Cheap Survivor? 47k Mile 1997 Mercury Tracer Wagon

A Mercury Tracer on Barn Finds? Yup, it takes all kinds to make up this mosaic of American automobilia, though I’ll admit that a twenty-four-year-old, domestic economy car seems like a stretch. But hey, it is a station wagon and those usually get some cred. This Merc is located in Fort Worth, Texas and is available, here on craigslist for $3,500. Thanks to Pat L for this tip!

The Tracer was offered in two different sizes, first as a sub-compact (’87-’89) and then again as a compact, such as this example, (’91-’99), a cousin to the better known Ford Escort. The year 1997 saw an appearance redesign as well as powertrain changes. Offered as either a four-door sedan or a station wagon, this is the kind of badge engineering with Ford that ultimately lead to Mercury’s demise – how unfortunate.

The first thing that I noticed about this Tracer is its hood, it has been the victim of a Texas hail storm. It actually looks like someone was playing whack-a-mole with a ball-peen hammer upon it. There isn’t a clear image of the roof but there’s no reason to suspect that it hasn’t also been blessed the same way. Beyond that, the exterior looks fine and the finish still shines with no sign of clearcoat degradation – a common ’90s auto fobile. Of note is the windshield, it’s going to need to be replaced.

There is no image of the front seat/driver’s compartment included and I always find that to be suspicious. There’s one of the backseat, but unless you’re going to try to drive the car from that position, it seems as if its condition hardly matters. And it would appear that the front seats are two-tone, beige and gray, but without a complete image, it’s hard to say with certainty. Anyway, the upholstery is typical nineties gray fabric. The A/C is claimed to be cold, so that’s a plus.

The mileage recording is 47K miles so assuming proper maintenance, the 110 net HP, 2.0 liter, in-line, four-cylinder engine should still be up to any motoring challenge. The seller exclaims, “runs fantastic“. This front-wheel driver employs a five-speed manual transaxle to get the go to the ground.

The seller adds, “classic classic classic“, ah, no. Not to be snippy but there is nothing classic about a Mercury Tracer – station wagon or not. Maybe someday, when cars as we know them no longer exist, but until that occurs, “classic” status will be a bridge too far for this wagon. The most notable feature of this Tracer is probably the manual shift, and that can be a draw for some today since it is so seldomly encountered on new cars anymore, at least in the U.S. If you’re looking for basic, low mileage, station wagon style transportation, this Mercury Tracer could fit the bill. Not everyone is looking for a true classic, muscle-car, restomod, hot-rod, real barn find, etc., right?


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  1. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    No brainer here.
    Cheap transportation priced right, low miles, hauling capacity, manual trans.
    Assuming you can find a windshield.

    Like 2
  2. Jack M.

    Nice car to teach your kids how to drive a manual transmission. Good visibility all around.

    Like 1
  3. Thomas H Piercy

    It may be a classic sooner than you think. Not for the model, but for the manual transmission. I recently completed a search for a car or small truck with a manual, they are few and far between and I would have been happy with a Tracer wagon as the shifter and transmission compared well with a Honda, this engine was quite responsive carrying only about 2300 lbs total weight. I would’ve paid $1500 because of the hail damage and front seat question. I finally bought a 2006
    Saab 9-3 Turbo convertible. Manual transmissions are not about drag racing and they are not about cheapskates, they are about driver control. Example; An automatic Tracer makes a typical 90 degree turn through an intersection and accelerates moderately, the transmission downshifts into 1st gear, the engine revs up and makes a bunch of unnecessary noise. Same manuever with this car, the driver slips it down into 3rd gear, gives it as much gas as he wants and the car accelerates smoothly to his satisfaction with no fanfare or whiz. Turns and steep up or downhills are anticipated by the driver and the car is always in the correct gear for the job. I am a retired Lincoln Mercury dealer and Ford sales manager who beat my competition severely because I had many well equipped manual transmission cars and trucks. They had some Mustang GTs and a few price leaders with manuals. I ate their lunch. So now, because dealers are too stupid to understand why people like to shift and don’t order sticks, the manufacturers don’t make them. Buy them while you can!

    Like 9
    • AMCFAN

      Thomas very well said. I am not a Ford person how ever I appreciate clean low mileage vehicles with manuals. The Tracer is an oddity now for sure BUT with some upgraded wheels this would fit in and really stand out.

