Yes, it’s easy (and a bit cheap) to rip Ford a new anus for the Merkur fiasco; it’s been done here before exactly a year ago with the XR4TI. But the fact that this Scorpio was found and shot in the U.S. alone is quite a story. Here was a chance for “Euro lovers” to buy a car that they might only have read about in foreign mags–like I did–in auto, motor und sport, which heaped plenty of praise on the Ford Scorpio (Granada in the UK) for its roominess, supple ride and good handling. Sure, Americans had become quite used to Mercedes, BMW, Jaguars and such. But a euro-Ford executive-class sedan, and one that had some serious chops to compete with them? As we all know, it didn’t exactly pan out as Bob Lutz thought it would. But that doesn’t take away from the Scorpio’s charms.
The Merkur story (as well as the Scorpio itself) revolves mostly around the XR4Ti, Lutz’ attempt to create a BMW 3-Series competitor out of the European Ford Sierra. With its brisk but harsh turbocharged 2.3 L four from the T-Bird Turbo Coupe, the XR4Ti was fast for the times and handled very well. This was the era when euro-Fords were becoming top-notch handlers on a consistent basis. The Sierra had fully-independent suspension all around, and its balance between ride quality and handling was solidly in BMW territory.
Unfortunately, its cheap interior and a few other shortcomings made it apparent that it shouldn’t have been priced almost head-to-head with the 3-series, a fact that the 2.3-liter four only accentuated further. Still, it provided, in certain ways, a better platform for that engine than the Thunderbird and Mustang did.
The second prong of the Merkur invasion was the Scorpio, which arrived two years after the XR4Ti, in 1987. It took a rather different approach, emphasizing its refined manners and ride, as well as a smooth Cologne 2.9-liter V6. A hot-rod it wasn’t–the V6 made just 140 hp, a bit less than the turbo four in the XR4Ti. That was adequate, but only barely so for the times. By the late ’80s, Mercedes had pretty much left behind its pokey diesel era, and the dominant W124 300E was not only fast but superlative in almost every other way. Meanwhile, BMW had left its eta-era behind with their new E34 530i. The Scorpio was up against two of the best executive-class cars ever built.
Wisely, the Scorpio was priced a bit less aggressively than the XR4Ti, which itself cost some 15-20% less than a BMW 325. The Scorpio’s MSRP was in the $24-$26k range, some 35% below that of the lower-end Mercedes 260E and 525i. Essentially, the Scorpio slotted between domestic sedans and the BMW/MBZ. That may have been both a good and not-so-good thing.
To someone who really wanted a genuine European sedan, and could truly appreciate the qualities it brought to the table, the Scorpio might have looked like something of a bargain. But perhaps the biggest problem was the in-house competition it faced from both Mercury’s Sable and Ford’s Taurus.
Needless to say, certain design similarities to those cars were all too obvious. Since the Ford Scorpio/Granada appeared in Europe one year ahead of the Sable, it would be easy to point a finger at Mercury for cribbing the wrap-around rear window look.
Then again, that design feature obviously reflected the Probe V, with its hyper-aerodynamic body and flush glass all around.
The Scorpio/Granada replaced its long-running predecessors, the decent, if slightly pedestrian, Granada Mk I and Mk II, which had found much favor in fleet, police and taxi use. But Ford, like Opel and other mass-market brands, still managed to carve out a decent share of the “executive sedan” market before its dominance by the German trifecta of Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
The new Scorpio/Granada Mk III was intended to keep Ford’s prospects alive in that highly competitive segment. Dynamically, the Scorpio was improved, but that it arrived only in hatchback form probably hurt sales considerably. That had also been the case with the Sierra, which was the basis of the XR4Ti. In both cases, Ford had to backpedal and introduce conventional four-door sedans.
The result was…bland. It substantially changed the character of the original Scorpio’s quite advanced design, and helped assure its inevitable decline into a classic fleet queen that was built way too long.
Since we’re on the subject of the Scorpio’s sad decline and demise, we might as well get something out of the way: the redesigned Mark II of 1994-1998. I literally fell off my chair when I opened ams and saw this pathetic frog-face staring back at me. And you think the ovoid Taurus redesign of 1996 was ugly! There was an obvious family resemblance, but the question was which relative’s front end was worse. After becoming a butt of jokes and derision in Europe, the Scorpio slithered off the stage in 1998.
Ironically, most modern “sedans” look like hatchbacks but lack an actual hatch. The conservative reaction to the Scorpio’s fastback ended up as another dead end; the aerodynamic advantages of a tall, stubby tail eventually won out, and that design element has become ubiquitous.
What really did the big Fords in was their terrible depreciation. In truth, it was really no more expensive to buy (or lease for three or four years) company cars from one of the premium German brands. This did in not only the big Ford, but caused similar consequences for the big Opels, Peugeots, Citroens, and Renaults. The face of Europe’s executive-class market was changed during the Scorpio’s life span, and still remains a struggle for every model competing in it.
