Clean Turbo: 1991 Mercury Capri XR2

There’s a car near identical to this Mercury Capri XR2 parked around the corner from me, sitting on three flat tires. I’ve thought about making an offer just for the hell of it, but it’s an automatic – which really limits the appeal. This 1991 Capri here on craigslist has just over 64,000 original miles and is equipped with the desirable turbocharged engine and 5-speed manual combo. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Rocco B. for the find. 

For years, these Capris had fallen off my radar. It seemed when new, most of them were automatics with the naturally aspirated powerplant. Later, upon realizing you could own one with a fiesty turbocharged 1.6L churning out 132 b.h.p., they became an interesting alternative to its intended competitor, the ubiquitous Miata. The design has always seemed disjointed to me, but it’s clearly European in spirit – which isn’t a surprise, considering the Capri is a Ford of Australia product.

Interior-wise, these were always a bit stark and not as driver-focused as I’d hoped. The Miata always felt like a truck cockpit – strap in and go, like you were wearing the car as a backpack. I’m not sure what the sensation is like inside the Capri (I’ve honestly never sat in one), but the car’s sporting intentions are a bit hidden from view compared to the NA Miata. Simple, dull dash plastics likely left most Mercury buyers unimpressed, but as a cheap autocrosser, most drivers would appreciate the limited electronics and cloth buckets.

I do hope to drive one of these in the near-term, as they look downright tidy with the factory hardtop installed and are always way too cheap to ignore. I didn’t enjoy my time spent with a Miata, so any comparisons would be limited to which car rocked pop-up headlights better. The seller has priced this low-mileage example at $3,200, which seems reasonable for a stock, XR2 package car. Still, it’s not prime convertible weather at the moment, so I’d feel comfortable bargaining down.

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Comments

  1. Warren

    Well, the biggest difference is while the Miata is RWD in the spirit of the MG, the Capri is FWD in the spirit of the Mazda 323. I had a XR2 Turbo 5 speed and while a fun car to drive, the rather high belt line made me feel I was sitting in a bathtub. A cheap, fun fairly reliable car. No comparison to a Miata.

  2. AF

    I’m sorry..who’s looking for one of these?

    • Clinton

      That’s funny but an old neighbor of mine had not one but two of them.

  3. Adam T45 Staff

    If you ever want to identify a foreign equivalent to the Edsel, well sadly the Australian developed Ford Capri was it. The Capri was developed by Ford Australia to be a direct competitor to the Miata/MX5. This appeared to be a brave undertaking by Ford, not to mention an odd business decision given the fact that at the time Ford was a major shareholder in Mazda.

    The Capri was developed here in Australia, and utilised significant content from Ford and Mazda’s small car range (Laser and 323). Build quality was very ordinary (to be kind), and the major issue with the car, especially early examples, was that the roof tended to leak like a sieve. This tended to exacerbate issues with rust, and with moisture finding its way into electronic components.

    Some may find comparison with the Edsel to be unfair, but the facts speak for themselves. Development of the car was accelerated with the aim of launching the Capri before the Miata. Ford Australia failed to do this, and the Miata was well established in the US and Australian markets by the time the Capri was launched. Build quality of the Capri was very hit and miss, and the interior plastics did not stand up well to exposure to direct sunlight. And to be a financial success, Ford Australia needed to sell a minimum of 25,000 per year between Australia and the US to merely break even. In the first year of sales they managed to sell 24,000….and it was down hill from there. When you compare these issues with those of the Edsel, it does feel like a case of history repeating itself.

    Making matters worse for Ford Australia, at the time that Ford were developing the Capri, they were also in the midst of developing the EA Falcon (which was plagued with reliability and build quality issues) and the four-cylinder Corsair (which was bland and uninspiring). Ford Australia never really recovered from these simultaneous disasters, and in spite of building some really great cars in the intervening years, Ford Australia ceased local production of vehicles here in the land down under in October of 2016.

    • Tony C. Australia

      Apparently after the bubble burst in the US with the Capri, Ford Australia ended up with a paddock full of LHD Mercurys they couldn’t get rid of, with us being a RHD country, so they just sat and rusted away and were then scrapped. My wife had a Ford Capri as a shopping buggy, it needed a new roof so I shipped one in from the US for $146US plus shipping, it sure beat the quote I got to have one made here at $875Aus, took me a day and fitted perfectly without any leaks. Cute car but you got gravel rash on your arse due to them being so low to the ground, you got ‘down into them’, not just in them.

