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R.A-S.H: The Merkur XR4Ti

xr4tia

Euro-American allied projects often lead to notable successes. The P51 Mustang, for example, was a plane transformed when the Rolls Royce Merlin replaced its original Allison motor, the Nasty class PT boats of the USA in Vietnam had the same English Electric Deltic engines as some of the UKs finest high-speed locomotives, and I really enjoy Oreos broken over my Cornish Vanilla ice cream.

Meanwhile, the Mekur name has always hovered in the background, never a million miles from the psyche of the Hoonitariat, and quite rightly so. I thought it about damn time R.A-S.H acknowledged that fine- if short lived- name tag.

It’s the XR4Ti.

“From Germany, now comes a new breed of sporting machine- the Merkur XR4Ti”

This was pretty much true. There had been turbocharged cars on sale in the US before; there had been coupes and sports sedans before, too. But there hadn’t really been much that combined the best features of all three. What so many people never realised was that the XR4Ti actually just a warmed-over version of one of our most commonplace family cars. That said, the warming-over process was a particularly effective one.

“…Culimination of Ford’s 70-plus years experience manufacturing high performance cars in Europe”

I probably need to do a little more research, as I can’t immediately think of a high performance Ford from 1915. Not a production one, anyway. Still, it was probably fair to say that Ford of Europe had a different approach to performance than their American cousins. US performance was invariably achieved by brute force and big swept volumes, European cars tended to have smaller lungs but much less weight to carry around. Importing the XR4 was a “nothing to lose” opportunity to offer a little flavour of the European way of doing things, and perhaps intercept some of those sales that Uncle Henry was losing to Munich.

xr4tib

“It looks like no other car in America. It’s form is dictated by its function. That function is to use airflow management as no other car in its class has before”

This was true of the Ford Sierra, let alone the XR4. The Sierra had gone on sale in ’82 with a drag co-efficient of 0.34, which was pretty bloody good even if it did suffer from flightiness of the rear end as there wasn’t much downforce holding it onto the blacktop. When the performance model of the range, the XR4i appeared in ’83, it gained a “biplane” rear spoiler and ground effects, which looked a bit OTT in some eyes but acted like flights on a dart. It was quite an aerodynamically accomplished machine.

“…bereft of traditional brightwork”

America was gradually Europeanising their designs, with the Thunderbird going all Aero in ’83 and losing much of the chrome-edged gaudiness of past models; the Lincoln MKVII would soon go the same way, and in ’85 the Taurus would arrive, looking like it could have come straight from a rural Ford dealership in Stow-On-The-Wolds, only bigger. Indeed, in the Sierra range as a whole chrome didn’t really feature, although it was quite subtly applied on the GL and Ghia models. But not the XR4i. Not on a performance car.

xr4tic

“Built in the homeland of the high-speed autobahn, it could change your mind about which company offers the most exciting European car.”

This was a bit of a reckless statement; if you leave Germany and head directly South there are any number of firms who deal exclusively in excitement, usually accompanied by eight or twelve cylinders. But more about the subjective excitement of the XR4i a bit later on. More important was how compatible this exotic import was with the American population. The XR4Ti was, for example, equipped with:

“Anatomically designed front seats capable of accommodating a wide variety of human forms”

Ha! Fatty, you’re in! Skinny, lanky bloke, you too! Pathetic, shrivelled runt of a man, your car is waiting! Girls, yeah, jump in! Why not! This was actually another pointer for the uninitiated to the fact that this was basically a family sedan with different pillar spacing. The regular, five-door Sierra was always quite accommodating; my parents Sierra would whisk us away on holidays uncomplainingly and with some aplomb. And my sister and I grew very quickly.

“XR4Ti arrives in America from Germany with a 2.3 litre overhead cam inline turbocharged four-cylinder engine”

Now, again, I may be wrong here but I suspect this to be a lie. I would imagine that what really happened, or certainly would have made sense, would be that the XR4 arrived on a ship with a big hole in the front where an engine should be. The Pinto-derived Lima engine was never sold in Europe in turbo form (aside from personal import and the few Mustangs sold over here through dealers) and it seems daft to ship an engine across the Atlantic, bolt it in a car and ship it straight back to the USA.

