By on November 19, 2019

Rare Rides broached the subject of Merkur in the past with a very clean XR4Ti. Today we have a look at Merkur’s only other offering — the luxurious liftback called Scorpio.

As mentioned previously, Merkur was the brainchild of Bob Lutz when he was in charge of Ford Europe. Lutz oversaw development of the European-market Sierra, then convinced executives at Dearborn that a new brand should shift Ford’s European offerings onto U.S. shores. Re-engineered and clothed as XR4Ti, the sporty hatchback went on sale in 1985. XR4Ti was sold at select Lincoln-Mercury dealers, and was in fact the only Merkur until 1988. At that point, its big brother the Scorpio arrived.

Designated as the flagship of the Merkur brand, the Scorpio was intended as competitor to the Mercedes-Benz 190E, Audi 5000, and the Saab 9000. Perhaps the most similar competitor for Scorpio was the Sterling 825/827, which was foisted upon the U.S. by Rover at the same time.

Scorpio was built on the same rear-drive DE-1 platform as the XR4Ti, but at a different factory: All examples rolled out of Cologne in West Germany. While European-market Scorpios were sold as sedans, liftbacks, and wagons with a variety of engines, all North American Merkur Scorpios were of liftback variety. Establishing its flagship status, the Scorpio came equipped with the model’s largest engine, a 2.9-liter Cologne V6. The potent 144-horsepower mill was paired to a five-speed manual, or (more commonly) a four-speed automatic.

Ford intended the Scorpio to impose a more upscale and European image than its domestic counterparts. This was especially true for the Mercury Sable, with which the Scorpio shared a showroom. Though differing in door count, the Sable and Scorpio were similar in appearance.

While Scorpio was slightly smaller in all dimensions, it cost more because of its “premium” European heritage. And the more money part should be emphasized here; the Scorpio asked $23,390 in 1988, or just over $52,000 today. Said price was without options like the automatic transmission, electric moonroof, and the Touring Package, which raised the ask to an adjusted $58,232.  The Sable GS asked $14,145 ($31,462 adjusted) in 1988. Obviously, Lincoln-Mercury dealers had a hard time justifying the price for Scorpio.

It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the Scorpio lasted just two model years: 1988 and 1989. In October of ’89, Ford announced there’d be no more Scorpios imported, as the liftback joined the already cancelled XR4Ti in the Merkur funeral pyre. Some 22,010 Scorpios were sold in total, most of which vanished from the roads long ago.

Today’s Rare Ride is listed on one of those odd sites which hangs onto old eBay listings. Located in Oregon, the loaded Scorpio had 70,827 miles at the time of sale.

[Images: seller]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1988 Merkur Scorpio, a Luxury Liftback for Nobody...”

  • avatar

    More than a Sable? Well, that’s okay. But it also cost more than a frikkin’ TOWN CAR available for sale on the same lot.

    Victim of bad marketing. Should have never been for sale on the same lot as Lincoln. Also a victim of horrible exchange rates of the era.

  • avatar

    That price is about two grand less than I paid for a new BMW 325 in 1988. The BMW didn’t have leather or an automatic, but it did have a power sunroof, LSD, and fog lights. The problem is the USD was struggling relative to the DM. The Porsche 944 was introduced for $18,600 in 1983. By 1987, they were starting around $25K and going up fast.

    The engine in this car is the engine the Ford Sierra XR4i had in Europe. When the XR4i became a Merkur, they gave it a turbo-four to maintain performance while meeting US emissions standards to create the XR4ti. This car was expensive, had a black plastic dash that didn’t seem as nice as BMW’s black plastic dash, and had an engine that was merely acceptably powerful for a car that cost 30% less.

  • avatar

    I used to see these on the road occasionally, and I think I last saw one a couple of years ago. Not bad cars, just bad marketing and bad pricing.

  • avatar

    It should be noted that Heir Yutz was instrumental in killing European Ford sales momentum with the advent of the Sierra and the ilk that followed. The Cortina and Granada were doing well but somehow the Yutz totally threw away well known nameplates for these things. And Yutz was also a numbskull for creating Merkur which was German for “american stupidity”. (sarcasm).

    Once again, the reality of Heir Yutz is never really told- he is always given far too much credit for things he never did and not enough lambast for the things he actually did.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    What they should have imported was the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. Particularly after insurance companies in the UK stopped insuring them due to the theft rates. They were even eventually produced as with an all-wheel drive version.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      The original specs (from Wikipedia) for the Sierra RS Cosworth. These are for the 2wd version. And the times did improve as the car was further refined. I truly believe that this vehicle would have sold in North America and left a legacy.

