The Ford Capri first came to market in 1969 in Europe, and arrived in Australia during the same year. Its aim was to replicate the huge success that had been enjoyed by the Ford Mustang in the US.
The Mk I Capri was manufactured to the European spec on home turf in Sydney. It was based on the mechanics of the popular Cortina, with a sporty coupe body on top. It remained in production until 1972, after which time a number of RS3100 models were imported by Ford Australia and sold to the local market, though none were manufactured here.
Australian production began once more in 1989, leading the Capri to enjoy something of a revival. Some 60,000 were built specifically for export to the US market, but nonetheless nearly 10,000 were sold in Australia to Ford fans looking for a decent-quality entry-level coupe. It is mostly these that are available on the used-car market today, save for a few well-cared-for originals that now date back some 40 years.
The Capri was Ford Australia’s first major attempt at export and it did much to underpin Ford’s survival and growth in the tough market of the time.
The later-generation Capri earned itself a reputation for questionable reliability, although this is largely offset by the high number of Capris still in existence on Australian roads today. Safety-wise, however, the later model didn’t fare so well, being assessed as lower than average in its abilities to provide driver and passenger protection in the event of a collision.
The original Capri comes in both 1600 Deluxe and 1600 GT models with a 1.6-litre Ford Kent OHV engine, which were joined in 1972 by a 3000 GT model using a 3.0-litre Ford Essex engine.
Beneath the bonnet, the 1989 revival Capri was a different car altogether despite the looks it had in common with its predecessor. It was designed to be an entry-level convertible and was built using a Mazda 323 engine, coming in two models: a SOHC 61 kW 1.6-litre EFI and a DOHC 100 kW turbo variant. The Capri was better known for cruising than for its sporty drive, but that made it an exciting option for drivers looking for a smoother ride from their topless teaser.
The Capri came with a 5-speed manual gearbox as standard with a 3-speed automatic alternative. This was replaced by a 4-speed auto in 1990. In 1992 we saw the introduction of the SC models – the XR2, Clubsprint, and Barchetta – giving way to the SE models by the same names in 1993, which were to be the last off the manufacturing line.
The 1989 Capri is perhaps best known for its leaking roof. The problem was corrected relatively quickly by Ford, albeit with a few hiccups along the way, but the media took a long time to forget. Somewhere down the line it seemed the press was determined for the coupe to fail, and it eventually did so. For those who recognize the Capri’s qualities, however, it remains a popular used-car choice, offering a fun sporty look at an encouragingly low price.
All in all the Capri was a well-designed car for its time. Two rear seats compliment the two front seats, making it a viable family runabout, and the front-wheel drive system and perfectly adequate engine deliver a comfortable drive on the tarmac. Despite its bad press, the folding roof is one of the Capri’s biggest selling points, but it comes with plenty of additional kit besides.
Features and extras vary from model to model, with the final Barchetta model offering power steering, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, and a 4-speaker stereo and cassette system. The XR2 was augmented with alloy wheels, a sporty rear spoiler, driving lights, central-locking system, and a superior sound system; while the Clubsprint offered a choice of turbo engine, full body kit, driving lights, 5-spoke alloy wheels, leather trim, and Momo steering wheel.
The Mazda MX5 is probably the Capri’s most direct rival. The two cars came to market at the same time and ironically, also shared an engine. The problem with comparing the two is that the MX5 was designed purely as a sports car and is judged accordingly, while the Capri was intended to fulfill a hybrid sports-comfort role which, taken in context, it does admirably.
Other competitors from the same era include the Peugeot 306 Cabriolet and the VW Golf Cabriolet, both of which retail significantly higher than the Capri.