Junkyard Sighting: 1986 Merkur XR4Ti

To the untrained eye, this might just look like any other late ’80s econocar, but this is actually a limited production performance Ford. Well, technically it’s a Merkur XR4Ti here in North America. Our readers on the other side of the pond might know it as the Sierra XR4i, but we will get into that more below. Finding one of these in a junkyard is both exciting and a little sad, as there really aren’t too many of these sporty hatchbacks left. This one doesn’t appear to have any major body damage, the interior isn’t all that bad and even the engine doesn’t look to be in bad shape, but I’m sure there’s a reason it ended up here.

I’ve actually been on the hunt for one of these Merkurs. There are still a few floating around, but the ones that I’ve looked at so far are either in worse condition than this one, been highly modified, or are terribly overpriced. I had found one for a reasonable price a few hours away and I’m now kicking myself for not buying it, especially since this junkyard find has all the interior bits that it would have needed to be a really nice driver. I guess I’ll just have to keep hunting and possibly pull a few parts from this car to hold onto!

So, if you don’t know much about these cars, here’s a brief history. Ford Europe released the Sierra in 1982 as a replacement for the Cortina. While this new design wasn’t well accepted initially by more conservative buyers, it quickly became one of the top selling cars in Europe. Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, Bob Lutz, then Vice President of Ford wanted to see the Sierra make it to the US. Of course, there was already a vehicle with the Sierra name being sold in North America, so they decided to come up with a new name and to re-engineer the car a bit to be more appealing to American buyers. So, it was decided to build the car in Germany and to use the German word for Mercury as its brand name, that way they could sell it at Mercury dealers.

While they had made all the important manufacturing and marketing decisions, there was still the task of making the car more appealing to Americans. And this is where Jackie Stewart, of Formula One Racing fame, enters the equation. He was brought in to help fine-tune the car’s handling and to be its spokesman. He recommended that they soften the suspension, as the Sierra XR4i and the RS Cosworth were both known to be incredibly rough riding cars. They also had to change the hood to fit the 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder from the Mustang, add reliefs to the floor for the catalytic converters and reinforce the doors to meet US impact standards. Overall, the car saw quite a few changes that do make it a different animal than the Sierra, but these are still incredibly fun cars to drive.

Over a five-year production run, they built just 42k of these Merkurs. Between regular attrition rates, owners that over-boosted and blew the engine and the number of teenagers that have “drifted” these into stationary objects, there really can’t be too many left on the road. It’s a bit sad to see this one in the junkyard, but hopefully, it can provide a few parts to help keep other cars going! If you happen to own one of these, we’d love to hear about your experiences with them. And, if any of you happen to know of a reasonably priced driver quality example that’s for sale, I’d love to hear about it!

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Comments

  1. nycbjr Member

    Had me till slushbox lol

    Seriously loved these as a kid.

    2
    • Josh Mortensen Josh Mortensen Staff

      Yeah, the automatic is a real bummer, but it makes me a feel a little better that it isn’t a manual-equipped car.

      5
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      The automatic version of these were dogs, as you would imagine. Low of HP and lag, lag, lag!

  2. Bakyrdhero Member

    My favorite matchbox car as a kid. I remember going for a ride on one of these, (a five speed) and it was everything I hoped it would be. P

    1
  3. NotSure
  4. Capriest Member

    I have fond memories of seeing my life pass before my eyes in 2 of these back in high school. My friend whom we called “merkur boy” had a beautiful silver one as his first car. He appreciated those reinforced doors when he got t-boned on the passenger side resulting in the car being totaled. He surprisingly found another one within a month. This one was a little ratty with faded maroon paint,torn leather seats, and some sunbaked plastic. It went like a bat out of hell though. The heated seats were great when he picked me up for school on those cold Maine winter days.

    He loved that car for sure, but like anything else with 4 wheels he beat the ever-living crap out of it at any given opportunity. How that poor clutch survived was quite impressive. He pooched the engine doing over 120mph on I95, and picked up yet another one as a parts car. Unfortunately he didn’t get around to it before he left for university, and his parents got sick of the yard containing half the Merkurs in the state! I haven’t seen him in years, but I wonder if he has one now? He has all the skills to restore one, and being a body/paint guy he could do it on the cheap. I’d like to think he has just so I could call him merkur boy 20 years later.

    8
  5. Ralph

    I like the earlier ones like these with the wheels with the holes in them, the later cars got much uglier wheels.

    I didn’t know the Merkur experiment ran 5 years, I remember them coming out around 1985 and being kind of a big deal in the magazines, and I remember the Scorpio follow up sedan which was pretty cool too. I thought they were only around until 1987-1988. I remember its ill fated British contemporary launched around the same time, Sterling. Not related to Ford, of course.