I need to cheer myself up a bit after that, and I do admit to probably having a bit more love for the Mekur Scorpio than might be justified rationally. When it comes to cars, what else is new? The Scorpio arrived during my peak “euro” years, when I was driving a W124 300E. But it’s not as though I looked down on the Scorpio; rather the opposite, in fact. I saw it as a fairly legitimate contender in that club. Of course, that was an entirely cerebral opinion, given my very little direct exposure to it.
But in what American car would one find seats like this? (don’t look at that hard and cheap the instrument cluster, though).Yes, the Great Aero Era was on, with the Taurus and Sable leading the charge. But until the Taurus SHO arrived in 1989, they were still pretty tame except for their styling.
Come to think of it, the SHO undoubtedly showed up the Scorpio in more ways than one, save the lack of an automatic transmission. Now if the SHO’s engine had been available in the Scorpio… In reality, the whole Merkur misadventure was doomed, at least in part because the brand couldn’t carve out a sufficiently distinctive niche within Ford’s various US divisions. All too many folks probably mistook the Scorpio for a Sable.
Euro lovers like me were happy to know the Scorpio was available, but still probably wouldn’t have bought one due to its modest performance or lack of prestige…a lot of good that did. And that’s the Scorpio story in a nutshell.
Great write-up Paul, and an interesting comparison with the Sable/Taurus – a comparison I’d never thought of. We got a few Ford-badged Mk I Scorpio hatches new here in the mid-late 80s, I thought they were unexpectedly elegant and handsome for a large hatchback. All ours were V6 Ghia spec – and marketed as a step-up from the Sierra 2.3 Ghia hatch which was also sold here in limited numbers. It was also presented as a Euro alternative to the ubiquitous Aussie Falcon/Fairmont range. Ultimately the top-spec Fairmont Ghia was cheaper and had a lot more engine (in size, if not necessarily refinement), so the Scorpio remained a rare delight.
Considering the design descent it underwent though, I’m glad we only got the earlier models. I still see the odd one around, and it’s nice to remember them in their prime – kind of like a favourite movie star before they had one too many facelifts…!
Strictly looks-wise, I have always felt that the Scorpio is what the Taurus SHOULD have looked like. A much nicer, flowing design overall. Too bad the execution didn’t live up to its looks. Same goes for the Merkur, too.
Nice try, Ford. At least they scored huge with the Taurus in spite of the design details I didn’t care for.
I place these almost up there with the Sterling, but that’s another story that’s already been told!
I remember seeing a few of these around back then, but have not seen (or thought about) one in YEARS. What a fiasco. From the made-up name that nobody in the US could pronounce (and when you did pronounce it properly it made you sound affected) to the cars that just couldn’t hit a niche here.
Nobody could pronounce Acura properly for awhile, but the sweetness of its vehicles pulled it out of the fire. These – what can we say.
It is interesting to me that as large of a presence as Ford has worldwide, how few of its foreign vehicles have made a splash in the US. The Anglia and Cortina were briefly popular, but had no staying power. The Capri was probably the only real success story, finally undone by exchange rates. I think you have hit upon something – the only European iron that seems to sell here must have something that is lacking in domestic cars. MB/BMW/Audi could sell prestige, Volvo sold stolid safety and Saab sold quirky. This car, although a good handler, was quite vanilla. Too expensive for a regular sedan, but not expensive enough to impress people. Not powerful enough to stand out, and its looks were sort of “euro-average” rather than anything special.
This car makes me think again of my pipe dream of worldwide safety and emission standards. A trickle of German Fords would have been plenty for demand here, and could have been done without a lot of fuss. And for those so inclined, we could still be getting them. But to gear up for a US assault, the car had to be brought compliant with US standards at great expense, then set up the dealer network, then the promotional hype. Then, when the car failed to sell in numbers sufficient to justify all of that expense, the whole project collapses.
You’ve made a couple of great points here that I saw in action in my almost two years working for Ford in Japan.
Ford tried selling the Mondeo, Mustang, and Explorer in Japan in the mid-90s. Mustang and Explorer sold better than plan, because they offered a certain number of Japanese buyers something they couldn’t get from the local companies, and something that was in-your-face American. Mondeo was supposed to be the volume line, but was a complete flop, I think because Japanese buyers didn’t see it as offering anything they couldn’t get from Toyota, Nissan, et al.
I believe EU and Japanese safety and emissions requirements were pretty well rationalized, because when I went to the Import Auto Show there were brands on sale that I hadn’t seen for years in the U.S., such as Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Alfa Romeo, and Fiat. None of them sold in great numbers, but the upfront fixed cost for homologation wasn’t there, so the importer was able to make a living on a relative handful of sales.