Of course, in Europe the XR4i had a different engine, the Cologne V6 of 2.8 litres and with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection. It provided enough thrust to launch the XR4i to sixty in 7.9 seconds. Annoyingly, though, the XR4Ti had slightly more power and was slightly quicker.

I remember being quite taken aback in 1993 when I visited the USA for the first time. I was in Kissimmee, FL (of course), when I saw an XR4i, then noticed the slightly different front bumper treatment and the extra letter in the name graphic on the bootlid. And then, when it drove away, it made a quite un-XR4like noise. It sounded awful, just a four-cylinder hum where there should be a six-cylinder wail.

xr4tid

“The view from the drivers seat is testimony to the emphasis Ford’s European engineers have dedicated to ergonomics- the interaction of man and machine”

Looking at the above image is really strange. It’s a mirror view of the exact dash arrangement of my Dads’ old car. Of course, XR4 was top of the range, meaning that all the gew-gaws of Dads’ Ghia were present and correct. Except for the little turbo gauge in the corner of the Tacho, and the mysterious disappearance of all the speed demarcations north of 85 (funny how different marques dealt with the 85mph speedometer in different ways), it all looks very familiar. I spent many, many hours looking at this view from the back seat. Twenty bloody years ago.

On the “nothing to lose” front, Ford were quite beligerant about their intentions vis-à-vis market positioning and competition, regardless of its strength.

“To be perfectly frank, Merkur XR4Ti isn’t here to meet their challenge- its objective is to surpass them”.

And they failed. There wasn’t anything specifically wrong with the XR4Ti, or the XR4i for that matter, it just left the public a little unmoved. In the USA, the Merkur name just didn’t really mean much to anybody, and people couldn’t or wouldn’t pronounce it, which didn’t help. Plus there wasn’t much to split it from BMWs in cost terms, and it sat slightly unhappily in the Lincoln-Mercury portfolio. Things were better in Europe in V6 flavour, all fast Fords have an automatic following and the XR4 did well. However, it did suffer from its association with the Sierra which, lest we forget, was also available as a 1.3 with only 60hp. It went well, handled well and looked good, but it wasn’t of noble stock.

Its heart was in the right place, though. It was generally a good car and genuinely did hold up quite well against the competition if you forget about issues like cost. I’ve always had a soft spot for the XR4i and, when my numbers come up I’ll be getting one straight away. A few grand probably nets you the best example in the world. It’d definitely be the Euro model, though. True story coming up:

A few years ago a chap I knew got an XR4i, in terrible, terminal condition. It was part stripped, ready to be sent to death on the Banger Racing circuit. He had a farm on an old airfield with a private peri-track, and used to speed test and generally dick about on it. When he had the XR4i down there for the first time, the exhausts had been sawn off at the manifolds. He began driving the XR around with, essentially, open headers. It sounded evil and wonderful and horrible and awesome, and little by little he fell in love. Some months later he revealed that he never had the heart to send it to its death. He did, however, sell it, but not until he’d performed a painstaking restoration.

“The XR4Ti’s driver is the centre of a small but all-important universe comprised of the driver, the car, and the path travelled”

That’s poetry, almost in the ’72 Pontiac league.

Of course, the XR4 was only the first of the fast Sierras. Ironically, the XR4Ti would later inspire the RS Cosworth, with 204hp from a 16v evolution of the Pinto engine, turbocharged of course; then the awesome RS500 with its additional 20hp, then the Sapphire Cosworth and Cosworth 4×4 variants, whose underpinnings would outlive the Sierra and sit beneath the legendary Escort Cosworth.

Yes, I’m a fan. A big, massive fan. And I’m not the only one. If I may break one of my own personal rules under extenuating circumstances, one Matt Hardigree of a certain forum that nobody ever visits any more, bless its soul; agrees with me, except he put five hundred of his dollars where his mouth is.

