Some say the Foxbody platform peaked with the Mercury Capri in this specification

Ford moved the Mustang to the then-new Fox platform for the 1979 model year and, at the same time, Mercury introduced the second-generation Capri as a Mustang with a posh interior that was more expensive but, mechanically, almost identical. The cream of the crop were the Capris modified by ASC and McLaren between 1984 and 1986 and, with only 933 Capris ever updated to ASC/McLaren specification, they are particularly rare and hard to find. This one you see here was offered on Craigslist and is said to be one of just 257 units converted in 1985 and one of just 94 originally painted in Oxford White that year.

In the ’70s, if you wanted to try out Ford Cologne’s attempt at building a Mustang for the European market but you didn’t live in Europe, you got yourself a Mercury Capri. As a $2,300 (in 1970) economical sports coupe, the original Capri was what’s known as a ’captive import’ - a car made outside of the U.S. borders but sold Stateside under a different badge while not carrying any divisional identification. In ’72, the Mercury Capri became the first car sold by a Ford-owned brand in the U.S. to feature a V-6 as Mercury introduced a version powered by the 2.6-liter Cologne V-6 engine. In 1976, Mercury followed in the footsteps of the Europeans and started selling the Mark II Capri but the drivetrain remained common with the Ford Pinto, Ford Mustang II, and Mercury Bobcat. The ties between the Capri and the Mustang became closer three years later when the Capri returned on the market as a sports car based on the Fox platform. This is where the story of this car begins in earnest.

A McLaren-tuned Mercury that can be used every day, almost

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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The second-generation Mercury Capri debuted in 1979 and, unlike the Mustang, it was only offered as a three-door hatchback. To make it stand out when parked next to a Mustang, the Capri featured a different front end with quadruple headlights, two on either side of a rectangular grille placed inside rectangular slots. The straight-angled grille itself, painted in black just like the plastic headlight surround, sported a single bar in the middle. The front bumper’s protruding part is where you’ll find the indicators and hazard lights and the whole thing is painted in white on this ASC/McLaren example while on run-of-the-mill Capris it was painted in black to match the trim pieces that ran along the sides of the car all the way to the back. There were also Capris with the bumpers (front and back) entirely blacked out with matching black rocker panels and lower portion of the doors below the car’s beltline.

From the side, the biggest difference between a Mustang and a Capri of that era resides in the shape of the fenders.

The Mustang features protruding flared fenders with rounded arches while the Capri’s fenders are less flared although they still stand out from the line of the doors. The arches on this ASC/McLaren example are filled properly by the multi-spoke BBS deep-dish rims with polished spokes and hubs. The hood features a protruding part in the middle where you’ll find two rectangular air vents that feed air to the 5.0-liter fuel injected V-8.

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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In the back, the Capri sports unique louvered taillights placed in recessed slots of the rear center panel on either side of thick pillars that guard the number plate area. For 1983, the Capri was mildly updated and came with a large compound-curve "bubble-back" rear window. However, if you wanted a convertible Capri you had to give ASC (which stood for American Sunroof Company at the time and now stands for American Speciality Cars) a call. Priced at the equivalent of $26,300 in 2019, the Capri Hatchback was barely $1,200 more expensive (in today’s money) than a 1985 Mustang LX three-door sedan. An SVO Hatchback at the time sold for the modern equivalent of almost $35,000 before options were added. For comparison’s sake, a 2019 Ford Mustang GT comes with an MSRP of $35,630 while a basic Ecoboost-engined ’Stang starts at $26,750.

What this means is that the Capri wasn't particularly cheap (although its Mustang brother was considered cheap back then and sold like hotcakes) but, still, you couldn't get it with a convertible top from the factory.

The good news is that the conversion done by ASC wasn’t only going to get you a Capri with unlimited headroom, but also a quicker one as McLaren took part in the conversion as well. Let’s delve into the details.

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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For starters, ASC is a company founded in 1965 by Heinz Prechter in Los Angeles, California that is known for converting coupe cars to cabriolet form, being able to delete the rear seats on some models and execute extensive bodywork changes to transform these cars into proper open-top two-seaters with OEM-quality parts and fitment. The company also revolutionized the industry when it equipped the Chevrolet Venture with a mobile video system.

