It's been a bad secret for the last few months, but I thought I should let everyone know, officially, that I am the proud owner of the most famous Merkur XR4Ti in the world. This is similar to having the world's most famous spaetzle press in that it's not particularly impressive, vaguely German, and a completely nonsense statement.
I didn't set out to buy a Merkur XR4Ti and never thought I'd buy one with such an important and historic lineage. Life is full of surprises, and occasionally one of those surprises comes with a welded differential.
Like many good stories, this all starts out with a tip from a reader last summer that Top Gear was driving around with a Merkur, an SVX, and an Allante. My sources told me that the cars would be sold, per the challenge, at the end of the episode somewhere in San Diego.
Something about the Merkur struck me. My dream car is a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which is basically a custom body over a Ford Sierra, and the Merkur is basically a Ford Sierra, which means if I bought it I would basically own a Ford Escort RS Cosworth.
I reached out to friends to see if anyone could go down to San Diego to bid on the car. I didn't know anything about the car, its history, its condition, or even what the price would be. Knowledge is supposedly synonymous with power, but in my experience knowledge is usually just a deterrent to buying something ridiculous.
My sources were right. Top Gear was shooting an episode about cars that should have been hits but weren't. Tanner Foust was driving the Merkur and would be selling it at a San Diego Ford dealership. You can (and should) watch the episode here and see the advertisement Foust did for it below.
Those sweet donuts are going to end up costing me money and hassle but, for now, let's just enjoy them.
To win the challenge, co-host and amateur drum kit collector Rutledge Wood needed to sell his Subaru SVX for the highest price. Instead he spent his per diem buying the Merkur from Foust. Who can say no to a Merkur and, besides, he was pretty sure he knew another person almost as crazy for weird cars as he is after we bonded over Bricklins and wagons on a shoot for the original season of TGUSA.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I have this text message exchange:
Rutledge: So, you love a good XR4Ti, huh?
Me: I am an American.
I know where a nice red one went if you still want one
Me: Hah, I'm listening…
Rutledge: Are we in the tree of trust? The trust tree?
Me: Deep in the roots
Rutledge: You know that nice red one we had on the show?
Me: Yes. Tried to send a buddy down to bid on it.
Rutledge: Yeah… I bought it.
My mind was racing. Why was he telling me this? Might I buy it? Alas, he wasn't sure if his lovely and super cool wife Rachel would like it. Of the 40+ cars he's owned since they've been together she's been on board with all of them except his awesome Buick Roadmaster and the Merkur.
It should be noted that Rutledge also offered me the Roadmaster, but I declined because I was hoping for something a little faster.
Because he's a great guy and the living embodiment of carma, he sold the Merkur to me for the very fair price of the $550 he paid for it plus the money it cost to ship and two Crown Royal-and-Sprites.
It was a deal, but because of our busy schedules and a misplaced title it was hard for me to actually get down to Atlanta to go pick it up. So there it sat, on his brother-in-law Adam's property, going undriven. Taunting me.
I wouldn't make it down until the end of my trip with Travis to Deal's Gap in December. Our final stop on the journey was Rutledge's charming hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. We got to meet Rut's charming family, juggle a little bit, see what else he was driving, and finally hook up with the car.
Travis was obviously jealous when he saw the bright red German Ford, but he was kind enough to hide that jealousy under a patina of extreme pity. Rutledge's brother-in-law Adam explained to me how I had to have the auxiliary fan on at all times to keep the engine from overheating. He pointed out that the car had been painted a luxurious black but, for TV purposes, had been quickly oversprayed with paint the color and sheen of cherry chapstick.
The envy reached a boiling point when I took Travis on the car's maiden trip and it stalled at every intersection… a problem only exacerbated by the welded diff, which required me to drift around every sharp turn. Whatever. I loved it.
Tanner Foust is, of course, a professional drifter, but he apparently couldn't handle the raw power of a drifting Merkur without cheating a little bit. Maybe one day, with a lot of practice, he'll be able to handle such a fine machine without any assistance. Dare to dream, Tanner.
After getting the details sorted we took the car back to the hotel and set off for Partner's Pizza for their Potato Pizza… which is basically a baked potato on a pizza crust. Delicious.
In the next installment of Project Xratty, I'll explain how I got it all the way home, how helpful the guys at Merkur Midwest have been, and where it goes next.