It’s been the same with American cars in Europe for many decades: Mustangs, Camaros, SUVs, maybe a few big barges, but forget trying to sell a vanilla American sedan there. Folks want the contrast, and to make it obvious that they’re driving something very different.
Japan’s road tax system is based on engine displacement and this is something Detroit never quite understood. I was working in Japan in the 1990s when the Americans were trying to push, get this, 3.8 litre Tauruses on the Japanese buying public. The road taxes on a 3.8 would be beyond what any middle class Japanese could pay. The 3.0 would have been much cheaper but nooooo, Ford brought in the bigger motor. GM did the same thing is trying to flog the Cavalier with a Quad-4. Not only did the Taurus get nailed with displacement taxes, they were also hit with excessive width taxes.
Not surprisingly, the cars didn’t sell. Why would anyone spend BMW money on a Ford? Why would anyone take Cavalier when there were scads of good JDM cars around? And what was Detroit’s response? Well, they demanded that the Japanese government end their system that basically taxes gas hogs off the road. It didn’t matter them that all Japanese cars followed the same rules; Ford and GM just could not fathom why Japanese consumers were not flocking to their products.
This only reinforces who clueless GM and Ford were at this time; they still could not comprehend that even when they had trouble competing with the Japanese in America, they could not do it in Japan. In their eyes, it was all a great, anti-American conspiracy. Then again, they also thought that the popularity of Japanese cars in America was also a vast conspiracy.
“Not only did the Taurus get nailed with displacement taxes, they were also hit with excessive width taxes.” Indeed, a big part of Toyota’s direct response to Taurus, the US ’92 Camry, was making it much wider to nearly match its Detroit competitor.
Which means that Toyota was making cars for their specific market. The wider Camry was never sold in Japan, it was USA only. The JDM cars looked similar but were narrower and had smaller motors.
Speaking of width surcharges, remember all those JDM cars with the fender-mounted mirrors?. These were prevelant until the mid or later 80s. I could never figure out why they would uglify their vehicles like this. I never knew until recently that it because of width limits only,
nothing to do with visibility requirements. Putting the mirrors on the fender pulled them in just enough to squeak under the width limits, which were relaxed somewhat in the 90s.
Yes but I don’t see that as a very big deal? Not much more than making a slightly different wheelbase variation, it would basically involve some different body pressings, dash/interior plastics, glass etc and obviously crash testing. Clearly the increase or otherwise drop in sales made it a worthwhile exercise.
I bought a brand new one in 1987 in Heidelberg Germany at Auto Jonker Dealership. It was a great car. Maybe a very little underpowered but all electric windows, locks, seat heaters but no a/c. Didn’t need it in Germany at all. Drove perfect, rode great and easily ran about 220 km/hr. ( about 150 to 175 mph I think. ) I don’t know why it’s being bashed on here but who cares. Great car.
I’ve always liked these, probably because I like hatchbacks. However, larger-sized cars in the US for some reason have never been popular as a hatchback, maybe because some of these looked like what turned out to be bad cars (like the hatchback X-series GM cars…though they also had notchbacks). Some were very good cars, like the original Camry and Accord…for a few years you could get a hatchback or sedan version but the hatchback was soon gone after the sedan appeared. I guess by today’s standards they aren’t large (maybe the size of today’s Civic or Corolla?).
I also wonder what distinguishes a small “wagon” from a hatchback. I liked the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, but some people though of it as a wagon, others a hatchback. I used to think that the distinguishing feature in a wagon would be a window in the “C” pilar, but looking at the Scorpio I’m no longer sure…I would never think of the Scorpio as a “wagon” but it clearly has this window (like a wagon would) but it also has a steeply raked backlite which to me identifies it as a hatchback rather than a wagon. Maybe this is just semantics, it probably doesn’t matter…but I’ve also seen hatchbacks (like my VW Golf) that has a slightly sloped backlite (though it doesn’t have the “C” pilar window so I wouldn’t call it a wagon…there’s a Jetta that has this window and it is called a wagon, and also has a slightly sloped backlite.
Still, one would have to really like hatchbacks a lot to pay the premium for the Scorpio over a Taurus or Sable (or in ’85 the small LTD). I’m guessing many people who wanted a “roomy” hatchback would have later gone to a smaller SUV or even minivan once small wagons became scarce after the 80’s.
I got a chance to drive the successor to this car…we had planned to rent an Opel Omega in Zurich, and they didn’t have that model and instead gave us a Ford Scorpio Wagon. It was a nice car, but it attracted unwanted attention…we got waved back to the border when crossing from Hungary into Slovakia about 15 kilometers after having gone through initial cursory checkout. The Scorpio had power front windows, but regular (crank-down) rear windows, and also remember a Roma guy greatly admiring the alloy wheels on it…today it probably wouldn’t merit a 2nd look, but 16 years ago, I guess it stood out in that area.
