Driving my younger son to buy groceries every couple of weeks has its automotive benefits. The most recent wait in the parking lot yielded the quite rare 1984 Chrysler Laser Turbo. What a coincidence that on the previous trip a similarly now-rare sporty turbocharged coupe would be sitting in almost the exact same spot. This is definitely the last of its kind in these parts.
We’ve had two CCs on Bob Lutz’ ill-fated attempt to dress up a European Ford Sierra and position it against the hottest imports from Germany and Japan at the time (links below), so I’m not going to repeat the full sad story here. It sort of sounded like a plausible idea, especially since the Sierra had a very competent chassis with four wheel independent suspension. The European Ford Sierra in top XR4 trim sported a 150hp version of the “Cologne” 2.8 and 2.9 L V6, a perfectly capable and smooth mill for the job at hand, which over there was essentially to be a Capri update.
But federalizing the V6 was going to rob it if too much power, so in went a 170 hp version of Ford’s turbocharged 2.3 L four (145 hp with automatic). This engine was built in Brazil, and was also used in the T-Bird Turbo Coupe and Mustang SVO, although with an intercooler (after 1985 in the TC). Presumably there wasn’t enough room under the hood of the XR4Ti for one. Which I think they must have raised the boost some over the SVO to make 170 hp, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, as we all know, this was not exactly the smoothest of big fours, but it did make the XR4Ti a quite quick number in 1985 when it first appeared here. C&D claimed a 7.0 second run to 60 in their first test, but that was likely a ringer. A second test yielded 7.9 seconds. Road & Track magazine’s test resulted in a 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds and reached the end of the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds. Lateral acceleration was measured at 0.767 Gs and the car ran through the R&T slalom at a speed of 59.7 mph. Keep in mind that the BMW 3 Series at the time had no genuine sporty engines; either the weak 101 hp 1.8 or the 121 hp 2.7 eta in the 325e, which optimized for efficiency.
The XR4Ti got consistently mixed reviews generally. Its performance and handling numbers were mostly good, but the braking was not up to snuff, with rear drums and no ABS. The ride was a bit too soft for some, but that could also be seen as an asset, depending on use. Was it terrific or an embarrassment for Ford?
One of the negatives was the interior, which had been designed for the mass market Sierra. That included a totally hard and shiny instrument panel surround. But the seats were supportive.
In 1988, the polarizing bi-pane rear spoiler was replaced with this simpler single one. And according to its license plate, this is a last-year 1989 model, of which a mere 2,870 were sold.
And here’s an interesting factoid: the US-market XR4Ti was actually assembled at Karmann, from panels shipped from Ford’s Genk plant. Maybe they should have called it the Karmann-Ghia?
I always liked them but I haven’t seen one for years…another one of the forgotten automobiles from the 80’s.
Perhaps given enough time, this and the scorpio would have been more successful. I’m not sure who wanted a weird two door hatchback as an expensive sporty car in the us, or a sablesque four door hatchback looked more luxurious, but not enough people.
These cars were expensive, and it’s difficult to make a new brand get traction without aomenclear advantage over the competition. Everybody knows what a bmw or audi or mercedes is, and those labels carried instant cachet. Acura and lexus launched successfully cos they were significantly less expensive than the competition, plus, there was nowhere else for accord and toyota loyalists to move up to. Even sterling got very good sales in its first year.
Ford dropped merkur very quickly. It took mercedes and bmw decades to build anreputation. Had merkur worked on a reputation, it might have done better.
On the other hand, European cars sold by an American brand have almost universally flopped.
Mercury did very well with the original Capri until the exchange rate torpedoed it. It was a stylish, sound car at a reasonable price; really an ideal product as the only economy car at the L-M store. It sold in sufficient volume to justify broadly advertising it to bring in prospects who otherwise wouldn’t have thought of L-M.
So that’s one.
Most of the captive Euro imports would have flopped on their own merits. Too stodgy to attract adventurous import shoppers, too much out of the mainstream and not enough metal for the money to satisfy domestic-product shoppers.
“On the other hand, European cars sold by an American brand have almost universally flopped.”
Now that you mention it that is a very true statement. The Buick Regal, Cadillac Catera, Saturn Astra are all recent examples of Euro cars that flopped when imported to the US. I think Americans are more in love with the image of owning a European car, than the actual car itself.
I tried to think of some successes, like the Chrysler Horizon/Omni and Ford Focus, but they were built in North America and had significant changes from their Euro counterparts.
The only remotely successful Euro car would be the Jeep Renegade, which is imported from Italy, but ironically branded and marketed as an American car.
