By on September 3, 2014

09 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s a rare one! We’re familiar with the 1990s Mercury Tracer that was a Mercury-badged Ford Escort (which was itself a Ford-badged Mazda), but the 1987-89 Tracer was a rebadged and left-hand-drive Ford Laser, a crypto-snazzy Australian version of the Mazda 323. They sold in very small quantities in the United States, and so it took me a moment to identify this example that I spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard. As an excellent example of “rare ≠ valuable,” it seemed worthy of this series.
19 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNot even 65,000 miles on the clock. Perhaps it sat in a garage for most of its life, barely emerging onto the street.
14 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt was running in 2006, though, because there’s a Colorado State Parks pass from that year on the windshield.
04 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinVaguely sporty-looking yet late-80s generic.
16 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Mazda B engine, used in everything from Kia Rios to Mazda Miatas.

Just the car for a night of wrestling!

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80 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Mercury Tracer Hatchback...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I owned one of these…pretty nice little car, actually. Very well equipped for its’ day.

    And I believe this might have been one of the first made-in-Mexico Fords.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I owned one too, and yes, they were Hecho en Mexico. I was teased about that by friends who saw the SNL ad for the Ford Adobe, a car made of mud.

      I really liked the car and found it to be very practical and reliable. Yes, it was a 323 with an upgraded interior and a few exterior changes that made it just enough prettier to pass as luxury for the compact car set. It was also my last manual transmission since my wife never was able to learn to drive stick. I’m sure that I would be put off by it today, but I thought that I was riding high in it back then.

    • 0 avatar
      RAMBO1990

      Do you know where I can find a 1988-89 Mercury Tracer? Preferably one that has a for sale sign. I used to have one. In fact, it was a very nice one. I was the original owner. It was Marine Blue in color but after my first divorce, I got a case of the “STUPID” and traded it in on a lousy Jeep Wrangler. Well, the Jeep was nice but I regretted ever since getting rid of my 88 Mercury Tracer. I have dreams of it to this day of having another one again.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Going to guess engine or tranny – seems extremely clean minus the shattered back glass.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I bet the transmission went bust, when cars sit transmissions aren’t lubricated so problems arise.

      That being said they should’ve sold the engine separate for a Miata buff or dropped it in a Ford Fiesta. The ladder sounds silly, but I got to see it in action at chump cars race, you’d be surprised how well it kept up.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Someone near me owns one of these and fervently tries to keep it on the road by dumping loads of money at the local autozone on it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Sounds like me, although at least as of late I’ve been doing it on cars which are worth the expense from a resale standpoint.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I helped my sister fix her Alero recently. I think the private party value from KBB is under $2750 now. It took a bit of cash to replace the intake gaskets, fix a couple other issues, and get her new tires. I think the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. She’s had that car for almost seven years and getting something else in her price range would make her worse off.

        • 0 avatar
          pdieten

          @bball40dtw – funny, I had that exact same choice to make about three years ago – driving an ’01 3.4 Alero with bad intake manifold gaskets and worn-out tires. And a bad wheel bearing, cracked windshield, and some minor stuff. The car had been a reliable commuter beater for me for 3 years, but unlike your sister I decided to dump mine and get a nicer newer car instead of sticking two grand into the Alero. 151K was enough for that car and I was tired of squeezing into the driver’s seat anyway, they’re not that roomy.

          I wonder where that car ended up. They wrote just $800 for the trade-in value on the paperwork, though the car I bought was also $2K below FMV so no complaints.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Her situation was one of not being able to afford purchasing a car or making payments. She is in grad school now, and she’ll be in the Peace Corps next year. The Alero won’t be racking up miles.

          • 0 avatar
            chicagoland

            It got crushed for sure by now. Even BHPH lots can’t finance dead brands.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          We discussed that a while back, I’m happy to hear it worked out for her. I recently agreed to dump nearly a grand into the car I typically drive about 500-1000 miles a year. Although people are eager to pick up a properly maintained 240, unlike my former Panther which ate up money with no hope of later resale.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Her Alero is probably going to be the most reliable $2500 car she can find. It isn’t perfect, but there were zero problems driving it across the country. She walks to school and drives less than three miles to her work study at the Monterey Bay Aquarium three times a week.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            You’re not kidding about 240s, I sold mine about a week ago for $2500, no haggling, no goofing about, a simple straight sale to an eager owner with a garage and near by Volvo mechanic.

            Replaced it with a low mileage Accord in similar shape.