And if I never get around to following Matts’ superb example, then at least I own the brochure.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturers promotional material and was photographed by me, resting atop Willow the Rabbit’s run, which we’ve just moved so she gets more nice long grass to nibble on. All copyright remains property of Ford, or Mercury, as it were. Or Merkur, as it never will be ever again)

Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. krazykarguy says:

    So does the speedo go past 85 on these, and you have to remember which mark at which the car would go no faster before you knew top speed?

    Or does it stop moving when it hits 85?

    "Was it the 6th or 7th red line past 85??"

    • buzzboy7 says:

      I never realized that the Merkurs shared the "Wink Wink" speedometer with the SVO mustangs. Classy.

      • rennsport964 says:

        The Thunderbird TurboCoupe had a similar deal, but the numbering stopped at 80 mph and the hash marks stopped at 95 mph.

        Leave it to the engineers to work around a stupid federal mandate.

  2. P161911 says:

    I wasn't nearly as knowledgeable about cars in the early 1990s as I am today. At the time I thought this was just another version of the FWD Escort that Ford sold in the US. I later learned it was a MUCH better car.

    I just now learned the Merkur Scorpio was NOT based on the FWD Ford Taurus.

    They both looked close enough to be based on the US cars. Wonder how many other people had the same perception? Despite Ford's marketing speak, they just seemed to me to be (German) badge engineered versions of US cars.

  3. Mad_Science says:

    There was one of these that'd always roll through the crosswalk on my way to school every morning.

    As a young car enthusiast (mostly concerned with Mustang Vs Camaro), I couldn't make sense of this Merkur "ex-ra-teee" (thought the 4 was an "A").

    Aside from an orphan name and no real marketing support, they arrived just in time for cheap gas, high output 5.0Ls. Also, to the untrained these were tough to differentiate from a Mustang SVO.

  4. Devin says:

    There's a gray one of these that I'm pretty sure is still being used as a daily driver by one of the local mechanics – I often see it parked at a shop near my house. I appreciate the funky pillars and overly complicated rear wing.

    I also had the Majorette version in yellow. It went with my Majorette Sierra, also yellow.

  5. craigsu says:

    Another problem was people mistaking it for a Mercury product due to the name and then getting really confused when they realized it was actually a sports car.

  6. Perc says:

    I, too, grew up staring at that dashboard. Ours was a metallic blue 5-door 1984 GL with the 2.3 liter Peugeot-sourced diesel. We probably had it for around ten years. I remember how strange i thought it was, that all the other Sierras I saw around were so quiet compared to ours. Something had to be wrong with them, I figured.

    A few years after our faithful family diesel had been sold, I ended up with a Sierra of my own… A 1990 dohc-powered sedan in red. Spent the following four winters looking at where I was going through the side windows.

    Good times.

  7. quijoteMike says:

    Here in Europe we had a few performance varieties but none more so than this

    <img src="http://www.motorstown.com/images/ford-sierra-cosworth-rs500-05.jpg&quot; width="600">

    It is what it says on the tin.
    A streetable version of the BTCC and DTM winning car.

    500 was reference to the number made for homologation purposes. The next version was a bit softer as this one bit.

    BTCC = British Touring Car Championship
    DTM = Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (same as above)

    • Perc says:

      There's also a virtually unknown "tax evasion special" that Finland got in limited numbers during the first few years of the Sierra. I'm not sure on the details but tax laws back then favoured small-displacement engines. Someone at the Finnish ford importer had a bright idea and placed an order for a bunch of cars with the underpowered 1.3-liter which then got a turbocharger bolted to it. It was never intended to be a sporty version but I guess it could have been comparable to the naturally aspirated 1.8.

      There's very little information about these "Stockmann Turbo" Sierras on the internet but I do seem to recall that the third-party company that did the turbo mods is gone and that the last guy that might know something passed away a long time ago. That's not good news for anyone that wants to keep their car running, I guess.

      I've seen one in the flesh. It looked just like your grandpa's 1.6 L if it hadn't been for the little badge with the Stockmann logo and the words TURBO written underneath. It was beige, even.

