Will Ford Rediscover Style in Europe with the Return of the Capri?
By Andy Bannister
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.
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.
Large 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.
It 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.
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