            I briefly had an ’85 Marquis as a project car but countless electrical gremlins made me sell it. Tough cars yea, but the electrical bits are a joke.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Ryoku75

            Early 90s Accord?

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Is this the Saturn you’re putting money into or something else?

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          No the old Saturn is gone, this is my 240. Rear shocks/springs, rubber bits, belts, tie rod, other odds and ends.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            ’92 Accord yea, one of the last high quality ones from what I’ve heard. Its certainly non-ricerhoosiered one.

            When I sold my Volvo I’m certain the shocks and rubber bushings were a bit worn, it was a great car though.

            Should my plans for a newer Panther work out next year I oughta start writing “Fanbuster” articles, where I talk about if any of these cars live up to their following.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Enjoy the Accord Ryoku! I recently helped a friend at work with his, swapped in new axles, besides that, the 212k mile car has asked nothing but oil changes and gas from him. Previously had helped another friend buy a clean 130k mile 1991 DX coupe, bought for $950. Put on new rotors and pads, a high pressure steering pump hose, a pair of tires, an oil change, and thermostat. Then helped him sell it for $1900 a year later when he was moving to NYC.

            Fantastic cars, love the way they go down the road and the excellent interior and visibility.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Ryoku75

            I find it interesting you either have owned or purchased cars I would or do own. The CB Accord is the *only* Accord (or Honda for that matter) which ever turned my head or I would consider owning with the exception of a BB Prelude.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Seems we both have a preference for reliable, modestly styled sedans.

            Heck I’ve considered Saturns myself for a while, they’re interesting in that they tried to distance themselves from GM and tout things like “dent proof” doors.

            Either that or a 3.8l OlsmobilePontiac are some of the only FWD GMs I’d buy.

            So, I guess its a case of great minds think alike?

            The CB Accord and the pop-up headlight models are some of the few that attract me, early models are neat but delicate. After the CB Accords gradually became less elegant and more Camry.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          At gt:

          Thanks! I ended up paying $2100 for mine, LX sedan that was well taken care of. It just needs to be cleaned up a bit on the inside and a new tachometer. Just 120k on the odometer.

          I agree that the visibility’s great, I dunno why people think of older Accords as boring. I find them to be well designed and a bit tasteful on the outside.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      Heck, I just put $1300 into a transmission on a 95 LeSabre with 215k on the clock.

      The rest of the car is in decent shape, so why not? I’ve already put another 5k on it, and enjoy driving it.

      As they say, the cheapest car is the one you already own.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Liked a girl with a blue one in the early 90s. Used to look for it in parking lot of the club she used to work at. Brings back memories!

  • avatar
    OzSRV

    Yep, we got both Mazda 323 and Ford Laser here and they shared many parts, the earlier ones it was really only trim and badges. I’ve owned a 1980 323 and a 1993 KH Laser, both reliable and practical cars and could be fun to drive if you pushed them to their limit. The Laser equivalent model to the Tracer pictured would be a KE, they could be had like most Lasers in TX3 guise, which included turbocharging and a bodykit. It’s a shame so many US models got those huge bumpers, most of these cars looked a whole lot better with the regular ones.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Let us observe a moment of silence for the second-to-last true Mercury; that is, a vehicle that was not just some other American Ford with a front clip swap.

    • 0 avatar
      clem151

      Actually I count at least 2 more “unique to Mercury” cars:
      1) ’99 to ’02 Mercury Cougar. Yes there was a Ford version in Europe, but they sold so few that I view it as a rebadged Mercury
      2) ’93 to ’02 Mercury Villager

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        Would the Marauder count? I’m not a Panther guy, but I thought they were pretty heavily modified from the standard Crown Victoria???

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          @drzhivago138

          Worth pointing out that the Panther is actually a reverse badge-engineer job — in ’98 they dropped the unique Crown Vic and moved the Ford to the Mercury body. Prior to that the CV had a faster roofline and six-light side treatment to match the rest of the Ford fleet.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I said “second-to-last” because I was thinking of the Cougar; I had forgotten about the Villager. But that was also a rebadged Nissan Quest, which is probably why I forgot about it.

        • 0 avatar
          wagonsonly

          What about the Mercury Capri – the Australian one, not the Mustang rebadge? I believe that they were still on sale after the Tracer bowed out in ’90, no?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Correct, though MY94.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_Capri

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            *goes to check*

            Huh, you’re right. Must’ve forgot about that one. Okay, that makes this Tracer third-to-last unique Merc.

