Vintage Views: Merkur XR4Ti

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 consider: Merkur.

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 European accent.

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. Ford products.

I cannot imagine what engineer at Ford let this car go to production without any intercooler–it’s shameful. 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 countless hours.

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 of time.

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 eight valves.

The brakes were not fantastic. There are many ways to upgrade them with other Ford OE parts and pieces.

Parts, Service and Community

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View comments on the GRM forums
pres589 UberDork
9/1/16 3:58 p.m.

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.

Brett_Murphy PowerDork
9/1/16 7:27 p.m.

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.

Raze UltraDork
9/1/16 7:39 p.m.

They're fun!

captdownshift UberDork
9/1/16 7:53 p.m.

They make fantastic rally cars

paranoid_android74 SuperDork
9/2/16 8:02 p.m.
captdownshift wrote: They make fantastic rally cars

I get to crew for one this month. Tee hee!

Trackmouse Dork
9/3/16 9:06 a.m.

Always loved these. Even that crazy bi wing.

dansxr2 Dork
9/3/16 9:30 a.m.

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!

mad_machine MegaDork
9/3/16 11:31 a.m.

I would love one.. but all the ones around here have fallen on very hard times.

irish44j UltimaDork
9/3/16 2:39 p.m.

There are three of them registered for Black River Stages in 2 weeks.

fearlesfil New Reader
12/5/17 6:50 p.m.

I rented one at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport once, for a road trip to San Francisco. It was in a darkened parking lot, and it took me 20 MINUTES to find a knob or button to light up the dash. When I did it lit up like the cockpit of the space shuttle! Had to laugh. Not so funny was the lack of cruise control. I just couldn't warm up to the idea of the 1500 mile round trip without it.  So I traded it in for a luxo-barge (free upgrade). I enjoyed driving it around Phoenix though. Always like the idea of them. By the time I moved back stateside in '91 they were already gone though.

PT_SHO New Reader
12/7/17 1:40 p.m.

An autocross acquaintance developed one of these for several years and finally won the SCCA Nationals Autocross in D-Street Prepared in 2009.  Beating a host of Beemers, Subies, and misc.  Some great shots of basically the entire field at speed at  

Amusing to see that several cars were actually lifting both inside tires for a moment at the tight corner.  I'm speculating that the relatively stiff tire/suspension setup would start losing grip at about that point to act as an anti-roll effect.  I wonder if the in-car data would detect the extra roll angle and assume it was just hella cornering, or whether there is a setting you could program in to tell the driver "back off NOW!!"?

Kreb UltraDork
12/7/17 1:53 p.m.

Terrible name for a sub-brand, funny looking car with a terrible reputation for reliability. If they'd revived the Mercury Comet name, ditched the silly spoiler and made them reliable, it could have been a success. 

Jumper K Balls
Jumper K Balls PowerDork
12/7/17 3:04 p.m.

Very timely GRM. There is an 88 XR4Ti in my driveway that I keep waffling on what to do with it. Offload it as is, fix and flip or build for me. I seem to change my mind every day. 


My dad worked at the Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dealership in '85 when these came out. I remember our family of 5 in our 68 bug struggling to achieve the federally mandated 55mph speed and my dad telling me to look back. A brand new black XR flew up behind us and then leapt into the left lane and passed us like we were in reverse. It looked like the future and made strange turbine noises that I didn't understand. I wanted one bad from then on. I finally got a terribly worn out example of an 85 in 94 before the internet started solving the parts availability issues and it beat me up trying to keep it going.  It is hard to separate the good memories from the bad.

Leaning towards keeping it now.

Ransom PowerDork
12/7/17 5:06 p.m.

In reply to Jumper K Balls :

They're *so cool*! I think you should keep it at least for a while. In the same way that I should've given the Miata a bit more of a chance, the opportunity to see what one's like with a little care and feeding seems so good.

Doubly so if you have a whack at autocross!

EvanB UltimaDork
12/7/17 5:09 p.m.

I need to get mine going soon. I had a burst of motivation when I bought it and that stopped just short of getting it running. Now that I have a couple open bays in my garage I'll pull it in and hopefully get it going. 

LanEvo HalfDork
12/8/17 9:10 a.m.

I've always wanted to build a homegrown Sierra RS by putting a 2.3L Duratec from a Ford Ranger (plus turbo kit) into an XR4Ti.

Considering Ford will sell you a brand new 2.3L Ecoboost (complete with turbo, starter, alternator, and wiring harness) for $5500 these days, that's probably the better option:

jimbbski Dork
12/8/17 2:19 p.m.

Bad marketing on Fords part, expensive on list price, and expensive to fix when they broke.  But I still loved them although I never owned one. For the same price, but faster and cheaper to own was the SVO Mustang.

EvanB UltimaDork
12/8/17 2:27 p.m.
LanEvo said:

I've always wanted to build a homegrown Sierra RS by putting a 2.3L Duratec from a Ford Ranger (plus turbo kit) into an XR4Ti.

Considering Ford will sell you a brand new 2.3L Ecoboost (complete with turbo, starter, alternator, and wiring harness) for $5500 these days, that's probably the better option:

Dave Clark has an Ecoboost in his rally xr4ti:,106139


darkbuddha HalfDork
12/12/17 10:25 a.m.

I'm always so conflicted when articles like this give XR4TIs attention.  First, I'm all like "Cool!  Someone is finally giving the XR a bit of positive recognition."  Then I'm like "Crap!  This going to increase interest and push up prices."  Fortunately, the XR seems to have been relatively immune to receiving either positive attention or increasing prices.  Still, I'm glad to have gotten mine when I did, and have no plans to get rid of it.  And hopefully, the abandoned XR project I'm working on will be done for the $2018 Challenge.

BTW, with regard to the bad marketing on Ford's part, yeah, there is that.  Poor marketing, poor name choice, poor dealership choice, poor salesman education, poor understanding of the car in general, poor consumer interest, and all that.  But it's frustrating to see all those things still negatively impact the perception of what is a very straight forward and simple, easy to work on, relatively reliable, decent quality, comfortable and capable, inexpensive, fun to drive car.  Even in completely stock form, there's something very likably European about them, and if modded in wise ways, they can be quick and fast as well without losing that composed European character.  And despite rumors to the contrary, a well sorted and tuned up 2.3 Lima isn't that unrefined.  And for the record, parts sourcing isn't all that bad either... certainly not any worse than sourcing parts for most and 30 year old European car (or domestic really).

MotorsportsGordon New Reader
12/12/17 10:29 a.m.

I’ve seen one here in Edmonton that had a 302 swapped in.

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