Home » Our Daydreaming Designer Gives Us Some Facts And One Lie About The Mercury Capri

Our Daydreaming Designer Gives Us Some Facts And One Lie About The Mercury Capri

Capri Cious Ts
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“Better than Ford, but not as good as Lincoln” is about as vague as a mission statement can be, yet the Mercury brand existed on such a premise for nearly three quarters of a century. What did ‘better’ mean? In many cases, that word equated to vestigial adornments like a few pieces of chrome trim stuck on a taillight, a fake Mercedes grille bolted to the nose, or color-coded hubcaps slapped on the wheels. The variable definition of the word “better” meant that Mercury ended up creating some rather odd products over the years, and the 1979 to 1986 Fox-bodied Capri was certainly one of them. For today’s Sort Of Mercury Monday On Wednesday, we’re going to look at a few surprising facts about this often-forgotten pony car.

(Warning: one of these facts will be fiction. If you’re a true Autopian, you will have no trouble telling which one is false. Everyone else, good luck!)

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

A Little History

One of the ways that Mercury ostensibly represented ‘better’ was by putting the brand on captive imports. Foreign stuff is all swanky and shit, right? The first Mercury Capri was a federalized version of the Ford Europe car that the middle-of-the-road American brand sold during the seventies. As with some other captive imports from Germany, eventually the exchange rate made the economics of selling them here unfeasible, so the Blue Oval chose to stop shipping over the German-built coupes after 1978 in lieu of a home grown solution.

1976 Mercury Capri Ii Main

source: Ford via Autopolis

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If you weren’t around at the time, I can tell you that the launch of the Fox Body Mustang was rather earthshaking. After clunky Torinos and Granadas, the Fox platform was about as close to a Volvo-style European car as you could get from a domestic manufacturer. Even as a kid, I knew that the Pinto-based Mustang II was a sad conveyance; the lightweight, all-coil-sprung, and crisp-looking 1979 car was a proud return to form for the legendary ‘Stang even in base model, white-wall clad form like the example below:

Mustang

source: Bring A Trailer (car for sale)

Mercury dealers were not going to let Ford stores have all of the fun, so the Capri name was applied to a version of the new Mustang.  Ah, but what was the new Capri supposed to be? As a Mercury, how was it ‘better’?  To this day, I’m really not sure.

Capri

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S L1600

sources: Ford via ebay , Hemmings Auction (car for sale)

While the 1979 Mustang was available as a two door coupe or a hatchback, the Capri was only offered as the hatch, unlike its European predecessor. Up front, the angled-back nose of the Mustang was replaced by a very upright fascia with sunken headlights.

Noses

sources: Bring A Trailer and Hemmings Auction (car for sale)

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In the rear, the iconic vertical bar taillights of the Mustang gave way to full width taillights covered in blackout grilles. Front and rear fenders grew subtle bumped-out flares in a matter similar to what cars like the Porsche 944 and Mitsubishi Starion later added. Beyond some other minor trim differences, that was pretty much the extent of the changes to the Ford to turn the Fox-body Mustang into a Capri.

Tails

sources: Bring A Trailer and Hemmings Auction (car for sale)

I mean, wider taillights always meant “better” back in the day, but how are Trans Am-style details “more European?” Maybe the designers were trying to match the nose of the outgoing car, but the Capri’s more blunt front end seemed more American to me than Jack Telnack’s lovely aerodynamic looking wedge nose on the Mustang. Top Mercury models received insanely busy hood detailing that also seemed far more Muncie than Munich. Mercury even went for the early eighties trick of the “special edition” car with models like the Black Magic and Crimson Cat where they resort to paint color and stripes for individuality.

Tumblr P8a2psktxs1ti77kbo2 1280

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source: Ford via etsy

Still, with the seemingly zillions of new Mustangs on the road at least Mercury was trying to offer something different, even if they appeared to be struggling to make that happen. The struggle became real in 1984 when Mercury grafted on a new tail to the Capri with a ‘bubble’ backlight, an angled rear panel, and sunken taillights that from many angles appeared to be grafted on from a totally different and unrelated car, like maybe a Dodge Daytona. It was also odd since now the Mustang had an angled-back nose and a Kamm tail, while the Capri reversed that with an upright front and sloping tail.

