The so-called “Fox body” Mustang holds a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts — especially those who never really left the 1980s. While it was a far cry from the original pony car that started the muscle car era, the Fox body was a huge improvement from the horrifically malaise Mustang II that preceded it. What I didn’t know until recently is Ford also masqueraded the Mustang as a fancy European grand touring car called the Capri. It’s a very weird car — and I may have just driven the nicest one left in existence.
The Capri debuted as a Ford in 1968, way before the Fox body, as a car built in Germany that was supposed to rival European touring coupes for an affordable price. When the Fox body started production in 1979, Ford decided to share the platform with the Capri, bringing production to the United States. This continental production shift brought the Capri to Americans for the first time — and surprisingly, it was a decent sales success. In total, 110,000 were sold in the first year of production, but only 9,500 were the “performance”-billed Capri RS Turbo.
I’m throwing around the term “performance” loosely, as the Capri RS Turbo I drove only put out 130 horsepower from its 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine when it was new from the factory. This might seem ridiculous, but keep in mind the mighty 5.0 V8 Mustang of 1979 was only producing 140 horsepower. Truly, the muscle car era was dead by 1979, with emissions standards and a fuel crisis choking down these engines to laughable levels. Still, the Capri RS Turbo was one of the earliest domestic cars to utilize forced induction to breathe life into the malaise era — a trend that quickly became popular, creating plenty of really cool cars that defined the 1980s. While the tiny engine in the Capri was vastly underpowered by today’s standards, the engine’s lightweight — and its placement far back in the engine bay — makes the Capri seem more balanced than its nose-heavy 5.0 V8 big brother.
While the driving experience feels very European, the presentation of the car is strangely a mixed bag. The exterior styling of the Capri received an attractive nose treatment, 13-inch alloy wheels, tweed upholstered seats and an engine-turned finish on the dashboard, only offered in the hatchback configuration. These are all very European traits — but the Americans couldn’t help but give this car a little bit of a mullet. A fake hood scoop is the main attraction, adorned with chrome “TURBO” badges on either side, along with a few ‘Starsky and Hutch’ style stripes — and even more TURBO stickers on the front fenders. With the additional Turbocharged badge on the dashboard, there are five stickers total to let everyone know what this car was packing under the hood.
Even with the muscle-car-looking rear window louvers, the styling strangely works for me. The Capri I drove was a time capsule, an all-original survivor, and, for the most part, totally stock. When the turbo kicks in, the engine noise is a strange mix of an angry-blender-meets-George-Jetson-mobile — and despite the Capri’s lackluster performance, I enjoyed every minute of driving it. Still, it was probably too weird to have long term-sales success in the United States, and the Capri was dropped in 1986.
Strangely, the Capri was brought back in 1991 as an even stranger Miata/MR2 competitor built in Australia — but I personally think this Fox Body generation was a way better car. Given the international acclaim of the current generation of Ford Mustang, I think this first attempt at an intercontinental Mustang should be celebrated as a very weird sign of things to come. Find a Mercury Capri for sale
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.