Ironically, new sedans look just like hatchbacks, but aren’t:
Reminds me of the Austin 1100 that looked just like a hatch, but wasn’t because the hatch was reserved by their overlords for the Maxi, and only the Maxi. The trunk was spacious enough, if you could get anything into it through the small opening. History repeats itself?
There were also the Chrysler LeBaron GTS/Dodge Lancer and Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance twins from the 80’s that were hatchbacks that looked like sedans, but weren’t.
Wow, I’ve always thought the LeBaron GTS/Lancer really were hatchbacks… I’m shocked.
Uh, no… The Dodge Shadow, Plymouth Sundance, and Plymouth Duster (and I believe it was called the Shelby CNX Shadow) were ALL hatchbacks.
The glass goes up with the deck lid. Liftgate/notchback–whatever you want to call it–it was a hatchback.
That’s actually what he meant, I just read it backwards… my bad.
My definition is a hatchback has either a sloping rear window/hatch or if a more upright window, a shorter rear overhang. A wagon must have at least the same rear overhang as a comparable sedan and a significantly longer (full height) roof. Most have a fairly upright rear window, although there have been numerous exceptions (Accord Aerodeck, early Audi Avant).
You missed mentioning probably the biggest point of all in the Merkur failure: Entrusting the sales of those two cars to the same guys who would put you in a Lincoln Town Car or a Mercury Grand Marquis. The same people who considered anything based on a Panther platform a legitimate, desirable automobile.
Keep in mind there was no place for an aftermarket vinyl roof on a Merkur. And you could get them with a manual transmission. And they could actually go around a corner, unlike your usual senior citizen Panther.
You were having them sold by a sales staff that didn’t have a clue. Who’s total understanding of BMW and Mercedes was that they were losing Lincoln sales to those brands.
No matter how good the car is, you still have to SELL it.
Very good point. That’s why I depend on your comments!
Where else were they going to sell them? Way too low of a projected volume to put in a stand alone dealer. Plus not just any L-M dealer could sell them the dealers were hand selected and were almost always only put in areas where euro cars were doing better than average. The sales staff also did get special training including time in said euro cars. Maybe if they were available in more L-M dealers they actually would have done better. It’s not like those dealers only sold Panthers like you claim the Mark VII was a complete change of direction for the personal car that emphasized handling over isolation, and they managed to move a lot of those complete with seats that looked just like those in the Scorpio.
I am old enough to have been shopping for the XR4Ti when it was released, and in fact did take a ride in a new one.
The salesman spent most of the time comparing the car to ‘better’ LM cars (his words) and kept steering us towards a larger platform…
Because (he said) we had children and would need a bigger car.
I suspect he got a greater commission selling the commodity they had tons that were marked up nine ways from Sunday of vs. the three or four Merkurs on their lot that were going to sell near sticker with all the extras included in bringing it over the pond.
I never did buy one then, but in the early 2000’s when my youngest wanted something with a turbo and I didn’t want any rice in the family I recalled the XR4Ti and we both got one. I still have mine and now it has a transplanted Mustang 4.6 in it. He moved on to turbocharged Neon’s and Corvettes…
Why did they saddle these cars and their dealers with that silly Häagen-Dazs-like name? Why didn’t they simply sell them as Mercurys? Especially given the family resemblance. Worked really well with the Capri.
The fact that Merkur branding failed doesn’t mean it is a poor strategy. Häagen-Dazs itself did very well, and the name survives still. So did Acura, Datsun, and even Hyundai (although that is the company’s actual name) today. The cars themselves weren’t that competitive.
I assume the reluctance to sell the Scorpio or the Sierra as either a Ford or Mercury in the U.S. was because Ford wanted the cars to appeal to BMW and Mercedes buyers, who — in the U.S., perhaps even more than in Europe — were simply not going to cross-shop a plebeian badge, particularly an American one. I think that was a real concern, but Merkur was obviously not a successful response to it.
Syke, you make excellent points but another one was “who was going to fix them?” Big 3 stores do not require their mechanics to take regular refreshers; this means that repairs were on a trial and error basis with a billion come backs. People paying this kind of money don’t want to visit their friendly neighbourhood dealer three times for a simple issue.
Ford does require their technicians to attend anual training, so does GM. Plus it is not like these were partciularly complex vehicles their power train was regular US spec stuff lifted from the Ranger which granted most L-M dealers didn’t deal with but still the ECU was standard Ford stuff so there wasn’t a significant learning curve involved.
Certainly GM Canada didn’t when I worked for them, neither did Chrysler.
You have to remember GM Canada was largely independent and Chrysler well was Chrysler and didn’t give a ………. since they were perpetually trying to keep their head above water. In the US to get and keep that “Goodwrench” patch on your uniform you had to succusfully complete on going training. In addition to training sessions, often back at headquarters or regional offices, Ford had video tapes and training manuals that were distributed to all dealers to train technicians in this time period.
