By on November 4, 2020

Rare Rides has featured Ford’s compact Escort offering previously, in a first-generation EXP from 1986. Today’s Escort hails from the model’s second generation and wears a Mercury badge instead. It also has three important letters on the back: LTS.

Let’s check out a sporty economy sedan from the good people at Mercury.

The Tracer name had an unusual start, as in its first generation it was actually a Mazda rebadge. Parent company Ford ordered up Mazda 323s (BF platform) in three- and five-door hatchbacks and wagons, and did a light rework of clips front and rear. In 1988, Ford axed the slower selling and Escort-based Mercury Lynx, and started its import-a-Mazda experiment instead. The deal with Mazda lasted exactly two model years (and I’ve never seen one of those wagons).

For model year ’91, the Escort was all new, and the Tracer rejoined its brand sibling after it took a break for 1990. Both cars utilized Mazda’s new BG platform, which was also implemented in the 323 (Protegé in North America). Available as a four-door sedan or wagon, the three-door stuff was a thing of the past for the Tracer.

Two engines were on offer in Tracer: A standard 1.9-liter Ford mill which produced 88 horsepower, and a smaller 1.8-liter Mazda unit, which made a more exciting 127 horses. The Mazda engine was only available through 1994, and was also used on the Escort GT and the Protegé. The automatic transmission on offer had four speeds, while those who selected the manual received five.

Mercury brought the new Tracer more in line with its larger Topaz and Sable siblings with a nonfunctional light bar. Safety was upgraded in ’93, with the addition of a driver’s airbag in place of junky automatic seatbelts. The next year Ford had to spend more money on a new dash, as the legislation hammer came down and required a passenger airbag as well.

Tracer was sold as a GS or LS like other Mercury sedans but received a special trim as well: LTS. Those letters stood for Luxury Touring Sedan (LOL you guys) and were the pinnacle of Tracer Time. All examples of the LTS had the Mazda 1.8; the trim vanished after 1994 alongside the more powerful engine.

Other special bits for the LTS included unique alloy wheels, a sporty red stripe around the exterior, more black trim (replacing body-colored pieces), and black door handles. Seats were trimmed with striped fabric inserts, a pattern not found in other trims.

The Tracer in its second generation found a customer base, even if the LTS was rather short-lived. The model moved on to the very rounded final generation for 1997 but was canceled in 1999, many years before the Escort. It was replaced at Mercury dealers by… nothing.

Today’s Rare Ride is a superb condition LTS with an automatic, which is presently listed on BaT. And it just happens to be the same color as the one MotorWeek tested in 1991. It’s bid to $3,200 with three days left in the auction, so the seller may find a few more dollars in his pocket than he originally planned! (Read in John Davis’ voice.)

[Images: seller]

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42 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1991 Mercury Tracer LTS, Put it on Your List...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Wow, Corey, that’s more history then I would ever imagine these cars had. Product development is one of the more interesting aspects of automobile history. It’s also interesting that someone would take such good care of an otherwise throw away econobox

    Looks great for being 30 years old. Good find

    • 0 avatar

      I really like it. I think the design has aged well, even if the interior is rather barren.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I remember growing up, and being aware of my surroundings, in the 90s thinking cars generally were fairly homely, but the general design philosophy has grown on me.

        In a land of angry Pokemon, basic looks nice. It’s part of the reason I tend to enjoy VWs’ looks. The Mazda connection helps too. I admit to finding Mazdas attractive as well, and have signed my name for several. There have been some that looked worse than others, but that’s the same with all manufacturers.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Well my baby went out
    Didn’t stay long,
    Bought herself a Mercury, come a cruis’n home.
    She’s crazy bout a Mercury,
    Yeah she’s crazy bout a Mercury.
    I’m gonna buy me a Mercury & cruise it up & down the road.

    Mercury Blues – Robert L Geddins & K C Douglas

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    “Available as a four-door sedan or wagon, the three-door stuff was a thing of the past for the Escort and Tracer names.”

    Nope. I had a ’92 Escort GT 2 door

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    If this was a 5 speed i’d be sooooooo tempted.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’ve been toying with getting a cheap ride for my kid, so the automatic actually tempts me more.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Though the example is clean, do you really want your kid in a 29yo throwaway econobox?

