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Mercury Capri: The Blunder From Down Under

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author photo by Aaron Gold April 2017

"It should have been so sweet. But in the end, we f---ed it all up."

That's an abbreviated quote from the movie "Casino," referring to mob control of Las Vegas, but it applies equally to Ford's would-be Miata-fighter, the 1991-1994 Mercury Capri.

The Capri was developed around the same time as the Miata. In fact, Ford was readying the Capri for sale in Australia just as Mazda was prepping the MX-5 for sale in the US. The Miata took off in the States, and Ford smelled opportunity. They decided to sell it as a Mercury, presumably to bring down the average age of that brand's buyers, which at the time was hovering somewhere between 80 and deceased.

Ironically, Mercury's Mazda-fighter was itself a Mazda of sorts. The Capri used the same basic platform as the Mazda 323, which also underpinned the Ford Escort of the era. Front-wheel drive was a potential problem -- after 10 years of downsized front-wheel-drive cars, buyers were ready for some rear-wheel-drive performance -- but the Capri had other things going for it, including an optional turbocharger for the 1.6-liter engine (which raised output from 100 to 132 horsepower), a rear seat (not very usable, but there) and an optional hard top. It was cute, too, with wedge styling by Ghia and an interior by ItalDesign.

The Capri wasn't as hobbled by its front-drive platform as one might expect: It was still a Mazda, and the turbocharged XR2 model accelrated quickly and could hustle pretty well in the curves.

And yet, it sold like crap. Why?

We can speculate: For one thing, when the Capri convertible came out, most buyers remembered the previous Capri, a nifty little German designed coupe that Ford sold in the 1970s. They were great little cars, if a little rust-prone, and the new Capri clearly wasn't the old Capri. (Yes, yes, I know, I'm skipping the 1979-1986 Capri, a forgettable Mustang clone. Buyers ignored it, so why shouldn't I?)

There was the fact that while the XR2 was a decent handler, it still wasn't in the same league as the rear-wheel-drive Miata.

But the biggest reason is most likely the same bugaboo that afflicted many American cars of the era: It wasn't built very well. The Capri was noisy, and the top had an irksome tendency to leak like a sieve. Okay, so the Capri wasn't really an American car, but clearly the Australians of the day weren't much better at screwing their vehicles together than Americans were.

The Capri's run was short -- just four model years. Oddly enough, it received a styling refresh for 1994, just before Ford pulled it from the market. Planning for the refresh probably would have started just as the original was going on sale, and the fact that they pulled it right after the refresh is a good indication that sales were not what Ford was hoping for.

Today, the Mercury Capri seems to have attracted something of a following. The cars used to be available reasonably cheap, but prices appear to be climbing; perhaps it's starting to garner the interest that it no doubt deserves. Why not go shopping? Search for 1991-1994 Mercury Capris in the Autotrader classifieds.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Mercury Capri: The Blunder From Down Under - Autotrader