      What state were you in. Would love to hear more stories from the perspective dealership principle. What it is today is conglomerates who have bought their competition creating mega malls that do not care at brand specific. They only look at gross.

      Like 3
      • Thomas H Piercy

        Northeast Pennsylvania near Wilkes Barre, Where do I begin. Cars I have traded and wish I had kept. In 74′ I traded a 69′ Datsun 2000, had never seen one before, sold it to my service mgr for $750. 78′ a 69′ Corvette 454 Automatic, book was $2600, sold it to a UC dealer for $2800. New cars that are now collectible or should be. 84′ LTD LX (the Granada replacement) came with automatic and all Mustang GT 5.0 running gear. 85′ Mustang GT Turbo convertible. This was not the SVO, had the Turbo Tbird engine which made it better balanced than the GT also was available in convertible form. For a hardtop look for an SVO. My own Mercur XR4Ti was my favorite of all and wish I had kept it. I may have some of the years wrong, I’m 78 now.

        Like 2
  4. Slomoogee

    This is a no brainer. I would buy it, put 100,000 on it, get 30 or more mpg, have fun again driving, and then sell it for same money in a few years. I’ll bet a windshield and a hood would be attainable for this little Merc.

    Like 6
  5. Chris

    Well this is just a “Mercury Mistake ” its a bad version of the “Ford Escourt”

    • Thomas H Piercy

      Chris, each car brand has in it’s history some good ones and some bad ones. I have had 2 Chevys that were nothing but bad news, but also a couple that were great. My sister had a new Toyota and will never buy another, yet Toyota makes good cars. I have always felt that Fords were generally under-rated, ordinary Fords handle better than ordinary other cars, and yes that includes VW, and certainly better than corresponding Japanese cars which usually have better cup holders. My 300,000 mile 97′ Contour had sensor issues, but so did most cars in those years. My 350,000 mile 05′ Focus only needed an alternator and a radiator hose in all those miles. So when I hear a comment like yours, it makes me believe you probably never owned a Mercury or a Ford. Besides if you are collecting cars, you must appreciate the quality of the Barn Find whether or not you would buy it. Oh, yeah, both the Contour and the Focus ran perfectly when I sold them.

      Like 4
  6. Ed Sel

    I had the 99 Ford Escort wagon – automatic -bought at auction last year for $700 – it had the black rubber bumpers and trim with the bright red “Euro-look” recessed bead line – had a bazillion miles and the leaking valve cover had caused smoke to be pulled into the cab through the vents – especially the center vent, ditto for the leaking power steering/master cylinder, which had dripped fluid on the exhaust manifold right in front of the firewall so into the cabin that went also. having the interior detailed, and taping shut the air intake just between the hood and windshield stopped that problem, but, my two final words on what was a good little wagon that did well at highways speeds ride-wise? “Interference Engine”. If you don’t change the timing belt before it goes, you’re on a very short trip to bent valve city, then it’s on to pic-a-part. Too bad – out probably $2K total – and parts aren’t getting any easier to find either – and that was for the Ford, not the Merc. Maybe you’d fancy a nice Corolla wagon, or, a more-likely-to-be-well-cared-for Saturn wagon – you know, “A different kind of car company, a different kind of car.” Florida, via their retirees, are the land where these creampuff wagons can best be found. Good Luck.

  7. SMS

    Looked at one of these. Ended up buying a corolla wagon. Wanted a manual and found the corolla first.

    Think these smaller wagons are perfect for so many people. Loved mine. Gave it up after it was touching 300k miles and multiple parts were worn out.

    Notice with this one the smog check paper lists it as an automatic. Think the tests for manuals and automatics differ so would want to check out what is up.

    If the front interior checks out, a ppi checks out, and it is a manual someone is going to get a sweet ride for years to come.

    Fingers crossed they bring smaller wagons back.

    Like 2
  8. Stevieg Member

    The car lives in an area known to not cause a lot of rust, no pictures of the drivers are of the interior, & has a 5 digit odometer. Are we really supposed to believe the miles are original?
    Truth is, whether they are original or not, this is a cheap, economical car, known for longevity if maintained. Someone will get their fair share of value out of it.

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