Ford Capri
The Sexy European

After three decades, the car that helped Lincoln-Mercury survive the'70s still retains its charm, style-and a loyal following of enthusiasts.

story by james heine - photos as credited

organge capri For many driving enthusiasts around the world, Saturday, Dec. 19, 1986, was a sad day in the annals of automotive history. On that day, the last European Capri produced by Ford officially rolled off the assembly line in Cologne, Germany. After 18 years of production, more than 1.9 million units, and numerous racing successes, the little rear-wheel-drive "muscle car" would be no more.

During its almost two-decade lifetime, the Capri went through many manifestations, yet it always retained its fundamental character and award-winning reputation as an affordable, fun sports coupe.

Capri's World-Class Competition History

Besides being well-known racing car drivers, what do Francois Cevert, Roger Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill, Niki Lauda, Klaus Ludwig, Jody Scheckter, Jackie Stewart, Hans Stuck, and John Surtees have in common? They are among a long list of world-class drivers who have piloted competition-prepared Capris.

In America, the demise of the European Capri occurred nearly a decade earlier. The car was available in the United States and Canada for just eight model years (1970-'77), yet it sold more than 500,000 units and helped keep Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division alive-even if the division didn't quite know what to do with the car, as many Capri enthusiasts have long contended.

The name Capri conjures up lazy seaside holidays along Europe's sunny Mediterranean coast. For sports-car lovers, especially in North America, the Capri was a ray of sunshine in a dismal decade of emissions regulations that destroyed performance, bumper and side-impact mandates that added weight, and a gas crisis thrown in for good measure.

To add insult to injury, the Federal government, under President Nixon, imposed a 55 mph national speed limit. Even if you had a car that was fun to drive, you couldn't enjoy it.

Yes, '70s bureaucrats smiled, because the mandate madness gave them job security. Policemen smiled because they got to meet their ticket quotas, and city fathers smiled, too, because of the revenue from all those speeding tickets. But there was little for car guys to smile about, especially if they enjoyed transportation that was small, agile, affordable, and fun.

Enter the Capri - Lightning Can Strike Twice in the Some Place

capri brochure

There is no dispute that Ford had a great idea with the Mustang: Take off-the-shelf parts and an available chassis, add a little styling magic to make it fun and different, and there you have it, an entertaining, affordable sports coupe.

In "Capri: The Development and Competition History of Ford's European GT Car," Jeremy Walton chronicles the racing heritage of the Capri. That competition portfolio includes European Touring Car Championship titles in 1971 and 1972 and a fierce Touring Car battle in 1973 with the CSLs of BMW. In the 1973 contest, BMW prevailed by the narrowest of margins because Ford brass realized too late that its engineers were correct-the little RS did need a rear wing to compete effectively against the dazzling, bewinged BMW Batmobiles.

The Capri also picked up a class win at Le Mans in 1972 as well as victories at numerous long-distance races throughout the early 1970s. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the radical Zakspeed Capris of Erich Zakowski stormed through the German Racing Championship. The Kevlar-bodied Group 5 cars bore a modest resemblance to a Capri III and developed more than 500 horsepower from their turbo-charged 1.4-and 1.7-liter Cosworth-Ford engines. Modest best describes the Capri's racing heritage in North America. Except for the efforts of Horst Kwech and Harry Theodoracopulos, who campaigned several Capri V6s in IMSA and the Trans-Am, the Capri was virtually absent from the professional scene.

The fact the car never caught on as a racer here disappoints Safe-Quip's Tim Lee, a former Capri racer in both the SCCA and IMSA. "I don't think Lincoln-Mercury really knew what they had with the Capri, and that's kind of sad," Lee says. "Ford had great success with the cars in Europe, and Lincoln-Mercury was involved in racing before and after the Capri. So it's hard to see why they didn't take advantage of the Capri's racing ability.

Lee racecd IMSA RS and GTU Capris in the early '80s, including three trips to the 12 Hours of Sebring and a trip to the Runoffs. (The GTU car also served as a GT3 car.) Lee, who enjous endurance racing, remembers his Capri fondly, but he is not sentimental about them.

