The cars we loved.
Mustangs seem to get all the attention from Ford pony car fans. That’s the sentiment of most diehard Mercury Capri aficionados. When the second generation Capri dispensed of its European sourced upbringing, it adopted the American Fox platform to become a clone of Ford’s American Mustang. Like the Mustang, it was a big departure from the smallish and Euro proportioned German built Capri. The Capri continued to evolve in Europe, while Mercury would get what was essentially its first pony car since the pre 71’ Cougar.
The Capri shared the rear wheel drive platform and engine options that were part of the Mustang technical specs. Visually it distinguished itself from the Mustang with a more squared off front end and a vertical angled grille vs. the Mustang’s wedge shape. The sides of the Capri were bolstered with slight bulges in the finders, giving it a more sporty and aggressive appearance. The Capri was slightly more upscale and managed to retain some of its initial European heritage. The Capri was also a bit more expensive. As such, its sales numbers were only a fraction of the Mustangs. The lower overall sales were the reason it was only produced from 1979 to 1986 while Mustang production continued.
Aside from small thematic differences, the two cars were nearly identical. When the Mustang was flirting with four-cylinder turbocharged engines, the Capri followed suit with examples like the 84’ RS turbo. For those who wanted more than what the new turbo four or the emissions weakened V8 could offer, there was the emerging factory sponsored tuner to deliver the goods.
The highest performing Fox bodied car for the 84-86 model years was the limited edition ASC McLaren Capri. ASC was the popular sun roof/convertible conversion maker who performed factory blessed customizations for a number of Detroit’s sportier offerings. McLaren on the other hand was noted for it’s aggressive ground effects and high performance engines (usually turbocharged four cylinders). When the pair converged on the Capri, a distinctive product was created that in some ways for shadowed the bespoilered and ground affected 1987 Mustang GT.
Starting with a standard Capri RS, the ASC cars would get an improved Garret turbocharger, built-in radar detector, Hella fog lamps and special 15’ honey comb wheels from Italy. The higher gear ratio was due to a special (some say secrete) Ford heavy-duty performance cam shaft that allowed the turbocharged 2.4 to well exceed the stated 200 to 210hp figures quoted in sales literature. The ASC McLaren Capri’s were the fastest Fords available in 85/86 with 0 to 60 times in the low six second range.
The limited color ranges were often dark, blue, blue or white (depending on years) and was available on the coupe or convertible. Many other colors were available in 1986, the final year of production. The ASC McLaren Capri came in hardtop or convertible (both called coupes). Convertible cars were not as aggressive looking, due mostly to them not having the same ground effects packages as the hardtop. Convertibles had a smaller and lighter canvas top than the standard Mustang convertible. When folded up, the convertibles project a more luxury appearance. The ASC/McLaren treatment was applied to as many Mustangs as to the Capri (1791 vs. 993 according to McLaren website). Only McLaren knowns if these applications were the full treatments or alcarte options. All Mustang/Capri buyers had the option of selecting various ASC/McLaren performance and appearance bits like fog lights and spoilers from a special Sports Conversion Package (offered at Ford Dealerships).
Today the Fox bodied Capri is rare. The ASC/McLaren cars more so. They offer perhaps the best example of early Fox body performance and showcase the role that aerodynamics would have in automotive performance (and appearance) as the 80’s evolved.