A Rare Ford Consul Capri Shows Off Its American Side

Photography by John Webber

At a British car show in Central Florida, one entry in the modified class is drawing way more than its share of attention. A gaggle of enthusiasts, cameras clicking, crowds around. They all want to know what it is because without a close peek at a badge, none has a clue. 

The object of this curiosity is not only a seldom-seen orphan, it’s also a mild custom, set off by side pipes, lowered suspension, Cragar wheels and two-tone metalflake. 

Note: Any Consul Capri purists reading this can rest assured that no metal was harmed in this process. 

The owner, who doesn’t think his car is flashy in the least, has kept all the original parts and can return the car to stock if he chooses. But that’s not likely, since he has owned this car for more than 26 years, customized it a decade ago, and loves it just the way it is. 

Nadeem Khan, you see, grew up in the North of England in the 1970s amid a custom car craze. Modified cars were hot, and cars like this customized Capri epitomized the sought-after American look. “There used to be a big custom car show in Manchester,” Nadeem recalls, “and me and my brother and cousin used to go. It was usually British cars, like Cortinas, Ford Zephrs and Vauxhalls. If you had an American car, you were a really big deal over there. But I always wanted a Consul Capri.” 

Nadeem could only dream about a custom car then, but many years later, after he immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Florida, he found this 1963 Capri. Naturally, when it finally needed a refresh, he decided to personalize it like one he lusted after as a teen. 

History Lesson

In the late 1950s, Ford of Great Britain–best known for its boxy family saloons–launched an exercise to update its styling for the approaching decade. The automaker wanted to drive into the ’60s with a model that featured a modern look–maybe even a bit of glamour. The Capri project, code-named Sunbird, took four years to reach the market, even though it rode on the same platform as the Ford Classic–the company’s sedan known for its inward-sloping rear window, like the one on the Anglia.

The new Capri, which took its distinctive styling cues from Dearborn’s Galaxie Sunliner, arrived as a two-door coupe with elegant, sculptured lines, a low, pillarless roof and quad headlights. Sales literature proclaimed it “The First Personal Car from Ford of Great Britain,” and notable features included variable-speed wipers, dimming dashboard lights, a cigar lighter, and front disc brakes, which were novel for the time. The four-speed transmission was available with either a column or floor shifter.

Unfortunately, since the Capri shared its drivetrain with the Consul Classic, its performance didn’t match its sleek styling. With typical British understatement, Ford’s advertising positioned it this way: “Consul Capri is not a cat-out-of-hell sports car. It is a gentleman’s conveyance.” This gentleman’s conveyance was initially powered by a 1340cc variant of the Anglia engine sporting 56.5 horsepower, three main bearings, and a crankshaft that was prone to early failure. In 1962, the Capri received an improved 1498cc version with five main bearings and a bit more horsepower. 

The look may be all-American, but the power is a bit more modest, coming from a 1498cc inline-four. Owner Nadeem Khan says it has been very reliable.

Early in 1963, Ford added a Capri GT version, and it gained more power from a high-compression head, aluminum intake manifold, exhaust header and a twin-choke Weber–the first-ever use of this carburetor on a British production car. (This version of the Kent engine was soon to power the Ford Cortina). 

Despite good styling reviews and initial interest, the British auto-buying public was not impressed. The Capri sold for about 900 pounds (around $2300), quite pricy when compared to its competition. Sales lagged, and the car was discontinued in July 1964. During its two and a half years on the market, fewer than 20,000 were sold, including about 2000 GTs. A relative handful reached the U.S., where English Ford dealerships handled the sales.

Capri Fever

Once Nadeem settled in the U.S., Capris seemed to seek him out. Our featured car is his third, including a sadly rusted one–fortunately equipped with a GT engine–that he bought for parts. Twenty-five years ago, he recalls, you could buy a Consul for a few hundred dollars.

“My ex-wife found this car,” he says. “We had an antique shop, and she was going around picking for our shop.” She spotted the Capri–sitting forlornly behind an auto repair shop in Tavares, Florida–where it had been parked for many months. She learned that the owner had brought it in for repairs, but the shop couldn’t locate the parts needed to fix it. Nadeem tracked down the elderly owner, who had always enjoyed and cared for the car but was in failing health. “The owner was excited because it was going to somebody who understood it and would take care of it,” he explains. It had about 55,000 miles on the clock, and Nadeem bought it for $660. He later learned that the car had been sold new at Orlando’s Paquette Motors (whose sticker remains in the trunk) and had remained in Central Florida all its life.

