A Brief History of the Capri Convertible


The star attraction on the Ford stand at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show was the Barchetta, a tiny, two-seat sports car based on the Fiesta chassis and powertrain. The car was a Ghia concept vehicle and was used to test public reaction to a low-cost, practical sporty convertible.

During the next year Ford took the Barchetta to various motor shows and staged consumer clinics in the United States. From the results they commissioned Ghia and Ital Design to produce two more vehicles based on Laser running gear.

In 1985 the Ghia design was chosen but Ital Design was given the task of developing the car into a practical proposition for limited production. Australia, along with Ford Lio Ho (Taiwan) and Ford Mexico, each bid for production of the car, now called Capri.

Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company decided it would market the car in the United States and estimated sales volume at around 30-35,000 units per year to draw younger customers to Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Ford Australia estimated domestic sales at 4-5,000 including some to New Zealand and Asian countries.

The public introduction of the right-hand-drive Capri was in November 1989 following the start of production in a newly refurbished plant in Broadmeadows on September 29, 1989. It was originally intended to produce left-hand-drive cars earlier in 1989 but new US safety regulations, which called for passive restraints in all cars, necessitated redesigning the LHD Capri to fit a driver's side airbag.

In the last few months of 1989 Ford sold 643 new Capris in Australia and, in the first full sales year (1990) sold 4,413 units. In the US, 8,000 were sold from the July 19 introduction to December 1990. Both countries began to feel the effect of the recession in 1991 and, although 21,200 were sold in the USA, this was below expectations. In Australia sales were 1,580 for 1991. In 1992 US sales dropped to 12,600 and Australian sales were down to 1,089.

The Capri won the prestigious Motorweek TV award for "Best Convertible" in the United States in 1991 and 1992. Capri was also one of Australia's top automotive exports, earning more than $800 million up to the end of 1993.

In 1992 Ford Australia, in conjunction with Tickford Vehicle Engineering, produced the Clubsprint for the Australian market. This was an upmarket version of the Turbo Capri fitted with special front and rear bodywork, a "Thunderbird" type capote cover and reworked suspension.

The Clubsprint was followed soon after by the Barchetta, a low-cost version of the EFI-engined Capri, again exclusively for the Australian market. Both models sold relatively well and helped to lift Capri sales in the latter half of the year.

In June 1993, the SE Capri was launched locally, the first full facelift since the 1989 introduction. New front and rear styling and completely new interiors boosted interest in the Capri in Australia and sales rose to 1,321, however, the new model arrived after the summer selling period and had little impact on the US market and sales went down to 9,723 for the year. (See also "Production statistics".)

During the five years it was on sale in Australia the Capri consistently outsold the Mazda MX5 and was Australia's top-selling convertible. In 1993 it outsold most other "specialty" cars including Toyota Paseo, Holden Calibra, Toyota MR2, Nissan NX Coupe, Honda CRX and Integra.

(Factsheet compiled by Ford Australia Public Affairs, February 1994.)

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Created 5 May 2003 : Last updated 18 July 2010.