By on June 5, 2012

Every so often during the 1970s and 1980s, the suits in Detroit had an inspiration: Take one of the corporation’s European-market vehicles, throw some new badges at it, and sell it in the United States. Chrysler did it with the Hillman Avenger aka Plymouth Cricket, GM did it with the Opel Kadett aka Buick Opel, and Ford did it with the Ford Capri aka “the Capri.” While these deals never worked out so well when it came to the bottom line (though the Simca-derived Omnirizon did pretty well for Chrysler), Ford didn’t give up on the idea. Bob Lutz decided that a Mercury-badged Ford Sierra with a turbocharged Pinto engine would be just the ticket for stealing BMW customers: the Merkur XR4Ti.
The XR4Ti was rear-wheel-drive and reasonably quick for its time, but car shoppers were confused by the Merkur brand and the build quality was iffy. Here’s a Crusher-bound example of the final-year XR4Ti, spotted in a Denver self-service yard.
Merkur dealerships couldn’t even move 3,000 of these cars in 1989, which makes this a very rare car.
The biplane spoiler of the first few years of the XR4Ti became this tamer-looking single spoiler.

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82 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Merkur XR4Ti...”


  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Back in the 80′s for some reason, I craved one of these….I just liked the design. Of course, I was a fan of Ford’s Probe IV design language of that era…this vehicle seemed to encapsulate the best elements of that design language….picking up the best bits of the Focus, Probe, Fox Mustang, Tempo, T-Bird and Lincoln Mark XII lines….in a well-chosen size envelope.

    Had build quality been better, had management more patiently stayed the course and dumped money into refinement and engine design (instead of trying to buy into Premium by indulging Jaques Nasser and his MASSIVE ego by buying Volvo, Jaguar, and Aston-Martin), they might have had a winning strategy on their hands. European Fords have always been, IMHO, better cars than their American cousins, and if they had been successful in positioning Mercury division as the Euro-fighters, instead of a badge-engineering compromise step between Ford and Lincoln, the Mercury/Merkur brand might still be alive and vibrant for Ford today…they even had the right spokesperson to tie Merkur to a sporting European Ford F1 presence in Jackie Stewart, at the time.

    …the Ka for example,is a great car which TTAC had never reviewed and would have made a great small Mercury/Merkur.

    Gimme summa dat Ford Euro flav-a….

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I really wanted one of these also, and felt this was the most beautiful car ever.

      I eventually owned an 85 LeBaron GTS, whose lines are similar but even cleaner.

      Ford’s biggest mistake with this car (and the Scorpio) was the dreadful “Merkur” name. Awful, awful, awful.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Nasser wasnt calling the shots on this car or the merkur strategy.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark MacInnis

        My point was that at some point in the early-mid 90′s, the board approved Nasser’s plans to spend GOBS of money to BUY premium brands. Mercury/Merkur was, at the time, along with Lincoln, the premium brands at Ford. It is (or should be)implicit that the un-chosen ALTERNATIVE to the “Let’s buy Volvo/Jaguar/A-M/LR” strategy would have been to continue to invest money to DEVELOP the premium brands in the portfolio, i.e., Mercury/Merkur. Ipso Facto. Connect the dots. Cash spent for Volvo/Jag/A-M/LR was NOT available to continue the Merkur experiment and enhance the product. N’cest pas? History has shown that the Volvo/Jag/LR/A-M gambit was CLEARLY the wrong way to go…..

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        I think ford may have saved Aston Martin and Jaguar from extinction – that’s got to be worth something.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        ……..I think ford may have saved Aston Martin and Jaguar from extinction – that’s got to be worth something…….

        It is but Ford made nothing off of this. In fact I hear all the time that Jaguars are unreliable “because Ford owned them”…When I tell these ignoramuses that Ford actually improved Jaguar assembly quality and reliably enormously, they give me a blank look and say impossible, Ford made them worse. Whatever…

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      As unpopular as the XR4Ti was in 1989 in the States, the Ka model would have been DOA, Americans then weren’t buying cars that small, however well built they were.
      In 2012, the Ka might have done a little better marketed as a Ford, though I think Americans think the Fiesta-Mazda2-Honda Fit class is as small as they want to go at this point.
      Having had a ’85 XR4Ti with cloth, five speed and a ’88 XR4Ti with leather, five speed, and recently a little experience with the Mercury/Lincoln retail business, I would have counselled FoMoCo to at least call it a Lincoln, and market the XR4Ti and Scorpio with national ride-and-drive sessions to get potential buyers behind the wheel. This worked for Fusion, and lately worked for the Hyundai brand.

