To capitalize on the growing popularity of imports and to shore up its own flagging sales in the middle-1980s, Lincoln-Mercury branded some German-built European Ford products as “Merkur” and brought them to American markets. Over 800 Lincoln-Mercury dealers signed up for the Merkur franchise in 1984 and the company heavily advertised their European imports. Two models were ultimately part of the program – a two-door hatchback called the Merkur XR4Ti and a later four-door hatchback called the Scorpio.
The Merkur XR4Ti was introduced in 1984 as a 1985 model year vehicle. The XR4Ti was based on the popular Ford Sierra sold throughout Europe. The car was fitted with a non-intercooled version of the same 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine used in the U.S. market Ford Mustang SVO. The engine developed 175 hp at 5,000 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.
The standard transmission was a five-speed manual, but a three-speed automatic was also available. When buyers selected the automatic, however, engine power was reduced to 145 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. All versions of the XR4Ti offered a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive design with front disc and rear drum brakes.
The XR4Ti was a luxury performance car, and featured standard equipment including air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, an AM/FM/cassette stereo, turbo boost gauge, a signature dual-plane rear spoiler, and variable-rate power steering for increased driver feedback and a sporty driving experience.
Sales of the XR4Ti were never high in the first three years, amounting to 12,400 units of the 1985 model year, then 14,315 for the 1986 model year. Sales dropped to 7,342 for 1987, 6,283 cars in 1988, and just 2,870 cars sold in 1989.
In 1988, the Merkur line added the Scorpio, an upscale four-door hatchback also derived from the German Ford line sold throughout Europe. This car was fitted with a 2.9-liter V-6 engine rated at 144 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. Transmission options included an initial five-speed manual transmission for 1988 and 1989, and a different five-speed for the 1990 model year. The Scorpio could also be ordered with an electronic four-speed automatic transmission.
Intended to be an executive personal luxury car, the Scorpio came with standard features including anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, power seats, windows, locks and mirrors, and automatic climate control. Options were few, but included leather upholstery and a moonroof.
The XR4Ti was dropped after the 1989 model year, and the Scorpio was phased out during the 1990 model year, selling only 2,622 units in that year.
Merkur automobiles offered commendable performance for the time along with a quality luxury interior. The cars were fast and sporty-looking, but also expensive. The XR4Ti started at $16,361 in 1985 and ended at $19,065 in 1989. The Scorpio was even higher, at $24,048 in 1989. That was comparable to the base BMW 325i in the same year, and substantially higher than Mercury’s own domestic performance car, the Cougar. Merkurs have proven more popular as cult classics than they were as new cars, and have developed a dedicated following.