I owned a 1988 Scorpio in 1992. It was low mileage and like brand new (champagne color) when I bought it. Long story short: Felt and handled similar to a Mercedes. However, the worse car as far as thinks breaking and cost to repair, that I have ever owned by a county mile and then some!
It was easier to say what worked on the car (outside temp gauge) than what did not, when advertising it for sale! So hard to sell, that I considered abandoning it on the side of a road with the keys in it, so that it could be stolen! The survival rate must be less than half of one percent!
Haha, that’s a hilarious description of the car. I’m sure that it wasn’t all that funny at the time, though. I wonder how desirable they are now. They’re quite rare, so they are probably worth some money to a niche crowd, if one exists.
I was lucky, like you say, in that I was banking on the niche market, as far as selling it. Since I might have had the only one that was still running (albeit with issues), the car looked like brand new – impressive looking.
And sure enough, a guy came to look at it because the Scorpio was his favorite car and mine was the only one in Houston for sale! Although it had brake issues, vibration issues, and an over heating issue – he bought it! I forget if I sold it for $1500 or $2500, but I think is was more like the $1500. Windows no work, sun roof no work, instrument cluster no work, etc, etc.
I know several who purchased them, both new and used, and they would agree with your feelings.
Wasn’t the Cologne V6 already federalized for the Ranger/Bronco II?
Not in high performance form as found in Europe, to meet US emissions standards it would have needed to be detuned. It’s not that the engine itself couldn’t be sold here, the Scorpio used the Cologne
Wouldn’t be easier and cheaper to Ford just bringing Sierra and Saphire to the US Ford range instead of building up a whole new brand? Is Sierra too much better than a Ford Tempo? Because for an outsider they just look the same product for the same public.
Marketing. Ford wanted/needed buyers to know this was a European car. Owing to currency exchange rates at the time, the Merkur was significantly more expensive than the bread-and-butter Ford cars at the time, and Ford was trying to compete with the 3-Series BMW – premium product, premium price, and all that.
Ford didn’t need bread and butter volume cars for the US. The Taurus/Sable was a home run in the family sedan market, and a Lincoln version was on the way for traditional luxury customers. The only room in the product line was for a BMW style car with a luxury/sport image.
The Sierra name was simultaneously being used on the GMC version of the Chevrolet C/K truck line and is still used to this day. Oldsmobile used a similar-sounding name (Ciera) for its version of the FWD A-Body cars. This could’ve led to serious marketing confusion in the US.
Wow — quite a find. And a rare ’89 model too, which, if I remember correctly, was identifiable by subtle exterior trim changes, like having some of the chrome strips in the trim replaced by black or body-color trim.
I remember the last XR4Ti that I saw was in Northern Michigan in 2016 – not quite a climate conducive to preserving older cars, so it was particularly surprising to see.
Count me in as a Merkur fan, even given its shortcomings. I think it counts as an embarrassment for Ford only because of all the hoopla surrounding creating a new brand for it, and then seeing that new brand immediately (and somewhat predictably) wither. If it had been marketed as a Ford (or Mercury), I feel it wouldn’t have been much more impactful in the marketplace, but at least it wouldn’t rank up there as one of Ford’s Edsel-like embarrassments.
At the L-M dealership on Van Ness Ave. (SF), we privately pronounced the name just as the logo spelt it: “X-Ratty”. Our management was interviewed by someone in a Merkur PR position to learn our sales technique, as “(we were) the largest selling dealer of them in the nation”.
That very week, the death of the brand was announced.
@ Scampman; the Capri is one of the non flops I can think of; so was the Fiesta, and the Opel Kadett, Manta, and GT did fairly well. I count the Chevette as a European product brought over and reengineered for American manufacture as well but that’s debatable.
A lot of the cars like the Plymouth Cricket and Pontiac LeMans (debatable as it was a Euro Kadett assembled in South Korea) and Opel Omega flopped because of horrendous quality. Various Saturns came over and died quick deaths too. All the Opels brought over as Buicks flopped. There have been a handful of successes at rebranded European cars but not very many.
Any Sierra in service is now a rare sight in Europe, especially the always pretty rare XR4i with its unique rear C/D pillar arrangement.
The regular three door Sierra had one long rear side window, and no spoiler, and looked liked the plain Jane it was
I thought it was surprising that they used that long window 3-door shell, albeit briefly, for the Sierra Cosworth rather than the XR4i type. The Cossie swapped to the ‘Sapphire’ 4 door body later, of course.