      Personally, I felt there was a disconnect with Merkur and the general public, they just weren’t aware of the car, though I’ll give Ford and Budget Rent-A-Car credit for making them available at airport rental counters. I had the opportunity to pick up an ’86 XR4Ti at SFO for one week, and another one at Midway/Chicago for three days, and loved both experiences.

      How did I like owning the XR4Ti? Loved them. The ’88 I bought in 1993 had only 4,000 miles, driven only 4 miles roundtrip daily from the original owners home to the commuter rail station and back. It was, as you can imagine, basically a five year old new car, for $5,000.

      What did I dislike about it? The turbo lag, and that’s all. Whether it had cloth or leather seats, it had easily the best seats I’ve ever had in a car, and they were totally manual, but everything was adjustable: height, lumbar, thigh support, recline. This rating includes the two BMW 3-Series coupes I have now, and one has the sport seats.

      I had no quality issues with the XR4Ti, they were on par with BMW, but I would have preferred a V6 and no turbo.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        “As unpopular as the XR4Ti was in 1989 in the States, the Ka model would have been DOA, Americans then weren’t buying cars that small, however well built they were.”

        To be fair, they weren’t buying premium hatchbacks, either. Ford probably should have taken a hint from the slow uptake of the Sierra in the UK prior to the saloon intro in ’87.

        Pity, really; I’d love to buy the modern equivalent of a Scorpio from Ford today.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        The Ka wasn’t a premium hatchback either, very much entry level with 1.3 OHV engine and no auto trans. Size-wise they were probably a touch smaller than the current Fiat 500.

        The premise of staying with low-priced, high-volume Fords and leveraging the more premium overseas cars as Mercurys is interesting, despite a couple of tries they excecuted them poorly each time. Even just on the name – surely Sierra would have sat well next to Sable in the showroom (or was GM using that for a pickup name at that time?)

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        @Outback_Ute — by “premium hatchback” I was referring to the two Merkurs, not the Ka.

        Good guess on the size; the current Ka shares its platform with the 500, oddly enough.

      • 0 avatar
        snakebit

        Yes, Ford did save both from extinction. They managed to get three cars( Ja
        g S-Type,Lincoln LS, and ’04-06 Thunderbird) from the same platform, and sa
        ve money. They managed to get the car makers Aston Martin and Jaguar to sha
        re a platform for their iconic sports cars, the DB7 and XK series. They ce
        rtainly raised the quality level of Jaguar to the point where it was in the
        top two overall in the J.D. Powers survey for product and dealer experienc
        e. When I was a pup, being a Jaguar technician was a sure bet for being abl
        e to put your kids through college, like being a doctor without getting blo
        ody., Ford only improved Jaguar and Aston Martin’s reputation, and
        did the right thing by divesting of the two companies to assure Ford’s future.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    probably crazy, but I’d much rather own a Previa (seen behind this car) than a Merkur. Or even its neighboring Volvo wagon or mazda truck!

    *not positive if Mazda….feel free to correct me

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    No cool biplane spoiler :(. In Venezuela it was a very popular add on to Sierras, but the sun trashed most of them.

    This is a cool car. I think Sajeev should actually pick this one up, even if it’s only used as parts car.

    I remember seeing one at the drags, it was almost Lemons-grade, and the guy swapped the V6 for a turbo 4. It was bloody quick. Some other people have swapped in 302 V8s.

    Another idea for Sajeev and his Sierra: LS3 FTMFW!

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Naah. 300 CID I6 and a blower.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      The soft-touch twin tail didn’t make the NAAO BOM because it violated FMVSS by being longer than the rear bumper, to preserve this feature, the rear bumper would have to have been inordinately long.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        The Sierra sold in Venezuela had the same bumpers as that car, save for the body color. So I guess we got the US market one there.

        The XR4i was the top of the line/sport model and we also got the GT 2 dr with the BIG side windows but no bi plane spoiler. IIRC even the last Mustangs assembled over there in 85 got a bi plane spoiler.