"The Capri was a good, solid car. That was what was neat about it," he says. "They didn't require a tremendous amount of modification to make them work well. They had their quirks, but they pretty much worked fromt he get-go."

A lot of top international drivers like Jochen Mass, drove the Capri back in it's day.

The rate at which Mustang sales took off in North America was not lost on Ford's European operations. Perhaps a pony car for Europe could be a best seller, too.

Ford UK had an available platform in the recently introduced Cortina. (Like the Falcon upon which the Mustang was based, the Cortina offered Ford buyers sensible family transportation.)

By mid-1965, Ford was at work on a Cortina-based European sibling for the Mustang. The company brass established straightforward guidelines for the project: The car had to be attractive, affordable for family buyers, and offer seating for four people. It had to take advantage of Ford's parts bin, and rely on Ford's standard line of engines. Finally, it must offer sporty handling and a quiet ride.

Ford officially approved the project in July 1966. In November, Ford settled on a name for the car: Capri.

Fast-forward to January 1969 and the Brussels International Auto Show. Ford introduces the Capri on the last day of the show. Two weeks later, on Feb. 5, the car goes on sale in dealer showrooms, even though the supply is limited, especially in the UK. (This is the British car industry after all, and as usual, relations between labor and management are contentious.)

In addition to production at its assembly plant in Halewood, Ford will also assemble Capris at its Cologne and Saarlouis plants in Germany. (Nearly all North American Capris will come from Cologne once the car is introduced on this side of the Atlantic.)

British labor problems notwithstanding, between Feb. 5 and the end of the year, car buyers in Europe snatch up more than 156,000 copies of the Capri. (Like the initial response to the Mustang, not a bad way to introduce a new car, eh?)

The Capri Comes to North America

Tim Lee Capri

Ford introduced North America to the Capri on April 3, 1970, at the New York Auto Show, and the car went on sale in dealer showrooms April 17-halfway through the model year.

Those showrooms were not at Ford dealerships, however. On this side of the Atlantic, Lincoln-Mercury dealerships would sell the Capri. It would stand alongside the Cougar and the division's full-sized cars.

To readers today, the rationale may seem odd, but in the early 1970s Ford already had a small car for the domestic market-the Pinto and Lincoln-Mercury had none. In addition, placing the Capri alongside the Pinto in Ford showrooms could have had the very unflattering consequence of Capri sales quickly making significant inroads into the share of the market held by the Pinto. Side by side on a Ford showroom floor, the Capri might simply relegate the new Pinto to the role of an also-ran.

Within the Lincoln-Mercury stable, Ford could position the Capri as an upscale yet affordable European subcompact without buyers making a direct comparison between the Capri and the Pinto. Lincoln-Mercury could benefit from the increased traffic the Capri would bring. It would most certainly benefit from the anticipated sales of the "Sexy European". For some Lincoln-Mercury dealers, the Capri would also provide a nice bookend for the other Sexy European they were selling-the high-profile Pantera.



1970 - Only One Engine?

Although the European Capri already offered buyers a bewildering variety of power train options, the first federalized Capris rolled off Lincoln-Mercury lots with Ford's workhorse 1600cc Kent engine and a four-speed transmission.

In addition, Ford offered the car with styled steel wheels, radial tires, a deluxe trim package, bucket seats, and power front disc brakes. Buyers seeking a little more luxury could order the optional Capri Décor Group, which included a sports console with clock, reclining front seats, separate contour rear seats with a folding armrest, a faux leather-trimmed sports steering wheel and gear shift knob, and a map light, among other things.