Reminds me a bit of what FIAT is doing, well, with FIAT dealers in the US now.
If Ford would have done it a little more like FIAT maybe it would have turned out a little better. Many of the dealers around here just had a banner in the showroom. FIAT on the other hand is making dealers have dedicated showrooms, parts and service depts, and sales people. So they are getting big permanent looking signs. A few banners did not make it look like the dealer or Ford was looking at this venture as a serious long term thing.
Granted I think FIAT is doing it wrong with requiring the dedicated parts and service facilities which combined with the showroom means that a number of dealers that could move some product won’t play the game becuase of the low return on the investment of pedaling a low volume, low margin car.
One thing that is funny about your “The same people who considered anything based on a Panther platform a legitimate, desirable automobile.” coment is the fact that at the time the Scorpio was introduced the Panther tripplets likely outsold all the models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes combined. I can’t find any numbers that old for the Germans but the oldest figures show them selling 150K ~ 200K per year in 1998~2000 after their sales had been climbing for ~10 years while the Panthers were selling 120K~200K each back in 1987~1988. So the general public thought that the Panthers were more desirable than the high end German cars.
What, no picture of the redesigned Scorpio’s interesting backside?
That must be corrected, here it is.
The picture didn’t attach, for which we should all be thankful!
Why does this car remind me so much of the Rover SD1? Even the hatch-a-back. Was there some common inspiration? Considering that the Scorpio came out much later, and the SD1 was a much better design anyway, it is little surprise it didn’t do so well.
The SD1 was a landmark design, no doubt, and a very influential one. Of course the Citroen CX had it beat by a year or so.
The SD1 had a very long gestation period. It was a miracle the BMC/BL Buffoons managed to bring out such a remarkable car at all. The CX and SD1 sort of co-evolved, or cribbed from a common source.
Yea, Ford was actually just joining the party a bit late, although not as late as BMW and Audi which only entered their versions a couple of years ago 😛
Absolutely. Seeing a SD1 (Standard 2000 here) in the flesh is a revelation. It is everything the bloated Panamera (of which I’ve only seen one) is not. If only it wasn’t from the bloody Standard company. Owning one with a Rover V8 swap remains a dream.
I agree; I think there’s a stronger resemblance between the Mk 1 Scorpio and the SD1 than, say, the Audi 100 (C3) or certainly the Citroën Cx, although they were all of a similar school. I’d say the SD1 looked like what would happen if a Rover 3500 were cross-bred with an NSU Ro80, and the Audi certainly had a strong relationship to the NSU.
I’d love to find one of these with the T-9. There’s some relatively serious aftermarket support for the Merkurs now as well as plenty of alternate engine options for those that want more power.
One thing I’ve noticed with the Merks is that they didn’t rust. I don’t know if it was better rustproofing or that the owners took better care of them but compared to the Taurus/Sable they seemed to hold up a lot better in the long run.
I remember driving one of these and being impressed by the roominess of the back seat and the handling feel. The drivetrain felt “peppy” down low but would get quite loud if you pressed it. Paul is right, it was the Taurus and Sable that killed this car. In that sense it reminds me of the Cadillac Catera which seemed over-priced compared to the similar looking Malibus and Luminas.
I didn’t know Bob Lutz was behind the XR4ti and Scorpio. He was famous for saying something like “often wrong but seldom in doubt”. I would have to add this, the Pontiac GTO and G8 from Holden and the Solstice/Sky to his list of often wrong cars.
All that was a small price to pay though for his wins like turning Cadillac around.
I forgot to mention how roomy its back seat is, especially for a rwd car.
The reason it felt peppy down low is because it was a truck engine. Rather than certify a new engine for US emissions from scratch they used the Ranger version almost lock stock and barrel with an intake and cam tuned for low end torque not high rpm.
The Cologne V6 wasn’t a bad engine, far from it actually. It was no more thrashy than the Taurus/Sable 3.0L or the Volvo red block, both of which did fine in cars of similar price.
Ford of Europe had great success with the V6 for decades where it was up against more refined engines from Opel and Audi. Even without the truck cam it was never a high revving engine.
The 2.9L in the Scorpio was a knee jerk to the 2.3L Turbo in the XR4ti, which was really an awful engine. The loose tolerances to help it live under pressure made it, among other things, an oil burner. So they took a safer route on the Scorpio.
Even so, I’m curious: how much power did the European Scorpio V6 Ghia have? Even the earlier 2.8-liter Cologne had 160 PS in the old Capri 2.8i, so I would assume the 2,935 cc version would have been similar. If they’d been able to federalize the engine at 160 hp or so SAE, it would have been competitive with the 2.6-liter Mercedes, if not a 3.5-liter BMW. (Of course, there was the later 24V Cosworth, but that didn’t arrive until after it was too late, and who knows what would have become of a federalized version.)