        And all Sierras there had the Cologne 2.8 lts V6, later with a bigger capacity of 3 lts.

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      They had a factory 302 version in South Africa

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Actually, the “Buick Opel” was an Americanized version of the Isuzu Gemini, which in turn was a Japanesed version of the Opel Kadett. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall GM ever slapping American badges on cars from their European subsidiaries.

    • 0 avatar
      TokyoPlumber

      Obviously, your Caddy doesn’t zig. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      semaj82

      Cadillac Catera?

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Tomifobia,

      I believe GM actually DID bring over the Opal for most of the Buick Opal run, it wasn’t until the very late 70′s, early 80′s that we got the Isuzu I-Mark badged as an Opal.

      How do you think we got the Manta?

      • 0 avatar
        Tomifobia

        That was different. Those German cars were branded as Opels, although sold at Buick dealers. This Gemini wore the Buick badge later on in its run (initially Opel By Isuzu) and the I-Mark name didn’t appear until Isuzu started selling cars on its own in the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Saturn Astra (everyone else forgot about it too).

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “Saturn Astra (everyone else forgot about it too).”

        I didn’t. Loved the 2 door hatch and see one on occasion around here. I seriously considered one to replace my Impala, but I turned my head and they all disappeared like the rest of Saturn. The four door version looked suspiciously like a Cobalt sedan with that roofline and rear door glass shape, but nicer, somehow.

        Just when Saturn was bringing out some fine cars, too…

    • 0 avatar

      I consider that generation of Gemini to be a Kadett. Also, Opel-badged Opels were sold out of Buick dealerships for quite a while before they called them Buicks.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Newly married in July 1967, my wife and I bought a new Opel Kadett 2dr, stick, beige with a saddle interior. As I recall we really liked the car, was real economical about 30mpg, can’t recall any problem we had with the car. Bought it at the Buick dealer in Hackensack, NJ, Jack Schlein Buick.

        I also remember the little sport model from Opel, the Opel GT.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      You can buy Belgium/German made Opels if you look hard enough – Saturn Astra and about half of the 2011 Buick Regals.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I drove one of these with an automatic once, turbo lag made the thing a slug in town an getting on the highway was frightening thanks to the car holding RPMs instead of shifting.

    The engine was blazing hot too, these Merkurs really needed better air intake.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      My sister had an XR4ti new out-of-the-box, and before it was even paid off, the torque converter in the automatic transmission blew up due to overheating, so I can verify your heat rejection comments.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The automatic version was “detuned” down to 145 HP.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        And yet it still felt as slow as the Plymouth Horizon that I owned at the time, which was stock and didn’t even put out 100hp.

        And for the record,, my Horizon was an automatic with power everything (except windows), AC, anti-roll bar, and an airbag. Not exactly light.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Jim Rome sure loved his…yeah, right.

    I thought these were real sharp cars when they came out, but soon after the horror stories appeared of the quality – or lack of. I always thought the Scorpio was what the Taurus should have looked like.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    The world was a different place in 1995 when these cars were still on the road, and the Contour had just been released.

    My family owned 3 Fords(f250, tempo and taurus) and our only foreign car, ever– a 1982 Datsun/Nissan 510/stanza. It was badged as all four. Terrible car, no more or less reliable than the early-generation stanza altimas two other friends have had. Nissan sure does build some shoddy engine suspensions and fwd componentry! I’m not partial to how nissans rattle you when they idle. I digress.

    The power mirror control from the Contour came from this car. I couldn’t wrap my 15-year old mind around the fact that something so loudly advertised as ‘all-new’ wasn’t all-new.

    That is all.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    I bought one new, also bought the premier Mercury-backed 7 year 100K mile all-inclusive warranty plan… best $600 I EVER spent. It took 2 new turbos plus lord know what else… but Mercury spent a bundle honoring that warranty (though there was never any hedge, they did honor it).

    I loved the car, and for its day it was quick, but the dealers hadn’t a clue how to perform some repairs; I don’t think it was EVER in and out in a day.

    At 98K miles, just before the warranty plan expired, I sold it. But I do have fond memories.

  • avatar
    fiasco

    That’s not a 2.3 Turbo Ford engine…at least not a Lima.

    WAG here, but I’d say the yard dumped a 2.3 HSC out of a Tempo in the engine bay, which is a horrible indignity.