  4. Warren

    My Father was a Test Driver at Ford in the early 80’s and drove a 2 seat Euro Fiesta based development mule called the Barchetta. After the bean counters, marketing types and other countless planning groups were through with it, it grew rear seats and became the Mazda based Capri.

  5. David Miraglia

    A yawner, never was interested in these.

  6. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Nice find, Rocco B and Jeff!
    Big shocker, I love these cars and, yes, they’re worthy of being shown here.

  7. Rich Tague

    Had 2 opps to get into these, First was in 95, a 91 Red Beauty , couldn’t Manage it with a Duster Bought in 93 , wanted a Rat for Winter , 2nd was a few months after a Silver 91 , THROWING THIS off a CLIFF was being Too kind a Base 100 hp Gave up After that …… Still looking though….

  8. My67falcon

    I have 2. A base 92 and a complete running XR2 with the hardtop as a parts car (rusty floors). Was driving the base 150 miles a day to work and back and its is very reliable and, unlike the Miata, I fit in it. The parts car will eventually have its drivetrain gone through and swapped into the base and continue to be a toy/beater for years to come (hopefully).

    Ford seemed to try and source from the best but picked the worse on the Capri though. Italian designed…….but even the Italians can design a turd. Based on a Japanese rally car…..minus everything that made the 323 that Mazda rallied successful.

    Still, I love the uniqueness and quirkiness of my Capri. I’m odd that way and probably why I drive a Fiat 500 Abarth as my daily now.

    Oh, and shout out to my brother in law the master mechanic for building the monster that is …… THE BLUE TURD👍

    Like 1
    • Eddie

      I am a proud owner of 2 1991 xr2 Capri’s. I am in shock that anyone who’s driving a 1.6 L turbo and didn’t have the time of their life rust wise I live in Michigan and we get are share of bad weather just park it and wait for dry roads to enjoy luv mine will never be without one

  9. RobM

    I bought a new XR-2 in 1992. It was metallic black and had the lovely 3 spoke alloys with 50 series tires. It looked great. I had it for 4 years / 80,000 miles. It was reasonably quick, economical, and completely reliable. On the other hand, the body structure flexed like an old Triumph, so it never felt secure when pushed hard in a corner. The seat/pedal/steering/shifter relationship was weird; I could never find a comfortable driving position. I sold it while it still had some value. Nice looking, but not even close to being a true sports car.

    • My67falcon

      Think of it as an econobox convertible. The black is a rather rare one.

  10. Steve

    While the execution may have come up short, I applaud Ford for green lighting this project for a niche market. Today all we get are cookie cutter snooze mobiles. That said, I still kinda like them.

    • My67falcon

      This is one reason I love my Abarth. Its not like everyone else on the highway

    • Adam T45 Staff

      Steve, I agree with you about the courage that Ford Australia had in developing this car. If they’d commenced development earlier, and been more meticulous with that development to ensure high quality, this car stood every chance of success. Unfortunately Ford Australia commenced development late and didn’t focus enough on build quality. This was a major failing within Ford Australia at the time. To give you an example of the problems besetting the company at the time, in my comment further up the page I mention the development of the EA Falcon, which was being undertaken at the same time as the Capri. Quality control on that particular Falcon was so bad that they suffered a spate of catastrophic engine failures. The culprit? The bottom radiator hoses on them were not fitted and tightened properly. The hoses had a tendency to then leak until they fell off, draining the car of its coolant. The instrumentation gave no warning of a coolant issue until the engine failed. They also had a tendency for the steering column to fall off its mounts mid corner, and the rear bumpers would collect mud, dirt and grit until the extra weight caused the rear bumper to simply fall off.

      As you can see, the Capri was developed and built in an environment where quality control was very ordinary (to be polite). Ford Australia did learn from this, but unfortunately it was too little and too late. Ford Australia no longer manufactures cars here in Australia.

  11. Melvin Burwell

    Nice car. Nice price. Too steep for me right now.

  12. MrBZ

    I was given a 93 that had been abused(owner had no idea how to drive a stick) and neglected(parked outside with top down for months) yet still in 1 piece and ran like a top. No turbo, 5 spd, that little Mazda mill was quite impressive.

  13. Mark-A

    Was the engine used in this (when Turbo Version) the same as the European Ford Escort Mk3/4 RS Turbo? Seem to remember that the RS had 132hp stock from the 1.6ltr CVH Turbo, other thing I’d like to know is were these fitted with a LSD 5 Speed or not as RS Turbo had

    • My67falcon

      It’s a Mazda motor in the Capri and I’m assuming the Escort had a Ford (Europe) motor.

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