            I don’t count the Marauder, different though it may be under the hood from the average Panther, because on the outside it looks like a lightly-modified Crown Vic or Grand Marquis. Essentially just another rebadged variant of a Ford.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I WAS just bout to say Capri. Glad to see somebody did.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I still think those final version Villagers and Quests look modern today. That style has aged very well.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    Damn that engine bay is a mess of hoses.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The original 323-based Tracers were okay. As someone else pointed out, they had more standard equipment compared to other small cars of the day and, being based on the 323, were pretty reliable. Coupled with the fact that it seemed like Mercury dealers weren’t too keen on the car, you could get really good deals on them, particularly towards the end of the model run when it was due to be replaced by a Tracer that was Escort-based.

    In fact, it was not unlike the NUMMI Novas that were actually rebodied Toyota Corollas underneath. But, because they had a Chevy badge on them, you could buy one much cheaper than a Corolla.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Interesting conversation about about commuter cars and whether to put money in them or them out to pasture.

    In that decision making process right now myself.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I always had a soft spot for these. When in high school, I was dating a girl named Beth. We dated for two+ years, and I wasn’t unhappy, but looking back, could have done better. There was a girl where I worked who owned one of these (a 4 door though). If I weren’t with Beth, I think she was interested. She even let me drive her car. I will always wonder under different circumstances if I could have been happier with her…

    By the way, Beth drove a ’79 Chevette. Yeah, I could have been happier.

    Love the car, though. If I could have one with air that works and cruise with a 5 speed, I’d be all in.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    I remember back in the late 80’s Car and Driver did a long term test write-up of this car. The copy they received was delivered with two different front seats and took a while before a replacement was sourced from the factory in Mexico and installed by the dealer. I can’t remember if it was the driver or passenger seat which was the correct one.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I just saw a mid-late 80s (85-89 generation like this Tracer) Mazda 323 hatch the other day. Old Japanese cars just aren’t a thing in Pennsylvania, unless they’ve been restored, and nobody restores average commuter cars unless they’re old Corollas or Datsuns, though I have seen a Datsun 620 pickup and a first generation Celica once.

    Never even knew this existed, though. Guess they really didn’t sell very many, I feel like I’d find an Isuzu Impulse before one of these.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My mom had one of these until the transmission went tits up. Of course maintenance for my mom has always been a mere suggestion. She got this after she managed to murder a late 80s Vulva something or other, it was big and square and a wagon.

  • avatar
    Aqua225

    This car, in turbo form, was immortalized in the Golgo 13 animated series.

    It was his getaway car in one job.

    (edit: The Laser version in Europe)

  • avatar
    charski

    I owned a two door 1983 Mazda GLC that looked a lot like this, were they related?

    • 0 avatar
      RollaRider10

      Yeah they were. The 1980-83 GLC was related to the KA Laser, 83-85 ws the KB (just a facelift). The 323 that we had here was basically a badge engineering exercise on the Laser with a slightly different body.
      The KC (1985-87) & KE (1987-1990) (This Mercury would be a KE) were based on the next 323 but had an almost completely different body.
      BTW the first car I was ever in was an ’85 Laser

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Back in the day a friend, myself, and his 87 Cutlass Calais (iron duke ftw!) challenged a young lady in such a Tracer coupe to a “race” of sorts (orange I recall). Acceleration was, well, non-existent. However after time stopped standing still we were in excess of 85mph when she pulled away off onto an exit. This was my first and only experience with the Tracer coupe, although another friend had a gold MY91 sedan in high school/college.

  • avatar
    RollaRider10

    There are still quite a few of these chugging along here Down Under. The TX3 Turbo 4WD version was the hot hatch of the late 80s here as we didn’t get many Peugeots.

  • avatar

    It did make it’s way into an Eminem freestyle. I think this is from a Wakeup Show appearance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnl00ww39F8

    speed racer, ’97 burgundy Blazer. Wanted for burglary, had to ditch the Mercury Tracer.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I had a 1988 Mercury Tracer that I bought when I decided I couldn’t stretch the budget to get an Acura Integra. Perhaps the Integra would have been a better long term buy, but the truth is The Tracer was actually pretty nice compared to the average subcompact of the day. Some of the “68 standard features” were pretty lame but taken together they made the car much nicer than my wife’s Honda Civic. The interior plastics on the Tracer were almost all soft-touch. It had only 88 horsepower, but the engine was multi-port injected which was rare for the day. It had a lot of torque off the line so it didn’t feel slow. I had mine for 7 years and 80,000 miles with no major reliability problems. I liked it enough that a decade later I bought a Mercury Villager.