The Capri was one of the first British cars to feature quad headlights. With bravado and questionable grammar, a sales brochure crows, “Consul Capri is possibly the handsomest car in the world to be overtaken by.” A 2-inch drop, 13-inch Cragar chrome wheels, whitewall tires and long side pipes set off this Capri’s swoopy profile.

After replacing the carburetor, spark plugs, wiring and distributor points, Nadeem got the Capri running. Soon it became his daily driver. For several years, it provided dependable service, but then the 1340cc engine started to weaken. During an outing to Daytona, the Capri overheated and the engine expired in a big way. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Nadeem dropped in the 1500 GT engine, which he says made the car a lot more responsive and fun to drive. 

Now his Capri had new life, but after years of exposure to the Florida weather, the car needed to be refreshed inside and out. That’s when he started thinking about going custom.

Customization Commences

Nadeem decided to model the Capri after one he recalled from his teens in England: “There was a green metalflake Capri, one of the most famous Capris at that time. I used to see that car around the Ford dealership, and I used to go there just to look at it.”

Other than the GT engine, the drivetrain of this Capri remains stock, although Nadeem rebuilt the brakes and suspension. He installed lowering blocks on the rear springs and cut the coils in the front, dropping the car by 2 inches. The small-diameter stainless side pipes aren’t hooked up, but they provide a ’60s vibe. So do the chromed Cragar wheels and smoothed, guard-free bumpers.

Nadeem says the color he chose for the lower half is close to the original shade, highlighted with silver scallops and green and silver striping. The top glitters with heavy metalflake loaded on a dark-silver base. Inside, the upholstery has been redone in a pattern much like the original, but in white and green metalflake vinyl. 

Overall, he is pleased with what he created, calling it a ’60s L.A.-style custom by way of England. And this man knows his ’60s, since his garage also houses about 40 linear feet and more than 5 tons of Cadillac–in the form of a one-off Eldorado Convertible show car and a limited-production Eldorado Brougham by Pininfarina. 

Living With a Capri

While Nadeem enjoys his Caddys, the Capri remains a favorite. “The Capri is a very reliable car,” he says, “and I drive it all over the place.” In addition to weekend outings, he drives it to shows and car gatherings, where it always draws a crowd. Nadeem tells us that very few enthusiasts know what it is “unless they are from England.” As might be expected, it’s equally welcome at rod runs: “Hotrodders love it,” he notes. 

People consistently mislabel this rarity, calling it everything from a Corvair to a Kharmann Ghia. Even when Nadeem tells folks what it is, they still can’t place it. And then he must explain–and sometimes defend–his custom treatment. Some like it; others don’t. When we caught up with the Capri at a British show, we asked for some opinions, and most of the folks we talked to thought the custom touches worked well in capturing the ’60s cruiser vibe. One observer summed it up like this: “Not many British cars look good customized, but this one manages to pull it off, maybe because it looks a bit American.” As expected, a couple of purists told us they were not amused. 

Does Nadeem get heat for customizing such a rare car? “Oh yeah, I get flak all the time. Purists don’t like it,” he says. But it’s his baby, and he is not concerned. “I tell them this car isn’t worth anything. It has very little value in America, although it’s getting quite valuable in England. Here, it’s an oddity more than anything else.” 

Oddity is right. Consul Capris are extremely rare in the U.S., especially one that is running. Nadeem says that in his long ownership, he has only run across a couple more examples. “I personally haven’t met anyone else who has one in the U.S.” he says, “although the guy who bought my first one recently got in touch with me. But that car is so badly rusted I don’t think it can be saved. Last I heard, there were around a dozen in the country.”

And of that handful, how many have had an encounter–metaphorically speaking–with Elvis?

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OCMSRZR
OCMSRZR New Reader
2/15/21 7:01 p.m.

I had one of those in the 1990's.  Bought it from a woman in San Francisco.  She cried when I drove it away. 

The car was red.  I installed the uprated Kent crossflow and a 5 speed transmission from a Merkur.

About 5 years later I sold in to a museum in Burbank California.  In about 1998.

The buyer called me regarding the ad and asked how much he needed to add to the price for my plane ticket home and when could I drop the car off.  The next day an overnight letter arrived with a cashiers check.  Two days later I drove up to his "museum".  It was actually an exquisite private collection of automobiles for the movie industry.  He spent two hours showing me around.  Amazing!

Of all the classic cars I have owned, that is the one I wish I still had. 

My Capri is the red one.  The white one was owned by a guy named Dave.  He also sold it to the same "museum". 

And similar to what John Webber noted in the original article, we could only locate about 13 of the cars across all of the United States.  That included the unrestorable rusted hulks, which I think numbered two.

 

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