Following a tradition that included the DeTomaso Pantera and Mercury Capri, Ford’s occasional forays into selling a European product in its various U.S. divisions’ showrooms continued in the 1980s with the Merkur brand. Bob Lutz paved the way for the Ford Sierra to help diversify the product lineup offered in Lincoln-Mercury showrooms, but stateside copyright issues with the Sierra name as well as certification difficulty with the Sierra’s original Cologne V-6 led to the car arriving in Mercury dealerships for the 1985 model year being badged as the Merkur XR4Ti. The small car was powered by the familiar 2.3-liter turbocharged I-4 engine already in use in the Mustang SVO and Thunderbird turbo coupe.
The XR4Ti’s greenhouse glass and biplane rear spoiler were just two parts of a styling package that generated polarizing opinions on its appearance, but also contributed to a low coefficient of drag, good visibility, and high-speed stability. Underneath this functional bodywork was a four-wheel independent suspension with tuning input from none other than Jackie Stewart as well as a non-intercooled version of the Ford 2.3-liter turbo I-4 that was rated at 175 hp in 5-speed cars and 145 hp in cars equipped with optional 3-speed transaxle (due to lower turbocharger boost).
In-period reviews praised the XR4Ti for its German build quality, handling prowess and performance, which included a sub-8 second 0-60 sprint for 5-speed equipped cars. Even so, just over 42,000 were sent to North America between 1985 and 1989. A model refresh at the end of 1987 included monochromatic paint and a simpler single element rear wing, but in the end there just weren’t enough buyers that favored the car’s form-follows-function sensibility and the XR4Ti departed the U.S. market after just over 2,000 were sold in 1989. A dealer network that didn’t fully understand the marketing needs of this European offering only hastened the departure.
Merkur XR4Ti numbers are few today, but good driving examples are inexpensive and you likely won’t see another at the local show unless you are at the national Merkur Club meet. Fan support may be small, but it is vocal, and the car continues to appeal to those who view it as a unique expression of 1980s automotive design.