.

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Capri III

Europeans loved the Capri II, such as this one with Rally Cat trim, enough to build a third generation.
Europeans loved the Capri II, such as this one with Rally Cat trim, enough to build a third generation.

Even before the introduction of the Mercury Capri II, the Ford Capri was still very much alive in Europe. Tough economic times cut into sales by up to 50 percent, but European buyers did enjoy the Ford Capri II. It simply had more space, produced a better ride, and was improved all around. Exclusive to Europe were the V-6 3000-GT and 3000-Ghia. The Ghia enjoyed a vinyl roof, tinted glass, sunroof, and unique eight-spoke alloy road wheels.

As in America, plush fabrics and extra padding were added to interiors. In terms of performance, the more environmentally friendly 3000 engine with dual exhaust did not match the numbers turned in by its predecessor 3000-GXL, which was retired in 1975. However, these models did feature improved brakes that, when outfitted with new heavy-duty tire combinations, made the Capri Mark II 3000-GT the best-controlled example to date.

The third-generation Capri Mark III emerged from Germany in 1978. It was even more sleek, quite a bit faster, and much safer. On December 19, 1986, a cool Saturday afternoon, the last Capri rolled off the Cologne assembly line. Over a period of 17 years, more than 1.9 million had been built. It had been a good ride, posting sales records that persist to this day. On the track, it had many victories and won the hearts of a legion of dedicated collectors.

Though the Anglo-German sport coupe was gone from America, its name lived on. From 1979 to 1986, Mercury borrowed the Mustang platform for its version of the all-American ponycar and called it Capri. In 1991, the name reappeared as a Mazda Miata-inspired two-seat convertible from Ford of Australia. Its U.S. run lasted just a few years, but it too set records for import sales of an Australian-built car. Perhaps there'll be another Capri some day, but it just won't have the flair of the "Sexy European."

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