From Arizona to Essex, the story of a 1954 Lincoln Capri.
The Lincoln Capri is a rather curious car for the average Brit. This yank tank appears to be a cumbersome and rather ‘gopping’ piece of work, and perhaps that is an accurate description. However, my afternoon with this car gave me a level of respect to the American automobile that I never before had.
A brief history
Lincolns first iteration of the Capri was created in 1952 with the intention of being a mass-produced, luxury car, aimed at the typical middle class American. The Lincoln Capri was meant to reflect upon the stunning Italian island to which the name derives. Flamboyant, large and comfortable, it was the perfect car to rival the Cadillac Series 62. Despite this ambitious goal, the Lincoln never truly lived up to its expectations.
Even though it sold significantly better than its predecessor, the Metropolitan, the Lincoln fell short to knocking Cadillac and Oldsmobile off the top. To gain publicity and a better image, the Capri was entered in the famous Carrera Panamerica race, which Oldsmobile had won in 1950. Even though the Lincoln won the ‘52, ‘53, and ‘54 events, these accomplishments failed to attract the attention needed to gain market control.
Changing up tactics, the second generation was unveiled in 1956 with a much more powerful 6.0L 285bhp Y-Block V8 (compared to the 5.2L 225bhp V8 of the first generation). The Capri was now marketed as an entry-level car, in the hope it would be more appealing to a larger audience. This didn’t work. Sales plummeted to just 9,000 in 1956, and in the following year the Lincoln sold even worse than that. Any charm from being marketed as a luxury car had vanished, who can blame the American people for buying a car it was not designed to be?
The last iteration of the Capri was produced from 1958-1959. The over-excessive size was a large problem (the third generation was over 19 foot in length!), however this way not the main reason why it was discontinued. The car was axed in 1959 down to the economic recession that hit the motor industry hard.
The exact car I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with was a 1954 first gen example. To try and understand why people have a love for the American car of this era, I talked to the owner and kustoms car enthusiast Matt Cooke. After a lovely cup of tea and a quick introduction to his rather noisy yet sweet dog, we got straight down to business and checked out the car.
You may wonder how a 1954 Lincoln Capri on Arizona plates managed to find its way to a garden in a sleepy Essex seaside town, and it certainly is a story.
Matt tells me,
‘The year was 1988. After initially owning Alfa Romeos, I was driving down a side road in Tooting Bec and saw a huge pink land yacht’, which later turned out to be a ’59 Lincoln Premier.
‘After getting in touch with the owner, over time, I was introduced to the London car scene and the infamous Chelsea Cruise’.
After making many connections, including most of the Vultures car club, a few of the Executioners and the Hustlers, Matt was well and truly hooked on the kustom car culture. With his heart set on buying a ’63 Galaxie, the opportunity arose but the deal was called off after a disagreement at the last moment.
Fast forward to 1994, and on the other side of the pond a good friend of Matts is in Phoenix, Arizona and responds to a craiglist advert for a 1954 Lincoln Capri for $1800. Matts friend Pete checks it out and realises there are two Capris up for sale under the same advert, both for the $1800. The first Capri is yellow with a black roof and the second is a dark green roof ‘spares’ car. Of course, Peter buys them. They then get shipped to Oklahoma to a guy who is going to restore them. Peter gets in touch with Matt and asks him what he thinks.
Matt is interested and asks, “How much for the green car?” and a deal is struck.
Its 1996 and both of them have just driven 15 states in 5 days in Peters ’68 Firebird, where they make it to Chickasaw in Oklahoma where the car is being restored. After finding out that the interior was started on before the mechanical elements (which cost Matt $1,000!), the plug was pulled and the Capri was shipped to Connecticut to good friend and ex-race car mechanic Steve. After selling the original 317 Y-Block V8, a 351 Windsor motor and C4 Auto transmission from a ’77 Mercury Cougar are installed. As well as this the car gets a 12V re-wire, a set of front disks, power brakes and a full s/s exhaust. After briefly using the car in Maryland whilst working, the car is then shipped to London in 2000. The car is then put into storage in Balham.
Life moves on and the car is eventually registered for an MOT after 7 years of being in storage. Until 2011, its used to go to work in and for general poodling around. With the intention to work on the car more extensively, its put away into Matts garden where it currently resides in the small seaside town of Brightlingsea.
The goal is to get the car ready for July 2020 for Matts daughters prom, and this is no small task. There is, however, a plan.
The car will be sent to a local mechanic to sort out the fender lower, a new battery box will be installed, frenching in of the headlights and the door handles will be replaced. The power steering and brake booster also need to be changed, as well as a complete respray of the whole car. The car will stay the same colour for the most part, with the roof being painted in dark green metal flake paint. Aside from that, the car will be modernised to accommodate for today’s technology in a discreet manner.
Seating 6 slim Europeans (or 4 wide Americans!), the Capri can cruise at 90 whilst giving 20mpg and will always turn heads wherever it goes. The huge hood and long protruding lines give a menacing impression without even being able to drive.
After finding out all of this information I was naturally blown away by the life both the Lincoln Capri and Matt have had together so far. Talking to Matt also got me thinking about the communal aspect of the kustom car culture and what it means to people. The story about the car was engrained with passion, a love for all things V8 and on a much simpler note, a reason to get together and build friendships whilst making some noise and going way to fast!
The rest of my day was spent shooting the car, having my own personal tour around the quaint town of Brightlingsea, and a few celebratory pints at the local boozer! A good end to a good day.