Ford priced the base-model Lincoln-Mercury Capri at a very reasonable $2295 POE, and dealer prep and destination charges typically added another $75. Popular options were an AM radio ($75), Décor Group ($75), vinyl roof ($65), sun roof ($119), and air-conditioning ($395).

capri csp

Ford rated the 1.6-liter engine at 75 horsepower at 5000 rpm, which meant that the little four-banger Kent had its work cut out in moving the 2135-pound Capri down the road. While performance of the 1.6-liter Capri was modest, it was still superior to the performance of European Capris equipped with the tiny 1300cc four-cylinder engine. (Ford offered the 1.3-liter option in Europe so that buyers could avoid tax penalties placed on "gas guzzler" cars.)

The automotive press responded favorably to the Capri's introduction. Road & Track (June 1970) called the Capri one of Ford's better ideas. "It's good looking, it's a practical automotive package, and it's being offered at a competitive price. It's a Ford that makes sense," the road-test story noted.

Road & Track was also favorably impressed with the Capri's interior. "Positively luxurious" was its evaluation of the Capri with the optional Décor Group. The magazine's staff was impressed with the car's handling and road manners as well: "We have a saying around the office," the reviewer wrote, "that good cars are the easiest to drive. In a good car you feel immediately at home. The Capri meets this standard, and on very brief acquaintance you're ready to drive it at your and its limits."

On the downside, Road & Track, like other industry publications, noted that the little Kent engine had a lot of work to do. Acceleration in the mini-Mustang wasn't exactly neck-snapping. This could be a problem, because one could easily obtain close to 100 horsepower from Japanese cars for the same money.

Car and Driver (May 1970) was less sanguine about the Capri. Despite its alluring qualities, the car lacked sufficient poke. The already federalized 1600 just would not do: "Having said that the Capri is the newest in a line of good cars," the magazine noted, "let the bad part be recorded forthwith: The car is coming to the United States with the wrong engine... the so-called federal car is no better than the Beetle in performance, and all this from a $2295 car which looks like it would suck the doors off any of its competition."

Clearly, for some enthusiasts, the Capri needed more ponies under the hood. The suspension was willing, the four-speed gear-box was fluid and precise, but the poor engine needed more steam. You could certainly have fun with the Capri, but it took a lot of rowing through the gears, and even then the results were not necessarily entertaining.

Ira Schoen's Two-Liter Trans-Am Racer

In the fall of 1990, East Coast ITB racer Ira Schoen received an invitation he couldn't refuse. A racing friend informed Schoen that he had uncovered what appeared to be a vintage racing Capri. Schoen, already a Capri racer for several years, jumped at the opportunity. He visited his friend in Massachusetts and took a look at the car.

"The Capri, after much research by the historian of the SCCA's Glen Region, was confirmed as being formerly owned and raced by Oliver Jones of Connecticut," Schoen said. "Initially, Jones ran Formula Fords in the early 1970s in SCCA Club Racing. He later went SCCA Pro Racing in his Capri."

Jones and the Capri appeared at three events in 1972, two Trans-Ams (Lime Rock and Watkins Glen) and an IMSA race at Bryar, Schoen added. "It's fortunate for us that Jones did compete during 1972, because the vintage cutoff for the Trans-Am class in SVRA is documented racing prior to Jan. 1, 1973."

When the Annandale, Va., racer and owner of Pterodactyl Racing found the car, it was in sad shape. "Only a red shell remained-with four Libre racing wheels with Firestone tires; no engine, electrics, or interior; few suspension pieces; an inadequate roll cage; body dameage; and Bondo galore," Schoen said.

From the way the car looked, it appeared that it had last competed in IMSA's Champion Spark Plug Challenge during the mid-1970s, after which it was picked over and discarded. "We spent the better part of two years restoring this very special and unique Capri," Schoen said. "From all accounts, it was-and is-the only Capri to have raced in the Two-Five Challenge."

To restore the car, Schoen used parts from his ITB car and from a collection of Capri parts that he has amassed over a 20-year association with the imported Ford. (He is also the owner of a pristine 1973 Capri 2000 and the former owner of a 1973 2.6-liter Capri.)

