Euro Turbo: 1987 Merkur XR4Ti

For a car that had the potential to be a market success, circumstances contrived to see the Merkur XR4Ti actually wind up being something of a failure. This was a shame, as the potential was certainly there, but a high purchase price virtually sealed the car’s fate from day one. This 1987 model is a relatively tidy car that is in need of a cosmetic refresh. It is located in Dana Point, California, and is listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding is currently sitting at $1,050, and the reserve hasn’t been met.

Although often referred to as a Ford, that wasn’t the case for this particular car in North America. In Europe, it was built and marketed as the Ford Sierra, but this was a name that could not be used by Ford in the US. Instead, the decision was made to brand the car as the “Merkur,” which is the German translation of the word Mercury. The car was envisaged to compete in the US with brands such as BMW and was sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Ford stated that they would need to sell around 25,000 cars per annum for the exercise to be viable, but the Merkur fell well short of the mark. This particular XR4Ti looks to be in quite reasonable condition. The paint is showing its age in a few spots, and the car would definitely benefit from a repaint. The body itself is straight, with no obvious signs of rust. The most glaringly obvious flaw with the Merkur is the state of the headlight, which are very matte and discolored. I suspect that these have deteriorated beyond the point of no return, and will need to be replaced. I did a bit of scouting around on the internet, and with very little effort I was able to locate a NOS pair of complete headlights for just under $350, so they can still be found. Some of the lower body moldings are also starting to come loose, but these could be fixed at the same time that the car undergoes a repaint.

The early versions of the Merkur were very prone to cracking dashes, but by 1987, this problem had been largely overcome. That is a blessing for this particular car, as the dash has survived quite nicely. In fact, looking around the car’s interior reveals some real positives. The carpet has recently been professionally cleaned, and while it doesn’t look like new, it still looks pretty good. The front seats now wear new leather and vinyl covers, which are a match for what was originally fitted. The back seat looks new, and the interior has done a good job of avoiding the plague of discolored plastic that can haunt cars of this era. The only real issue that needs addressing is the fact that the factory air conditioning doesn’t work. Otherwise, you get a factory sunroof, a cassette player, power windows, power locks, and power exterior mirrors.

The XR4Ti really marked the start of Ford’s quest to squeeze as much power as possible out of a 4-cylinder engine through the use of turbocharging. This quest for power in the Merkur/Sierra line culminated in the fire-breathing Sierra RS500, which could pump out 600hp in race trim from its 2-liter engine. For the XR4Ti, power output from the 2,301cc 4-cylinder engine was far more modest, but 175hp is still pretty decent in anyone’s language. This is fed to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. Power front disc brakes were all part of the package, along with power steering. The owner purchased the car in 2017 and says that it has a genuine 79,000 miles on the clock. He also says that it has recently had some work performed on the steering and that it runs and drives well.

When the Merkur XR4Ti was released, the target was to sell 25,000 cars per year. This is a target that the car never came close to meeting, and in 1987, only 7,352 cars rolled out of showrooms across the nation. This sealed the Merkur’s fate, with the car fading into history by the end of 1989. High prices and mixed reviews did the car enormous amounts of damage, and all went to prove that a car that was a sales success in Europe didn’t necessarily cater adequately to the tastes and hip pockets of the American buying public. Today, a really nice example can be found for around the $6,000 mark. The owner says that the reserve on this one is low, so it could be that the next owner could buy this Merkur, treat it to a repaint, and still come out with an affordable classic that makes financial sense.

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Comments

  1. Jeremy

    I test drove one in the late 90s at a used car dealership. 5 speed, low mileage, black.Turbo lag was terrible, but it did nice donuts!

    2
  2. DanaPointJohn

    I live in Dana Point if anyone wants me to do a walk-around. I am not an expert on the Merkur, but here to help.

    3
  3. Fran

    I got my parents one, it was a auto. Drove great, they loved it and it was very dependable. Just a neat car. I don’t think however I would want one in my collection today.

    1
  4. Ian

    Anywhere near this price – if over here in the UK – is a total steal ! Top end XR4i here are around the $30 000 level ….average ones around $9000. Hope it gets bought and saved

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  5. MikeH

    US car companies never found out how to market European cars. The Merkur had no advertising or support. Just like the Capri, Opel, Simca, etc. No European car should be sold at an American car dealer. My brother wanted to buy a Peugeot, which was sold at a Cadillac dealer. The salesman couldn’t understand, because for only a few dollars more, my brother could have a Cadillac. He bought a Volvo.

    1
    • Ralph

      A lot of half truths and uninformed opinions in that post.

      The Capr was the 2nd best selling imported car in the US after VW for most of the early 70’s so wrong there….Capri sales declined after the DM to $ exchange made them more expensive

      Same for Opels all sold really well through Buick dealers from 1955 until from the mid the late 70’s when the DM to $ exchange rate made also made them too expensive. Opels were usually the 3rd-4th best selling imported cars in the US through the mid 70’s

      Most Simcas were garbage no matter what dealer they were sold through.

      I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to buy a Peugeot ever……

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      • Blackmutt

        Also, the Merkur had plenty of marketing support through both the IMSA GTO and SCCA Trans Am programs… Ford chucked a lot of money in to making them race winners. It didn’t take off because it was expensive.

  6. CanuckCarGuy

    Minor mods would really perk the 2.3 turbo up…bigger downpipe and exhaust, with a front-mount intercooler. Boost comes pretty cheap in these.

  7. local_sheriff

    Never understood why FoMoCo didn’t set up a production line for Sierras in the US. Apart from a ‘radically’ aerodynamic body (for its day) it was all old news with reliable technology from Taunus/Cortina. Could’ve been a usable contender in the econobox market segment.
    Sierras could be had in any body configurations in Europe apart from convertible,from lazy 1.3 liter to 2.9 . Next to the XR4i , Cosworth examples are highly entertaining vehicles at track days.
    Rust protection on the Sierra unfortunately also seemed to derive from the Taunus/Cortina line…

  8. karl

    Maybe if Ford had just renamed the car (like Cortina) and sold it at their dealerships instead of giving it to the Mercury dealerships with an odd sounding name and logo, they would have sold more. There were more Ford dealerships than Mercurys so it stands to reason more people would be coming in and see them . That being said, its still a 2300 4cyl powered Ford with Tempo/Taurus looking style and a plain looking interior ; maybe for the price you could have purchased a higher line Mustang. I also don’t see how Ford thought these would compete with the BMW crowd

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