Will Ford Rediscover Style in Europe with the Return of the Capri?

By Andy Bannister

06.10.2009

ford-capri-mk1Coupés are one of the more perplexing areas of the new car market – all the rage one minute, out of favour the next.

Once upon a time in Europe almost every manufacturer had one or more coupés in its range, and some (like Fiat) had numerous swoopier versions of even its humblest little runabouts, often with bespoke bodies by the likes of Bertone and Pininfarina.

After some time in the wilderness there are signs of a renaissance in the European small coupé market, exemplified by the launch of the low-volume Volkswagen Scirocco, reviving a popular name dating right back to the 1970s.

The latest manufacturer poised to gain a slice of this cake is Ford, currently contemplating a return of the legendary Capri name.

The whole idea of a coming up with a commercially successful mainstream coupé was based on combining a stylish body with relatively humble underpinnings – in other words, persuading buyers to pay more for what they (and their green-with-envy neighbours) perceived was something special.

ford-capri-mk1-sideThis was what the original Capri and Scirocco (and other long-dead rivals from the Opel Manta to the Sunbeam Rapier) were all about.

Ironically it was Volkswagen which dealt a serious blow to this concept with its first Golf GTi. It wasn’t quite the pioneer hot hatch (that honour goes arguably to the obscure Simca 1100TI) but it was the one which set the market alight and spawned a stream of imitators.

Usually faster and better handling, these hot hatches became cult vehicles in their own right, making the prettier-looking but usually poorer performing coupés look instantly less desirable.

Despite the mid-term advent of the hot hatch phenomenon, from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s Ford sold hundreds of thousands of Capris, with the original model itself inspired in looks by the first Ford Mustang, but with the mechanicals of Ford’s conventional Cortina and Taunus family saloons.

Critics sneered it was a “hairdresser’s car” and a “Cortina in a frock”, or rearranged the badge to spell “Crapi”. However, aspirational buyers flocked to Ford showrooms, snapping up the cars in versions ranging from a feeble 1300cc four to a big gutsy 3000cc V6, often loaded with highly profitable extras.

ford-capri-iiLarge numbers of Capris – including a mildly modified version with a practical hatchback in place of the original two-door body -were exported to North America to be sold under the Mercury badge until this deal fizzled out towards the end of the 1970s. In later years, Ford of Europe then turned the tables by importing – with limited success – North American Probes and Cougars to the old continent, although they never quite dared to call them Capris.

In the meantime, hot hatches like the Escort XR3i and more recently the Focus RS kept the Ford flag flying among sportier car buyers.

What exact form the new Capri will take is unclear – speculative drawings suggest a three door hatchback based on the next Focus, injecting glamour into the more mainstream range the way French rival Renault has tried to with its new and striking-looking Mégane Coupé.

Styling cues are set to include a rakish windscreen, low roofline and high waistline, with a chopped-off rear end.

ford-capri-mk iiiIt doesn’t sound like it will be as much of a looker as the original Capri, which at the time of its launch in Europe was like nothing Ford buyers had seen before. Modern safety regulations will no doubt see to that.

In a similar way, VW’s new Scirocco, though it undoubtedly has presence and looks better in the flesh than it does in pictures, has none of the style of its delicate and purer 1974 original.

This is something of a problem for Ford’s European range, which is very coherent and competent, but doesn’t set the world alight with desire at a single glance. The new Ka city car isn’t a patch on the original, the curvy Fiesta seems modern enough but a bit fat from some angles, and the Kuga and Mondeo just look like they are trying too hard and may date quickly.

Let’s hope then, that the designers are planning something really special to justify the return of that famous name. With the European Focus consistently one of the best performing, handling and reliable family cars on the market, the Capri does sound to have a lot going for it.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Andy Bannister

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6 Comments

  1. A simca 1100Ti? You must be a fan to mention that. It’s an obscure car and not very well-known these days.

    My older brother had an NSU TTn which was a fast little car for the time in Europe.

  2. Two uncles had circa-1976 Capris. I vaguely remember (I was 11 at the time) that they were fast cars. Or, at least, my uncle drove really fast.

    Anyway, I like the idea of Ford bringing back the Capri, but I think Ford should Think Different (all apologies to Apple). Why not a two-seat, rear-drive, MID-engine Capri?

    Take the C1 platform and turn it bas-ackwards. Remove the rear seat (any 2+2 this small is likely to be cramped anyway) and shift the engine-transaxle forward, creating the amidships arrangement. Handling, done right, should be outstanding. The Porsche Cayman should be Ford’s benchmark.

    Continuing to think differently, Ford should resist the temptation to go retro. Some hints of the original Capri in the sheetmetal is fine, but you already have the Mustang and the Ford GT. The 2002 Thunderbird didn’t turn out that well, so tred carefully when revisiting the past. VW didn’t bother to echo the original Scirocco; Ford should be as progressive.

    When the car is ready, Ford of Europe should directly ship it to Mercury dealers. Mercury badly needs new product. It would continue the legacy of that original Capri, plus also follow in the footsteps of the Merkur XR4Ti. (Hmmm… wondering how the new Capri would look with a biplane rear spoiler…)

  3. Love the idea of Ford doing something radical with the Capri, but the fact is the money isn’t there to justify the cost of a low volume coupe on it’s own version of the C1 platform. But whatever they do, Ford should definitely should bring the Capri to America as a Mercury. With the Sable dead, Mercury only has four vehicles in it’s lineup, and only one of those (Milan) is at all interesting. The Capri would fit in with the urban/female buyer Mercury has appealed to as of late, and Ford keeps saying Mercury has a role in Ford going forward; it’s time to back up the rhetoric with action.

  4. My mother had a 1974 1/2 Capri. What I mostly remember was how really bad it was in terms of reliability and workmanship. (I know, don’t buy half-year Fords) The base I-4 was actually a much better engine that the optional Cologne V6, but it still had lots of carburator issues.

    A new Capri would actually be pretty cool, as Ford’s quality is top notch these days, but where are they going to get a short wheelbase RWD platform to put it on?

  5. How about the GM Kappa platform, which – along with its factory – happens to be up for sale currently?

    Kappa would actually be as stupid for Ford as it was for GM (perhaps moreso, having seen GM’s experience with it), but it IS out there for the taking. Otherwise the plant is closing next month.

  6. As for a small RWD short wheelbase platform, I suggest then GM and Ford (maybe we might include Chrysler-Fiat in the mix) could work in a joint-venture project for some platforms, the upcoming Alpha platform who could be allowed to make 4-door sedans as well mit fit the void.

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