"We took great care in restoring the Capri to 1972 SCCA Trans-Am Two-Five Challenge specificaitons," Schoen said. In their inaugural event in 1992, Schoen and the Capri finished fourth at Mid-Ohio, followed by a first at Watkins Glen. Since then, Schoen has raced the car every year except 1994 and 1996. Schoen will race the Capri next at the SVRA's Zippo United States Vintage Grand Prix Sept. 9-12 at Watkins Glen.

In defense of Ford's Capri policy, one must note that getting an engine approved for U.S. sale was no simple process. It took time and cost money. Without the Kent engine's availability, the Capri story might have been somewhat different-even delayed-on this side of the Atlantic.

While media types wished for an engine that could make the Capri's performance as attractive as its styling, car buyers didn't wait. They liked the car, and they liked its price and value. Between the its April introduction and the end of the model year, Lincoln-Mercury sold more than 15,000 Capris.

Important Changes for 1971

Ford addressed the horsepower concerns by offering buyers an optional two-liter engine for the 1971 model year. One immediate benefit was that Road Test magazine named the Capri its 1971 Import Car of the Year. "Our choice was unanimous when the time for selection came," the editors said. "All imports can be categorized as 'good' nowadays, and in some years it's difficult to pick a single one that's outstanding.

"That was not the case this time. We feel that when quality, quality control, appearance, luxury of trim, utility, handling and performance are all evaluated as a 'package' at a given price, the Capri clearly shows as the winner."

High praise indeed for the Capri! By the traffic count in Lincoln-Mercury showrooms, car buyers agreed. By the end of the 1971 model year, 53,000 Capris had left dealer lots. Much of the sales success can be credited to the new 2000cc Pinto engine.

With the two-liter engine, buyers got a 9.0:1 compression ratio and a two-barrel Weber carburetor. The extra 400cc and, more important, the extra 25 horsepower generated by the engine, turned the Capri into a real sports-coupe contender.

The new SOHC engine redlined at 5600 rpm and produced 120 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3600 rpm. Mated to a 3.44:1 rear axle (the original rear axle ratio was 3.89:1 for the 1600), the Capri produced better 0-60 times and increased fuel mileage at the same time.

A good little car had suddenly become a great little car. Eleven months after the magazine essentially panned the Sexy European, the writers of Car and Driver were ecstatic: "If the concept of a truly contemporary car conjures images of a grossly padded, powerless, extra-federalized slug, the Capri will allay your fears.

"It certainly is no stone, as astonished owners of Fiat 124 coupes, Porsche 914s, BMW 2002s and fuel-injected Alfas will begrudgingly attest. The Capri will not only out-sprint these traditional heavies on the enthusiast scene, in the hands of a capable driver it will leave them embarrassed in the corners.

"Furthermore, the Capri packs essentially as much usable space and comfort into its compact dimensions as the Mustang after which it was styled. All of these very real assets are yours, wrapped in the color of your choice, for a very friendly price of just over $2600."

Quite a change of heart, and all because of 400cc and 25 ponies. (And for many enthusiasts, the best was yet to come, but more about that later.) For the record, in 1971 you could have the color of your choice so long as it was dark green metallic, medium blue metallic, red, silver, yellow gold, white, or medium brown.

For the first time, too, buyers could also opt for a three-speed automatic transmission (two-liter engine only). If you wanted an AM-FM radio or air-conditioning, well, you had to talk with the dealer about those items.

The 1600cc Capri remained unchanged for 1971, as did the option list. Instrumentation in both cars remained typically U.S., with only a speedometer, temperature gauge, fuel gauge and assorted idiot lights present. And buyers had to live with a cheesy simulated wood-grained instrument panel as well. (This was the '70s, after all. Simulated woodgrain was a regular feature of car interiors-went with double- knit, you know.)

For many enthusiasts, the 1971 Capri with Pinto engine, optional tires (185/70-13 instead of 165SR13), and the Décor Group has become the quintessential sporting Capri-well balanced, well appointed, and a hoot to own and drive.