The idea to build an open-top Capri was brought forth by engineer Peter Muscat who had previous experience in convertible conversions having built an Audi 80 convertible complete with a tonneau cover for the soft top to hide underneath making it a bona fide two-seater. With Ford launching a convertible Mustang in 1983, Muscat began talks with Mercury instead for the production of a Capri with a similar setup. Due to the high costs of the modifications, Mercury declined the offer to build the car itself and, instead, Muscat turned to ASC, a company with both the expertise and the ability to do such a conversion. He was determined to make his idea a reality after his wife, who was working for Ford, was angered by the company’s decision to not let her park next to the Fords of other employees and was urged to park in a remote lot - probably because Ford feared people who’d come by the Ford office building would compare the fit and finish of the SL (which came with a tonneau cover on the convertible model, by the way) with that of the Mustang and be unimpressed.

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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While the Fox-body Mustang convertible was based on the coupe version, Muscat and ASC had to start with the only Capri version available, the hatchback four-seater.

What this meant is that ASC had to design a tonneau cover, modify the angle of the windshield, and strengthen the chassis. The manual top would fold back down and hide underneath the tonneau thus being completely out of sight, unlike on a convertible Mustang where the soft top remains visible at all times.

A number of model-specific parts had to be built that are unique to this car such as seals, weatherstripping, and windshield moldings for the windshield that was raked back by 10 degrees. During the build process, a replacement rear deck lid was fitted as well as new quarter panel caps, the tonneau cover painted in the color of the bodywork and the floor received further reinforcements. McLaren of North America (the same company that built engines for the Group 5/IMSA GTO/X BMW 320i driven by David Hobbs in the IMSA Camel GT Series between 1977 and 1979) offered the springs, shocks, struts, and the BBS rims.

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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In spite of McLaren’s involvement, engine tuning was limited and, as such, the performance gains weren’t impressive. The 5.0-liter HO V-8 originally cranked out 225 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. Other ASC/McLaren Capris, that were based on the turbocharged Capri RS model, were more potent as McLaren installed an improved Garret turbocharger. Coupled with higher gear ratios due to the Ford heavy-duty performance camshaft that replaced the stock one, the 2.4-liter engine cranked out way more than the advertised 210 horsepower making it one of the fastest modified Foxbody cars with 0 to 60 times in the low six-second range.

MotorWeek tested both the Capri ASC/McLaren coupe and convertible back in 1986 and, according to Road & Track, the testers enjoyed the cars’ road holding that benefitted from the performance suspension and shocks.

The car you see here features Lincoln Mark VII five-lug front disc brakes (discs are in the back as well, the system featuring an SVO master and proportioning valve, new calipers, slotted rotors, and new hoses), a 1985 SVO rear end (3.73:1), and Mercury LSC-originated rims - according to the ad.
Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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Inside, McLaren outfitted the Capri with a built-in radar detector and Recaro seats among other things. This particular example lacks the seats as, according to the owner who bought it 12 years ago, they were worn out and he replaced them with a set of Thunderbird Turbo Coupe seats. He also fitted an SVO odometer that tops out at 140 mph. It’s unclear how fast the Capri ASC/McLaren can actually go but it’s certain that it was spirited for 1985 when, let’s not forget, a Volkswagen Rabbit GTi (Golf in Europe) was quicker to 60 mph than a Camaro Z28.

So, why is it so rare? We are looking at a well-engineered, well built (as per the standards of the day) car that was, back then, your gateway to two-seat, open-top Capri driving as the factory never offered this body style. Well, as mentioned, the conversion process was quite hard and took a while (only 50 convertibles were built in 1984 as well as 10 coupes, ASC/McLaren also updating coupe models at the time although the coupes didn’t require extra chassis strengthening which made them cheaper). What is more, due to Mercury’s desire to distance itself from the whole thing, it wouldn’t honor warranty repairs on any of the modifications made by ASC. The cars were sold through individual dealerships but it wasn’t the lack of publicity that hampered sales. It was the price.

The conversion of a standard Hatchback Capri (be it RS or not) to convertible two-seater specification added another $12,000 to the MSRP making it a $22,000 car at a time when the standard model was already around $6000 more expensive than a Mustang GT convertible.

Meanwhile, the ASC/McLaren coupe was only $4,000 more expensive than the stock model.

Car for Sale: 1985 ASC McLaren 5.0SC Convertible
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While sales did go up in 1985, the Capri wasn’t healthy. In its first year, Mercury sold over 110,000 units but, by 1986, only 20,000 units were shipped. This ultimately prompted Mercury to halt production and McLaren/ASC decided to join Steve Saleen and offer the same kind of treatment to the Mustang which they did until 1990 with a lot more success (in terms of sales).

Source: Craigslist

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