Forget the ‘legendary’ talk – the Ford Capri has never been so good

Am I the only one who doesn’t get it? “The legend is back,” says the copy, but was the Ford Capri a real legend?

With the old name being revived with the help of Eric Cantona and a bathtub-top video, it’s hard to forget the irony of Bob Lutz, a senior manager at Ford rival US General Motors, when he saw the “retro- futurism” S197 Mustang in 2004.

“They’ve redone the 1967 Mustang fastback?” he said. “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see what they do…”

But that redesigned Mustang was a proper retro work, unlike the 2020 Mustang Mach-E, which is a battery-electric SUV with no credible connection to the original “pony car” other than a galloping horse badge on the front.

Now Ford is doing it again with this reborn Capri, which is nothing more than a round roof for the Explorer, a four-door, four-seater battery-electric Volkswagen ID.5 that Ford builds under license in Cologne. It’s as sporty as watching football from the sofa and as much to do with the original Capri as it is to holiday in Torremolinos, which has always been a favorite holiday destination for the heart of Capri fans.

New Ford Capri

The new Ford Capri: ‘Volkswagen ID.5, four-door, four-seat battery-electric rebuild’

If you’re under the age of 35, you won’t remember much about the Capri, which was built between 1969 and 1986. Bodie and Doyle will all be from The Professionals driving their Capri through cardboard boxes and their manager Gordon Jackson, on holiday from gardening Upstairs, looks on. Or Terry McCann from Caretakersthe ex-boxer friendly with the scheming “entrepreneur” Arthur Daley who bought McCann a 2.0-litre Capri Mk2 but drove a Daimler himself.

Aimed at emulating the success of the V8-engined Mustang in the US, the Capri was penned by former aerodynamic apprentice and Chrysler designer Phillip Thomas Clark and was based on a unique floor taken from parts of the Escort and Corsair . A little more than a Cortina in tow, then, but a little short of “The Car You Always Promised Yourself” as Ford marketers would have you believe.

Ford’s second use of the name of the small rocky island in Italy’s Bay of Naples was the first time on the 1962 Classic/Capri 116E. Furthermore, the second Capri was not intended to be called Capri at all, but Ford had fought Mitsubishi in vain over the rights to the name Colt (Mustang, Colt, geddit?). The name is also used on the rear of the Mazda 323 and a version of the US Mustang, and the 2003 Ford Visos concept car was heavily ordered to be a new version of the Capri.

Thames TV’s titled it “Lamborghini Everyman”. Driving program, Capri’s main claim is that it was cheap. In 1969 the basic 1.3-litre model cost £890, which was almost £100 cheaper than the 1.5-litre Austin Maxi family cruiser of that year. Mind you, the Maxi was faster, faster to 60mph and rode and handled better.

The Capri was called 'everyone's Lamborghini' when it was launched in 1969.The Capri was called 'everyone's Lamborghini' when it was launched in 1969.

The Capri was called ‘everyone’s Lamborghini’ when it was launched in 1969.

With its live rear axle and leaf springs, the Capri defined tail-happy handling, with many ending their days after turning into the scenery. The 138bhp 3000 GT, with its Essex V6 engine, had a terrifying reputation for being harder to drive in a straight line than through a corner…

Even the late 2.8i Injection models (1981-86) required careful handling and sensitivity with the accelerator pedal to avoid drifting out of step to the left, while keeping the rear axle live to the end.

And my, how they rusted. I remember trying to change a wheel on a four year old Capri and not finding a single place below the fairing to support the jack. The vinyl trim showed its age quickly (often with cigarette burns) and while parts were cheap, you had to buy a lot of them to keep your Capri on the road.

This was the 1960s, though. The British population had money in their pockets, and young people were “discovered” as potential sources of profit. The Capri was somewhat flashy and its transatlantic appearance matched the weather.

Ford Capri mk1Ford Capri mk1

Capri’s American aesthetic gave it cultural influence in the 1960s

It was a fine market, of course, but the British public were not fools, we all knew what the Capri was and what it stood for. Which perhaps explains the handful of famous Capri drivers: boxing promoter Barry Hearn, Brian Connolly from The Sweet and Cliff Richard. There is a story that John Deacon from Queen wanted to buy one, but Freddie Mercury told him it wasn’t rock and roll enough.

These days there’s a sort of retro chic in the old Capri, but to own one you’ll need to weld. Think of the white Capri of Harry Styles, which he even left in lock-up to rot.

And it is sheer revisionist nonsense to suggest that the Capri had no direct competitors. In 1969, when the car was launched, Motor the magazine tested the £1,121 9s 6d 1600GT, which it labeled “not so much a 2+2, but a family of four.”

It was cheap for a 100mph car, but basic and as ever with Ford, you had to spend a lot of money on options to add to the spec. Motor compared to the £1,034 Triumph Vitesse, the £1,438 Fiat 124 coupé, the £1,198 Lotus Cortina and the £1,405 BMW 160. I would take the Cortina, every time…

The Ford Capri Mk2 offered a rear hatch, a larger interior and better practicalityThe Ford Capri Mk2 offered a rear hatch, a larger interior and better practicality

The Ford Capri Mk2 offered a rear hatch, a larger interior and better practicality

Download through 1969 Motor Annual Road Test and along with the Capri was the delectable Bertone-designed Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV coupé, valued at £2,248 for high-speed fun, and according to the testers, “excellent” road holding. With an advanced all-aluminum twin-cam engine and a five-speed gearbox, the GTV was one of the most consummate two-door coupés. Or the spacious £1,592 Opel Commodore coupé, or the £1,661 sophisticated Lancia Fulvia Coupé Rallye, which also debuted in 1969.

The Capri was an immediate success as wealthy young managers drove one and within five years Ford had sold over 1.5 million, not bad for a niche car. The Mk2 added a rear hatch, a larger interior and more practicality but by the time of the Mk3 in 1978, the writing was on the wall. Ford designers transformed the image with little more than a black trim box, a set of round headlights and a new bonnet push, but the hot renaissance era was upon us and the Capri seemed to belong to another age; a bit naff.

Game Ford Capri 3Game Ford Capri 3

By the time the Mk3 launched in 1978, the Capri seemed to belong in another age, says English.

But what goes around comes around. Former Ford boss Alan Mullally said it was a waste to throw out big names and even the company’s rivals have noticed. Legacy automakers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the new wave of Chinese brands. Among others, Alfa Romeo is reviving its Junior name and Opel is trying to bring back the Manta badge.

After Mustang and Capri, it looks like Ford will turn its sights to the Fiesta as well. Jim Farley, the company’s chief executive, appeared on Hagarty’s podcast recently talking among other things about the Fiesta and how they could make a more compact car. Amazingly, the company is very quietly reviving the disastrous Edsel name, or for that matter the Probe coupé, of which one Ford executive said: “My wife said, ‘Why didn’t you go the a total pig and you called him The Penetrator? ‘.”

But one thing they forgot in all this, however. The new Capri will be a mile away from cheap. The most expensive Explorer is £55,275 and the top model VW ID.5 is £55,705 so don’t expect the Capri to be far from the mid £50,000s. The legendary car you promised yourself isn’t always like the car you can’t afford.

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