If You Liked the Two-Liter, You'll Love the V6

The following year, 1972, brought good news and bad news for Capri enthusiasts. The good news was that Ford offered its Cologne V6 to the American car-buying public for the first time. The two-liter four had transformed the Capri; the 2.6-liter V6 revolutionized it. The general reaction of both the press and the public was simple: Wow!

The bad news? Increasingly strict emission regulations further curtailed the power output of the little Kent engine, and they began to cost the 2000cc powerplant some real juice as well. The two-liter engine lost 14 horsepower, while the 1.6 lost 11. They were now rated at 86 and 64 horsepower respectively.

For the Kent engine, 1972 would be the last year Ford offered the little British engine in North America, at least in a Capri. The ecstatic reception of the V6 overshadowed the demise of the Kent engine. While on paper the horsepower rating of the V6 was only seven greater than the 1971 version of the Pinto engine, the torque it produced (130 ft.-lbs.) raised the Capri to the genuine pony-car category. Even with the extra weight of the V6 (65 pounds for the engine, another 75 for other things), the Capri could now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Mustang.

"BMWs, Fiat 124s, Audis, and even Mustangs become fair game on curvy roads," Motor Trendenthused in its February 1972 edition. "You can rack back the sunroof, adjust the seat to your normal body conformations, and really enjoy this car."

Drivers got more with the V6, too: they finally got full instrumentation. In addition to the speedo, there was a large tach and four satellite gauges. All of this went a long way to lifting Capri sales in 1972 over the 80,000 mark.

Dwayne Komush's 200,000-mile Capri Autocrosser In 1994, Livermore, Calif., mechanical engineer Dwayne Komush bought an old car, a 1972 2.6-liter Capri with just under 200,000 miles on the odo. Today the car is a divisional-winning D Street Prepared racer. It is the 12th Capri of 45-year-old Komush has owned and one of three that he currently claims. "The car was a basket case and had sat in the previous owner's driveway for six years," Komush says. "I cleaned it up, got it running, and painted it. In the process, I lowered it two inches from stock, adding some pieces I had lying around from all my other Capri endeavors." Komush put the Capri to work as around-town transportation and soon crossed the 200,000-mile mark with the little V6. "The engine was tired but certainly operational," he said. In late 1995, Komush was approached by Rick Myllenbeck, who proposed running the car in the San Francisco Region's Solo II series. Myllenbeck proceeded to test the DSP waters with the car, achieved some success, and then ran the entire 1996 season with the Capri, winning the series championship. By the end of the season, however, the Capri's engine was, well, tired. "It had one cylinder with no compression," Komush says. Preparations for 1997 included a new 2.8-liter engine with all the modifications allowed by Solo II Street Prepared rules. Because of the previous year's success, the chassis was left unaltered. "We struggled in 1997 with too many teething problems with the new engine, and Rick fell to second in the regional series and at the divisional event, "Komush says. "Late in the season, Rick decided to focus on attending the 1998 nationals. To complement this commitment, he also suggested Arie Villasol as a co-driver." Komush and his drivers had ironed out all the car's problems. Myllenbeck won DSP, and Villasol placed third in a field of 11 cars. "This became the foundation for the 1998 nationals," Komush said. At the Tire Rack Solo II Nationals in Topeka, Myllenbeck finished fifth in a field of 45, 0.08 seconds out of fourth place. Villasol finished sixth, making the Capri the hightest-finishing sedan in class. "The only vehicles to finish ahead of Rick and Ari were Fiat X1/9s," say Komush. "Absolutely no one expected this result, except maybe the drivers and the owner. In a class where there are more modern Volkswagens, Hondas, Pintos, and Fiestas, our lonely and ancient Capri beat them all except the agile sports cars." For 1999, the Capri is in the hands of Villasol, as Myllenbeck had too many commitments to continue driving, Komush says. Villasol is enthusiatic about their chances this year in Topeka: "I really believe that with more seat time, we will put up a serious battle for the top spot in DSP. The car is better now than it was last year, and I will improve with time."

