By on September 4, 2014

09 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Merkur XR4Ti (turbo-Pinto-engined Ford Sierra XR4i to you European types) wasn’t selling so well by the 1988 model year, but enough were built that I was able to find this example in a Northern California wrecking yard. In fact, this is just the second XR4Ti in this series, after this ’89 from two years back.
122-UG-IMG_8386Quite a few of these cars compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons, in spite of their well-known proclivity for breaking down early and often under the strain of endurance racing.
05 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWithout the distinctive double spoiler, the ’88 and ’89 XR4Tis don’t stand out from the crowd quite as much as the earlier cars.

Perhaps this car would have sold better in the United States if the Argentina-market advertising had been used.

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66 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Merkur XR4Ti...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    A dude in high school back about 02 had a black on tan SCORPIO five-door sedan. I was very jealous. He was unaware of the rarity of the item, stating “it’s like a Taurus or something.”

    EXCUSE YOU, stop talking.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I still remember how futuristic these things looked back in the 80’s. It used to be DaShit in my country and the XR4i (V6 M/T only) was sold as a sport coupe.

    The Sierra was the car to have back then.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Ah, the Ford Saab…

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Very common and much-loved car in the late 80s in the UK – strange to see a familiar “European” car in a US junkyard!

    Over here, the XR4 was a popular choice of wheels for British police forces and for individualistic dads who wanted something cooler than their neighbour’s Ford Sierra. We also got a 4WD version with the 2.8L Cologne V6, as well as a better looking four door version.

    Any speculation as to what condemned this car to the crusher?

  • avatar
    snakebit

    For its time, one of my favorite Fords. I bought two, a 1985 with heated cloth sport seats and an 1988 with leather heated sport seats, both manual gearbox. The 1988 I bought as a four-year-old, 4,000 mile wholesale car that the PO had bought only to take her from home to the commuter rail station two miles away. Very comfortable, multi-adjustable sport seats standard, all manual except lumbar adjustment, the best seats I’ve experienced so far( and this includes my two 3-Series coupes I now have). The best thing to come from the Merkur brand is customer demand for bringing European Fords to the States via making them closer to home to keep costs competitive.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I understand it was quite a good performer as well, with its AWD capability.

  • avatar
    Wscott97

    There’s a white one in Huntington Beach that I see used as a daily driver. Every time I see it, I find myself slowing down and checking it out. It’s a rare car and I really I really enjoy seeing it on the road. I once took a picture and posted it on Facebook. Everyone thought it was a Taurus and some thought it was a Sentra…(rolling my eyes and shaking my head)

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    It was pretty exotic and Euro next to the other Ford products of the time. It was more expensive too, to the point where I could only dream. Now it’s filthy and discarded, like an old sweaty running shoe. Uggggh!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    When I used to listen to Jim Rome, I always laughed at his XR4Ti ownership experiences. Cool-looking car, though.

    Now the Scorpio was a very good-looking car – what the original Taurus SHOULD have looked like.

    Back then, Ford was in a Euro styling mood – even the refreshed Tempo/Topaz twins had that Euro-look to them. I still hated those cars every time I got stuck with one at the rental counter in Grand Rapids!

  • avatar
    jhefner

    They may do terrible in LeMons, but their European Coswoth powered counterparts sure tore up the WRC circuit before these big cars were banned after a series of fatal accidents.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEQ89ssN8vQ

    It’s relative, the Ford Sierra Sapphire RS:

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

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I owned one of these.

    I mean just like the one in the picture – blue on gray ’88 with gray interior and a 5-speed manual – bought it used on the cheap when I was young and dumb.

    Only lasted about a year before it had a catastrophic engine failure. I’m guessing the engine hydrauliced – I was driving in a massive thunderstorm in Texas at relatively low speed on 59 toward Sugarland when the engine basically lost all compression, died, and refused to turn. There was standing water on the road, but not one of those pushing through a foot of water what were you thinking you idiot situations. Given the type of fail and timing – I’m guessing the engine sucked water and that was it.

    I was living in an apartment at the time and we were doing the pushing it to a different parking spot every couple of days in the middle of the night thing to make it appear it was still running. Management eventually figured it out – made the mistake of working on it in the spot and I’m guessing someone reported us – to the junkyard it went. It was full of electrical gremlins from the day I bought it. The wooooosh sound of the turbo was pure awesome and the back seat was absolutely huge.

    It was the last hatchback I owned. I remember it fondly, but I also remember it as a steaming pile of crap with so much potential to be more.

    Ford did a God awful job of marketing the entire Merkur line.