144@5500 HP & 162@3000 torque in 1989
When did Bob Lutz turn Cadillac around? Let me rephrase that, when did Cadillac turn around? It is fighting, but still not competitive except two cars, and only in the US.
I think relative to Lincoln Cadillac is in fine shape. The Arts and Science theme that started with the CTS and RWD STS continues to this day and has looked terrific on a variety of shapes and sizes including such divergent models as the XLR and SRX.
The CTS Coupe is certainly a looker and for the bad boy crowd nothing tops an Escalade.
The company has a clear direction with its distinctive designs, attractive interiors and performance grades that can go head-to-head with any competitor in the world. Does it seem to you that Lincoln has any direction? Or Acura. Or Infiniti? Or Volvo?
Things could be a lot worse with Cadillac and I give Lutz credit for helping them find a relevant direction.
The lack of models has to do with scarce resources at GM, nothing more. If the CTS were a wee bit roomier in back it would have sold even better.
Completely agree. No idea how much input he truly had in the transformation, but when Bob Lutz came to GM, Cadillac was selling Cateras and decade old Sevilles.
I wouldn’t call the 2.9 refined and smooth it’s better as a truck engine than a luxury car engine.
I think the hatchback was a large reason these cars did as poorly as they did. The plain and simple fact is most americans equate hatchbacks with economy cars that you buy because of needs, not luxury cars you buy because of wants.
I don’t think so. The Scorpio didn’t scream hatchback in fact at a glance it looked just like the notchback Taurus/Sable. Besides it was too big to look like an econobox just because of the hatch. The XR4ti didn’t fail because of its hatch.
In smaller cars I would argue the sedan versions sold better than hatchbacks where both were available (think early 90s Civic Coupe versus Civic Hatchback) because the sedans looked more expensive.
In other classes hatches have done just fine in our market. Consider the BMW Mini and Porsche Panamera.
You are contradicting yourself when you say hatchback doesn’t make it look like an econobox but then say the sedan versions sold better because the looked more expensive. Fact is as the 80’s wore on it became tougher and tougher to sell a hatchback in the US because hatchback became synomous with penalty box.
You just have to look at all the cars that used to have hatchback versions that no longer do and you’ll find many of those that went away in this basic time period.
In small cars the hatch version is going to look like a box, which says cheap tin can to many buyers. Unless it’s supposed to look like a box like the Mini.
Usually the sedan versions are a little longer and look more like class above cars. Again think those two Civics I mentioned.
In larger cars the hatch can be disguised rather well. Look at the Rover 3500. Look at the Porsche Panamera. Look at the Kia Optima Paul mentions, a sedan that looks like what larger car hatchbacks use to look like.
My point is the hatch bodystyle itself need not make a large sedan look like an economy car but perhaps, if not well integrated, can make a larger car look less graceful than its sedan counterpart. Not that the notchback Granada looks graceful (but oh how beautiful the Gen 1 was!).
Ford prioritized rear seat space and entry/exit which meant a flatter roof line which meant harder to hide the hatch. Getting in and out of the back seat of an Optima ain’t easy.
It should have been all about the rear seat in the Scorpio and nicer-than-it-had interior appointments. And the great handling. Then it could have been positioned as an intelligently priced Euro touring car.
My favorite hatchback/notch back story is what happened on the Toyota Tercel. You can imagine all the talk about how to succeed in the US market the Tercel needed a hatch, no matter what! That turned out to be the Echo which on paper sounded good but in steel was one of the most hideous cars ever.
Again it’s the execution that counts. The new Focus 5-door and Chevy Cruze 4-door are both handsome cars.
As for the Scorpio its hatch body style neither helped nor hurt it and it certainly would have done worse with that 4-door Granada shape that came later.
It is not about looking like a hatchback it is about being a hatchback and the fact that in the US that is and always has been associated with econoboxes.
Look at what Ford was trying to sell the Scorpio against in the US BMW and Mercedes how many hatchbacks did they offer? People don’t want to hear their golf clubs rattling around back there something that is hard to prevent without a proper trunk. Sure you can make a cover but those to do any real sound deadening get heavy and then negate a lot of the convienence and functionality of a hatch.
Yes the Focus 5 door is a good looking car but that is not the point, it is not an asperational class of car like the Scorpio was trying to be and nothing that shared the same target market had a hatchback at that time.
I don’t think so. The most aspirational luxury sedan, at least in So Cal, is the Panamera which is a hatch. I don’t golf but my buddies do and they’re all in crossovers – RR Sport, Cayenne, X5. All hatches.
If it looks cool and has a hatch people will buy it even in the lux class. My friends with the crossovers don’t own them because they go off road.
The Panamera is a unique case, and it is far from looking cool. When the Scorpio was introduced the main boom of SUV craze was quite awhile out from the era when people were trying to forget the energy crisis and the penalty boxes (hatchbacks) they were “forced” to drive in that era.