1973-74: Bumper Cars

Like every other car in the U.S., the Capri got new front- and sideimpact protection in 1973. One sure way to distinguish a 1973 Capri from earlier models is to note the extended front bumper. (Rear bumper mandates did not take effect until 1974.)

To meet the new regulations, Ford reinforced the Capri's front bumper with a steel tube and attached the whole rig to the frame by means of energy absorbers. To cover the gap between the body and the bumper, Ford inserted a vinyl cap to improve the awkward appearance.

While Ford also made major styling and trim changes to the interior of the 1973 Capri (e.g., a new dash), engine and powertrain options were pretty much carried over from 1972. In sales, 1973 marked the high point of the Capri's penetration into the U.S. market. Lincoln-Mercury dealers sold more than 113,000 units, making Capri the second-best-selling import after Volkswagen.

Capri's new rear bumpers arrived with the 1974 model year, as did a new 2800cc V6. In fact, the Capri got new bumpers at both ends. The monochromatic bumpers matched the color of the car, and they were, well, hefty, to say the least. For the first time, too, buyers could order factory air-conditioning for their Capri. Also on the list of new items were air pumps and EGR systems, unfortunately.

The 2.8-liter Cologne V6 was more than a slightly larger version of the 2.6. The 2.8 block was stronger in several areas than the 2.6, and the new engine abandoned the Siamesed exhaust ports of the 2.6 for individual exhaust ports.

The effect of 1974 emissions regulations was minimal on the new V6, especially in light of its increased torque, but the two-liter four was scaled back again. Now it was rated at a modest 80 horsepower, with 98 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm. This would be the last year Ford offered the Pinto engine in the Capri. It would go the way of the 1600.

Enter the Capri II-and then Good-bye

Strictly spealdng, Lincoln-Mercury had no Capri for 1975. Dealers sold leftover '74s and awaited the early rollout of the 1976 Capri 11, a hatchback version of the Capri that had already debuted in Europe in 1974.

Gone from the new Capri was the "swoop" that ran alongside the lower body from front to back. (Some Capri owners call it the "hockeystick line.") Gone also were the fake air inlets in front of the rear wheels. At the front of the car, the hood line was a bit lower. If the Capri had been sexy before, now it was svelte and trim as well. At least it looked that way.

The truth is that between federalized front and rear bumpers, mandated side-impact door beams, re-engineering to allow for the new hatch, extra insulation, and catalytic converters, the Capri, while still nimble and fun to drive, had picked up a few pounds.

But then so had every other car.

Curb weight for the Capri II V6 was up to 2800 pounds. A fully optioned Capri II Ghia with a V6 topped the scales at 2996 pounds, according to Lincoln-Mercury's 1976 Capri brochure. (This was a 981- pound gain over the curb weight listed for the 1971 Kent-powered Capri. Oink!)

To be fair, a more equitable comparison might be made between the original four- cylinder Capri and the 1976 Capri powered by Ford's 2.3-liter Lima engine, now the base engine in the Capri line. Here the weight difference was 476 pounds.

To compensate for the increased weight, the Lima inline four offered 88 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 116 ft.-lbs. torque at 2600 rpm. Even with the extra weight, the new Capri was well received. Its essential character remained. In a July 1975 road test of two V6 Capri IIs-one plain, the other a loaded, upscale Ghia - Road & Track was well-pleased with the redesigned car, even if it was a little on the heavy side.

"Once again, then, we can report that the Capri V6 is an attractive, competent and enjoyable car at a reasonable price," the editors said. "It goes, it stops and handles, it's well built and it has that sturdy, precise European character that makes it something special for Americans and Canadians. On top of all this, it's a more practical car because of its new hatchback body. A quality European car at a realistic price-what more could one want?"

Yet the Capri was near the end of its American visit. For 1977, Ford made few changes to the Capri lineup, and after 1977 there would be no more Capris, at least not the Cologne-produced kind. (While 1977 was the end of the U.S. Capri, it's interesting to note that in the brochure for its 1978 lineup of cars, Lincoln-Mercury had a page for the 1977 Capri. One can assume that the division had a Capri or two remaining from 1977.)