1983caprirear 2

source: Mecum via Classic Industries

Despite being what at first appears to be a typical Mercury changed-for-the-sake-of-change model, there are some interesting tidbits about this rare Fox that aren’t particularly well known. Let’s take a look.

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South Of The Border

If you’re a pony car fan, these images below will mess with your head. Why is there a Capri nose, tail, and hood on a car that is obviously otherwise a Mustang? I mean, it’s a notchback with non-flared fenders. For reasons that I cannot find, Ford of Mexico built and sold the Mustang there from 1982 to 1983 with the Capri’s blunt front end, louvered taillights and fussy hood. The Cuautitlan Izcalli plant then built the Mustang hatchback with the fenders from the Capri and the ‘bubble’ hatch from 1983 to 84.

Mexico W

sources: Mecado Libre and AutoMexico

But why? I’m not sure if they sold Mercury cars in Mexico, but that doesn’t explain this odd “Furcury” mix from the parts bin. Did Ford overestimate Capri sales in the US and try to dump unusable Mercury fascias elsewhere? Can anyone tell me?

The Fastest Ford?

For at least the 1985 and 1986 model years, the fastest Ford product of any brand you could buy from a dealer was actually a Mercury. However, this sub-six-seconds-to-sixty car wasn’t branded a Mercury, or even a Ford. The ASC/Mclaren was a custom-built two-seater made by sunroof and specialty car experts ASC (and NOT related to THAT McClaren at all) to ostensibly try to offer a Corvette/Mercedes SL sort of flagship ragtop for the Blue Oval .

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Mclaren

source: Cars And Bids (car for sale)

“Wait”, you say,” that’s just a modified Mustang convertible, right?” Wrong! ASC took a hatchback Capri and chopped the living shit out of it to create this roadster, a fact that I would not believe if I didn’t see pictures of the process which I don’t have rights to show but you can see by clicking here. The windshield is angled back around ten degrees from stock, which was literally done by pulling the frame back beyond ten degrees and then letting it spring back to the correct position. They added a custom interior and a hot cam for the V8. There was even a lower spec V6 powered one they offered which seems very odd considering what it still must have cost despite de-contenting:

Screenshot (493)

source: ASC Mclaren

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A handful of modified coupes were also made:

Mclarenbrochure2

source: ASC Mclaren

Ford managed to sell around 557 of these undercover Capris during the eighties at a price that reflected the massive work done. Sadly, the end result looked a whole lot like a Mustang convertible that cost far less, which likely helped to make it as sale-proof as the isn’t-that-a-Lebaron Chrysler Maserati TC.

Swan Song Of A Fox

The Foxstang received a relatively extensive makeover for the 1987 model year with composite lights and cleaner, updated trim. At this point, Ford started to get serious with changing the identity of the Capri version to really diverge from its Mustang brother. Top brass felt that if the Ford car was to be the muscle machine “CamaroBird” rival, the Capri would lean more towards being an “import fighter” to ostensibly take on cars like the Toyota Supra, 300ZX, and even Porsche 944 (sure, this old Fairmont couldn’t sniff that car’s exhaust, but you gotta aim high).

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The front clip received dramatic, extensive changes including pop up headlamps and ‘flash to pass’ windows. The overall look was surprisingly similar to the by-then-discontinued-but-awesome-and-missed 1982-86 folded origami A60 Supra. This Capri kept the bubble back of the earlier car but added smoother, flush taillights with Euro-looking amber rear signals. To fool the eye, a body colored inset on the C pillar trim simulates a ‘Hoffmeister kink’ on the rear quarter. The inside stole instruments, finishes, and seats from the SVO model since that was previously the most Euro FoxStang you could buy (in many ways this 1987 car was to be an SVO Mark II). This rather Australian-style chocolate-and-peanut-butter mix of pushrod 302 with Euro/Asian tuning and looks could have been an appealing combination.