    • 0 avatar
      Bayley

      Yeah, I caught that too. As the masochistic owner of 4 prior XR4Tis, that’s no Lima 2.3L turbo I’ve ever seen before. I wonder if they dropped in a motor from a newer Ranger?

      EDIT: Nevermind, it looks like a FWD motor mount on the front of the engine. Epic swap, just a dollar short of making it to a lemons race.

    • 0 avatar
      Smeeder

      I seem to recall that the Merkur engines were made in Brazil. They weren’t the same motor as the Turbo Coupe….

    • 0 avatar

      Oh yeah, I made a mental note to comment on the forklift-engine-swap in this car while shooting the photos, then completely spaced on it while looking at tiny image thumbnails during the writing of the post.

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    Sorry, but for this article I’m asking myself 3 questions:
    1) is the Previa supercharged?
    2) what a nice blue on that nissan pickup – I’d drive that.
    3) why on earth would a nice clean ’87 740 wagon end up there – they’re bone simple to work on.

  • avatar
    gsf12man

    Early wheels on that late example, too. I had two, the second just like the junkyard find. Assembly quality was superb, but they were nickel-and-dimey, and a lot of nickels and dimes required. Mine had Rapido intercooler and some Rapido suspension bits, KYB shocks and struts (big improvement), and a Cosworth Sierra steering wheel. I swapped the impossible-to-clean late wheels for the ’87 style. Sure wish I had it back . . . the kid who bought it wrecked it in very short order. I kept the Cossie steering wheel. One of the best-looking cars ever.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I owned one of these, second owner of an ’87 I bought in ’93. It was an awful car. The dashboard was already cracked from the summer heat, it became a sea of electrical problems and the final insult was the engine committing suicide by water ingestion on the Southwest Freeway in a massive thunderstorm. I never drove through deep water, water got into the engine due to the sheer amount coming down, and thanks for playing.

    It was darn quick when it ran right, and it was very comfortable. The backseat in particular was incredibly comfortable and roomy. Always loved hatchbacks so was very practical in that sense.

    The ’89 is done in the Ford red paint that was a gorgeous color when it was new. It was called Rosso Red or Mars Red depending on the Ford product you were buying, it was the same color. This version of the Merkur above is a three pedal version, meaning it produced 175 HP. The version found in a Ford T-Bird turbo coupe of the same era had 190 HP because it had an intercooler.

    0 to 60 times for the manual version was 7.0 seconds flat, which seems anemic today but was darn fast during this era (the Mustang GT would be faster and I’ll mention that before there are five replies from Mustang fans about it being faster, got it). There was no LSD option either!

    The idea wasn’t a bad one – but so-so build quality (I got a really bad one personally), awful marketing, and attempt to create a “fourth” Ford brand within the Mercury brand was a bad idea out of the gate. The xR4Ti and the Scorpio were doomed from the word go in the North American market.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      OCD

      Southwest Freeway in Houston, Texas – where it meets Beltway 8.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Edsel never worked, so why’d they think that Merkur would do any better?

      Why on Earth did Ford NOT install an intercooler in the Merkur?
      From what I know they’re very important when turbo-charging a car.

      The silly thing is, these all have Pinto engines in them.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Pinto engines were built stout to begin with, however, the turbo 2.3 engine had forged internals, plasma moly ring facings and blocks were cast with much higher nickel content. Turbo 2.3 engines have been popping up in hot-rods, sandrails and at the drag strip since the early ’90s.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        At Denver: How do they get around its awful turbo lag?

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The bigger the turbo is, the bigger the lag, but blow-off valves will keep the turbo spooled between shifts as well as power-shifting. Anti-lag devices retard timing (between shifts) while enriching fuel mixture and thereby increase exhaust pressure (back fire). Launching a turbo at full boost is as simple as keeping the RPMs up and power-braking (slipping the clutch).

        I don’t mind turbo lag as long as there’s a big payoff. Those 2.3 turbos would effectively double the engine’s output and that was fairly unique at the time. That made for a dramatic power surge as long as you planned for it.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    While Lutz was the head of FoE when this car was being developed, the head of Mercury Division marketing, one Ed Ford II, (also of the large diameter Cougar grille badge, and similar badges everywhere else on the aero-era Cougars, as well as the goofy stylized M, that looks like a couple of lanes brand logo), was the brain trust thrust behind the Merkur name. A neighbor in the Mercury marketing department, told me at the time, that each of these ideas was making him nervous because he thought the would be excessive, expensive, do-nothing flops.