The principal factor in the departure of the Capri was probably the unfavorable exchange rate of the Carter years. Inflation in the U.S. rose to double-digit figures in the mid- to late-'70s, and the dollar wasn't worth much abroad. Capris therefore got expensive to import, and the value inherent in the well-equipped, reasonably priced car evaporated.

Then, too, by the late 1970s, Ford had a crowded field in the Capri market: Pinto, Bobcat, Maverick, Comet, Mustang II. Ford development was already moving on to other things in Europe (even though the Capri would be around for a while), and car-buying habits in America were changing rapidly.

There was perhaps an image problem also. Among other things, a V6 Capri was preferred by many over a similarly equipped (and even heavier) Mustang II. It could do all that the Mustang did, and in many cases, it could do more. Yet if Ford had to choose between the Capri and the Mustang, the Mustang would win, especially with a new Mustang on the horizon. Cologne stopped making U.S.-specification Capris in August 1977, and that, sadly, was the end.

In Europe, The Capri continued for another nine years, but that, as they say, is another story.

How to Be Sexy: Things to Look for in Buying a Capri

Team Blitz Rally Cat Capri

Team Blitz - Norm Murdock
Norm Murdock of Team Blitz
Although Ford imported more than a half-million Capris between 1970 and 1978, finding a good Capri may take a little forethought. Still the benefits of owning a Capri and the fun of driving one can mark the effort worthwhile. We picked up some common-sense advice on buying and maintaining Capris from Norm Murdock, Capri fan and owner of Team Blitz.

It's fair to call Ohio's Team Blitz the Moss Motors of Capridom. The Columbus-area company maintains a stock of more than 2 million Capri parts, and owner Murdock has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the little Ford.

Murdock became interested in Capris more than a decade ago when he chose the two-liter Capri for his venture into SCCA Improved Touring racing. He won back-to-back Central Division ITB championships with his Team Blitz Capri in 1986 and 1987.

This racing success had an unintended impact on Murdock's part-time business. People began calling Team Blitz, asking if Murdock had this or that Capri part, or if he knew whether the part was available. The response of Capri owners was so great that in 1990 Team Blitz began to focus solely on the Sexy European.

Today, Team Blitz is Murdock's full-time vocation. He offers everything from body panels and dash covers to performance parts and wheels. He ships Capri parts throughout the U.S. and Canada and over- seas to Europe. His mailing list contains more than 8000 names.

"All years of the Capri seem about equally desirable to the same number of people," he notes. "Many people consider the 1973 model more or less the classic Capri. It still had chrome bumpers, and it didn't have pollution controls. In 1974, Ford brought in the big bumpers, and that was really a turning point. They did upgrade the V6 to a 2.8, so they maintained the performance; but it was a much heavier car from that point onward."

The popularity of the Capri is not limited to its chrome-bumper models, Murdock adds. "There are a few model years when Ford was implementing pollution controls and adding creature comforts, and they half got it right and half got it wrong. Some of those years are the most popular years for Capri owners," he says.

Murdock defines the typical Capri owner as a 40-something male who owned a Capri just after he finished school. Many of his customers own two cars, one to keep original and one to have some fun with, he adds.

Norm Murdock of Blitz Racing and two of his Capris: the mostly-original 1973 2.6 liter car is on his right; the 1976 "Rally Cat" Capri II is the one with the cool stripes.

What to Look For

"The number-one thing is rust-structural rust," says Murdock. "The door post is an absolute killer. If the door post has a line of rust from top to bottom, I would pass on the car," he says. Look carefully under the car, too, Murdock warns.

"Another thing that's impossible to deal with is frame-rail rot where the front of the rear springs hook up," he says. "The section of the box frame for the front eye of the leaf spring and the arch going over the axle-if those parts are rotted, I'd pass on the car unless I was simply looking for parts."