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Yeah, I would question the safety aspect of this car. It was pre-airbags

          • 0 avatar
            tomLU86

            Would a 1995 Civic with Takata air bags be safer?

            Or any older car with air bags. Air bags that deploy properly can save lives. Air bags that deploy for no reason can take lives. 15-25 year old air bag systems entail some risk, IMO. Like driving with a gun loaded with a blank pointing at you….who knows when it might just go off…

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Just spitballin’.

            I gave her my old Buick as her ride in September, and by mid-October, she’d gotten rear-ended. That will probably mean a trip to 3800 Heaven for the old beast – it has 140,000 miles and tons of dings and dents, so I suspect the “totalled out” check is in my future.

            That, on top of breaking up with s.o., moving, and a freakin’ COVID scare…I think I need a stiff drink!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Sorry to hear about all that Freed, on a positive note your daughter sounds like she was OK after the collision. These days the quality used car cheap cash buy and then running it till you can’t -a staple of mine since 1997- is no longer viable. If you could locate something early to mid 00s known to be safe and reliable go for it, but anecdotally from what I have read pricing is to the sky. Unless you wanted to buy my low miles SL2 I don’t know what to tell ya.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            I wouldn’t daily a 4th-Gen Civic again, even though my first new car was a 1994 EX Sedan! They have the crashworthiness of something between a wet saltine cracker and a Chinese lawn chair!

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          I can’t understand the obsession people have with (sometimes deliberately) putting the least-experienced, most-accident-prone drivers in the least-structurally-sound cars available. We spend the first 15 years of their lives protecting them from phantom kidnappers and home invaders, and the moment they turn 16 we throw them in rusted-out death traps as a way to teach them a lesson. Doesn’t make any damn sense to me.

          • 0 avatar
            indi500fan

            Agree. And most kids aren’t driving that far either so fuel econ isn’t a big factor. Crown Vic for the win.

      • 0 avatar
        spookiness

        @FreedMike, if you want a cheap kid car that is safer than a 30 yo orphan, look at the ugly 08-11 Focus in a SES or SEL trim. Will have decent safety features (ABS, airbags all around, traction control, stability control) and most will even have the MyFordKey nanny where you can set a max stereo volume, max speed, etc. Has the 2.0 Duratec with a timing chain, and an old-school 4-speed auto, or a 5 spd manual if you can find one.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I had this car’s Mazda cousin, the Protege, with the twincam engine and a manual. These were both GREAT little driver’s cars – the engine loved to rev, and the steering and suspension were sharp. In fact, this Tracer was the other car I was looking at; I got a better deal on the Mazda, so I passed on the Mercury.

    Had the Protege for 12 years and drove the p*ss out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I had the later Protege ES, ’00 with 5-speed, 1.8, and all options for the time. Great solid fun car. Noisy as hell on the highway, but an excellent city car due to low well spaced gearing, decent torque. Upright, boxy shape gave excellent visibility, easy to park and ID all 4 corners. Fairly roomy inside for a car of its size. Engine never used a single drop of oil between changes. I sold it with 140-something on the odo.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Ford’s design on this was great at the time and has aged nicely. I especially liked the tail lights on this car.

    Cheap, fun, good looking car.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    It still amazes me that these “unnecessary” brands like Mercury, Plymouth, etc. were held onto by their respective parent companies for so long. I know the reasons aren’t simple and are greatly varied from unions to dealers and ol’ corporate hubris.

    But imagine how much stronger (and how much better) the Malaise era would have been had Ford dumped Mercury around 1980, Chrysler had dumped Plymouth and GM ditched either Olds, Buick or Pontiac. Still can’t believe Mercury held on as long as it did.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    This car was posted on Underappreciated Survivors Facebook page a few months back and was scooped up fairly quickly. Wasn’t surprised it ended up on BAT a short time later.

  • avatar
    AlexMcD

    I had a 93 Tracer. Not a bad budget car.

    I bought it because it had a unique feature, the driver’s seat base could be tipped up to support my legs. I added the LTS sway bars and until the tranny blew up I was very happy with it.