    What probably hurt these was their close resemblance to the Escort and Lynx and being sold through Mercury dealers which knew how to deal with the Cougar and Town Car customers, but probably not a lot of people looking for a BMW type car.

    Its funny and kinda strange that we’ve gone from a futuristic “no grille” look on cars to massive oversized pointless grilles on cars today, Looking at Lexus specifically.

    4
    • Paul STATHAM

      Pepper pots were the style of alloys, they were wicked cars in the 80’s still look good now

      1
  6. Rock On

    You might want to inquire about this one Josh.
    https://phoenix.craigslist.org/wvl/cto/d/goodyear-1989-merkur-xr4ti/6913524407.html
    Cheers,
    Rock On!

    1
    • Dave Mazz

      “You might want to inquire about this one Josh.”

      Or maybe not. The link says the posting has been deleted…

  7. Todd Zuercher

    I used to see a fair number of these in the yards here in Phoenix but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one. Another car that’s “aged out”.

  8. Rube Goldberg

    Principal Skinner drove a Merkur. It’s the only person I knew that had one and being as odd as Seymour Skinner was, the creators of the show figured the Merkur would be perfect..

    2
  9. junkman Member

    Right where it belongs IMO never cared for these ,and I tend to gravitate to oddballs. No tears here.

  10. Paul STATHAM

    Different Horses, different courses. each to their own. We just had a lot of them to see in the UK, I couldn’t afford one as I was only a kid.

    • Paul

      It would be cool if Desert Car |Kings could renovate one, as I recall when I saw them about in the UK they were real trendsetters although anyone could disagree, to put an automatic gearbox on sports model like that is just sacrilege.

  11. eaton53

    I own one of the better known ones.

    http://forums.merkurclub.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=33003

    “I’ve actually been on the hunt for one of these Merkurs. There are still a few floating around, but the ones that I’ve looked at so far are either in worse condition than this one, been highly modified, or are terribly overpriced.”

    Well, I’ve got kind of bad news for you.
    Most of them are pretty needy and most of the rest are modified.

    There are very few really good survivors and they rarely come up for sale.
    We know this, so if we were to sell, it probably won’t be for cheap.
    There is a pretty wide price gulf between the really good ones and the rest.

  12. Phil

    Where is it?

  13. Jonny the Boy

    First of all, it’s pronounced “mair-koor”.
    I had one of these in the 1990s. I loved it, but I’m different. Most people don’t want to fix the simple problems the factory builds into cars. And the Merkurs certainly had enough of those to keep most people away.
    Mine was an ‘87 XR4Ti, silver, automatic. Yes, automatic. I was living in Southern California, which means I was driving in traffic. Having lived there with two manual trans cars before the Merkur, I really felt the need to be able to relax in traffic. That was easy enough to do when the tranny was working properly. In the five years that I drove that car, it needed to be rebuilt twice. I can tell you, that transmission SUCKS.
    That trans sucks for more than one reason. The manual transmission XRs had 175 horsepower engines. The autos had their engines detuned to 140hp due to Ford’s choice of parts-bin automatics. Not only did this affect performance, it dropped the gas mileage significantly. Mine got 17mpg, no matter how it was driven. The gas tank was the same as the manual’s, which made the car’s effective range about 180 miles.
    Softening the suspension was one of the dumber things Ford did to the car. People who buy German sports cars don’t want their mom’s Cadillac. The spring rate really isn’t bad, but the super soft suspension bushings would wear out quickly, resulting in a shimmy- the ‘shake & brake’. Solution: urethane bushings.
    Ford, in their infinite wisdom (there’s a phrase I heard a lot) also changed the AC pulley from the earlier model that ran the compressor off the crank pulley to one that (tried to) run it off the much smaller water pump pulley, resulting in the belt squealing every time the AC was switched on. Solution: backdate the pulley.
    The rear drum brakes don’t do much. Never got around to converting to rear discs.
    The engine compartment’s lack of sufficient airflow results in volcano-like temperatures, torturing everything under the lid every time you drive it. Open that hood after driving (which is a damn good idea), and you’ll give your face a blast-furnace treatment. Solution: cut an opening in the front panel or better yet, get the front grill panel from a Cosworth Sierra RS. And cut in some hood vents using the Cosworth’s vent panels.
    Oh yeah, Ford also “updated” the later cars to keep the engine’s electric fans from running after the ignition is shut off. Seems they had too many batteries getting run down, so no fan for you. Better for Ford, you see. I never could figure out how to work around this, so I just sat in the car for a couple of minutes with the engine shut off and the key in the ‘run’ position to get some after-run cooling.
    Ford’s infinite wisdom extended to the TFI-IV ignition module, which got put in so many different Ford cars that they figured it should go in the Merkur as well. These modules had a nasty tendency to overheat which would result in the engine shutting off while driving. Sometimes, momentum would re-fire it; sometimes not. Letting it cool down might, but the wait might last days. The first resulting class-action lawsuit ended in a mistrial, which bought Ford plenty of time to drag it out for years. Finally, the settlement came through: if you still owned a car that had one of these bad modules replaced, Ford would pay for it. But after all those years, who still owned one? Much better for Ford, you see. Those who died from accidents tied to this faulty part? Not so much.
    Apparently, someone has come up with a way to relocate the module away from the engine heat. This fix wasn’t around when I owned the car.
    The driveshaft ‘donut’ occasionally blows up, too.
    Still, I loved that car. Love is blind.

