Wednesday, April 30, 2014

1991 Mercury Capri - A Commuter Car With A Soft Top...

The Capri was built by Ford of Australia. It used Mazda mechanicals. It had a small back seat. It had Italian roots, with its body being loosely based on the 1983 Ford Ghia Barchetta concept car. It could be ordered with a turbocharged engine. It was sold in the US by Lincoln Mercury dealers. It should have been a success. It wasn't.

The Capri had a lot of little problems and one big one. First the little problems... The initial build quality was poor. There was nothing inherently evil, things just weren't screwed together well. It was FWD and its chassis was based on Mazda's 323 sedan. The design was old. The Ghia Barchetta concept car looked stunning in its day, but by the time the Capri was introduced in 1991, the slab sided wedge design was quickly going out of fashion. Lastly, selling it through Lincoln / Mercury dealers doomed it from the get go. They were (and still are) one of the last places you'd think about looking for a sporty, modern car. Ford had problems selling the original European Capri (a world beater) and the star crossed Merkur line at those dealerships. There was no reason to believe they would do any better with an Australian built, Mazda econo-box based sports car. And they didn't.

The big problem was, of course, the Miata. Ford owned a good chunk of Mazda in the 1980s and 1990s, so it's somewhat (but not totally) surprising that they didn't see this coming. The Miata, with its classic looks and tight RWD platform, took the world by storm. It was everything that was good about the 1960s British and Italian sports cars in a fairly comfortable, dead nuts reliable package. It also managed to highlight everything that was wrong with the Capri.

Ford thought they could overcome all this by promoting the Capri's tiny rear seat and good sized trunk. It didn't work. While Mazda was selling as many Miatas as they could get into the showrooms, Ford was having all sorts of problems moving the Capri. They had hoped to sell 33,000 in 1991 - its introduction year - but managed to move just 22,000. It only got worse from there and Ford pulled the plug on the Capri in 1994.

The Capri was available in two forms, the standard version - like this one - with a normally aspirated 100 HP engine, and the XR2, with a turbocharged 132 HP engine. The XR2 could be mildly entertaining, with a 7.3 second 0 - 60 time. I could not find any 0 - 60 times for the normally aspirated Capri. (Maybe no one bothered to test it.) I suspect it's in the high 9s, but that's a guess.

So why buy one like this, with the normally aspirated engine? One reason and one reason only... They are cheap. A really nice one will cost you less than $2000.00. Decent ones sometimes sell for half of that. It's a commuter car, pure and simple. It gets decent gas mileage (22 city / 28 highway) and has enough power to be safe. On a sunny summer night, you can put the top down on the way home from work. That alone makes it more fun than a similar era Civic, 323, Corolla, Sentra, etc.

This 116,000 mile car looks to be in overall nice condition. The only visible flaw is a seat cover over a ripped driver's seat. The seller says the dashboard has some cracks, but does not show any pictures of them. It has the desirable hardtop. My only concern with this car is that it is a "donation car." In some instances a donation car receives an automatic salvage title. The seller doesn't mention if this is the case with this car. (Really, though, it doesn't matter. It's not like you'll be selling this car as a collector's car, or even selling it at all. Just drive it until it won't drive anymore.)

Located in Glen Rock, PA, click here to see the eBay listing.


Max Power said...

It was could just sense the doom and failure when this car was introduced. As you stated, the Miata was what everyone wanted in this type of car and the Capri was not. Also, I can clearly remember at the 1991 (or 1990) NY Auto show where the Capri was to have been shown before going on sale, not being there for public viewing but still leaving the gaping maw of the display and empty rotating stand...and the flocks of people around the Miata

steve in podunk said...

These were terrible cars and parts were crazy expensive too. I got one on a trade and getting saleable was a spendy nightmare and I had to trade it off to unload it.

Jon said...

I guess Ford had forgotten what happened with the EXP.

Jon said...

I guess Ford had forgotten what happened with the EXP.