Time quietly and slowly wreaks astonishing change. Take, for example, the humble Ford Capri. When it was launched in 1969 it was perfectly reasonable to attach the famous ‘car you always promised yourself’ strap line to a budget two door coupe with 1300cc. Buyers were easily pleased. Even when the Capri bowed out in 1986 the ultimate version had just 160 bhp.
Today the bar is set so high that few cars could safely survive under the weight of that strap line. But the Capri did. And does.
Facts and figures fail to do justice to a car that was successful because it made the idea of a svelte, sporting, practical sports car reality. Here was a four seater car that could work as well on the school run as a trip to Woolworths to refresh the owner’s supplies of Brute. Nothing like the Capri had ever existed before.
Which, considering the car’s basic concept, is odd. The coupe concept wasn’t new. Luxury car makers like Jensen and Aston specialised in expensive big coupes for high rollers. What made the Capri different and new was that this type of car had never been available for The Common Man. Ford UK’s starting point was the phenomenally successful Mustang, a simple and therefore inexpensive but profitable hybrid of family and sports car. Both cars were built around existing mechanicals shared with other more humdrum models. Once the Mustang and Capri arrived the question wasn’t ‘what is this?’ But ‘why didn’t we do this before?’
The Capri and Mustang catered for a market sector that nobody had spotted before. Pre-Capri you either drove a sports car or a family car. The Capri landed in the middle and did both, whilst appearing only to be a sports car. For maturing drivers who had given up their youthful TR6 for something more practical, the ‘car you always promised yourself’ strap line was bang on. The Capri said you could get old but you didn’t have to get sensible.
Today the car market is awash with different type of cars, covering more niches than most right minded people probably thought existed. So it’s difficult to imagine a world where simply bringing home a hatchback or a coupe was considered Unusual. That is the world into which the Capri arrived. The Audi A5 may be the Capri of the moment, but it’s just another car. The Capri, when it was first launched, was a stop-and-look statement.
The Capri succeeded where copycats like the Sunbeam Rapier, Opel Manta and, yes, the Marina TC failed because it was a Ford and nobody sold cars like Old Henry. There was a Capri for everyone, whatever combination of engine and trim suited you, plus a huge range of options to personalise your new car. And because it looked good nobody really cared that it wasn’t the last word in speed and handling. It was better than a Cortina and that is all that mattered.
Whatever Capri you drive, from low spec to high power, early car to late model, the feel is essentially the same. This is a saloon car playing at sporting. It isn’t quick, the steering is a bit wooden and the handling is stodgy. But if these things matter to you then this isn’t the car for you. The Capri is a car that plays with the idea of fun and sporting, but it delivers both without compromising its everyday useability. It’s comfortable. The gear change is slick, the clutch light, the brakes effective. At speed you can hear the radio. If you want a full on sporting experience, get an Integrale. If you want a car that will take you to work every day without annoying characteristics and histrionics, get a Capri.
Ford didn’t change the basic Capri concept through two evolutions and 17 years production. It gained a hatchback, bigger engines, more power and some racing pedigree but the final 280 Brooklands hardly strayed from the original idea. Yet by the mid-80s the car had become a bit of an anachronism. Its market was being assailed on all sides by the hot hatch and more technically advanced coupes like the Audi GT. The Capri felt old school.
Since the demise of the last Capri in 1986 Ford has pretty much given up on the coupe market. The Mustang has been reborn but in Britain we’ve only had the laughable Probe and the inept Cougar. Which is odd really because in the 90s the coupe hit its stride again. BMW’s 3 series coupe was the Capri of its era and in huge demand while Fiat, Alfa, Peugeot and even Vauxhall all pitched in. BMW and Audi, with their penchant for selling us what we never knew we needed, have even managed the atom-splitting trick of fracturing the coupe market into numerous sub-niches for small, medium, large and quirky coupes.
Today even the newest Capris are nearly 30 years old, the oldest nudging 50. And yet the basic idea of a practical sports car remains as relevant as ever. But whereas the modern day Capris like the A5 and 4 Series need an airfield or race track to fully enjoy them, the Capri can be enjoyed safely to the limit on any road. Or roundabout. Perhaps in 30 years we’ll be reminiscing about the Capri’s modern successors, but personally I doubt it. I own a Fiat Coupe Turbo and 2001 Alfa GTV V6, both of which are great cars but just too accomplished to really enjoy on today’s clogged roads. Modern Capris from BMW and Audi are too complicated to survive and frankly too good to enjoy on modern roads. Jump in a late Capri and it feels familiar enough to be engaging. It’s quick enough to be fun and simple enough to make every corner feel like the Nurburgring. At 40mph. String together a decent B-road drive and at the end you can safely say ‘I did that’ not the nannying electronics.
We have a Ford Capri 280 Brooklands for hire from £199 for 24 hrs or £349 for 48 hrs. Or indulge your coupe fantasies with a back-to-back weekend in our Audi Quattro and Capri for just £350. Both cars are based at our central Midlands location. To find out more call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.