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Merkur, the German word for Mercury, was an automobile brand which was briefly marketed by Ford Motor Company in the United States and Canada from 1985 to 1989. Sold through selected Lincoln-Mercury dealers, Merkurs were in fact, German-built Fords (there was no Merkur or Mercury brand in Germany) and were thus a form of captive import. However, Merkur was the only division of the Ford Motor Company to be phased out. Advertising and PR materials strongly urged the proper German pronunciation, "mare-coor," but practically no one used it and the cars were generally called "Merker"s. Below the Merkur badge, was a script stating "FORD WERKE AG-Cologne, West Germany", stating the car's place of manufacture.
Like the Capri before it, the Merkur was Ford's attempt at selling a European car in the American market. However, due to the number of changes to meet US regulations, the XR4Ti was manufactured by Karmann in Osnabruck, Germany, with the body coming from the Ford plant in Genk, Belgium, and the turbocharged engine for the XR4Ti from the Ford plant in Taubate, Brazil. The Scorpios were manufactured in Ford's Cologne plant and fitted with the Cologne 2.9 L V6.
Only two models were sold under the Merkur badge — a performance-oriented 3-door hatchback version of the Ford Sierra XR4i called the Merkur XR4Ti (1985-1989), and the Merkur Scorpio (1988-1989), which was an American version of the Ford Scorpio 5-door hatchback. Neither model was particularly successful in Ford North America's eyes. Exchange rate fluctuations were one explanation; another was the generally odd styling and peculiar name. Also, the Scorpio bore a strong resemblance to the similarly-sized Mercury Sable, which was sold on the same showroom floors and was considerably cheaper. A major factor in the decision to drop the cars was the requirement to add either a passive restraint system or air bags for US models since these were not requirements for European models. The XR4Ti was dropped first and the Scorpio a few months later in 1989.
The original equipment on the XR4Ti included the Garrett T3 turbocharger, T9 manual transmission, front wheel disc and rear wheel drum brakes, durable cloth seats and interior panels, and 14 inch x 5.5 inch alloy wheels. Starting in 1986, the wheels were updated to 15 inch x 5.5 inch wheels. Optional items included automatic transmission, cruise control, leather interior, and heated seats.
Most Scorpios shipped to the states were faily well optioned out with leather interior, automatic transmissions, cruise control, and etc. A very small number of Scorpios brought into the states had cloth interior and even fewer with manual 5-speed transmissions.
It is interesting to contrast the relative failure of the Merkur vehicles compared to the success of the European versions. The Sierra was introduced as a replacement for the aging Ford Cortina/Ford Taunus, which was a bold move at the time considering the Cortina/Taunus was one of Ford's best selling cars. Despite initial misgivings about the styling, Sierra went on to be the second best selling car in Europe, second only to Ford's own Escort. European Sierras were available in 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback, 4-door sedans, 5-door station wagons, and even a pickup truck called the P100. Engines were available from a 1.3 litre 60 hp 4 cylinder, to a 160 hp 2.8 litre V6, or a 2 litre, 16 valve, turbocharged and intercooled 4 cylinder as fitted to the mighty Sierra Cosworth. According to British government test figures, fuel efficient models such as the 1.6 Economy could do 51 mpg Imperial* at a steady 56 mph, and 30 mpg simulated urban driving. At the other end of the spectrum the Sierra Cosworth would do 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of almost 150 mph (and still capable of over 20 mpg if driven gently). Oddly, the Sierra XR range and the Cosworth models are not viewed as sales flops in Europe, despite individual models selling less numbers than the XR4Ti.
Like the Sierra, the Scorpio was also introduced to replace another popular model, the Ford Granada, so popular in fact that in the UK and Ireland the Granada name was still used with the Scorpio name used for the top of the range versions. This started life as a 5-door hatchback, and later became available in a 4 door sedan and a 5 door wagon. An "executive express" in the form of the Scorpio Cosworth was produced, powered by a 2.9 litre, 24 valve Cosworth V6 motor. This featured 16" aluminum alloy wheels similar to the AMG Mercedes wheels, a rear spoiler, and additional ground effects.
Before Ford pulled the plug, there were rumors that it would begin sourcing South American-made Sierras, but nothing came of this. There are accounts of a 16 valve 4 cylinder turbocharged version that was in prototype stage as well. This engine was never produced.
Merkurs have not so far generated much interest in the collector market, although their relative rarity could change that in the future. Several active owner communities exist, and parts can still generally be found, although some may have to be sourced from Europe. The XR4Ti shares its engine with the Mustang SVO and the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, making it easier for owners to keep their cars running. The turbocharged 2.3 litre engine in these cars is very robust and fairly easy to modify to produce additional horsepower and torque. Popular performance modifications to the XR4Ti chassis are larger turbochargers, intercoolers, and the heavier duty T5 transmission from the Mustang or Thunderbird TurboCoupe. Easy upgrades to 4 wheel disc brakes and heavier duty suspension systems are quite common as well.
In Popular Culture
- In the webcomic Misfile the main character Ash Upton drives a heavily modified XR4Ti.
- In the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, there is a car that resembles a Lamborghini Countach that has a badge on the front that resembles the Merkur badge.
- In two different episodes, Seymour Skinner, a character from The Simpsons mentions that he drives a Merkur, although the pronounces it incorrectly. A member of the writing staff is a member of http://www.turboford.net and included it in these to honor his car.
- Sports radio and television talk show host Jim Rome is a former Merkur owner and refers to his radio show production staff as the "XR4Ti crew".
- Merkur Sport Forum
- Ottawa Merkur group
- International Merkur Owners Network
- Michigan Merkur Owners Network
- Merkur Club of America
- Merkur Desktop website
- Merkur encyclopedia
- Merkur Tech
- Ford Sierra 3 door Cosworth
- Howard Supply Tech Doc