Here we have it, Britain’s version of the Mustang!
When I was a kid in the 90’s, everyone who was a fan of British motorcars (e.g. anyone who wasn’t pining for a Lamborghini) mentioned constantly the Ford Capri, and even though it went out of production a good 5 years before I was born, the car continued to hold its shock value even to this day due to its delinquent, rebellious nature.
What’s the story? Basically in the mid-1960’s the world of British society was going through massive change. The borders of social class were becoming blurred, and new technology mixed with new music and a new take on life meant that the teens of this era wanted something more than their flaky Humber’s and Austin 1100’s as their set of
wheels. To impress the ladies and to give themselves an identity in this raunchy new world of rebelliousness, these teens wanted something both powerful and sexy. Being American certainly helps too. With TV telling us about the carefree James Dean and Elvis Presley lifestyle American teens were going through, it was only natural that this new generation of British youth wanted to emulate it, the only problem was that image wasn’t complete without a car, and American cars were pretty much impossible to get here in the UK. For a time Ford Mustangs were on sale here in Britain, but your average teen would never have been able to afford it. The same could be said for European equivalents such as E-Type Jags and Ferraris.
However, the Eagle-eye that is the Ford Motor Company noticed this gap in the market, and swooped in in 1969 with the first generation of the Ford Capri. The car filled the gap perfectly, being a powerful and prominent machine with a 3.1L Essex V6 under the hood, taking the car up to 122mph, but with a similar winning design as the Mustang so as to
give it the ‘Poser’ value that the British teens wanted, together with an affordable price tag of just £890. This was compounded somewhat by what would now be considered a very, very, very sexist advertising campaign, where by simply looking at one, scantily clad ladies would magically appear on the passenger seat. Ooh la la!
But it wasn’t just on the road the Capri was meant to dominate, the car also went on to steal the limelight of motor racing with a specially built 4WD version powered by a 5.0L Windsor V8. In 1971 and 1972 the car literally thrashed all other competition at the World Touring Car Championships, the RS2600 versions being developed by Ford’s German division in Cologne. This reign was a short-lived venture though as another set of Germans stole the title in 1973 with BMW taking victory.
Back in the world of civilian life however the car was still winning in spades, basically because it had absolutely no competition, with only cars like the Rover 2000 and the Vauxhall Victor being cited as rivals due to being of similar size, but of much higher price. At the same time Ford provided the customer with an absolute myriad of options to choose from, with 1300’s, 1600’s, 2 Litres, 3 Litres, X-Packs, E-Packs, L-Packs, R-Packs, XL’s, XLR’s, GT’s, GXL’s, etc. (Not sure exactly what some of those packs were, but they were options all the same). At the same time, the racing Broadspeed versions were available with specially tuned rumbling V8’s to take you to the brink of 130mph. In 5 years, Ford was able to sell well over 1 million Mk1 Capri’s, and their popularity didn’t end there!
The main allure of the Capri was its racing image, and Boy Racers wishing to recreate scenes from American Graffiti continued to buy this machine up. One of the more famous Capri racing groups was those on the North Circular Road in London, where from traffic lights to traffic lights these drivers would attempt to beat each other there regardless of the speed limit. Eventually the police got so frustrated with these roaming
racing gangs that some officers would go undercover in the crowds to pounce them prior to the start, and after a while the law would break up any congregation of people from the start. But this truly is where the Boy Racer concept truly began, with teenagers who had testosterone bursting from their nose and mouth, who had managed to acquire themselves a cheap Capri and modified it in their garage to create the ultimate racing machine.
In 1974 the MkII was launched with a practical hatchback hoping to win over the family market, but was still advertised in the same overly sexed way to try and appeal to the poser teenage demographic it had originally done so. With a new and updated style to keep the car looking sporty and photogenic, the car was literally a vat of testosterone on wheels! Sadly however the MkII failed to sell in the same numbers as the original, with only 400,000 being bought in its 4 year production run, and this is before we get to the
first car that could truly challenge the Capri, the Hot Hatchback. With the arrival of small, practical, feisty cars such as the Vauxhall Chevette RS, the Talbot Sunbeam and, most prominently, the Volkswagen Golf GTi, the era of the traditional sports car and bigger machines such as the Capri was starting to look very uncool. The teen demographic that the original Capri won over just 10 years earlier had now moved on to the tiny but terrifying GTi’s of the time.
Eventually, another trip to the beauty shop resulted in the MkIII, but although the car was given much more class with more organised lighting, and an updated interior, it still had the reputation of being the car of a sexually frustrated teenager, not helped by its appearance in ‘The Professionals’, a very popular British crime drama TV series where two men named Bodie and Doyle would spend the best part of an hour driving round and round in their Capri’s until they stumbled across the bad guy (actually it was a very good show).
In 1981 a new 2.8L V6 was parked under the bonnet in the hopes of reclaiming the sporty image of the car for the more middle-aged demographic, complimented by an alliance with Aston Martin to create the luxury and powerful Tickford Turbo. But as the 1980’s drew on, this car that was starting to seem like a 1960’s relic was starting to look very
much its age and with the Hot Hatchbacks and Ford’s very own Sierra Cosworth hacking at its chins, the Capri really had to go. Towards the end of 1986 and after 1.9 million examples, the last Capri rolled off the production line at the Cologne factory, with the XR2, XR3 and XR4 holding the sports line in Ford’s European realm.
Although many thought the Capri would become a classic car and icon of the British motoring scene, it was a car not many people lamented seeing go. It only managed to reclaim some nostalgic dignity in the world of art. German artist Martin Kippenburger dedicated several pieces to the mighty Capri, whilst Ann Tilbury concocted the ‘Cowpri’, taking a Capri, painting it with black and white splodges and putting a giant set of Bullhorns on it! The most jarring of them however was Sarah Lucas’ ‘Solid Gold – Easy Action’, where the car literally bumps and jumps in the same rhythm as two lovers sealing the deal on the back seat! :S
Today Capri’s are still fairly prominent in the UK, the earlier generation ones you’ll be stretched to find but the later MkIII’s are still very much the image maker of many of today’s youth who hanker for the days of Britain’s first and probably only Muscle Car!