Friday, February 20, 2015

5k: German Mustang: 1989 Merkur XR4Ti

Among the great list of cars with seemingly unpronounceable names, there is one that stands out for its alpha-numeric naming mish-mash, multiple side windows, and "Maximum" Bob Lutz connection.  The special version of the Ford Sierra was inexplicably badged as the Merkur XR4Ti for the US market and sold for a few years before common sense prevailed the external market conditions made it unprofitable.  Today, the XR4Ti seems like a great option for the motoring enthusiast who wants an SVO but loathes the idea of driving a Mustang.  Find this 1989 Merkur XR4Ti offered for $2,500 in Los Angeles, CA via craigslist.

In the early eighties, Ford executives saw the encroachment of sporty German luxury cars on their turf and wanted a product to sell into the segment.  The costs of developing an entire new car are astronomical, so Bob Lutz and his crew arranged to import the Ford of Germany built Serria XT4Ti. Instead of badging it as a Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury, they chose to badge it as a Merkur (the German spelling of the word Mercury) and in the process setup one of the shortest lived brands from a major OEM in automotive history (1985-1989).

Power  comes from a 2.3 liter "Lima" SOHC inline-4 that pushes out a decent (for the time) 175 horsepower with the help of a single Garrett AiResearch T3 turbo.  The big problem with the match is that Garrett did not have a smaller turbine at the time and used the larger commercial diesel suited T3 mated to a small compressor wheel.  The end characteristic is that when the turbine finally gets spooled up at 4000 rpm, the restrictive Ford cylinder head chokes out any potential power above 4500 rpm.  Having owned one, I can attest that it feels good and sporty around 4250rpm before the trashiness of 4-cylinder unbalance takes over.

The seller doesn't include much descriptive prose on the condition of this XRkurTi, but from the pictures it looks in good shape.  The seller has added a front mount intercooler, which could be a problem for smog, expect that the stock setup could be bolted in place with a screw driver and a few minutes.

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  1. If they made these much cheaper and just badged them as Fords it would have sold like hotcakes.

    1. Please explain how you make them much cheaper when there's already not much margin in the things?

      They were expensive cars to build, more so because Ford had to do final assembly on the US models at Karmann because the Genk production line wasn't set up to build the US cars.

      The XR4ti engine had to be shipped over from the US and mated to the Type 9 transmission over there. The turbo 2.3 was not a very nice engine, fairly powerful but much rougher and shakier than the 2.9 V6 or the later 2-liter Cosworth YB (which was built off the 2-liter Pinto block.)

      Because the US model was so different from the Euro model it never got the various improvements that the Euro models did later. Don't think it even got rear discs.

      It was also a time when Euro car makers were struggling with the weakness of the dollar.

      And then there's the Merkur badging and expecting spat-shoed Lincoln-Mercury sales staff to sell the things. Ford created Merkur the same year that Honda created Acura. One of them seems to have gotten it right.

    2. "Please explain how you make them much cheaper when there's already not much margin in the things?

      They were expensive cars to build, more so because Ford had to do final assembly on the US models at Karmann because the Genk production line wasn't set up to build the US cars."

      Then use the thing as a platform for practically everything being built in America and keep R&D between Europe and America more similar.

    3. Just to throw into the mix; the XR4Ti had an engine that could be bought in a Mustang, Cougar and a Thunderbird. As mentioned, the ridiculous build process was stupid and brought the base price to roughly $16.5K. For that money, you could have a 300ZX, an IROC-Z for $5K less or a GTI for nearly $8K less. In addition to the problems you guys mentioned, I believe this was the major factor. As much as I like a lot of what Lutz has done, he's a rich guy stuck in a rich guy world with very little connection to reality. This lesson has been done before (Allante, anyone?) and they'll do it again because they're too stupid to figure it out.

    4. The cost of these things is a tragic car story. Sometimes I like to dream about a universe where the Sierra Cosworth RS5000 became a hit in America.