    Guess Ed did well enough with these, because before the stink set-in, he picked-up a seat on the board of directors, and was promoted to head Ford’s captive credit company.

    Around the time this car was making its debut in the USA, Lutz had been brought stateside to head the Ford light truck division (he considered this posting to be a booby-prize, however, because he really expected to get the President/CEO job in Dearborn). Shortly thereafter, however, he jumped ship for the chance to become president at Iacocca’s Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always sort of admired the way Billy, Edsel II, and Elena Ford have worked for FoMoCo. Elena’s father was Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping billionaire so she doesn’t have to work two times over. The Ford cousins haven’t always done a great job at Ford but at least I’ll give them credit for not being idly rich layabouts. Billy tried running the company and I genuinely admire how he realized that he wasn’t up to that task and hired Alan Mullaly to take over.

      Detroit’s a funny town. It’s undoubtedly a deep blue union town in many ways, but the populace has affection for corporate execs like Billy Ford and Bob Lutz.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        “I’ll give them credit for not being idly rich layabouts”

        No, they’re effectively corporate aristocracy, or at least nepotism on it’s way to becoming such. Someone with Elena Ford’s track record would be challenged to be where she is were it not for the magic surname and social connections.

        I’ve worked for family-owned companies, and it’s interesting (and disheartening for many) how second- and third-generation family members just magically seem to climb the ladder.

        I will give Bill Ford a lot of credit for bucking that trend and hiring outside. That directly bucks that attitude, and is not an easy thing to do.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The real estate developer that my parents bought their 2nd house from owned one of these. I remember it well! It was the first “exotic european” car I had seen up close and personal as Ferrari’s were something you only saw on Miami Vice episodes. His had the huge bi-wing, similar to the turbo powered Mustang SVO of the same era. For its day the XR4Ti was downright wicked fast, at the time I was driving a (quick?) Civic S1500 hatch that did 0-60 in about 10 seconds. The idea that a 4 banger just needed a turbo to run with V8s was novel concept.

  • avatar
    Shipwright

    FLASHBACK. Back in 1988 when I was ready to buy my first new car, after ownig a pair of used GM cars, I seriously looked at getting one of these weird yet fascinating looking cars with that newfangled turbo engine. Once I saw the $35,000 CDN pricetag that the local Mercury dealership was asking, I bid a hasty retreat and bought the more powerfull and much cheaper Mustang GT at $20,000 CDN.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Wow, I can understand why you declined buying one. Was there a VAT that caused the cost to be so high? In the States, I think the sticker price was around $17K-18K US for an ’88 XR4Ti with leather.

      • 0 avatar
        Shipwright

        No, this was a couple of years before the GST was implemented. If you look at the US MSRP it was much diferrent ie ’88 XR4Ti $19,142 USD, ’88 Mustang GT $12,745 USD (MSN Auto). The exchange rate and weak CDN $ hurt us terrible in pricing.

      • 0 avatar
        Shipwright

        No, this was a couple of years before the GST was implemented. If you look at the US MSRP it was much different ie ’88 XR4Ti $19,142 USD, ’88 Mustang GT $12,745 USD (MSN Auto). The exchange rate and weak CDN $ hurt us terrible in pricing.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Wow, again.
      I have an ’87 325iS coupe that I bought in San Francisco without the build sheet or sticker, that was bought new in Toronto. I managed to learn from a BMW dealer what the original sticker price, in dollars, was, and was told $27,400 US. I can only imagine what the woman paid for it in Ontario. And, I thought it was steep enough in US dollars.

  • avatar
    salhany

    Per wiki, the XRs were hand assembled by Karmann Coachworks in Germany, which might account for their lousy build quality. The Scorpios were built on a regular Ford assembly line in Cologne and were screwed together much more solidly.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    The Merkurs weren’t cheap in the States either. I wasn’t a car buyer then, but my understanding was that the XR4Ti was much more than a Mustang and around the same as a Mark VII. The Scorpio was nearly as much as a Town Car? Think of your average Lincoln or Mercury shopper in the mid to late 80′s, they weren’t taking a chance on these cars. Which, as alluded to here, was one of the reasons for the downfall of these cars.

