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91/1161 Automobile, full size, Mercury Capri Series II, sports coupe, metal/plastic/rubber, made by Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited, Broadmeadows, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1990-1991. Click to enlarge.

1991 Mercury Capri Series II made by Ford Motor Company of Australia Ltd

  • 1990-1991
Ford Australia's Mercury Capri was the first mass-produced "convertible" built here since the 1930s. It was marketed to a conservative niche of young middle-class American women as an alternative to the traditional Mercury range. The Capri was a notable example of a value-added export. A total of 24,000 Mercury Capris were exported to the USA in 1990 earning $357 million for Australia.

This is a Ford Capri which Ford Australia developed in the late 1980s for the lucrative North American market where it was sold as the Mercury Capri.

In the 1980s Ford Australia was one Australian company that realised opportunities existed to develop innovative, high-value-added products to meet new demands in overseas market. The product it developed was the Mercury Capri coupe, which achieved striking success in North America, its target market.

Ford's decision in 1986 to invest over $300 million to develop a car for export represented a great risk. Unlike all the other Australian cars manufactured since the failure of the Leyland P76, the Capri's radical new design did not follow overseas trends even though it was targeted at a niche market in the USA, a market that was also being target by Mazda.

By any measure, Australian car manufacturing practices in the 1980s were inferior to Japanese, European and North American practices. For the Capri to be competitive in the North American market, productivity and quality of manufacturing had to be greatly improved. Ford achieved this by developing a special production line for its manufacture, investing heavily in advanced equipment and training and setting up worker involvement programs to improve procedures and quality of work at all stages of production. These improvements were later incorporated on other Ford production lines.

Ford also had to comply with American design standards which changed after the car's design had been finalised. Legislation required that new pollution controls and passenger restraints be incorporated, causing extra costs and delays in tooling up for production. Despite these and other setbacks, the Capri proved to be very successful with over 25,000 cars worth $350 million being sold in the USA in 1991. It became known as the biggest selling car of its kind in North America, outselling the Mazda Miata (known in Australia as the MX-5) through pricing, innovation in 'soft top' sports car design, engineering design, manufacture and marketing. Its success epitomised the advances made by some Australian industries at the time and provided encouragement for further development of Australia's advanced manufacturing industries by the early 1990s. In the end, over 80 percent of the Capri's Australian production run was exported to North America where it was advertised as a "steel bikini".


Renew, Robert, "Making it: Innovation and Success in Australia's industries", Powerhouse Publishing, 1993.


Object No.


Object Statement

Automobile, full size, Mercury Capri Series II, sports coupe, metal/plastic/rubber, made by Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited, Broadmeadows, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1990-1991

Physical Description

This is a Mercury Capri, two-door, front wheel drive, transverse engine, four seat, (2+2) body, convertible sports car finished in white enamel with recessed headlights and a black soft top, more specifically, a drophead coupe. It features fully independent rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. The car is featured as it was prepared for export to the USA with left hand drive. It has plastic on the four dark grey fabric covered seats, and the original stickers and export labels are adhered to the inside of the windscreen. The black vinyl roof which is stretched over a steel frame folds away into a special compartment behind the rear passenger seats. The centre front of the bonnet has a geometric chrome emblem.

As the car needed to comply with new US regulations it is fitted with a driver airbag and the body panels are stamped with a serial number to help discourage car theft. (In 1991 airbags were not available in Australia because their provision was then not legally required).

When advertised for sale in the USA in the early 1990s it was described as: "a 16-valve, dual-overhead-cam, fuel-injected ragtop with front wheel drive, power steering, brakes, windows and mirrors". It was sold through the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford for $12,588US.



1400 mm


1800 mm



  • 1990-1991


Ford's Mercury Capri began life in 1983 at the Frankfurt Motor Show as the Barchetta, a two-seat sports car based on a concept by the Italian design house, Ghia (Carrozzeria Ghia SpA) of Turin. The interior was designed by Italdesign. The Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford decided to build a sports car at the Ford Australia factory, based on the floor plan, engine and driveline components of Mazda's 323 combined with the Italian-designed Ghia body. The target was 35,000 cars a year, of which 5,000 would be sold in Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. The first Capri (Series I) rolled out of Ford's Broadmeadows plant in Melbourne in November 1989 with a single-cam, eight-valve engine. Some $350 million was spent on the car including modern production line equipment at Broadmeadows. In 1990 the Series II came out with a twin-cam 16 valve engine.

By April 1992 Ford celebrated production of its 50,000th Capri which had earnt over $600 million in export revenue in the previous two years shipping over 40,000 units to the USA. This helped offset the adverse balance of payments in Australia and kept the Ford factory operating and workers employed.

Despite the Capri becoming Australia's most successful export car, it never reached its sales targets. It was plagued with problems, mainly the convertible roof, which would leak. Fixing the roof issue then ate into the car's development budget. The roof problem was quickly rectified but not before it became public in Australia which understandably affected confidence in the car here. Despite the US getting the much-improved Series II Mercury Capri, the car did not sell as well as hoped. American analysts believed that selling the Capri in the US through its Lincoln-Mercury dealers, which traditionally appealed to older customers, was a marketing error. This was because some 63 percent of the Mercury Capri buyers were young women. By 1993 a global recession, dated styling and competition from the Mazda MX 5 saw production in Melbourne finish in 1994.

Margaret Simpson, Curator, March 2019



The car was said to be one of ten Series II Mercury Capri vehicles built for crash testing but found to be in excess of Ford's needs. It was also used as a test vehicle by the manufacturer and donated to the Museum by the Ford Motor Company of Australia in 1991 as it would have appeared prepared for export to the USA.


Credit Line

Gift of Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited, 1991

Acquisition Date

30 September 1991

Cite this Object


1991 Mercury Capri Series II made by Ford Motor Company of Australia Ltd 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=1991 Mercury Capri Series II made by Ford Motor Company of Australia Ltd |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.