Again how many hatchbacks did BMW and Mercedes offer in the era of the Scorpio?
“nothing that shared the same target market had a hatchback at that time”
Would Saab count?
The car I thought was interesting in that it was a hatchback but didn’t look like one was the Plymouth Sundance/Dodge Shadow. The backlite was sloped almost the opposite of a hatchback, more like a sedan rear window/trunk. So outward appearance (if you didn’t look closely) was that resembling a sedan (not exactly, but more that appearance) but it was a hatchback. I guess the cost for this was a bit less room in the hatch portion…not sure if it worked but maybe some people who might otherwise have not considered a hatchback might have been induced to buy one.
This is the only model I can think of that did that…but there may be others.
The Vega 2-door hatchback was like that, but not as much of a notch as the Shadow. Come to think of it the Vega is an example of a hatch that was more successful than its notch counterpart. Again it’s about the execution.
As for “if BMW and Mercedes don’t do it that way why bother”… When Toyota took a chance on the RX300 for the US market neither Mercedes nor BMW sold anything like that. They did it anyway and created a whole new segment. In fact the first ML, which came later, was too trucky and has since morphed into more of a crossover like the RX.
Audi’s first successful car was the 100LS, which had more than a few styling cues from the Mercedes W108. Audi didn’t become a powerhouse until the 1984 5000 with its breakthrough aero styling that wasn’t trying to be a BMW or Mercedes anything.
I admire companies that take chances. You can never survive long term by just copying the leader and selling your product at a lower price. That’s why I liked the original Seville so much, a nice looking, nice driving car that was completely unique from the German and British competition.
In the 70’s the hatchback was the body style to have even the Nova got onboard with one since it was so hot. The Vega was one of the reasons that people in the 80’s associated hatchbacks with penalty boxes and why it was a dying, largely undesireable body style by the time the Scorpio was introduced.
Although the C2 and C3 Audi 100 also share quite a bit of design DNA with Claus Luthe’s NSU Ro80. (Luthe did the interior of the C2 and the exterior of some of the smaller Audis of that era, then went to BMW in 1976, doing the E30, E34, et al.)
I agree with your point regarding BMW and Mercedes. Part of the reason Toyota was able to gain so much ground with Lexus in the early 90s was because BMW and Mercedes had really been resting on their laurels for some time when it came to product development. Lexus and, to a lesser extent, Infiniti and Acura, were able to hit Mercedes and BMW where they weren’t. In recent years, Mercedes and particularly BMW have been far more aggressive about introducing new products and trying to carve out new niches, but that was not the case 25-30 years ago.
The Daihatsu Applause was a hatchback that had a completely conventional sedan-like appearance. Other than a shut line in the roof just forward of the rear window, there was no indication it wasn’t a sedan.
There might be some truth to that, but I don’t think Americans are naturally averse to hatchbacks. What about all the Toyota Celicas, Honda Accords, Camaros, Mustangs, Supras, Z-cars, etc. sold during the 80’s? Sure, that’s an entirely different class of car, but they were all native hatchbacks and none were perceived as symbols of poverty because of it.
The only other vehicle that was roughly Merkur Scorpio sized/priced and available with a hatchback at the time was the Saab 900 – which was a massive hit in the US and certainly not considered downmarket.
All of the first batch of cars you mentioned were small relatively cheap or sporty cars and the hatchback style held on longer in those markets than larger and/or more expensive cars. The Saab was a big exception to the rule but then they were known for being quirky and against the norm.
You guys drink tooo much BMW koolaide the quikest executive express ofr the late 80s was the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton Elite it had supercar performance with 4 doors that NO other sedan came close to in fact only Ferraris top of the range offering could out pace it. As for the Scorpio as usual an American company gets a great handling car and handicaps it with a tractor engine the 2L Cossie was the fast one.
“Since the Ford Scorpio/Granada appeared in Europe one year ahead of the Sable, it might be easy to point a finger at Mercury for cribbing the wrap-around rear window look.” Jack Telnack, well known for leading the Mercury Sable design, was Ford’s global VP of Design from 1980 to 1997. Before that he was VP Design for Ford Europe. Is this rear window Jack’s idea? Did he crib from himself?
Exactly the same wraparound rear window appeared in the ’86 Celica hatchback. I like that look so much I bought one of each, an ’87 Celica for my commuter and an ’87 Sable for the family.
My aunt actually had one for a while in the 1980s, which replaced either a W123 M-B or a 5 series BMW (I forget what she was driving at the time, but a 300D of 528e is my best guess) and she was reasonably happy with it for a few years. It was replaced with a 525i because Merkur was gone and BMW was what she was used to.
Regarding the final “facelift” the designer responsible was quoted as saying “headlights are a car’s jewelry”, although I can’t recall the perp’s name.