    • 0 avatar

      Because this car was not available in the plces I lived in, I always saw them with special wonder. That special wonder of a teenager. Had I known you, I’d have thought you were the coolest guy ever, and would have cursed you silently for not fixing/keeping it! Oh, teenage eyes.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Even in my young dumb twenties I was strangely attracted to the Mekur. I look back and can see all the potential it had – if it had been built better – if it didn’t have a long list of quality issues – if Ford had actually marketed properly.

        I seem to remember published 0 to 60 times were very high 6’s or right at 7 seconds. During the waning years of the malaise era this was crazy fast. Given it was RWD you didn’t have the torque steer of the hot hatches of the time.

        There was something luxurious about the cabin, but it was still a lot of hard plastics, and Ford parts bin instruments and switch gear. It wasn’t “bad,” but it wasn’t great.

        In hindsight I think I got curbstoned and ended up with a bit of a hooptie – but had it not likely drank water and died – I would have nursed it along until some other mechanical disaster ended its life.

        • 0 avatar

          Yep, recently saw a tv program with 2 British guys restoring one (not Wheeler Dealers) and the quantity of problems found was staggering. Of course, they were acting for the camera, but I think their frustation was genuine. Comments loke, “I never saw a car with problems in this area” nd others like it were common througout the show. Once done though, I was taken back and dreamed of those double spoilers and British Ford power! all over again.

    • 0 avatar
      Gman94

      I owned an 86 model in the same exterior blue with gray cloth seats and the 5 speed manual. I kept it for 14 years – 10 years as my daily driver. Lots of electrical issues, as you say. Not to mention the high underhood temps due to the turbo and the 20 cooling system hoses. Batteries didn’t last either. If you owned one of these for more than a couple of years, you became a self-taught mechanic or went broke.

      It was a decent driving car though and had great seats. I loved the hatchback functionality and the rush of the turbo on the freeway. Turbo lag around town was pretty bad, like most turbos of that time.

      I miss it.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I don’t know why your sucked up water from the road, but if the air intake is at lower bumper level, it’s much more likely to happen. I used to work with Acura Integras, and one day a 1996-2000 model was towed in with a motor that had sucked up water and broke. Turns out the owner had installed an aftermarket cold air kit with an intake underneath the bumper cover. Acura would not cover it for warranty purposes, luckily the owners auto insurance did.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        No after market anything – that I was aware of. As the third owner however I can’t say at this point given about 20 years gone by if I would even had known at that point what an after market unit would look like.

        It is quite possible that the failure was unrelated, beyond being a huge ball of suck to happen on a busy Houston highway at rush hour during an East Texas gutter washer.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      I bought a 87 (Black, MT, grey heated leather seats) around 1992 for $2000 with 78,000 miles. Installed the Rapido bars, bushings and struts. Drove it until purchasing the Lincoln (also MT) in 2003. It had heavy rust due to the salt on all the ski trips to VT.

      Sold it for $250 with 280,000 miles. Never had the engine open (unless you want to count valve cover gaskets to fix a leak).

      Pluses – hatchback with a lot of room, nice driving car, reliable engine.

      Minuses – crappy transmission (switched to a T5 from a Ranger), crappy heat (fixed with a new heater core), hard to get parts for.

  • avatar
    James2

    If Ford should do a new SVO Mustang, it must –MUST!– have the biplane spoiler like the first XR4Ti (and SVO) had. I dunno about the Swiss Cheese wheels, though :)

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Yep it was the wing that MADE these cars stand out. The sales guy in our housing development had one. Its was one of the few FWD vehicles that could easily smoke its front tires. The only other FWD car that could hang with a boosted X4RTi around the same time (late 80s/early 90s) was the Chevy Beretta GTZ.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Back in the day, I thought the XR4Ti was The Most Beautiful Car in the World, especially because of the biplane spoiler.

    Around that time, I ended up with an 85 LeBaron GTS, which has a similar but more enduring look.

    I’m still partial to large hatchbacks, but haven’t owned one in quite a while.

    Ford’s Mistake 1 with the Merkur line was believing Americans would go for the ‘exotic’ brand name. They should have just imported it as a Mercury, like the old Capri.

    Ford’s Mistake 2 was hoping that Americans would go for their German-built cars in the 1970-80s. The old Capri, the Fiesta, XR4Ti, and Scorpio were all decent cars, but sales volume was never there.

    • 0 avatar

      The most beautiful? I never thought so, but the coolest, yes! Because of the double spoilers, yes!

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I’ve owned German Capri’s, generation one Fiestas, and two XR4Ti’s, all of them went away from the US Ford stable because of exchange rates fluctuations. The smartest thing Ford finally did to give us similar cars to those made and sold in Europe was to make them world cars, and to manufacture those that we get locally in North America or Mexico. Particularly with Lincoln, if Ford wanted to offer worldclass models to truly compete with European brands, building similar models here would make them more desirable and more cost-effective. Where does BMW and Mercedes built some of their cars for North America? Here.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    A childhood friend of mine, his Dad worked for Ford. He had a Scorpio for a little bit and I remember liking it because it was a bit different. Don’t ever remember riding in it though, but I do remember riding in the Aerostar when it was new and loving it.