      Engines: i) Cosworth YBD, 204 hp (1986), ii) Cosworth YBD, 224 hp (1987), iii) Cosworth YBD, 204 hp (1988-1989), iv) Cosworth YBG/YBJ, 220 hp (1990-1992)

      Transmissions: i) Borg Warner T5 (1986-1989), ii) Ferguson 4×4 MT75 (1990-1992)

      Specs as published in the 1986 RS catalog: Max speed: 149 mph and 0-60 mph in 6.5 sec

  • avatar

    My parents owned two Scorpio cars, one black and one brown. Their first one kept them safe when a teenager cross the road and hit them head-on. Their second one replaced the first. Both were purchased used for a good bit less than half of MSRP.

    For the era, the Scorpio was very comfortable and the handling was quite good despite the Scorpio being a heavy car. I remember David E. Davis of Automobile magazine being a fan of the Scorpio.

    I almost became one of 56 people here in the States to own one with a 5-spd manual. The jerk of a salesman kept me from making it my first car.

    As the Scorpio’s aged, they nickel-and-dimed you to death with little but expensive issues.

  • avatar

    The Tempo of a friend of mine crapped out in about 1990. My friend wasn’t in the best of health or finances, but a couple he knew had one of these in black and lent it to him for daily use. It served my friend well until he passed later in the decade.

    This couple was known for buying shall we say “unusual” cars because they were different. Some time after the Scorpio they bought an Infiniti Q45 – not the original style, nor the 3rd-gen, but “the other one.” The boxy ultra JDM 2nd gen. They loved it!

  • avatar

    In one of the stranger buying decisions I have ever run across, the local doctor in town had an XR4Ti and a Scorpio in his driveway. This would have been the early 90s in central Illinois farm country. I had so many questions as a 16 year old with a car interest in a place as removed from car culture as the moon. Why did he buy Mercur? Why did he buy two? Where did he buy them from? What happened when they broke down?

    (And to make things even more interesting, the doctor’s son and I went to the same college together and he rolled around campus in the XR4Ti.)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I wonder if the Merkur line sold at LM dealers was one of the reasons why GM decided to go full in from a 50% share to 100% with the purchase of Saab.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “The potent 144-horsepower mill was paired to a five-speed manual, or (more commonly) a four-speed automatic.”

    The problem with that “potent” V6 in an upscale European car was that the same “potent” mill was available over at your Ford dealer in a Ranger or Bronco II. Not really a positive for the sort of buyer they were chasing.

  • avatar

    Lutz would try this again later with the GTO and the G8. Exchange rates reared there ugly head again. However, the XR4Ti was a fun car. The GTO has gained respect over the years and the G8 was regarded as a nice car. Naming it Merkur was a little silly though. They just should have slotted them in under the Mercury name.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Ahh man, I forgot about these. In the early nineties my neighbor had a Scorpio in his garage. It was mint, probably because he never drove it. Instead you could find him in his new Explorer, which parked outside behind the Scorpio.

    The Scorpio ran, so he was either paranoid something would break or he thought it would be worth something someday. Probably the latter. Can’t imagine the ROI was positive on that one.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    They should have called it Mustang. You know, like all super innovative cars.

  • avatar

    I had one, well used, and loved it. Somehow that v6 felt stronger than its hp number suggests. To me, the car felt roomy, powerful, with excellent visibility and seat comfort.

    The seats had lumbar support adjustment that was manually operated via a hand air pump. I liked the soft, precise feeling of that so much I now have a similar device I acquired from a medical supply store to use with my Jeep TJ, which from the factory comes with what feels like negative lumbar support.

  • avatar

    Would a V-8 fit in one of these? That’d be interesting. Paging Sajeev…

    In any case, a luxury sedan with a hatchback is old hat now (Kia Stinger, Audi A5 Sportback/A7, BMW Gran Coupe, etc), so perhaps this car was ahead of its’ time.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno. I think the traditional sedan format (that everyone was buying) wouldn’t have made a difference, the pricing was just poor.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t confirm for the Scorpio specifically, but there was a limited run of 5.0-powered Sierras (badged as XR8) sold in South Africa, so it should be feasible for one of these as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The Saab 9000 was initially a hatchback only, and there were five-door 900s before that. 1985 saw the introduction of the Chrysler Lebaron GTS and Dodge Lancer ES hatchbacks in the near-luxury space. Many GTs of the period were hatchbacks. Hatchbacks definitely had a stigma throughout the ’90s and 2000s, but I’m not sure they were synonymous with trashy living in 1988.

