Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#2 - 1974 Mercury Capri

Finishing up my first year of college in Sacramento I decided to transfer up the north coast to Humboldt State University. It was a long way from home and I was going to need wheels. The Chevelle SS, car #1, came to me somewhat by chance. I was looking for something cool and a friend knew about the car. Car # 2 was the first car I actually went shopping for.

With a budget around $2,000 I was looking for something sporty, reliable, and different. Prowling through used car lots a few Alfa Romeos caught my eye. I love the look of the Giulia to this day, but the combination of questionable reliability, rust, and my own admittedly limited mechanical skill set stopped that plan.

I kept looking, passing by a series of Volvos and some Japanese coupes and sedans (including a rotary-engined Mazda or two). I test drove a Beetle with a bored out motor and a big carbs, but the drive up to Arcata included a mountain pass whichever route you took and I was done with long hills in a Bug. And then I found the blue Capri.

The little Mercury was on the back of a used car lot, a fresh trade-in still cover in dust. Dad helped me with the negotiations and I think we paid around $1,500. It was a good deal, but the car needed exhaust work and a valve adjustment. A local shade tree mechanic in Amador County cut out the blown resonator and welded in a straight pipe. The Capri would be loud for the rest of its life. He also pulled the bad smog pump and closed up the holes in the manifold. Luckily for me rural California counties in 1980's did not require emissions tests.

Ford imported the Capri starting in 1970, advertising it as the "sexy European." Originally they came with a 75 horsepower 1.6 liter four cylinder, but in 1974 engine options included a 2.6 liter V6 and the 2.0 liter, 100 horsepower engine in my car. Coupled with a four speed manual the 2.0 (shared somewhat ominously with the Pinto) wasn't really fast, but it was fun to drive. The Capri was the first car I loved.

The Cologne, Germany made Capri was a good looking car. Sold by Ford in Europe, it was badged a Mercury in the US so as not to compete with the Mustang on dealer lots. The 5 mph impact bumpers added for 1974 actually improved the look of the car, making it seem longer and lower. The optional Rostyle wheels added to the sporty image. It had a proper driver's cockpit, with full instrumentation, kind of sport seats, and a gear lever that fell right to hand.

The car was fairly reliable and got me back and forth the 350 miles to the Northcoast several times the year I attended Humboldt. The speedometer broke soon after I bought the car and so speed was sort of relative;  the car felt faster than it probably was. It was on these trips that I discovered the thrill of pushing a sporty car along a mountain road, throwing yourself into a curve, braking late, and then getting on the gas to power out of the apex. The Capri hooked me on performance cars, an obsession that remains to this day - and explains this blog.

I kept the Capri  through the rest of college. It was rear-ended my senior year and while still drivable, I stuck to my motorcycle as much as possible. Eventually I sold the car for something like $250, surprisingly to a guy who bought it for his son. Mercury Capris are one of those cars that I occasionally troll eBay for. Not many survived it seems, and this Bring a Trailer car was mighty tempting.

1974 Mercury Capri
Owned: 1982 - 1985
Music: John Cougar, The Pretenders, and always Elvis Costello
Rating: 4/5 (The beginning of my life as a "car guy")

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