Ford's Miata Fighter Used Mazda Engineering But Still Couldn't Win

Despite its Mazda origins, the Mercury Capri that arrived in 1991 was no match for the first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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Mercury

In the early 1980s, the Mercury Capri was a rear-drive sports car—basically, a rebadged Mustang hatchback. And how could we forget that the got a whopping 175 horsepower out of a 5.0-liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor? But at the very same time, Ford's executives were keen to create a compact two-seat sports car for the future, based on the European Ford Fiesta.

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By 1983, designers at Ghia had come up with a fully functional concept, built on the Fiesta XR2 platform, powered by an 86 horsepower version of Ford's 1.6-liter overhead valve four-cylinder. The Ghia Barchetta took full advantage of the front-engine layout, featuring minimal overhangs and a fairly spacious interior. It also had matte dark grey bumpers, a fully functional cloth soft top, 13" cast alloy wheels with 185/60HR-13 Goodyear NCT tires, and small extractor vents behind the front wheels to hint at Ghia's barchetta heritage.

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FlickrFord via John Lloyd

After the prototype debuted at the 1983 Geneva Motor Show, people got so enthusiastic that, allegedly, German Ford fans started a "Barchetta Club" that counted as many as 10,000 members. More importantly, Ford told its dealers that the car might hit the market by as early as 1988, priced at $8500. Production was supposed to commence in Europe, at a rate of 15,000-20,000 cars per year.

Yet something happened along the way, and Ford's heads decided to turn their attention towards Australia—and Mazda—instead. Interestingly, this must have been right before Mazda settled for its U.S. team's front-engined, rear-wheel drive design for the 1989 MX-5 Miata, over the Japanese crew's mid-engined, rear-wheel drive proposal, and a third concept, a front-engined, front-wheel drive alternative.

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The design was set by 1986.
Mazda

After the Ghia Barchetta concept car retired from the show car circuit, Ford decided to simply ditch the idea in favor of a somewhat bigger roadster, based on the front-engine, front-wheel drive Mazda 323.

Given that Ford's Australian division used the same tech to produce the Ford Laser, it wasn't rocket science to build the front-drive Capri. The car was always intended to be an export model first and foremost, yet it went on sale in the US in 1991, badged as a Mercury—two years after its Australian debut and the premiere of the Mazda Miata. But regardless of the timing, the Mazda-based Mercury could never give the Miata a run for its money. It was too heavy, with mediocre handling and sluggish straight-line performance, even with the optional turbocharger.

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Mercury

Production ended in 1994, after a total of 66,279 Capris had been built in Australia. Of those, 10,347 were right-hand-drive.

Ghia's fully working, but slightly worn Barchetta Concept was sold , for $35,250. It remains the nicest Fiesta ever made.

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FlickrBob Dinkins
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FlickrAlden Jewell
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