  • avatar

    I had one of these in the late 1990s. Looked exactly like the one pictured. It was a roomy, quiet, comfy car. I remember being amazed by the power reclining REAR seats!

    Nobody wanted these things then, and my car…which was nearly perfect…cost me about $2,500.

    I didn’t have much trouble with it other than the one thing that the Ford 2.9 was infamous for. Cracked heads. About a year after I bought the car I noticed it had developed a nice, steamy, irregular misfire. I don’t remember what I sold it for, but I didn’t lose too much on it.

  • avatar

    Had one. Loved it. Still miss it. Perfect layout, AMAZING seats, RWD, quiet as a tomb, adequate power for its time.

    When they quit selling them, Ford employee leases of whatever kind were apparently returned immediately. Not sure of the details, but I got one with less than 8,000 miles, at less than half the original sticker, and a 100k bumper to bumper warranty.

    I put 140,000 miles on it with only one warranty claim. A power window switch. By the time it went bad, it took forever for a new one to show up. Had a local auto electric shop jumper the window into the up position, and it got me through.

    Fun, young, times!

  • avatar

    This car was popular in Russia in 1990s. I was called Ford Scorpio and came with three engines 2L I4, 2.5L V6 and 3L V6. I4 was pathetically old tech and inadequate compared with more advanced contemporary Japanese and German engines. But 3L V6 was very fast and breaks were effective too. It felt like proper luxury car, was fully loaded and of course came with MT. I seriously considered buying one. But there were few issues that made me to reconsider. First because engine displacement was larger than 2L it was heavily taxed by Government. Then it was too big for practical use in our town. Then RWD were considered dangerous since we had snow like 9 months a year. And it had rust issues around wheel arcs and rear bumper and our roads were covered with snow most part of the year. So I actually thought Mondeo would be a better choice and it was an impressive car on its own. But Mondeo was a new model and was too expensive even used one. Other choice was Audi 80 – cheap but impressive luxury car but it was too tight inside and with tiny useless trunk and more important it was almost impossible to find one in good condition. So I ended up buying nondescript Japanese car which was cheap used but practical and reliable.

  • avatar

    A couple of things. Comparing the Merkur line of German Fords to the Sterling is like comparing the Toyota Camry to the Subaru 360. They share four wheels, and that’s it. While it was built by Rover UK, the Sterling line of cars were distributed by the Braman dealer chain of Miami, FL, who were wholly inept at selling and standing behind a carline on a national level by themselves. Merkur, on the other hand, could be serviced by Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers, with rarely any hitches because of ill-trained technicians or poor parts supply. While I didn’t own a Scorpio, I did own two XR4Ti’s, both of which I loved and had no troubles with. I’ve had several German Ford products(three Capri’s including a Capri II V6, five used Fiesta’s of the 1978-80 vintage, all bought used and none of which let me down, and the two XR4Ti’s(one of which(a 1988) had only 4,000 miles(and looked it)for $5,000. Yes, they were expensive as new cars, but maybe Ford should have set up a factory in the States to mitigate the constant exchange rate woes of building cars in Germany and selling them here. Ford eventually did this with the first Ford Focus and that turned out well. Too bad they thought to do that so late in the game.

  • avatar

    The exterior styling is a bit bland to modern eyes, but I like the interior. Reminds me a lot of the Olds Touring Sedan of similar vintage.

  • avatar

    I had an ’89 Scorpio and I absolutely LOVED IT! It was a well-built, European-style car with very good handling, a distinctive style, and versatility. Oh, and THAT HATCH… HUGE! It created a greenhouse inside not helped by lightly tinted windows. I actually had to have them tinted (and I live in Pennsylvania!)since I had black leather seats. I would have kept it but for the fact that they pulled the brand after only three years and L-M had an insane guarantee against depreciation up to three years of ownership. It was guaranteed to hold its value at least as well as a Mercedes 190E or C-Class within that three-year window. Needless to say, it got CREAMED in resale value by that time because they pulled the line so I didn’t have much of a choice except to trade it in. I had to trade it for another Ford product but I really didn’t want a Ford but I found a Jeep dealer willing to “play along” with me. I traded the Scorpio for a brand new Explorer, drove it less than five miles to the Jeep dealership then traded the Explorer for a brand new Jeep Cherokee. Craziest car deal that I’ve ever done! Anyway, don’t ‘dis’ the Scorpio. If not for terrible management at Ford, they may have been able to save it with some slick marketing (which was almost non-existent) for the brand.

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