    2
    • eaton53

      “In the five years that I drove that car, it needed to be rebuilt twice. I can tell you, that transmission SUCKS.”

      Yes, it does. Mine’s an ’89 and most ’89’s are automatics.
      It’s the only thing about the car I don’t like.

      It could be cured a couple of different ways (with an automatic or manual transmission), but then the car wouldn’t be original.

      But if the transmission chucked itself, I’d strongly consider it.

      The funny thing is the car doesn’t mind going 70, but it hates going 55… it wants to gear hunt. Well, the speed limit at the time was 55!

      1
    • theGasHole

      Really good insight into these cars Johnny the Boy. It’s definitely not a car a lot of people have first hand knowledge about.
      That is quite a horsepower hit going from the manual to the automatic!
      I don’t know much about these cars, but couldn’t Ford have gone with a C6 trans and then not have to detune the engine so drastically?

      1
      • Jonny the Boy

        Ford, in its infinite wisdom…

  14. Paul STATHAM

    The Automatic Models of The XR4i (merkur) would have really took the fun out of driving as well as the power, its a shame .

  15. stevee

    Agree with Jonny the Boy— these were fairly neurotic cars. Have had three xr4ti one auto and two manual. Eye catching, lots of what-is-it. The phone dial alloys also made it distinctive. The best Merkur we had? Absolutely it was the Scorpio. One of the best freeway cruisers, leather seats to die for. Nimble and capable of high speed comfort. In the US, by far the better car.

    1
  16. Raven

    I had a 1989 White XR4Ti (gray “leather”, 5 speed, single spoiler). It was a fun car to drive, definitely not a canyon carver but at home on the interstate bumping along at 70-80 mpg (circa 1993). Went thru front brake rotors like nobody’s business. We called it the “tick”.

  17. schooner

    The most difficult car to drive hard I’ve ever owned. Lift for a corner and the boost wouldn’t release pushing you deeper than you wanted. Combined with a too soft suspension made it not so good for back road blasting. Great interstate flier though, very comfortable.

  18. Wayne

    I worked at a Ford Mercury store when these were new. I thought, cool! a more civilized SVO. I drove one, no, not impressed. Smaller car, same weight, harder to work on. ( more cramped engine bay) And yes these seemed to be harder on the TFI modules than the other Fords. It’s interesting now how you rarely see a TFI failure these days. ( yes I know that they are no longer used in production, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of the vehicles that use them still driving around with few failures) I used to keep 50 TFI modules on the shelf at all times. And sometimes came very close to being out of stock between weekly stock orders. TFI modules and automatic transmissions were bad times for Ford in the eighties. Good times for 5.0s, manual transmissions and EFI. ( not only for Mustangs but also for trucks )

    2
    • Todd Zuercher

      I have a 1991 Mustang 5.0 in my ’69 Bronco with the TFI ignition and the original TFI module lasted 150k miles. Based on the stories of premature failures, I guess I was lucky. I always carry a spare in the truck now along with the special tool and grease. I didn’t recognize the symptoms when mine failed 10 years ago.

  19. Del

    Perfect place for it.

    Might as well get crushing.

    No one will be parts picking this.

    Have not seen one in 25 years

    • eaton53

      I see a very nice one every day.

      1
  20. Paul

    It’s a shame in the US that auto transmission is favoured over the manual gearbox, seeing as the stick shift has more power. It would be great if they were still made.

    • Dave Mazz

      Paul did say, “It’s a shame in the US that (the) auto transmission is favoured over the manual gearbox,”

      I bought my last new car in 2007, an Infiniti G37 sedan with a manual 6-speed transmission, and they had to go to New Jersey to get it. (I live in Ct.) The following year, when my car was being serviced, I asked the service writer how many manual-shift G37 sedans they had sold in 2007. Mine was the only one :-( :–(

  21. Doyler

    Not without the Cosworth twin cam from the Euro version.

  22. Scooter

    I thought that it was the ugliest thing ever at the time. There have been some since that compare.

    • Paul

      Ok

  23. Paul

    The Cortina XR6 Interceptor was really popular in South Africa, they had 3 an 4 litre Essex engines in them, real flying Machines. I was told they had to stop manufacturing them in South Africa because of criminals using them as getaway cars and outrunning the Police there.

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