Coyote Capri: Euro Pony Car Packs USA Punch


Coyote Capri: Euro Pony Car Packs USA Punch


Following the extraordinary popularity of the first-generation Mustang in North America, Ford sought to bring a similar sales juggernaut to the European market. The strategy of outfitting the conservatively styled Falcon platform with a sportier body and performance-minded powertrain options had more than proven its worth with their new American pony car, so Ford of Europe applied the same tactic to the Mk 2 Cortina to create the Mk 1 Capri sports coupe for 1969.

Much like the Mustang, the new Capri was a massive win for the Blue Oval – more than 400,000 examples sold in the first two years alone. It was also marketed in the U.S. through Mercury dealers, and roughly a half million of them were sold here over the course of the 1970s. But despite that popularity, those European-derived Mercury Capris are almost entirely forgotten today. And that’s partially what makes them appealing for one racer in the states.

“Back in 2016 I was looking for a small, lightweight, rear-wheel drive car to put this motor and transmission into,” explains James Meredith of Carrollton, Georgia. “My friend Mike Bowen, who owns PowerHouse Automotive in Girard, Pennsylvania, told me that he had this Capri that was sitting out behind his shop, and he didn’t know what to do with it. Initially I told him I wasn’t interested – I thought he was talking about the later Capri, which was basically a re-badged Fox-body Mustang, and at the time everybody was doing Coyote swaps in Fox-body Mustangs. But then he explained what the car actually was, and my interest was piqued.”

The Ford / Mercury Capri of the 1970s is now largely forgotten in the U.S., but the car's relative scarcity added to its appeal for owner James Meredith. He was looking for something a little different for an engine swap after his Ford Coyote powered 2003 Mustang proved too dominant in Factory Stock competition, prompting NMRA to ban the engine in his class.

After a dominant season in NMRA Factory Stock racing with his Coyote-swapped 2003 Mustang Mach 1, rule changes had forced Meredith to look for a new home for the powerplant and a new class to run in. “We had won every race in Factory Stock the previous year, so they decided to ban the motor that we were running. I put my backup motor in the Mach 1 at that point, and suddenly I was left with this Coyote engine that was no good for Factory Stock. So I said to Mike, ‘Okay – let’s build a car for it.’”

A 1977 inspection sticker indicated that the Capri hadn’t been on the road in decades, but the car was largely intact, and the body was relatively clean. That made it a solid candidate for the project, which ended up taking about a year from start to finish.

Meredith's Capri had been off the road for approximately 40 years when he got it, but the car was in solid shape and proved to be a surprisingly good platform for a Coyote swap. The whole project took about a year start to finish.

“My first concern was whether or not a Coyote would even fit in a car this small,” Meredith says. “But, as it turns out, we didn’t have to cut up the engine compartment at all.” Getting the Coyote to play nice with the rest of the Capri’s architecture was a different story, though. They ended up fabricating an entire custom front suspension for the Capri, along with the motor mounts and transmission mount. And when they built its 8.50-certified roll cage, the team also reinforced the frame rails and tied the cage in to strengthen the overall structure and help the diminutive coupe put its newfound grunt to good use.

The E85-fed Coyote in question is a Gen 1 short block that’s outfitted with forged pistons and rods, ported Gen 2 heads, Rich Groh Racing camshafts, and a Ford Performance Cobra Jet intake. The combination is good for about 550 horsepower at the wheels on its own, but Meredith also runs a 100-shot of nitrous on occasion for a little more oomph. A Holley HP EFI ECU is also onboard to oversee the proceedings. “I really liked the expandability of the HP system and how easy it is to tune on,” he tells us. “And with this car I don’t feel like we’ll ever outgrow what the ECU can handle.”

Meredith was initially concerned that a wide V8 like the Coyote wouldn't fit in the diminutive Capri chassis, but it actually slipped between the shock towers with surprising ease. That said, he ended up fabricating an entirely new front suspension, engine mounts, and transmission mount to make the swap work. The engine puts out roughly 500hp, plus an extra 100hp worth of nitrous.

Matched up with a strengthened C4 automatic transmission and an 8.8-inch rear end from a Ford Explorer, the 2500-pound Capri has seen low-9-second ETs on spray. But since Meredith currently races in a bracket-style open comp class format, the priority for the build is consistent, reliable performance. “Originally we had put a big gas tank in it – we had planned to do Drag Week-style events along with the traditional drag racing stuff,” he says. “We haven’t done that yet, but I keep it registered and insured. It’s still a street car, technically.”

Meredith has gone on to score several NMRA class wins with the Capri since the build was completed in 2017, and the car has cultivated a bit of a fanbase as a result. He cites his Mod Muscle class win at the NMRA World Finals in 2021 as a notable highlight, an event which coincided with Holley Ford Fest at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “There’s also another annual event called the Capri Swarm, which is all Mk1 and Mk2 Capris, and that moved to Beech Bend alongside the NMRA race at Ford Fest that year as well. So there were a bunch of Capri guys at the track cheering me on.” Capri Swarm also hosted a bracket race of its own, and he managed to snag a podium in that event as well.

The interior of the Capri remains largely the same stock '70s stuff that came with the car, except for the racing seats and 8.50-certified roll cage. The team also reinforced the frame rails and tied the cage in to strengthen the overall structure. The 2500-pound car has seen low-9-second ETs on nitrous, and Meredith is working on making it more consistent to compete in NMRA's 8.60 Street Race class.

Meredith returned for Ford Fest 2022 and ended up winning the Capri Swarm race, but consistency was a bit harder to come by during NMRA competition, due to some recent changes that had been made to the car. “I actually went a little too quick on Sunday in Mod Muscle,” he recalls. “I knew the car was going to be fast, but I didn’t think it would be quite that fast.” Since then, he’s also competed at small-tire races like No Mercy, but he says the primary focus right now is dialing the new setup in, which includes a switch from the three-speed C4 automatic to a new two-speed Powerglide.

“We also made a bunch of other changes to the car to try and run this new NMRA 8.60 Street Race class, but then we ended up not doing it. So right now, it’s about finding that sweet spot again – we’re still figuring out what torque converter the Powerglide really likes, and I’m still dialing in my technique. The new transmission reacts much quicker than the C4, and that caused me to red light a few times last year.”

And in a class like Mod Muscle, Meredith says that reaction time and consistency are the keys to success. The team’s efforts seem to have paid off, as they took home the win at the NMRA Spring Break Shootout in Orlando earlier this year. We look forward to seeing how things shake out for Meredith and his head-turning Capri in the 2024 season.


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