Got one of these as a rental at Baltimore-Washington airport in 1987. It was an “upgrade” as they were fresh out of Town Cars (TV news: We needed something to hold the luggage of two guys on a one-week trip plus all the camera gear). It wasn’t bad, but the $27,000 price tag was steep in those days.
Old Scorpio’s. Large and comfy, fit for a queen. No really, the Dutch queen had one, stretched, and with a raised roofline. Check it out:
As a previous owner of more than 10 Sierras and a couple of Scorpios (euro versions) it’s nice to know they are till remembered and cared for overseas too. And as I have owed an e34 and driven several Mercedes’ of the same vintage, I must say I definitely prefer the Scorpio as a daily driver. It feels a lot roomier anf more comfortable, even if it doesn’t match the ‘cut from a single slab of concrete’ quality feel (and how can anyone really like cars made of concrete ?) Rear seat legroom also easily beats the same vintage S-class easily (a colleague at work had an ’89 420S, and we parked side by side just so I could gloat at one occation ;))
Now that’s a throwback! These big Fords were a really common sight when I was a kid, right now I can’t remember the last time I saw one, I remember how my older brother hated those things, they all seemed to go in the hands of aspirational, big shot wannabes in his words, go figure 🙂 !…Different times indeed, right now any premium offering besides Mercedes, BMW and Audi it’s doomed from the start, the monumental flop of the (wonderful) Citroen C6 it’s just another proof of this
Worst tail light design ever.
No car needs that much reflector on the back. Never mind how miniscule the actual brake lights were. For shame.
For the record, I mostly like the design of the Mk 1 Scorpio. I think it would look better if the ‘grille’ piece between the headlights went all the way down to the bumper, à la Rover SD1, but it’s not a bad-looking car and certainly easier on the eyes than the Sierra.
Remember the Sterlings? Like the Merkurs they were intended to complete in that middle zone where the likes of Volvo and Saab had always stood.
Since the Japanese luxury brands hadn’t yet bowed the Sterling was an appealing offer – very fresh appearance, gorgeous British leather interior, leading edge refinement and performance, reliable Honda mechanicals, all for a price well below the Germans and Jaguar.
The Sterling fizzled out just as quickly as the Scorprio but for different reasons. The reluctance of folks to buy a Sterling for quality concerns turned out to be well founded. In the JD Power studies that were picking up steam around that time I remember the Sterling at the very bottom of the list and the very similar Acura Legend at the top. Nail in the coffin.
I always thought that this could have been Ford’s opportunity to do something with Mercury other than simple badge-engineering, ie cherry-pick international Ford products to complement what Ford and Lincoln were selling rather than just a me-too trim level. Clearly stand-alone L-M dealerships would not like giving up the badge engineered product and volume that represented, but surely some kind of transition arrangement was possible.
The issue the Scorpio had in Europe was the same as has played out in most markets – large cars have fallen out of favour with a large number buyers who prefer a prestige brand when spending that amount of money. That they get a smaller car says something in itself – relatively few actually value/need the additional space.
The same thing is evident more recently in the sales numbers of full-size sedans vs mid-size and crossovers/SUVs in the US and Australia (although here the mid-size segment has largely been bypassed for C-segment cars)
In terms of their similarities in size and design comparisons between a 1990 Ford Taurus 4 Door Sedan (Top Row Left) and the 1990 Ford Scorpio 4 Door Sedan (Top Row Right) vs. the 1986 Merkur Scorpio 4 Door Hatchback Sedan (Bottom Row Left) and the 1986 Mercury Sable 4 Door Sedan (Bottom Row Right), they were indeed uncanny. The only big significant differences between the Taurus/Sable and the Scorpio and Merkur Scorpio duos were both were based on entirely different chassis. The former was based on a FWD platform while the latter was a RWD platform. I even intentionally on purpose used the same matching colors for those aforementioned models to show their contrasting matching similarities and differences.
Rumor had it that LM dealers did not want to sell the Merkur-rhymes with “worker” because they were afraid they would have another Edsel on their hands. Who can blame them?
I still have my ’89 Scorpio in my garage.
I haven’t decided what to do with the car.
I’m not running it right now because of the cooling system.
To my surprise it was very complicated.
I would like some advice on how to find someone that actually knows
a thing or two about this car.
I loved these. They were the closest we got in the U.K to a land yacht. So comfortable to ride in with incredible amount of space, but the 2.0 4 cylinder was a gutless slug. The quad cam 24v cosworth v6 version sorted out any performance issues, those were demonically fast! I wish I’d kept mine.
Since these were introduced as a bit of European flavor in the US, it’s ironic that I always liked them because they seemed to me a bit of American flavor over here.
These at least seemed significantly larger than their competitors – especially in the back seat.
I still kind of like them, but they have become very thin on the ground.