Hooniverse German Lesson: Say "MARE-KOOHR!"

Image from the Targa Newfoundland website.

Expensive. Poorly positioned in the market. Cursed by currency exchange rates. Saddled with a difficult to pronounce name. Sold out of indifferent Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Slow by today’s standards. Lima engine derived from a Pinto unit. Not especially durable. Also, one of the greatest vehicles ever to grace our undeserving shores; a brief glimpse into the hardcore performance heritage established by Ford of Britain. And a blank slate for turbo-Lima or 5.0L fantasies, on- or off-tarmac. An ex-Targa Newfoundland example found on eBay Motors inspired me to take on the ill-fated Deutsche-Ford.

Courtesy adclassix.com
Much like the SVO Mustang, the XR4Ti appeals to folks who appreciate the unusual and innovative things that major car makers experimented with. And considering that XR4Ti prices have been in the “two dives into the sofa lint for loose change” bracket for years now, and the mechanical underpinnings are really not all that exotic, makes actually owning one a proposition that shouldn’t require a six-figure revolving line of credit or a defibrillator on hand at all times. Let’s be honest for a second – plenty of people I know, some personally, have owned mid-’80s Audis and Porsches for years and they haven’t jumped off a bridge yet. If they can do it with those notorious wallet-gouging vortexes of pain, how tough could it be to keep a Ford going?
Plus, as the example car (whose auction will have unfortunately ended by the time this post goes live, I now realize) shows, it doesn’t take a ton to turn the lowly and obscure Merkur into a legitimately competitive vehicle. The reserve at the time of writing isn’t met at $12k and change, but I have difficulty imagining this fully sorted and competition-proven example cresting $20k without the aid of crack cocaine. Of course, just like that honeypot $800 Audi 4000CS Quattro down the street, avoid the “needs a little TLC” examples like the plague. It’s always cheaper for the other guy to take out a second mortgage to put things right than for you to do it.
eBay Motors

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  1. Deartháir Avatar

    Engineerd and I have already called dibs. We're taking it back to Targa Newfoundland. All we need is some money. Okay, a lot of money.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Whew…I was coming to make sure nobody sniped it from us.

    2. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Mr. Harrison had it right after all.
      [youtube -_niy2ZM5Jo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_niy2ZM5Jo youtube]
      But it's gonna take money
      A whole lotta spending money
      Its gonne take plenty of money
      To do it right child
      Its gonna take time
      A whole lot of precious time
      Its gonna take patience and time, ummm
      To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
      To do it right child
      I got my mind set on you
      I got my mind set on you
      I got my mind set on you
      I got my mind set on you
      And this time I know it's for real
      The feelings that I feel
      I know if I put my mind to it
      I know that I really can do it

  2. dukeisduke Avatar

    Hey, don't forget the Merkur Scorpio, the rebadged European Ford Granada Scorpio:
    <img src="IMAGE URL" width="600">
    <img src="http://www.productioncars.com/send_file.php/ad_merkur_scorpio_gray_1987.jpg"&gt;

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Reading that ad (free loaner car, roadside assistance, $500 travel expense reimbrsement, guaranteed trade-in), I'll bet L-M dealers were ecstatic when Ford pulled the plug on Merkur.

    2. Manic_King Avatar

      That is actually worst modern car I've driven handling wise. Totally disconnected, feels like wheels are bolted to different car. Roomy, yes, but otherwise big POS. And US models mostly just burned down IIRC?

