It used the mechanical components from the Mk2 Ford Cortina and was intended as the European equivalent of the Ford Mustang. The Capri went on to be a highly successful car for Ford, selling nearly 1.9 million units in its lifetime. A wide variety of engines was used in the Capri throughout its production lifespan, which included the Essex and Cologne V6 at the top of the range, whilst the Kent straight-four and Taunus V4 engines were used in lower specification models.
Although the Capri was not officially replaced, the second-generation Probe was effectively its replacement after the later car's introduction to the European market in 1994.
While Ford marketed the car as "Ford Capri – The Car You Always Promised Yourself", the English magazine "Car" described the Capri as a "Cortina in drag"
Production of the Capri began in November, 1968, according to Jeremy Walton's 1987 book, 'Capri – The Development & Competition History of Ford's European GT Car' and the FIA, Recognition No. 5301, at Ford's Halewood plant in the UK and on 16 December 1968 at the Cologne plant in West Germany.
It was unveiled in January 1969 at the Brussels Motor Show, with sales starting the following month. The intention was to reproduce in Europe the success Ford had had with the North American Ford Mustang: to produce a European pony car. It was mechanically based on the Cortina and built in Europe at the Halewood plant in the United Kingdom, the Genk plant in Belgium, and the Saarlouis and Cologne plants in Germany. The car was named Colt during its development stage, but Ford was unable to use the name, as it was trademarked by Mitsubishi. Although a fastback coupé, Ford wanted the Capri Mk I to be affordable for a broad spectrum of potential buyers.
To help achieve that, it was available with a variety of engines. The British and German factories produced different line-ups. The continental model used the Ford Taunus V4 engine in 1.3, 1.5 and 1.7 L engine displacements, while the British versions were powered by the Ford Kent straight-four in 1.3 and 1.6 L form. The Ford Essex V4 engine 2.0 L (British built) and Cologne V6 2.0 L (German built) served as initial range-toppers.
At the end of the year, new sports versions were added: the 2300 GT in Germany, using a double-barrel carburettor with 125 PS (92 kW), and in September 1969 the 3000 GT in the UK, with the Essex V6, capable of 138 hp (103 kW). Under the new body, the running gear was very similar to the 1966 Cortina.
The rear suspension employed a live axle supported on leaf springs with short radius rods.
MacPherson struts were featured at the front in combination with rack and pinion steering (sourced from the Ford Escort) which employed a steering column that would collapse in response to a collision.
The initial reception of the car was broadly favourable. In the June 1970 edition of the Monthly Driver's Gazette, tester Archie Vicar wrote of the gearchange that it was "...in Ford fashion easy to operate but not very jolly". In the same review Vicar summed up the car as follows: "Perhaps with a bit of work it can be given road-holding and performance less like an American car and more like a European one".
The range continued to be broadened, with another 3.0 variant, the Capri 3000E introduced from the British plant in March 1970, offering "more luxurious interior trim". Ford began selling the Capri in the Australian market in May 1969 and in April 1970 it was released in the North American and South African markets. The South African Models initially used the Kent 1.6 engine and the V4 2.0 version of the Essex. although a Pinto straight-four 2.0 L replaced it in some markets in 1971.
An exception, though, was the Perana manufactured by Basil Green Motors near Johannesburg, which was powered first by a 3.0 Essex engine and then by a 302ci V8 Ford Windsor engine after Ford South Africa began offering 3.0 Essex-engined options. .
All North American versions featured the "power dome" hood and four round 53⁄4" U.S.-spec headlights.
They carried no "Ford" badging, as the Capri was sold by only Lincoln-Mercury dealers (with the Mercury division handling sales) and promoted to U.S. drivers as "the sexy European".