    Had a childhood friend who’s father worked for Ford. I remember he had a Scorpio once and I remember liking that car. Still have a soft spot for them, even though they’ve all gone away. My Dad had a 2WD ’88 Ranger with that 2.9 Cologne V6 and a 5 spd. That truck was lots of fun with that engine, could only imagine how Scorpio ran. 2.9 V6 ran much better than our 94 Ranger with the 3.0.

  • avatar
    skor

    I remember the first time I saw one of these things in the flesh. I thought it looked like an aborted bus fetus.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

    It’s like the chicken and the egg. Did the factory pull a perfectly nice captive too soon from the market, or did the public just ignore what was a great model. As with other captives like the German Opel Manta, the ‘Mercury’ Capri, and others, maybe a little of both.
    One thing manufacturers are learning is that if they take the design from Europe and build it here, they stand a better chance that it will be affordable to buy, and affordable to make for the company. That Buick is one example, and so are the Fiesta and Focus.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    I bought one used with 75,000 miles ($2000) sold it 12 years later ($250) with 280,000 miles (rusted from the heavy salt in the NE). Original turbo, replaced T9 with a junkyard T5 from a Ranger, installed a new radiator, and replaced the differential, original owner replaced the head gasket at 36,000 miles. Other than that it was reliable.

  • avatar
    dwight

    The XR4ti is One of my favourite designs in that era. And a turbo to boot. Of course it had quality issues being a euro-export but I’m glad Ford brought it to market. Simply a cool car for the time. Glad you found that one. I have seen one of late still on the road and it brings back fond memories of Ford in the 80′s with their smooth aero shapes (such as the t-bird, taurus and tempo).

  • avatar
    Forty2

    It was bad when they had to tell you how to pronounce “mareKOOR” in the TV ads.

    But: looking forward to the new Fusion* as finally Ford US realized their Euro Mondeo is a great car. I had one last year as a rental in Romania, 6-speed diesel (unsure of actual engine spec) that was a blast to drive from Bucureşti to Brașov and back on those twisty turny mountain roads. I don’t think I ever shifted into 6th gear except maybe once on the motorway back into Bucureşti.

    * as a rental car anyway; I wouldn’t buy one nor any other new car because I drive a Volvo 240 which absolutely refuses to die.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    In a way, Merkur was Ford’s equivalent of GM’s Saturn experiment. They were both created to solve the same problem – the negative perception of domestic brands and their products driving customers to imports.

    Ford went into it with a much smaller budget, more inept marketing, and even weaker market justification, so they failed on a much compressed timeline, but GM really could have learned from the experience.

    Luxury buyers weren’t taking Lincoln seriously and were buying BMWs and Mercedeses instead. Was Ford’s response to fix what was wrong with Lincoln by building more competitive products, developing credible advertising campaigns, and improving the dealer experience? No, they just decided to essentially treat Lincoln like an evolutionary dead end and start all over with Merkur.

    Ford went off on 25 years of distractions with overseas prestige brands and now they’re right back to dealing with the same problems at Lincoln that they first started trying to ignore back with Merkur.

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    DANG, Murilee, that’s THREE IN A ROW! Hat trick, my friend!!

    My dad sold his 450 SLC when he got a management job at a Lincoln-Mercury dealer and brought home a light blue metallic Merkur XR4Ti demo, with 5 (YES, FIVE) dark blue pinstripes!! I loved that, but loved the double spoiler even more!! One time when driving to the store, in the parking lot someone saw the car with the window sticker and said “That car’s $20,000?!” My dad went into a sales pitch. This was in 1985 because I remember me and my dad went off on a long drive away from the city lights to go look for Halley’s Comet…

  • avatar
    ez3276

    The gangsta crowd loved these. Called them ex-are-ati’s.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Sometime in the early nineties I was shopping for a second car to compiment the undependable Buick Park Avenue I had at the time (inherited from an elderly relative ) and I wanted a car with a hatchback , a stick , a sunroof and vaguely sporty pretensions . I was looking at Sterlings – not sure why now – and Merkurs . Found one , a 1988 I think but the half- baked guy that owned it was hard to connect with , as the Merkur was grouped with a Renault Alliance as I recall and a K- car or two on a vacant lot , all for sale . It looked a bit down at the heels with faded brownish paint and the interior rearview mirror sitting on the floor and a righthand mirror hanging from a cable . As I recall it was cheap but the stupid owner / salesman was 45 minutes late and when he showed up with the key to open the door I was confronted with a stink of mildew – best avoided in flood-prone Houston . Then after going on about how great it ran it wouldn’t start , and in the end I bought a 2 year old Saturn wagon .Later on I seriously thought about getting a Saturn Astra 4 -door hatch but my slothfulness and GMs bankruptcy negated that idea .