The Merkur line was a bad idea, all around. Let’s take an homely German Ford (since it’s German it must handle and drive well, right?) stuff a tempermental motor in it, adorn it with a weird wing or two, give a difficult to pronounce name (Mare-koor, ya that just rolls off the tongue), send it to our Sansabelt car selling division and mark it up 20% over the cost of similar domestic cars…
I don’t know for sure if when Michael Kranefuss took over Ford Motorsport in the early 80’s that the idea of making a hopped up version of the Fox body Mustang to take on foreign cars led to the idea of the Merkur or not. It definitely led to the SVO Mustang, but that was a developmental dead end as it happened. I’ve argued on here that Ford should have built the SVO as a Mercury Capri (these had a higher list price than a similar Mustang) which would have paved the way for a higher priced post- Fox body Mercury sport coupe and given some differentiation between the domestic Ford and Mercury lines. This car would have been the prelude to the XRT4i coming to the states and would have made thematic sense.
Nope, we got this ugly compromise of a car that had a domestic turbo 4 banger (but not the good one as seen in the SVO), a mostly crap interior and plain ugly exterior. Mercury dealers, who had no fncking clue as to how to market the Capri, were in charge of this car that had little support in marketing. At least Jack Roush could take a silhouette version of the car to SCCA races and do well.
Later, they got the Scorpio, which wasn’t all bad, but again, no marketing help. I can’t imagine that the folks who leased one, if they were so inclined to lease another, were able to find another one… But, we got plenty of Grand Marquis’ for you to look at…
As you can tell, I’m not a fan of the Mercury line up after about 1985. This car certainly didn’t move the needle any and it was another step on the way to accelerating redundancy for the Division.
Never mind the name was the literal translation of Mercury into German for a hefty premium in price. In other words, the worst idea ever when the demographic you want to target are likely educated enough to spot it. Cynical.
I can’t say I share that opinion, between ~ 1974 and 1985 Mercury was a line of very shallowly badge engineered Ford’s with all but the big 70s Marquis sharing substantial sheetmetal. Sure they still had the European Capri til 79 but that was as Mercury as the Merkurs were, and the Fox replacement was all too obviously a mildly disguised Mustang. I think the First gen sable was a pretty interesting Mercury product after 1985, and rejuvenated the brand, a far greater effort than the Fox Marquis not sharing any sheetmetal with its Taurus cousin and even having a unique dash, and Cougar got substantial differentiation from the Tbird equivalents too. To me the end of Mercury happened in 96, when the Sable(and Villager) lost the distinct lightbar and the Cougar started sharing hoods and headlights with the Tbird, with basically identical packages, then in 98 the Grand Marquis started sharing rooflines with the crown Vic, and in 03 shared fenders ending the last distinct product they had.
For me I think Merkur undermined that little 80s renaissance Mercury went through. Finally the brand is getting some attention to give it purpose and what does Ford do? Plop a pair of aging Euro designs in their dealers because “foreign is better” and totally distract from them, and in effect drag Mercury through the coals when the brand failed in the eyes of the public. And yeah, I mispronounced it for most of my life “Merc-core”
BTW I think your suggestion that the SVO Mustang should have been a Capri is brilliant. Not only would there be that mechanical differentiation with the Mustang, the Capri could have used the facelift by 1985 the SVO provided, the Mustang had three front ends by 1985, the Capri had the same 1979 one to the end(handsome as it may be)
Here in South Africa , Ford SA slotted in the 3.0 “Essex” V6 into the Sierra (very popular, i remember certain trip with a college friend where we overcooked it) , but we also put the 5.0 V8 from the Mustang to create the Sierra XR8.
What a perfect few days it’s been on Curbside Classic! Two of my favourite cars featured – first the C33 Nissan Laurel and now the Sierra’s twin sibling!
I haven’t seen an XR4i (the Kiwi version) in the metal for some time, but my magnificent 1989 wagon, with the 148hp Cologne 2.9 V6, is still in regular service and is just back from the supermarket – ignore the power lead, it’s plugged into the battery charger. Also ignore the clearcoat falling off of the the roof and rear sides, it’s the factory paint and clearly Ford didn’t expect it to last this long.
I’m surprised about the XR4Ti’s brakes, as mine has 4-wheel discs and ABS, which are excellent, and which were available on the Euro-spec models from late ’87.
What a great CC-week, and after the Laurel and Sierra/Merkur, the only thing that would make it better would be an article in the next few days on a Jag 420G… 😉
Some said that if Merkur had matured more he could have had better acceptance. If so, do you think the last generation of the European Scorpio would have been successful in the United States and Canada?