Capri86

sources: Classic Motors (car for sale)

Ultimately, upper management didn’t see the point of this thing, especially with the Ford Probe arriving (remember that Ford had wanted the Probe to be the new Mustang anyway). Production plans were shelved and the Fox Capri was no more after 1986. The nameplate was later placed on a front wheel drive convertible that has been covered on a Mercury Monday here before, though the Autopian author failed to note that a white 1991 model was owned by member-severer Lorena Bobbit and used by her as a getaway car.

Even though one of those fun facts is false, there’s obviously more history to this badge-engineered beauty than initially meets the eye. Ultimately, I still don’t think that I know exactly what the Fox Capri was supposed to be, but my inability to pin it down somehow adds to its intrigue. Does the fact that, if nothing else, it’s more interesting than a Ford make it ‘better’? If so, then it’s a true Mercury – as long as it isn’t as good as a Lincoln.

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topshot credit: Ford via ebay

Relatedbar

The Third-Gen Mercury Capri Was Like The Miata If No One Really Gave A Shit About The Miata: Mercury Monday – The Autopian

The Mercury Villager Nautica Always Reminded Me Of This Particular Shoe: Mercury Monday – The Autopian

The Eighth-Gen Mercury Cougar Is A Charming Car That Is Vanishing From Our Roads – The Autopian

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Camp Fire
Camp Fire
1 year ago

Nice work.

Side note – The anachronistic rocking horse in the first picture is exactly the sort of thing that Torch would use for a cold start.

Bob
Bob
1 year ago

ASC, might be worth a story (pours one out). They pulled this same “Cut off the top” move with another pop-up-graced hero, the Porsche 944S2 Cabriolet. In which, the car was built in Neckersulm, Austria; then shipped to ASC in Weinsberg, Germany, where the previously built top was cut off (and second floor pans were welded in for stiffness); then shipped BACK to Porsche in Neckersulm, Austria for paint; and then BACK to Weinsberg for sunroof installation; AND AGAIN back to Neckersulm. No wonder ’90s Porsche desperately need help from Toyota-trained folks to not go bankrupt.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bob
KennyB
KennyB
1 year ago

As far as I’m concerned, the 1986 Carpri with the big air dam in front, the 5.0, and the five speed manual was peak Fox body and I will not be taking any questions.

Addison Allen
Addison Allen
1 year ago

I don’t know how you’ve successfully stumped all these people so far, but that sweet popup headlight 1987 Capri is too good to be true. I’m impressed with your grafting of the FWD convertible nose on the front of a fox body capri. It looks really good.

Greg Winson
Greg Winson
1 year ago

The bubble-back debuted in 1983 (not 1984.) Motorweek tested an ’83 Capri RS. They recorded a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds with a four-speed manual (the five-speed was ‘coming soon’) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmkssep7JgE

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 year ago

There is only ONE TRUE CAPRI. The mighty Mk3 2.8 injection.

J Ludwik
J Ludwik
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

To call a mk3 the only ‘true’ of anything is a hell of a statement

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

When I was in high school a friend of mine had a 1979 Mustang that he spent a lot of time working on. I still remember opening the hood and seeing the top of the radiator he had gotten from a junkyard… it still had written on top of it in yellow grease pencil “79 Carpi.” that made me giggle every damn time the hood opened.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago

I remember when they went to the bubble back, the talk was that the 5.0 RS version was slower than the 5.0 GT. The reason given was that the extra glass added weight (cannot confirm or deny)

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

This is/was probably the correct answer.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago

Bishop, you forgot to mention that Mercury offered an SVO Mustang before Ford. The Capri RS Turbo had the turbocharged Lima 2.3 in 79, whereas the SVO didn’t come out until 84. Granted, the SVO gained an intercooler and, therefore, HP.

I always liked the upright grille and 944-ish fender bulges more than the Mustang’s style. If the Capri had still been on sale in 90 when I bought my GT convertible, I probably would have bought the Merc instead.

Last edited 1 year ago by MaximillianMeen
Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yes, you’re correct. The 2.3 turbo was offered in the 79 Cobra and pace car edition as well. My first car was an ’80 Cobra with the 2.3 turbo.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Totally had forgotten about the IPC Stang, and I honestly did not know that Ford ever offered a Cobra w/o a V8.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago

The SVO offered fuel injection as well. Digging back into my fox history, I recall that Ford offered a “GT Turbo” in ’83 which may have been fuel injected as well but without an intercooler. Needless to say, it didn’t sell well, but that would probably be a hell of a find today.