    5. True dat, amigo. I think a lot of us would have liked the Sapphire and the 4WD 4-door, too.


    6. I'd like to add that while I hear how people found the 2.3 turbo rough, I for one thought it was just fine. It wasn't refined, no. But it had a gutsy feel to it and it pulled like mad. Not a bad running/driving engine, even with the Pinto roots. It had other problems, sure. But to drive the thing was quite good, I thought. The XR4Ti and SVO probably were similar in weight, too, I'm guessing. I'd have to look it up. But surely they were far lighter than the XR7 and the Tbird. I remember driving a turbo 'Bird and not liking it one bit.

    7. The thing to remember is that this car was not intended to sell at US Ford prices and Ford would not have brought the car to the US to sell at US Ford prices.

      In Europe the Sierra was an entry-level executive car, and Merkur was an attempt - a half-assed one, to be sure - to sell something in the 3-series space. Had the car been as good as it should have been it'd have been worth $5K more than the IROC of the time and certainly worth $8K more than a GTI.

      I always thought the sedan and the wagon were much more attractive vehicles than the coupe, especially in the form we got it with the split side window. Presumably organizational politics kept those out of the Mercury showroom where they'd have been lined up next to the Sable.

    8. You lost me. Or rather, your logic makes perfect sense and is exactly why the XR4Ti did not sell well in North America. But, you may be right about them shooting for BMW territory. A contemporary (600 pounds lighter) 318i was the same money, upgrading to a (300 pounds lighter) 325e was another $4.5K. At the time, I most certainly would have chosen the 2-door over the wagon and sedan. But I was younger then and now I love wagons.


  2. Grrr. Makes me mad when they don't give us 'Mericans the fun toys. They should have sent us the Sierra Cosworth RS500!


  3. 190e 2.6 (auto):

    Lancia Spyder:

    fiat sports car (+ parts car):

    peugeot 505:

    bmw 530i(e34):

    bmw 535i(e34):


    Jetta 16v:

    show car built by guy light:

    White Alfa Romeo 164S Sedan:

    maserati biturbo spyder:

    maserati biturbo spyder(cheaper):

    bmw 735il (e32):

    bmw 535i (e28):

    renault fuego:

    bmw 325ix:

    bmw 318i:

    bmw 533i:

    1. nice selection of old BMWs, but the M60B30 V8 in that E34 530i is a pretty gutless motor. They made some 530i wagons, though, even some manuals, which are great swap material for M60B40s, hybrid M60/M62B44s, or just an LS3.

    2. Why is this posted here? I thought I figured it out - oh! a bunch of German cars for sale! But there are French and Italian cars on your list...why? Are you going for an Axis power thing or something? If so, where are the Japanese cars? Or are you suggesting that all of these cars have "more roll"? I still don't get it.

    3. Richard Brier was awesome. If you've never seen "Monarch of the Glen", you're missing out on a nice little, light drama full of character. The Sierra was a family car.

    4. AND check out Briers in the super fun "Cockneys vs Zombies". His big scene is absolutely classic and it's in this trailer.

    5. Does anybody remember the Merkur XR4Ti "Disk Drive Test Drive"? That was some rather innovative marketing, at the time. I have the disk in a box somewhere. And if I recall correctly, you could get a series of performance upgrades from Rapido through your Lincoln-Mercury dealer. It's too bad the Merkur line didn't work out. I think it would have been interesting. A better idea than "One Ford", in my opinion.

    6. Can anybody dig up the base price of a (whichever model you have) Ford Sierra in Europe? I don't have that in any of my reference books. It would be interesting to compare it directly to the Merkur XR4Ti. Also, what were the weight differences, if any?

    7. I'm looking for what they went for in 1985. The XR4Ti was $19,759 in 1989, if '89 MSRP is all you can dig up.

  4. The 533i looks like a great deal. According to the ad, the seller is getting rid of it due to a pending commute from a new house over unpaved roads.

    Contrast to the "show car built by guy light" - a modified VW cabriolet that:

    Was built by a ProRallyCross driver
    Features a custom roll bar
    Was photographed for a magazine article in an off-road setting....

    and is slammed to the ground?!?!?

    Don't worry, I'll take care of contacting the BMW owner and letting him know that a massive suspension drop is the answer to his commuting problem.

  5. I had one of these and really liked it. It was fun.

  6. I can say the 2.3 was rough. I can also say that an xr4ti is an expensive car to own ask me how I know.!! I'm sure I have spouted off on the topic somewhere on this site (and others) before, yet. I still want another.


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