Let’s pretend it’s 1985. MTV is playing
the latest by Duran Duran, your
hair looks mahvelous, and your
status in life says that it’s time to upgrade to
a fine German sports coupe. In addition to
the usual suspects from BMW, Porsche, Audi
and Mercedes-Benz, there’s one more brand to
What is this exotic nameplate, you ask? It’s
probably time for a refresher, since Merkurs haven’t
graced American showrooms since the Reagan
administration. So grab your Walkman, slip on
a pair of boat shoes, and pop your collar: Let’s all
take a quick trip in the way-back machine.
The automotive landscape was maturing
during the ’80s, with many owners trading
their chrome bumpers, bench seats and columnshift
automatics for something a bit sportier
and more upmarket–often something with a
Ford had successfully brought past European
offerings to the States; witness the 1970-’77
Mercury Capri and the 1978-’80 Ford Fiesta.
Could they do it again? This time, though,
they would do it under a new nameplate:
Ford of Europe’s Sierra, a brainchild of Bob
Lutz, would come to America as the Merkur
XR4Ti. That new Merkur brand, named for the
German word for mercury, would be handled
by Mercury dealers–yes, the same people who
were mostly versed in whitewall tires, velour
interiors and landau tops.
The XR4Ti arrived for the 1985 model year,
and at the time it was the sole Merkur offering.
The three-door coupe featured contemporary
styling, from the flush-mounted headlamps to
the biplane rear wing. Suspension was independent
at all four corners, and standard equipment
included bucket seats, alloy wheels, AM/FM
cassette sound system and full instrumentation.
The Sierra’s V6 engine didn’t agree with
American emission regulations, so Ford fitted
their turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four–the
same engine used in the Mustang SVO.
Final verdict? Mixed. Performance, both in
a straight line and around turns, matched the
status quo from Europe. Brakes could have
been better, but the interior fully delivered that
desired European experience.
The negatives? Styling. Also, foot traffic
in Merkur dealerships never came close to expectations.
Ford scrambled to update and improve the
XR4Ti, upsizing the wheels to 15-inchers for
1987 and color-matching the body cladding.
The polarizing biplane spoiler disappeared
for 1988; that year also saw the four-door
Merkur Scorpio, a transplanted European Ford
Granada, joining the XR4Ti in the marque’s
lineup. In the end it was all for naught: The
Merkur nameplate was gone by 1990.
So why do you want one today? We’d call it a
cool, retro alternative to an E30-chassis BMW
or other ’80s coupe. It’s a fairly safe bet, as the
Merkur’s turbo engine is a known quantity.
Prices are right, too: A peek at Merkur Club of
America’s website shows that $2000 to $5000
still buys a decent example.
Shopping and Ownership
Ed Senf regularly tunes the race cars found at the top level
of our sport; he’s also no stranger to the Merkur XR4Ti. He
offers the following:
The five-speed version is
a weak Ford T9, which is
fine for low-power-output
engines, but should be
replaced with the Borg
Warner T5 found in many U.S.
I cannot imagine what
engineer at Ford let this car
go to production without any
There are too many options
to list for retrofitting some
other production intercooler.
It’s a good exercise to keep a
car guy busy in a junkyard for
The headlights from the
factory are the worst possible
’80s plastic crap; they must have
been coated with a yellowing
accelerator when produced.
Driving around with two jacko’-
lanterns strapped to the
hood might well be more
effective. Sadly, the only
real fix is to replace the
entire assembly with the
Euro versions, which also
requires some minor
metal work in the front
radiator core support. I
did one of my cars and
the result was like driving
a modern car.
An easy wheel and
tire upgrade is available
from a Ford Focus.
The ECU was an old
chip-type Ford unit that
should be replaced with
any Megasquirt ECU
with wide-band oxygen sensor
feedback. Wiring wasn’t
bad for the time, but the cars
are 30 years old now and
under-hood temps cook anything
to death in that amount
Turbo upgrades are very
easy, since the factory used
the most common Garret
T3 turbo. Don’t be tempted
to throw a 500-horsepower
turbo on the single-cam
2.3, however, because some
extensive head and cam work
needs to be performed to get
the airflow to a point where
reasonable power can be
supported–the head only has
The brakes were not fantastic.
There are many ways to
upgrade them with other Ford
OE parts and pieces.
Parts, Service and Community
Merkur Club of America
View comments on the GRM forums
I wonder if things would have gone better if Ford hadn't tried to be so smart and just called them Mercury products. A Mercury XR4Ti and Mercury Scorpio (and no Sable, just leave that as a Taurus) would have probably worked a lot better and saved marketing time & costs.
I'm curious what other things caused consumers to not take home more XR4Ti's.
Or just sold them as Fords. There may have been some concern with cannibalizing Mustang sales, though. However, given how people reacted to the Probe, it may not have happened. Hell, most Mustang fans didn't like the Turbo model Mustangs, either.
9/1/16 7:39 p.m.
They make fantastic rally cars
They make fantastic rally cars
I get to crew for one this month. Tee hee!
Always loved these. Even that crazy bi wing.
One of my cousins friends had a Blue '87 when I was about 10. I will own one before much longer! On my next car to own list!
I would love one.. but all the ones around here have fallen on very hard times.
There are three of them registered for Black River Stages in 2 weeks.
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