      1. facelvega Avatar

        I beg to differ. For a year or two around 2000, my brother was simultaneously running a Volvo 240 wagon, Audi 5000 hatch, and a Scorpio. The Volvo was the easiest to work on, of course, and had a trucklike charm, the Audi was clearly the most refined, with the nicest interior and most sophisticated engineering, but tortuously slow with the 2.2 liter engine, and of the three the Scorpio was almost as nice as the Audi but handled better and was clearly the driver's car. When my brother weeded these out of his collection, the Merkur was the last to go, and people would stop by the house to ask whether it was for sale just from seeing it parked. Maybe the one you drove had a suspension problem?
        I took the Audi, which leaked expensive mineral oil from its steering rack like crazy, even after we replaced the rack with a junkyard one (apparently a common problem with those) and I hadn't put a thousand miles on it before an untraceable intermittent electrical short emerged that eventually led me to sell the thing at a loss rather than replace the whole wiring harness. Should've taken the Merkur.

        1. Manic_King Avatar

          I don't know, for me it's only car I didn't want to drive after I lost traction during drive on usual street roundabout, not drifting or something, just driving with speed I would've used with say XR4i or Lancia Prisma I had. Automatic equipped Scorpio 2,8, friends car, lost it on roundabout and scraped wheel against the curb. I always felt that something was wrong, maybe it was something with settings on that exact car. Audi 100 (5000 in US) was never drivers car but I had much more confidence with these because they felt better planted compared to Scorpio in my opinion.

          1. facelvega Avatar

            My brother may just have had some good rubber on the Scorpio, and if memory serves it had the advantage of a stick over the already underpowered Audi's automatic. And I didn't mention that the Volvo was a diesel, so it really was more of a truck for u-pull-it runs. The Audi was unquestionably a nice car, subtracting the engine and transmission nicer than the Merkur, and besides mineral oil it also oozed quality.
            Around the same time as I took the old Audi, I foolishly passed on my dad's offer to help me buy a local 91 Audi 200 quattro with the 220hp turbo and a manual. Now that was an Audi that could handle. He also offered to help on a Spirit R/T and a Series III Rover 109", and I passed on all of them as I felt guilty taking the old man's money. What a jackass I was in retrospect, when he clearly just wanted to help me buy an awesome car.

          2. Smells_Homeless Avatar

            Not necessarily. I have a bud that's building a Scorpio right now that's due to get a first-gen SHO as soon as it's warm enough to get outside. He's already done some very minor things to the suspension and that sucker rocks – well, at least from the passenger seat. Plus, I find it very comfortable to ride in, even if the 2.9l is the loudest engine on gas and his glasspack-based exhaust doesn't do much to help that.

  3. Manic_King Avatar

    I had normal street version 15 years ago, went again to Germany (after zero profit Celica sale I wrote about last week), with a nice plan to buy cheap E30, again no dice, time was running out and I bought XR4i, euro version with 150 hp 2,8 L V6, but without double deck spoiler (holes were there) and chunk of bumper missing. Turk the car seller gave me BS about only he being allowed to drive to DMV to get plates, so I couldn't drive car myself before buying it. And he ran away asap after paperwork was completed. Because car was basically un-driveable if speed was higher than 80 kph. Wheel bearing was shot and car felt on dry tarmac as if on the ice. So I drove on the autobahn couple of hundreds km with trucks on the slow lane, completely flabergasted how stupid I was…..
    Then, after new bearing went in everything changed, absolutely amazing how good driving properties and feel it had, the faster you drove the better it was. It felt like it was absolutely glued to the road. I still think it might be better than E30 or at least as good. Unfortunately I needed money and less fuel hungry car and agreed to swap with my friend, so he got XR4i and I got some cash + crappy Lancia Prisma + some audio equipment….

  4. tonyola Avatar

    Ford made a big mistake by choosing the marque name of "Merkur". Not only does it look odd to those raised on US English, but everyone pronounced it "mur'-ker" despite all efforts on Ford's part. I think Ford should have used "Mars" instead – it has an obvious astronomical and mythological connection with Mercury and would be especially fitting since the cars were sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

  5. Feds_II Avatar

    if anyone is serious about this car, I actually drive by it every day, and can report that it is in very nice shape. I have stopped a couple of times to shoot the poop with the owner, and to thank him for enhancing the enjoyment of my commute. Genuinely nice guy, hasn't ratted me out for Scandinavian Flick-ing the corner in front of his house every day either.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Hey Mitch, we're one step closer to owning this!

