Rare Rides: This Merkur XR4Ti From 1989 Is Pristine

Imagine you’re an American auto executive in the 1980s, looking on in desperation as all the youthful and wealthy customers head almost solely to BMW showrooms for their sports-oriented sedans and coupes.

Now imagine you work at Ford, and you’ve decided to do something about it. By the way, you’re Bob Lutz right now.

It’s Merkur time.

The story began with the European market Ford Sierra, which was the company’s large-ish family car for the constrained confines of crowded Europe. Developed while Bob Lutz was in charge of Ford’s European arm, the smooth Sierra was a success as soon as it became available as replacement to the boxy Cortina in 1982.

Available in several body styles, the sporty version was the three-door liftback in XR4i trim. Mr. Lutz had Texas-sized ideas for this one, and set about convincing other Ford executives it should come to the United States. He was successful.

The Sierra would need to undergo a bit of alteration to meet federal regulations in the United States. Ford’s engineers had instructions to make the car U.S.-compliant, but to leave the Sierra’s character unchanged. Catalytic converters were added to the XR4i, as well as side impact protection beams. At the front and rear, bumpers were stretched to meet impact standards. While European Sierras gained their powered by a 2.8-liter Cologne V6, this engine was chucked for the American XR4. Instead, Ford used a 2.3-liter inline-four Lima engine, fitted with a turbocharger. That’s why the T was added to the badge on the back.

All American-bound XR4Ti units were built at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany.

Ford’s American CEO, Donald Petersen, mandated that this new, hot Sierra and its eventual Scorpio sibling (future Rare Rides) must not be sold with the common Blue Oval. Instead, the cars would be badged with a new name — Merkur. Say it out loud, “Mare-KOOR!” Select Lincoln-Mercury dealers would shift Merkur units, and 800 signed up for the task.

The XR4Ti not-Ford went on sale in 1985, and almost immediately failed to meet sales expectations. Customers largely continued to purchase the European cars they would’ve bought anyway, leaving Ford with a headache. The company also had to contend with an unfavorable exchange rate with the Deutschmark, as well as new safety regulations approaching at the end of the decade. The whole experiment was over after 1989. Sad!

Today’s Rare Ride is stunning in white over tan, featuring some choice lace alloys to complete the package. The original customer clearly chose luxury over driving enjoyment, selecting the automatic transmission option. That means the five-speed manual is gone, and the C3 three-speed auto from the Pinto is in its place. The sparkling white package is yours for $5,100.

[Images: seller]

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