Saturday, August 1, 2015

Strange Marketing: 1985 Merkur XR4Ti

There is something about the combination of unpronounceable name, bizarre marketing strategy, and sketchy technology to make a cool car a complete sales loser.  Imagine if today Ford took their European built Focus RS and badged it as the Lincologne F0TRS.  It doesn't matter if it was equipped with some awesome turbocharged engine and a 6-speed manual gearbox, but it would languish in the back of Lincoln dealers because frankly anyone who stumbles into a Lincoln dealer is either a drunk or lost.  Potential customers would stumbled past it and in a moment of lucidity say "I don't know what that is but it'll take too long to explain it to my friends, I think I'll go buy something from a Ford dealer."  This is exactly what happened to the Ford of Germany built Merkur XR4Ti 30 years ago, and today you can buy one without getting drunk or stepping in to a Mercury dealer.  Find this 1985 Merkur XR4Ti here on eBay bidding for $2,010 reserve-not-met with a $3,250 buy-it-now.

The eXperimental Racing 4-cylinder Turbocharged Injected oddball was the brainchild of Swiss born automotive icon Bob "Give Them LOLZ" Lutz.  In a nutshell the XR4Ti was simplly a well equipped Ford Sierra RS that had been exported to the USA and it didn't sell very well.

The XR4Ti is powered by the 2.3 liter SOHC "Lima" inline-4 cylinder found in the Mustang SVO and Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, rated at 175 horsepower when stock, but this XR has a few tricks up its sleeve. The engine has been modified and the suspension beefed up with all kinds of aftermarket goodies.  Perplexingly, it is shifted with an automatic gearbox.

See another car equipped with a bi-plane wing?


  1. You had me UNTIL automatic....

    1. The slushbox can be dealt with. Most of the guys who pump up their 2.3s pull the stock T-9 5-speed out and swap to a T5 anyway. The T9 is highly desirable for certain other small Ford applications, so please if you do this don't scrap the gearbox.

      The Sierra was an enormous success for Ford, unfortunately, the US Merkur had a bunch of things going against it. It's really a case study in what NOT to do.

      First off, you start with a flawed premise that (absent an iPhone-grade smash-hit product, guarantees failure all by itself): that you're going to create a whole new brand, but you're going to put it in the showroom of one of your existing brands to bring in a different buyer base.

      You choose as your product a single version of a model already in production, but designed without any consideration of the requirements of the market you're going to adapt it for.

      Then you make so many changes to that car from its original version that you can't build it on the same production line, escalating your costs dramatically.

      That same special-unicorn status means it's also impossible to readily introduce the improvements and refinements made to the car you've derived it from.

      Then you play funky games with the equipment spec - you give it plenty of power (if a less-refined engine than the ones available elsewhere) but you gotta take cost out somewhere so you get only drum rear brakes.

      So in the end you've got a nice enough but hardly killer product, mostly sold by white-shoe L-M salesmen who couldn't drive a stick themselves, soon to be whomped by a huge shift in US-European currencies that crippled the competitiveness of much of the European auto industry in the US just as the Japanese were headed upmarket.

      The problem wasn't the 'Merkur' name, after all, 'Merkur' hit the market at EXACTLY the same time as 'Acura', which was no less a fabricated bit of nonsense badge-engineering. The difference was that if you wanted to sell Acuras, you had to plump the money to build an Acura showroom, staff it with people who sold Acuras or starved, and Honda backed it up with (well, eventually) a fairly broad range of product.

      As soon as the Sable hit the showroom your average L-M dealer could care bugger-all about selling anything else.

    2. @ mrkwong - very good summary
      It should have just been the "Mercury Capri" to leverage brand recognition.

  2. Rear wheel drive tho! And hurting for an engine swap to at least a 5.0.

    1. Given that we're talking about 25-year-old cars here, if I were going down that road and lived anywhere but California I might just import myself a Sierra Cosworth, there seems to be a whole lot of LHD examples out on

  3. "frankly anyone who stumbles into a Lincoln dealer is either a drunk or lost" +1

    1. Ford took one swing at bringing Lincoln up to date with the LS, and it was and is a good car, but Wolfgang Reitzle (the Anglophile BMW exec who was pushed out the door after the Rover Group buyout didn't pay off for the Quandts, and who was then picked up by Ford) made sure to keep the content a tier or two below Jaguar.

      Ford got lazy sucking in money from Navigators and Town Cabs.

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