Josh Turner
Josh Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The turbocharged Thunderbird Turbo Coupe debuted in 1983, though it picked up power as the years went on. To me, the 1986s like the one at the link were the nicest looking, even though they didn’t have as much power as the intercooled (and restyled) 87s.

https://www.motorious.com/articles/handpicked/turbo-lover-1986-ford-thunderbird-turbo-coupe/amp/

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Believe me, I know it too. Had an ’80 cobra turbo. It looked great (for the day)…basically the same package as the ’79 pace car but copper instead of silver. Even had the recaro seats. It had a whopping 120 HP…which wasn’t terrible, but you could see it from there. Best part of that car (apart from looks) was that it had a satisfying exhaust burble and whiny turbo sounds in the boost. Of course, all that fun led to the pre-converter collapsing and having those bits go up and mash the blades of that turbo, but that’s a story for another day.

NebraskaStig
NebraskaStig
1 year ago

You eluded to my exact take in this:

The Mustang and Capri should’ve swapped looks, except for the tail lights. It just looks more the part of prior generations

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

This article doesn’t mention anything about Capri pants, which, in a reversal from the miniskirt being named for the classic Mini, were the inspiration for naming the Mercury Capri and are equally silly looking with people inside them.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Correct! I saw the story on Fox(body) News.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

What’s also enjoyable is how the pronunciation changed along the way.

The ’70s captive import was a Cap-ree, while the Fox body forward one was a Cah-pree.

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I always called it Cah-pree from the first gen.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago

Ford did seem to mishmash the Mercury models into Fords for Mexico at the time. The Tempo became the Ford Topaz, and the Topaz became the Ford Ghia. The original Sable was badged Ford Taurus, but still had the Mercury logo on the front.

While more boring, this got me thinking about what a Mercury Mystique version of the 2nd/3rd gen Mondeos would have looked like – if they kept the Mystique name. Or a Tracer of the original Focus.

Eugene White
Eugene White
1 year ago

My dad bought a ’71 Capri in 1974, and it broke something about once a month. His favorite was when he was sitting in a parking lot waiting for mom and the rearview mirror committed seppuku, simply falling off. His least favorite was when cylinder 4 left the building.

So he did the only reasonable thing and traded it in on a ’76 Capri. That was a good one, serving faithfully till ’85 or ’86.

I was looking for my first car at age 15 in 1994, and spied a ’72 Capri in the want ads. In what I now can only think of as a display of child abuse, dad took me to look at it with some enthusiasm. Sadly, it was rusted into the earth, and we rejected the seller’s increasingly desperate pleas to take it.

I ended up in a disastrous 260Z, which I ended up handing off to the old man. To this day, every time I see a first or second gen Capri for sale, I send him the ad.

Eugene White
Eugene White
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Color me unsurprised. Oddly enough there are one or two Capris that have done fairly well in recent years ice racing here in upstate NY.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 year ago

The lie is that 1st and 2nd gen Capris were Mercuries. Although they were sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers, neither the Capri nor the Capri II had any sort of Mercury badging. They were sold at L-M dealers because Ford dealers didn’t want them on their showroom floors to compete with the Mustang II.

To be fair, and on a state-by-state basis, some of these cars did get titles/registrations identifying them as “Mercury”, but that had nothing to do with FoMoCo.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Prior to the Capri, Ford sold some UK-made cars in North America. But they weren’t sold at Ford dealers, they were sold at “English Ford” dealers, which was a separate franchise – although some Ford dealers added “English Ford” franchises, there were also standalone “English Ford” dealerships, as well as other foreign car dealers who added an English Ford franchise.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

They were sold in the same area of the dealership with the Panteras!

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 year ago

I found the error. There is no Capri that wasn’t made by Opel.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
1 year ago

I’ll always be amazed at how well Ford of Australia grafted the 1987 front end onto their compact cabrio.

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