  • avatar
    balreadysaid

    i have had 4 of the above and one 323gtx turbo 1.6. these little runners are probably the most reliable i have ever had. i raced them in the snow up through the adirondack foot hills climbing hills. The key to these cars was to never let off the gas just focus on steering, the front would always follow the wheels. So i had standard and auto. The auto was the gem! They had a down shift switch at the very bottom of the pedal, and they always would downshift when you clicked the switch. so in my day the best race i had was a Porsche 944 automatic non turbo my friend rebuilt, and after one mile the tracer actually pulled by the Porsche. this wasnt flat ground, up and down hills. The tracer also could do tricks at high speed on slick snowy roads since the car would follow the front wheels no matter what. you could be going straight and just turn backward and come back without worry. it was something my 16 year old friends would never forget till this day when i showed them many times over. When you raced in the snow you could literally bounce off the snow banks of the roads no issues. Kelly rs tires worked best. on the front wheel drives but the 323gtx! that was a totally different animal. the options, everything was manual crank save the windows. moon roof manual crank, the seat was 10 way adjustable all manual transmission of course manual. many things i am forgetting. The one thing that stood out was the center differential lock this thing would bust cv axles if you engaged it on pavement. you didnt need it anyway it was very tight awd. it felt like you were about a foot taller than a front wheel drive. that car in the pictures is like the last one i went to oneonta and found behind a mountain in a ravine. borrowed a tractor and dragged it out. needed the transmission and luckily i had a one. sold the car to a girl who managed a local mcdonalds and was amazed by the life it had left even after i drove it. this car was popular in upstate ny. many were around because its all hills here and lots of snow. they went like hell and i enjoyed every minute of owning them. one day maybe ill find something as good and cheap, but i doubt it. the mercury tracer to me was legendary to say the least.

  • avatar
    RobbiesRobot

    Impressive knowledge. Don’t know how you remembered its true heritage. You should be excellent in geneology.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    I miss my ’91 Tracer LTS, aka Escort GT sedan.

    Per Carfax, it was on the road until 2004! I only leased it for 3, 1991-94. Then, had to get an all new SN95 Mustang.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I don’t know if you guys in the US received the AWD, quad valve, blown versions of these. We called them the TX3 Laser.

    If I remember the Laser was built in Sydney until the demise and rationalization of our auto industry in the 80s-90s.

    They used to be relatively common here, I don’t see many around, if any for matter nowadays.

    http://www.carsguide.com.au/car-reviews/used-car-review-ford-laser-tx3-1985-1993-13428#.VAfE5Lvn_IU

  • avatar
    claytori

    A 1987 4 door 5 speed we had from new. My wife’s company car, we purchased it off the lease after 4 years for cheap. The first 5 years were trouble free. Then, not so much. It didn’t like mufflers. It ate rear struts. Great handling. Moderate acceleration. It liked Pirelli tires a lot. I hated the inside out construction of the front brake discs. The rear brake calipers (4 wheel discs!) needed to be rebuilt every two or three years as corrosion would bind up the emergency brake mechanism. Excellent motor and transmission. Very good clutch and shifter action. Ours was a Canadian car made in Taiwan. Crank windows, no sunroof. The rear strut mounts rotted out. It was retired (scrapped) in 2003 when corrosion was threatening the rear suspension attach points on the body and the carburetor was giving grief, about 280,000 km. This car convinced me that the Japanese really don’t understand what road salt does to a car. But 16 years is a good useful life for a car. About the same as for a carriage horse.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The automatic transmission on these was a weak spot. Same for it’s platform mate the Capri.

    When you go one the Wikipedia link above for the Tracer it describes the history of the car and mentions that the Tracer replacement was supposed to be a Focus-based Lincoln. Lincoln Cimmaron? We know Lincoln has fallen mightily but this might have been it’s death knell.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It was clever of whomever did the Merc rebadge to only include rear badging on the glass portion. Just some glass labeling can change it to a whole different marque.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    This car must have been popular with women buyers considering that most of the reminisces here are not about owning the car, but about women we knew who owned them.

    And that includes me. In 1989 (I think, +/- a year or so) my girlfriend bought one of these as her first new car. She shopped for it and did the deal herself and she was very proud. It was a really nice car and IMO she was justifiably proud. It was less than a year old when she was driving from her home in VA to visit me in NC in a snowstorm and had an accident. It cost nearly half the value of the car to fix it and she insisted it be done right. Said it was a nearly new car before the wreck and it better be nearly new coming out of the shop. It was.

    I married her a few years later, but unfortunately the marriage didn’t last as long as the courtship, but that car was still giving her great service when we parted ways.

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