    The engine was a non-interference engine so when the timing belt blew up on Labor Day weekend, I was able to get a belt installed and went on my way.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I had an Escort sedan of similar vintage, albeit a more basic model saddled with the 1.9 CVH engine (derisively known as the NVH) and auto, which was… not quick. On the other hand, compared to what I was accustomed to, a relatively light, flingable car with a good chassis was a revelation. As was the light snap oversteer Ford had tuned into these (probably not deliberately). For an absurdly cheap beater, it was a blast. I’d be very tempted by one of these with the 5-speed, especially with such an airy greenhouse compared to modern cars.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I had a 94 Escort LXi for a while as my first proper car. Prior to that I’d had an Aerostar. Compared to the Aerostar, the Escort was a rocket ship, and being 17 I made full use of its 88 horsepressures. It lasted me about 20 months before the transmission gave up the ghost (I think when I got it it had about 180k – never sure since it had the 5 digit odometer).

    I still miss that car a bit.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Alloy rims, power windows, pinstriping?
    This is the nicest Escort ever.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    My best friend’s first car was this model and color exactly, though I don’t recall red pinstriping (he def had alloys because I recall the rhetorical question “how does this have those?”). We called it… Golden Lightening. His mother liked it so much she used to “steal” it for errands instead of driving her ’94 Blazer which most annoyed him. His parent’s attitude was, “we payed for it, we can use it”.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Clearly our friend the Sun has not had the chance to lovingly bake the materials on this vehicle during its 33K mile life – check out the B-pillar blackouts!

    Right front tire has the Mother of All Wheel Weights.

  • avatar

    I had the Ford version of this car, which was of course the Escort. They were agile little cars based on a Mazda design.

  • avatar

    How Ford was planning to compete with this kind of crappy engines. My old 1990 Lada made same amount of HP from 1.5L engine.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    * the one on BaT is in stunning condition

    * Watched the Motorweek review, those were excellent performance numbers across the board

    * Didn’t realize how much family resemblance to the Topaz the Tracer of era had (sans c-pillar)

    * $13K as tested on Motorweek without automatic or center armrest seems steep for the era

    * Appears to be an under appreciated car for the era

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My Great Aunt (who also happened to teach at the junior high I attended) had the LTZ wagon.

    Honestly believe that was one of the most beloved cars she ever owned.

    Funny how in the 1990s slightly rotund older women didn’t mind getting in and out of something so low to the ground.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      People weren’t insane then.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I wonder if part of it was that the fuel mileage gap was so much larger and every other vehicle on the road was enormous. I vacillate between small and nimble versus “if you can’t beat them join them.” I have determined that things don’t much easier to see around in the largest vehicles that I gravitate to, compact crossovers. One almost needs a truck for optimal sightlines so it ends up being a fools errand to continue in the arms race.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @tankinbeans – comes down to this.

        What is your preferred type of acceleration?
        Straight line?
        Centrifugal?

        I prefer the skid pad over the drag strip. I need to be able to charge up an on ramp at least 10 over the suggested speed with little drama.

        Truck guys tend to be the ones who prefer straight line acceleration and then crawl along the cloverleaf trying to get on the interstate.

        DRIVES ME NUTS!

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          I can see that. I vacillate between y’all and lumbering Ave more nimble. I will say after going from the CX-5, a nice rig by all estimations, to the Mazda3 I was happy. While controlled fairly well, I could still feel the CX-5’s top-heavy heft trying to get onto the freeway.

          The only weird part is that the acceleration for the Mazda3 is only slightly better than the CX-5 with the same engine.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I wonder if the mouse belts are unobtanium, just like the ones for the Tempaz of the era?

    I can’t remember a process to manually set the belts back into the belted position, after which time, you could release them manually. (The Tempo/Topaz ones were permanently attached, and had some sort of emergency release down in front of the shifter; these look like the belts my Mom’s ’90 Civic and Dad’s ‘91 Accord had, with the release at the trolley itself around the door frame. Ironically, the Civic had the plate installed around the lap belt buckle to prevent busted pieces of the orange release tabs from falling into the buckle, the first big Takata scandal! I don’t remember when that recall took place, but my Dad may have been leasing his 1994 Accord by then, which had dual front airbags.)

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