Cars like today’s Nice Price or No Dice Merkur XR4Ti were once referred to as “captive imports.” Let’s see if this rare former Ford can capture your hearts at its asking price.
Now, while I agree with the general consensus in the comments on yesterday’s 1957 BMW Isetta that it really should have had a thorough cleaning before being put on Craigslist, I still don’t think the dustiness warranted dunning the car’s $21,000 price as thoroughly as you all did. Isetta prices are all over the board these days, and while dirty, yesterday’s car looked to be pretty solid beneath its dusty coat. That couldn’t persuade the majority of you in its favor, however, with the bubble car falling in a 77 percent No Dice loss.
Yesterday’s BMW was a European model, privately imported to the United States by its present owner. In contrast, the Ford Motor Company has tried for decades to bring over a number of Ford of Europe models through proper channels so as to give U.S. buyers a bit of the magic that our European neighbors get to enjoy.
Let’s tally up those models by the decade. In the 1950s, the company brought over a number of UK-sourced models, with names like Anglia, Consul, and Prefect. And yes, that’s where Douglas Adams got the Ford Prefect name for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
By the 1960s, Ford had pared that down to just the Cortina and Capri. With the dawning of the 1970s, Ford dumped the Cortina. It later added the Fiesta, but only briefly. The 1980s saw both the Fiesta and European Capri get the boot, but the European candy store was just too big a draw so Ford leaned on its German subsidiary for two new models. Those were to be sold under a new “Merkur” brand under the XR4Ti and Scorpio names. Both the brand and the cars failed in the U.S. and seemed to dissuade the car maker from further imports. Instead, in the ’90s Ford made certain models “global.” That allowed both the Focus and Contour to be much closer in design to their European siblings. In this Century, Ford once again dipped into its European model line, giving Americans up until recently the Transit Connect vans.
Today we’re going to take a page out of the history book and take a look at one of Ford’s 1980s imports, specifically a 1986 Merkur XR4Ti.
The Sierra upon which the XR4Ti was based was created during the heady days when Fordʼs engineers and designers seemed obsessed with bars of soap and had locked management out so they wouldnʼt smack down radical fare such as the Taurus/Sable twins and the brilliantly re-imagined Thunderbird Aerobird. The overseeing Merkur brand was Fordʼs attempt to once again leverage the European product pot, and establish a differentiation factor for Mercury dealers where it would be sold.
Sadly, it didnʼt work out very well. Dealers in the Midwest couldnʼt pronounce the brand and the deutschmark/dollar exchange rate sent the carʼs price on a roller coaster ride. Well, the first part of the ride at least, you know, where it just keeps going up. Merkur only lasted for 4 short years and two models. These days finding the second one—the big Scorpio hatchback—on the road is like discovering an actual Almond Roca in the cat’s litter box.
The smaller and sportier XR4Ti, on the other hand, remains an iconoclastic and desirable ride, and typically current cars fall into two categories—dog turd, or Schnell-wagon. This ʼ86 seems to fall somewhere in between. The chassis of the European Ford Sierra, upon which the XR4Ti is based, rivals the contemporary BMW 3-series for creds: solid uni-body architecture, coil and strut suspension with trailing arm IRS in the back and disc brakes all the way around. It could also be had with a slick-shifting T9 five-speed manual.
Wrapped around those specs was a body that was the antithesis of the Bavarianʼs inability to think outside the box, and rivaled its fat American cousin the Taurus for roundiness. The XR4Ti came to the States with the additional unique styling traits of split side glass and a bi-plane rear spoiler. Motivating the Merkur was Fordʼs tried and true 2.3-liter Pinto four, in this case with a turbo bolted to it. With the manual transmission, the SOHC turbo-four offered a factory rated 175 horsepower.
This one comes with a clean title and cherry metallic paint over gray plastic cladding and bumpers. A lot of that plastic has seen better days but at least it’s all intact. That’s an important factor since body parts and glass for these cars are getting harder to find. Among those hard-to-find parts are the center caps for the factory alloys which are, in fact, missing on this car.
The cabin is also a bit tired, with upholstery that suffers some stretching and a split seam on the driver’s throne. Another issue is the cargo cover which is sagging alarmingly.
On the plus side, the dash and door cards look to be in decent shape. Missing is the Ford/Grundig stereo, though. The odo reads 30,077 but with just five barrels, that could have gone around the horn at least once.
According to the seller, the car “runs and drives fine,” but is described as a “fun drivable project car.” The seller also claims to have “a truck load of parts waiting to be put on and back together.” Along with the car and those parts will come what’s described as 30 years worth of receipts for the car’s care and maintenance. The reason the seller provides for the sale is that they have “more important things to tend to.”
What we need to tend to is the seller’s $5,000 asking price and whether or not that will get our seal of approval. What do you think, is this classic captive import worth that much as it stands? Or, will this be just another humiliation for the Merkur?
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