What Is the Mercury Capri? (1979-1986)

What Is the Mercury Capri? (1979-1986)

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | C.J. Tragakis

The second generation Capri was a slightly reworked and rebadged third Generation Mustang at its essence. With production starting in 1979, it served as a companion and cousin to the four-eye Fox Body Mustang until 1986. From there, the Fox Body received a refresh while the Mercury Capri was discontinued.

Mercury Capri Brochure Exterior and Interior
Though extremely similar to the Foxbody Mustang of the time, the Capri had several attributes that gave it more of a European flair.

The first generation Capri started as a European offering from 1970-1977 and was brought to America as a Ford Cortina sibling with a Pinto powerplant. For the 1976 model year, the car was sold by Lincoln-Mercury as simply the Capri Mk II, with no formal manufacturer marque.

The nameplate was brought back for a brief third generation from 1991-1994 as a small competitor for the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Toyota MR2, being derived from the Australian Ford Laser.

Only the second generation had its roots in the Mustang, and it offered an interesting twist on the familiar Fox Body that most Mustang enthusiasts know today.

From Mustang Beginnings

Most will call the Fox Body Mercury Capri a "rebadged" Mustang, and that’s more or less accurate in terms of how the term has been historically used in the auto industry (even if it doesn't do justice to all of the design changes).

The exact same engine options were available on both the Mustang and Capri, ranging from a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder that could be naturally-aspirated or turbocharged, to several 6-cylinder and V-8 options, including the famed 5.0.

There were a range of trims available, from the base model up to the Mustang GT-equivalent Capri RS that was powered by a V-8.

  • Capri (Base)
  • Capri Ghia
  • Capri GS
  • Capri RS
  • Capri RS Turbo
  • Capri 5.0L (replaced RS in mid-1985)

Foxbody Mercury Capri RS Turbo Brochure

The interior will look familiar to Fox Body fans; all of the gauges and controls are laid out in exactly the same way, though there were some subtle trim differences. A more notable difference was the available Recaro bucket seats finished with tweed cloth upholstery, another distinctively “European” touch.

A bubble-back rear hatch was added in 1983, giving superior rear aerodynamics and additional cargo space. This is probably the most controversial element of the vehicle, and definitely can be a “love-it or hate-it” attribute for Mustang fans.

There were also several special editions that featured mostly cosmetic revisions.

  • 1981-1983 Black Magic
  • 1983 Crimson Cat
  • 1984 Charcoal Turbo RS
  • 1985 Mercury Motorsport Capri

The Capri RS Variant

Like its cousin, the Mustang GT, the Capri RS served as the sporty variant in the line-up, using the same 5.0-liter V8 engine. It was also distinguished by a blackout grille, hood scoop, and rear spoiler.

1983 saw some updates for the Capri RS, including some suspension upgrades. The revised V8 had just 175 horsepower, though that was an improvement over the previous 157; the regulations and gas prices of the time period meant that overall output was going to be stifled across the board, from pony cars to big luxury cruisers. The Capri RS’ 0-60 came in 7.1 seconds, respectable given the confines. In the middle of 1985, the "RS" name and badging were dropped in favor of simply "5.0L", which was used for 1985.5 and 1986 model years. The 1985 and 1986 models offered increased performance, with 210 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque.

ASC McLaren Mercury Capri

ASC McLaren Mercury Capri Coupe Brochure
ASC McLaren's modifications to the Mercury Capri made this special variant a highly-sought-after model.

Unlike the Mustang, which came in both a hatchback and coupe offering, the Capri models were only available as 3-door hatchbacks, at least from the factory. The aftermarket company ASC (then American Sunroof Company, now American Specialty Cars), along with partner McLaren (not the British one), was contracted to transform some Capri’s into convertibles in 1984 in order to join the recent 1983 Mustang convertible, which returned after a nine-year absence. McLaren had already done work on the Fox Body to create the McLaren m81 Mustang, known as the rarest Mustang ever made.

It was also hoped that this would spur more sales, which were lagging compared to its beloved Ford relative. Not enough was done to make a dent in sales numbers, as just 557 units were turned into convertibles, between 1984-1986. Because the Capri had a unique rear end and wasn’t designed to be a drop-top, ASC McLaren had to change the angle of the windshield and remove the rear seats to fit the stored roof, turning the car into a 2-seater.

Additionally, the companies created a small number of ASC McLaren Capri coupes, which were enhanced versions of the hatchback Capris adorned with distinct striping, unique lighting, a new camshaft, and special wheels and tires, granting even stronger performance. While the work was done by aftermarket companies, they were sold by Ford and as such considered the company’s fastest model in 1985.

Main Differences: Ford Mustang vs Mercury Capri

Apart from the badging and prominent bubble hatch window in certain Capri variants, the most obvious difference you’ll notice about these two cars is the front grille. Carried over from the previous German Capri, many enthusiasts actually prefer the sleek and sporty look of this European grille over that of the Fox Body Mustang of the time.

While most colors were shared, there were also some exotic paint colors that the Capri offered to differentiate it from the Mustang. These included Medium French Vanilla and Pastel French Vanilla.

Gray Mercury Capri RS Turbo Foxbody

In terms of pricing, a base Capri RS in 1983 was $9,241, while the base Mustang GT was listed at $9,328. Virtually identical, though the brand strength and history of the Mustang were enough to command a very slight premium.

And yet, there are rumors floating about that the Capri is, in fact, quicker than a similarly-equipped Mustang. Purported factors range from lower weight to the improved aeros of that bubble hatch. At the end of the day, however, we’re talking about only the tiniest of differences, and for most intents and purposes, these cars can be considered just about identical.

A Rare Fox Body Friend?

Mercury Capri Brochure with 0-50 Graph

For enthusiasts, this Fox Body-based Mercury is far rarer than Mustangs, making it an exciting collector’s vehicle. Others prefer to convert them into a “true” Mustang, seeing the Capri as an alternate way to acquire a Mustang from this generation.

Even though there are some subtle differences, does this mean that the second-generation Capri has part interchangeability with the third-generation Mustang? The short answer is “yes”!

These two platforms are so similar that from 1981-1984, the Ford Mustang that was sold in the Mexico market used a combination of Mustang and Capri parts that fluctuated over the years, leading to some very interesting looking models.

Even for those that want to keep their Capri in its more pure form, browsing Mustang parts is typically the go-to method. Of course, unique elements of the Capri like the bubble rear window won’t cross platforms, but for the most part, you can add many Fox Body Mustang parts to a Mercury Capri with no problem.

If you’ve got a Mercury Capri that you’re looking to maintain or upgrade, it’s worth giving our Fox Body parts catalog a browse to see if there’s anything that strikes your fancy.

Image Credit: Mercury | RM Sothebys

Sources: Motorweek Retro Review: 1983 Mercury Capri RS, Mustang Forums | Rare Rides: 1985 McLaren Mercury Capri-The Fox Body Mashup, The Truth About Cars | Ultra Rare 1986 Mercury Capri ASC McLaren Convertible Up for Auction, Ford Authority | Mercury Capri-On the Line, MotorTrend

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.