    This and the Scorpio keep getting more difficult to find for obvious reasons. The last one I saw on a lot was at least 6 years ago or more. I inquired about it, but it was the owners project car. It wasn’t in bad shape, but it needed something or multiple of things that were $1000+

    Closest I came was the 88 2wd Ranger we had with the same 2.9 V6 from the Scorpio. 140-ish horsepower with a 5spd and 3.73 gears, it felt like a rocket compared to my Malaise Regal 3.8.

  • avatar
    Laec

    Between my dad and I we own 23 cars 2 are Scorpio’s, 1 Sierra RS Cosworth and the rest are XR4Ti’s. They really aren’t hard to find at all specially once you catch the bug. Soon as i bought my first functional XR4Ti in 2005 our collection grew to 4 in about a year. Before you could blink an eye my dad, mom, sister and I all drove one daily! they are addictive and each one has its own personality.

  • avatar
    LJD

    Had an ’86 XR4ti in high school. Three speed automatic, it got many looks at the high school parking lot.
    Because of the rear spoiler everyone assumed it was really fast. The tranny failed but foolishly I wanted to keep it so got it rebuilt. Actually had a lot of fun with it, wish it was a stick, might of kept it longer.
    I remembered getting the parts catalog, think Rapido was it’s name. Dreamed of dropping a Cosworth into it.

  • avatar
    skor

    The Merkur was fairly common where I lived in North Jersey…a few miles from NYC. Back in the 80s the area began to fill up with a lot of yuppies that worked in the city. These people were mad for Euro cars….BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Saab. I’m guessing that the Merkur was seen as a sort of entry level yuppie-mobile for newly minted yuppies, or yuppie wannabes, who didn’t have the cash..or credit…for a BMW or Volvo.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    My parents had one from 1986 to 1990. White exterior, black interior and had a hand crank sunroof with a vented shade. I remember it like it was yesterday.

    It was an awesome car….when it worked. They got rid of it for a 1990 Honda Accord, which was better in every way, despite it being the complete opposite of the Merkur.

  • avatar

    Ford Sierra was obsolete by the end of 80s. All compacts by then were FWD except of BMW and Mercedes of course but BMW 3-series was a much better car. Sierra was replaced by FWD Mondeo which was an impressive car for FWD car. I liked Scorpio though, it was really upscale car with V6 and had all qualities of German car. It could be considered as a premium to luxury car in US. But it was prone to rusting. It is beyond me why it was not popular in US.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    I *knew* Michael Lamm had a Merkur at one point:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/23/automobiles/autos-on-friday-collecting-virtues-of-adopting-an-orphan-car.html

    I think this is my second mention of Michael Lamm this week. The third time, a duck falls out of the sky and we all get to attempt to mention the magic word.

  • avatar

    The XR4Ti was the ford turbo they got right. The first version was in the very first fox bodied Mustangs. No intercooler, carburetor fed, four speed manual. What a disaster. The engine would load up with gas in hot weather, as it was a “draw though” design. The four speed trans in the Stang had very poorly chosen ratios. Many of the tests of the time told you to forget the Mustang turbomotor and that the Merkur motor was “fixed”.

    My mom had one (stang). The only good thing was the TRX tires, which, at the time, were an improvement.

    I always like this car, oddball division…..

    • 0 avatar
      gsf12man

      No intercooler on the XR4Ti, either, unfortunately. When I got my second XR4Ti, I put a Rapido intercooler on it, which made it pull like a mad thing on boost. Not that it was weak in the knees before that. Some minor Rapido suspension bits, KYB shocks and struts, a Sierra Cosworth RS steering wheel—I wish I still had that car! A real nickel-and-dimer but the engine was essentially bulletproof.

      The Sierra/Merkur is still in my top three favorite designs.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    I traded in a Saab 900 on a lightly used, corporate driven Scorpio with 7,000 miles and some superman warranty from Ford.

    Went to test drive a new Taurus SHO. Great engine, but still a Taurus, and saw 4 Scorpios sitting on the lot at slightly less than half of sticker. Ford had decided to quit selling them, and required the corporate guys to turn them in and drive “what we sell”.

    I loved that car. Underpowered, and undershocked (hooray for adjustable Konis), and that is the end of the criticisms. Big, quiet, smooth, RWD, hatchback, kick-a$$ stereo and on and on. When I eventually traded it in for another Saab, the small dealer said he was reluctant to take it, but two of the mechanics really wanted to buy it themselves. Deal done. One of the few cars that I continue to miss long after moving on.

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