  • avatar
    otaku

    I remember these cars from the mid to late eighties. In fact, my uncle had one for a while. He was always bragging to the rest of the family about his fancy european sports car. Then one day I showed up with my ’86 T-Bird Turbo Coupe and that pretty much shut him up for good.

    Don’t recall exactly how much my uncle spent on his, but between the high purchase price, the reliability problems and the expensive/frequent repair bills, he later confided in me that it was a bad decision. He felt even worse when I told him I only paid $5,900 for my used T-Bird with the same turbo motor.

    I’m no expert, but I suspect that XR4Ti sales may have suffered for similar reasons as the rare ’84 thru ’86 Mustang SVO. The high asking price didn’t make much sense for a lot of buyers when you could get the more powerful V-8 Mustang GT or LX 5.0 for less money. Either that or, if you had your heart set on the turbo four, you could still get one wrapped up in a fairly well-proven Thunderbird rear drive Fox chassis.

    As far as I could tell the T-Bird offered more passenger space, comfort and refinement than the Mustang SVO with performance and fuel economy comparable to the XR4Ti for a lower cost of entry than either. Wasn’t a tough choice for me.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    “I thought it looked like an aborted bus fetus.”

    Skor, thanks for making my morning.

  • avatar
    Augie the Argie

    So many of these wondering the streets during my childhood in Argentina, we’ve got the cool two-tiered spoilers and same looking bumpers. Along with the Fuego, these were the locally produced aspirational objects of the middle class then.

  • avatar
    Leatherneck

    I had an 1988 xr4ti that I bought used in 1990 at a ford dealer with 11,000 miles for $12,000. Red, cloth seats and a 5 speed. I absolutely loved the car. Fast once you got going and one of the most comfortable long distance tourers. The only problem I had was that it warped front brake rotors every 4000 miles. Traded it for a 1991 BMW 318is. That’s another story.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      My next door neighbor bought a white one right after they moved in. It was the wife’s car and for about 2 years, she loved it, then the problems began, warped rotors?. Sure, how about a warped head too? How about a differential that sounded like a muffled air raid siren? After about a year and I don’t know how much money it swallowed, it suddenly disappeared and a new Toyota 4Runner appeared. That thing was perfect, but rotted from the winter salt very quickly. She replaced it with a Camry, but in three months it was gone, and a new 4Runner was in the garage. She has had a couple more 4Runners since then, always blue and always 2 years old off lease. Her poor hubby gets stuck with the “practical car”, Camrys and Accords, all of them blue too. He says he’s sick of “boring ass cars”, and blue too, but he just can’t seem to get the boss to let him have anything fun. He sees my car (2010 Hemi Orange Challenger) and just stares at it like a little kid watching a movie for the 100th time in a row. He should never have gone and test driven one.

  • avatar
    solracer

    There actually was a 1988 1/2 model XR4Ti that came with the monoplane spolier too. However I can just tell from the pics that this is an actual 1989 model because on the 1989s the speedo went above 85 mph while on the 1988 1/2 the tics continued past 85 but there were no numbers.

    I had a 1988 1/2 I bought used with just 29,000 miles in 1993. Excellent car, by then all of the problems (especially the dash and the leather seats) !had been solved so it was a good and reliable car. Ended up selling it to my mother when I bought a Neon ACR for autocross and she drove it for several more years until the last dealer doing Merkur service in the area shut down and she found a killer deal on a used Miata. I still think very fondly about this car and I think it’s poor reputation isn’t totally deserved.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    I, don’t think unfondly of my ’88 XR4Ti, with monoplane spoiler, either.
    As I wrote before, I got mine used several years later, with only 4,000 miles, and totally loved it.

    As for your mom’s Miata, I also had a ’92 special edition (black with tan leather). Another car I wish I’d still owned.


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