      1. Feds_II Avatar

        Party in Fenwick. You guys don't mind sleeping in a partially insulated garage beside a partially disassembled RX-7 do you?

  6. dragon951 Avatar

    Oops, I have been pronouncing it "mer-cure."

    1. skitter Avatar

      Yeah, reader's vocabulary.

  7. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    What I loved, what really amazed me, was that you guys got the XR4 until wayyy after it was discontinued in Europe and replaced by the XR4x4.
    This style Sierra was replaced in '87 by a far more bland version, and all the three-door models went with it. Even the RS Cosworth ended production in '87, replaced by a four door sedan on the same chassis.
    I'd love an XR4i, they're starting on their way towards a cult following now and the values are stiffening. As am I right now just thinking about it.

  8. Robert Emslie Avatar
    Robert Emslie

    There's one that a classic car dealer in the northeast has been trying to unload for a year or more now. Someone thought it was a good idea to convert the XR4Ti into a Cosworth Sierra, right down to replacing the triple side glass with the more common, but never in U.S. two light panels. As I recall (it was a NPOCP) they were asking somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000, and while the car was really clean, it was one of those too crazy for boys town and too much of a boy for crazy town situations. Aside from a few devoted souls, most of the XRs, and pretty much ALL the Scorpios have gone the way of all things corporeal.

  9. lilwillie Avatar

    I had the joy of riding in a Merkur in the early '90's. A neighbor had one and his son would take me for beat runs in it. The main thing I remember was it was slow compared to other cars I had ridden in and it mostly spent time in the garage with the hood up and items broke.
    But still a very cool car and I could understand the owners love. Hey, it doesn't have to be a rational love.

  10. skitter Avatar

    The XR4Ti's 175hp is actually a quite a lot for a 2.3 in 1985. The output matches contemporary Saab Turbos, and the significantly more expensive Corvette and (U.S. Spec) M5 had 230 and 250hp, respectively.

  11. JayP Avatar

    In the 80's, my British high school chum and I make Saturdays of visiting dealers. The LM dealer had a big MERKUR sign with "5999" under it next to a row of last year's XR's. To get to them, you had to walk past the used cars on the far end of the sales lot.
    So $5999 looked like a STEAL to a pair of poor high school kids so we checked it out. Salesman came out, said the cars were $13k or something and totally deflated our balloon.
    So the $5999? That was the street number for the dealership… crap.
    As far as I know, the same 4 cars sat there for a good 18 months. Poor cars.

  12. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    "Much like the SVO Mustang………." The XR4Ti also had dual rear spoilers, which as a kid I remember finding extremely cool.

  13. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    [youtube Qe19zxb6SKs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe19zxb6SKs youtube]

  14. hwyengr Avatar

    The XR4Ti spawned the greatest automotive controversy in my childhood household, and mention of word "Merkur" still raises ire. When my sister turned 17 (1993), my dad told his Ford dealer friend to keep an eye out for low-priced used cars after she had more or less trashed an old LTD given to her by a neighbor. Dad would bring cars home for overnight test drives, and he had probably rejected 8 cars already. Too expensive, too beat up, or my sister had rejected them for some reason.
    One night he brings home an '86 XR4Ti for it's trial. The price is just right ($3000 in 1993!). My sister instantly falls in love with it. And so does my dad. (For background: Just a couple of years earlier, someone had t-boned and totaled his beloved whale-tailed '79 Turbo Mustang. He never recovered from the trauma of losing it).
    My dad decides that he's going to buy it for himself, which pisses my sister off to no end. Some half-thought-out proposal comes about how they'd share the car. This goes on for a couple days. My mom ends up deciding all King Solomon-like that since everybody wants the car, nobody gets it. My dad was so pissed off, he took the XR4 back and picked her up an '88 Festiva.