One man’s quest to save the endangered Capri
Just as sales of the Mustang and its competitors began to sputter in the early 1970s, a new breed of smaller sporty coupe emerged, led, coincidentally, by the Mustang’s svelte European Ford cousin, the Capri. British and German Ford factories built nearly two million Capris from 1969 until 1986. In America, Ford offered the German-built model through its Lincoln-Mercury dealers, selling nearly a half-million from 1971–1977.
As the first-generation Mustang did in America, the Capri became a collectible in Europe, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. Here, however, the Capri performed a disappearing act, spurred by depreciation, rust, and—to some extent—expensive and difficult-to-get parts. As a result, most of the Capris sold in America have vanished.
“They got used up, like Bic lighters, and thrown away,” says Norm Murdock, whose purchase of a used Capri while in college in 1978 drove his passion for racing and restoring these compact coupes. “They were not thought of as collector cars here and were scrapped. It didn’t make sense to keep putting money into them unless you just loved the car.”
Murdock started Team Blitz in 1979 to sell performance parts for the Capri and to manage his racing efforts. He later founded the Capri Club of North America (now run by a son, Paul) and still races a Capri in SCCA F-Stock. Today, Team Blitz is the key supplier of Capri parts in America and also serves international customers. Murdock estimates there may be a “couple thousand” Capris on the road in the U.S., and that interest in the car is on the rise.
“We’re attracting new owners,” he says. “Baby boomers are interested in the Capri, and more cars are popping up.”
Murdock says his business stocks some three million parts for the Capri, from light bulbs to body parts and racing components. That availability, he explains, makes it feasible to resurrect a worn-out model.
“It’s easier to restore a Capri today than it’s ever been,” Murdock says, describing a major reversal from the situation in the years following the car’s departure from this market. “Ford had a poor track record with maintaining parts for its orphaned European models, including the Cortina, Capri, and Merkur. Parts started becoming hard to get pretty quickly after Ford stopped importing the Capri.”
Thrown away, but now restorable
The parts supply problem accelerated the Capri’s “throw-away” nature. In the late 1970s, the strength of the dollar against the Deutschmark made the German-made Capri’s replacement parts expensive, especially for something not usually kept in stock. As an example, Murdock cites the driveshaft, which was an odd two-piece affair with non-replaceable u-joints.
“If you had a u-joint go out, you’d have to order a new driveshaft from a dealer, and it cost $400 in the 1970s,” Murdock says. “Today, we sell a brand new driveshaft for less than $400, and it has replaceable u-joints. Adjusted for inflation, it’s much cheaper now.”
The 2.3-liter four-cylinder and 2.8-liter V-6 engines used in the 1974–77 Capri continued beyond that in several American Ford car and truck models, and mechanical and service parts remained widely available. Murdock says, however, that there was a 10–15-year gap between the end of Capri imports and when the aftermarket began to furnish restoration parts.
“My plan was to acquire as much inventory from Ford as possible and then develop my own parts, including weather-stripping, body panels, interior parts—the kind of things a dealership would quickly discontinue,” he says.
Murdock touts having two-dozen NOS rear quarter panels available, and newly commissioned parts include wheel arch panels and rocker panels. Many Capri owners modify their cars for better performance, and Murdock offers intakes, headers, big brake packages, limited-slip differentials, wide wheels, and more.
The company also builds complete engines and transmissions. For those who want even more power, an available conversion kit makes it easy to install a Ford small-block V-8 in a Capri. Murdock owns four rare Euro-market Capris RS 2600 race homologation specials, including an original factory race car. He acquired the molds used by Ford to make fiberglass fenders, hoods, and trunk lids for the racers and offers those parts, as well.
Rotting metal, cracking plastic, and expat Capris
Murdock acknowledges that finding a good restoration candidate remains a challenge.
“You’re not going to find a rust-free Capri, even in California, after 40–45 years,” he says. “It’s going to have rust somewhere, unless you luck into a mint car. They exist, but they’re rare.” (Such a car, a 1976 model, sold at the Bonhams Greenwich auction in June 2017 for nearly $16,000.)
The Capri’s A-pillars and rear frame rails are particularly prone to rust, and Murdock cautions against buying a car showing major damage in those structural areas.
“If there’s rust in the frame rail where it goes over the rear axle, or where the leaf springs attach, it’s probably financially unsound to restore that car,” he says. “We have the parts to fix those areas, but unless you have the skills, you’ll pay a shop a small fortune to do the work.”
Rust was not the Capri’s only weakness. Early models used some cheap interior parts, including a kind of pressed cardboard with an “elephant skin” pattern for the rear package shelf and a small storage shelf under the dashboard. Those areas were easily broken with normal usage. In addition, the Capris’ interior plastics cracked easily in hot, dry climates, something Murdock says was common for European cars from the era.
Capris that survived into the 1990s and beyond became attractive to overseas collectors, and so some cars made the trip back across the Atlantic.
“When the dollar was weak, Europeans were buying Capris on eBay and shipping them to Germany and England,” Murdock says. “I know guys who were buying Capris for under $1,000 and selling them for $3,000 just by advertising in Europe.”
That trend has subsided as values have risen here, but Murdock says restoring a Capri is more out of love for the car than as an investment.
“Restoration labor costs would be about the same as for a typical Mustang, but the Mustang is likely to hold at least twice the Capri’s value,” he says.