Rare Rides: This Merkur XR4Ti From 1989 Is Pristine

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides this merkur xr4ti from 1989 is pristine

Imagine you’re an American auto executive in the 1980s, looking on in desperation as all the youthful and wealthy customers head almost solely to BMW showrooms for their sports-oriented sedans and coupes.

Now imagine you work at Ford, and you’ve decided to do something about it. By the way, you’re Bob Lutz right now.

It’s Merkur time.

The story began with the European market Ford Sierra, which was the company’s large-ish family car for the constrained confines of crowded Europe. Developed while Bob Lutz was in charge of Ford’s European arm, the smooth Sierra was a success as soon as it became available as replacement to the boxy Cortina in 1982.

Available in several body styles, the sporty version was the three-door liftback in XR4i trim. Mr. Lutz had Texas-sized ideas for this one, and set about convincing other Ford executives it should come to the United States. He was successful.

The Sierra would need to undergo a bit of alteration to meet federal regulations in the United States. Ford’s engineers had instructions to make the car U.S.-compliant, but to leave the Sierra’s character unchanged. Catalytic converters were added to the XR4i, as well as side impact protection beams. At the front and rear, bumpers were stretched to meet impact standards. While European Sierras gained their powered by a 2.8-liter Cologne V6, this engine was chucked for the American XR4. Instead, Ford used a 2.3-liter inline-four Lima engine, fitted with a turbocharger. That’s why the T was added to the badge on the back.

All American-bound XR4Ti units were built by Karmann at their factory in Osnabruck, Germany.

Ford’s American CEO, Donald Petersen, mandated that this new, hot Sierra and its eventual Scorpio sibling (future Rare Rides) must not be sold with the common Blue Oval. Instead, the cars would be badged with a new name — Merkur. Say it out loud, “Mare-KOOR!” Select Lincoln-Mercury dealers would shift Merkur units, and 800 signed up for the task.

The XR4Ti not-Ford went on sale in 1985, and almost immediately failed to meet sales expectations. Customers largely continued to purchase the European cars they would’ve bought anyway, leaving Ford with a headache. The company also had to contend with an unfavorable exchange rate with the Deutschmark, as well as new safety regulations approaching at the end of the decade. The whole experiment was over after 1989. Sad!

Today’s Rare Ride is stunning in white over tan, featuring some choice lace alloys to complete the package. The original customer clearly chose luxury over driving enjoyment, selecting the automatic transmission option. That means the five-speed manual is gone, and the C3 three-speed auto from the Pinto is in its place. The sparkling white package is yours for $5,100.

[Images: seller]

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  • MiataReallyIsTheAnswer MiataReallyIsTheAnswer on Dec 18, 2018

    Way back in the 90s, my buddy owned a black one of these, gray leather, stick, also an '89 with these sweet wheels. He was ROUGH on it so had some issues, despite it having only 60k miles. I was not overly impressed with the interior quality back then, which you can take however you like realizing I was coming from new at the time Grand Ams and Grand Prixs. I thought they were better built, which through the perspective of history (and since owning several Lexuses) is sort of amusing :)

  • R.Oswell R.Oswell on Feb 26, 2022

    I had a 1985, with the twin whaletail. I loved the very different looks of the car, and it was pretty fast. Stability at speed is what was amazing. I remember driving along in traffic, asking myself why everyone was driving so slow...a quick check of my speed showed I was doing 65 in a 35 zone. 90 mph on the interstate (speed limit was 55 back then) felt like 55. There were some issues: the engine computer went bad. leaving me stranded. $400 for the part. Also, the brake rotors would warp. I read that the Euro version of the car placed the calipers differently than the US version and rotor heat build up was the result. Another issue was Mercury abandoning Merkur, and refusing to have anything to do with it. Mercury had this history: they also brought in the German Capri ( I had 3) and once most of the bugs were worked out, Mercury would give up. By the way,IMO a '76 Capri was better than any 'Merican built small car at the time. My XR4Ti was dark blue, and the interior matched. Very comfortable seats but after a while I swore I'd never have a blue interior in a car again.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).