The cars we loved.
Back in the day the Mercury Capri was seen as a more sophisticated version of the pony car. It’s smaller size and harder working V6 engine summed up the European vs. American approach to an auto craze Ford started.
Once a true world car, the Capri diverged when the third generation Fox bodied car arrived for 1979. While the smaller German built Capri continued in Europe as a scrappy alternative to the Opel Manta and Alfa GTV6s of the day, the American Capri became a clone of the American Mustang.
In doing so it lost much of the European character that was the cornerstone of Mercury’s promotional campaign. Despite slightly different European inspired visual treatments the Capri was touted nothing more than a version of the Mustang for college graduates.
The implied engineering sophistication that the German built car inspired was old history by the time the Capri had devolved into a frumpy Australian built front wheel drive two seat roadster. Then the Capri name disappeared in Europe and America. In its place Ford peddled Probes, Cougars, and Focuses as partial replacements, but none of these cars were ever truly a direct replacement for the pony car that was the original Capri of 1979-1988.
When the news came out that Ford was readying a new Mustang, one with a fully independent rear suspension and a level of refinement and efficiency that would make suitable for the European market, I couldn’t help but to think how much more effective a Capri based on the Mustang’s platform might be in Europe or even just using the name there on a more visually restrained version of the Mustang.
The Mustang’s varied power train options running from turbocharged four cylinders, V6 and V8 power gives the Capri plenty of options for motivation. Although turbo fours and six cylinder power would likely separate the Capri from a fire breathing V8 Mustang, many Mustangs in Europe are expected to sell with smaller displacement engines in keeping with the original spirit of the ’80s European Capri. It also seems plausible that a Capri would be more technology driven with version of the direct injected turbocharged engine (from the Focus ST?).
I imagine most European’s having one of two views of the Mustang in general. The first image is of the turtleneck wearing Steve McQueen in his ’67 fastback from the film Bullitt. That lone image may be the only positive one for most Europeans (and many Americans) who would never consider buying a Mustang because of the second and more prominent image of hillbillies and high school drop-outs who have made the Mustang (or Camaro) their whips of choice. Its a stereotype that’s not unique to American ponycar fans, just ask Australians about the Ford vs. Holden rivalry.
The ideal of a new Capri also bodes well for all those people who would like a Mustang, but not the negative baggage of ownership (i.e. image of redneck and crude simplicity). Assuming performance meets certain standards, many cars are sold on the ideal that owners want to buy into a particular heritage, no other reason would explain the success of BMW and Audi, despite overall quality trailing the Japanese (or even Koreans in some cases). The fun to drive and style factor figure in also, but the Mustang has had these things going for it for a few years now especially since its sharp restyle from 2010 forward.
The Capri has a long and distinguished track record in Europe, while the Mustang was a rare sight at best and a testament to American’s infatuation with displacement at worst. It’s true that the 2015 Mustang promises a level of refinement that older Mustangs could have only dreamed about, but it is still a Mustang. Transcending the negative aspects of the Mustang’s old image will take time, but likely less time that it would take to ready a Capri with the near luxury, performance and sophistication that drove people into Mercury dealerships in the first place (even if they were disappointed in the long run). If a Capri were to come about, more than cosmetic surgery would be needed to make it convincing on a continent where gas easily hovers around $7 a gallon.
The Mustang is as much an artifact of American culture as Micheal Jackson or the Kardashians, so maybe the ideal of a Yankee ponycar’s time has come in Europe. Besides, its nice that we can send Europe a noteworthy car for a change.