      • TurboBrick says:

        Finnish market special edition from the 1980's can mean only one thing… yep, tax evasion!

        Company cars issued to employees are considered taxable income. Cars get classified into different brackets. Company owns the car but the person who drives it has to pay X amount of tax so that they can't be used as a method to compensate someone off the books.

        Enter the traveling salesman special, the Stockmann Turbo. The point was to offer two-liter power while being able to enjoy the immediate benefits of a lower tax class when the vehicle was sold as a company car. The later 1.6L turbos were actually MORE expensive than a regular 2.0 DOHC Sierra but people… I mean companies still bought them because of they qualified for lower taxes. Not that they would hold together very long.

        So basically, Stockmann sold brand new cars with half-assed turbo kits on them and people loved them. But hey, who cares, you didn't actually own the car, the company did. And you got to enjoy your inexpensive turbocharged space age rocket ship as you zoomed across the country talking to the head office on your Mobira-59 car phone over the crackly NMT-450 network, just like Knight Rider…

        These days, the Volvo will sell you a V70 with a 1.6 liter diesel engine that has been specifically set up to make it qualify for a lower tax bracket.

    • Rust-MyEnemy says:

      I should like to find the chap who fitted those hideous wheels and revolting graphics and give him a stern talking to.

      • quijoteMike says:

        I agree. I didn't spend much tme looking for a pristine example. Just about all have been either crashed or modded. But now they are being put back to original and the ones you see at shows are as factory

  8. JayP2112 says:

    The local Lincoln dealer had XR4TIs for what seemed years and never moved. The sign hanging from the Merkur read "5999" so we read it as $5999! Hell yea! Lets go buy one!!

    So yea- that was 5999 Stone Dr… the street address.
    Talk about being disappointed.

  9. Number_Six says:

    In the mid-eighties, when these were still being sold new, I saved enough money from part-time jobs and paper routes to buy a lightly-used example. But as much as I loved everything about the car, the turbo 2.3 was such a hideous lump that I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger and I got a Mustang GT instead. The 2.3 in the XR4Ti was like getting alone with Kathy Ireland and discovering she had a giant weeping pustule on her back. I often regretted not buying it, until a 2.3 Mustang would go past and remind me with its awful fan noise and bleating exhaust note that I made the correct decision.

    One fond memory is from having a borrowed Fiero GT V6 absolutely wrung-out at 120 or so mph on a remote highway in Northern Ontario and watching an XR4Ti blast past as though I were sitting still.

  10. m4ff3w says:

    I wanted an XR4ti from the time I first discovered them when I was 17 until I finally got one when I was 29. I feel bad for the car, because it followed up an Fiat X1/9 as my daily driver. It was completely underwhelming. Even with all the boost I wanted, it just felt numb. My high-boost turbo Volvo 740 Wagon were quicker and handled better (Granted – with a far from stock suspension)

    I've come to realize that out of the box, the XR4ti isn't that great, but it is a great PLATFORM to build something special from. The car that followed the XR4ti in my stable, an '87 Alfa Milano, was much more satisfactory out of the box.

    The XR4ti didn't get a fair shake in my stable, I had built it up so much that there was no way it could meet my expectations, and a stock suspensioned car felt so lumbering after daily driving the X1/9, as would most any car. For that, I must apologize to the XR4ti. I'm sorry.

  11. Mid-life Crisis says:

    Thanks for the article. I had an 86 turbo and loved that car. My brother had a T-Bird SC which had the same turbo engine and I used to blow his doors off every time because the Merkur was 200 lbs lighter than the SC. Thanks for the memories.

    • P161911 says:

      The T-Bird SC is the 1989-1994 MN-12 platform car with a 3.8L supercharged V-6. The earlier Fox body based T-Bird did have a 2.3L turbo 4 as an option, but it wasn't called the S/C, just Turbo I believe.

  12. lilpoindexter says:

    I owned a 1989 White one with a manual trans and a cloth tan interior…it was a fun drive when the steering rack wasn't locking up.

    Having owned an Xr4Ti gives me street cred…at least around these parts, right???

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