In checking out a car, the ideal thing is to put the car on a lift and poke around on it with a screwdriver, if the owner will let you do that, Murdock adds. Outside of structural rust, you can fix anything on a Capri, he says. Most body panels are readily available, and because many parts for the Capri are interchangeable, you can build the kind of car that you want.

"Basically, you can drop any of the five power trains into any of the body shells," Murdock says. "There is a bias towards the V6, because of the additional torque, but the two-liter is just a sweet motor. To a lot of people, because the two-liter weighs less and because it's more nimble, the classic Capri is a two-liter early chrome-bumper car. It's a bread and butter Capri," he observes.

What to Pay

Ford / Mercury Capri V6
For many fans, the Cologne 2.6 or 2.8-liter V6 is the ultimate
in Capri power. On pre-1974 models, the little V6 easily slipped
into the engine bay. On later cars, extra plumbing and
pollution control equipment cluttered things up.

"The lowest-mileage, well-optioned, original Capri you can find isn't going for more then $7000 or $8000, and that's absolutely tops," says Murdock. "That would be crazy money, what a Capri nut would pay-somebody like me.

The normal price range for these cars is $2000 to $3000 for a really good, well-maintained car. Then there's everything else underneath-beaters for $50 and that kind of stuff."

The difference in price between a parts car or a lower-end car and a well-maintained car is easily several thousands dollars, and that represents the price of restoring the car, Murdock says. "We tell people that paint and bodywork on a typical 25-year-old Capri will run about $3000 as a rule of thumb."

Good Things to Know

Murdock offer the following advice for Capri owners or potential owners of Capris: Brakes: "The front rotors on the Capri are prone to warping if the brakes are abused. If you drive the Capri like a modern car-say a Taurus, with its over-engineered brakes-you're probably going to warp the brakes. Luckily rotors for Capris are inexpensive." Murdock also notes that Team Blitz sells upgrades for Capri brakes. Team Blitz - Norm Murdock

Because the V6s are not zero-tolerance motors, there is no damage to the engine when this happens. It just quits. We sell an aluminum/steel replacement gear set-the top gear being aluminum, the bottom steel-and that takes care of the problem."

The two-liter: "The two-liters need regular oil changes. If you let the motor sludge up, the oil spray bar that sprays the camshaft will clog, and if it plugs up, you waste the bearings on the cam-and, well, so long."

The interior: "On the Capri interior, you can expect that the dash will crack. This is true regardless of the model year." Because the problem is so common, Team Blitz has developed a dash-repair kit. Unless you buy a mint car, you can also expect to reupholster the seats, Murdock says. "Most seats, because of their age, are junk."

Murdock's final advice to Capri owners: "Use the darn thing. It's the kind of car that you can use, put up and rebuild, and use again. You can buy a good daily driver for $3000. There is no problem with parts. If you live north, drive it nine months out of the year, and then put it away for the winter. A Capri is the kind of car you can buy, drive for a couple of years, and still sell for $2000 or $3000."

1999 Capri Swarm: Happy Birthday, Ford Capri

The Capri Club of North America (CCNA) will celebrate the 30th anniversay of Ford Capri with a Labor Day weekend birthday bash at its annual "Capri Swarm" at National Trails Raceway near Columbus, Ohio. The Sept. 3-5 gathering will be held in conjuction with the National Ford Expo at the raceway.

Capri enthusiasts founded the CCNA two years ago; the club presently has about 250 members in the United States and Canada. "We charge $10 a year for dues, which includes our bimonthly newsletter. A majority of our members are from the U.S., but we also have a grouwing number of Canadians," club membership coordinator Mike Robertson said.

Formation about he Capri Club of North America, or about the 1999 Capri Swarm, contact Robertson at 937 N. Monterey St., Gilbert, AZ 85233. You can also reach Roberston by phone at (602) 507-8285 or access the club's Web site at capriclub.com.

This article was written by James Heine for the July/August edition of Grassroots Motorsports.


Copyright © 1997 Capri Club North America. All rights reserved.