In the 1980s, Ford of Europe head Bob Lutz thought his company's rear-wheel drive Sierra could be a credible alternative to the yuppie-favorite BMW 3-Series. Marketed properly, Lutz figured that the Sierra would be a hit in the US, so he convinced his American counterparts to import it. Then things got very complicated.
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As explains, Ford couldn't use the Sierra name in the US—it was trademarked by Oldsmobile—and Lutz was convinced that it couldn't be sold as a Lincoln or Mercury. Thus, Ford created a confusing new brand for the car, Merkur. The Sierra was federalized with the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the Mustang SVO, and a new name: XR4Ti.
The car itself was critically acclaimed, earning , but not many beyond automotive journalists became fans. Consumers were confused by the odd brand name—pronounced mare-KOOR, by the way—and Lincoln-Mercury dealers didn't know how to sell such a vehicle. Not even a marketing campaign featuring F1 champ Jackie Stewart could help.
Of the X4Tis that did sell, Ford didn't make much money off them. As , the car was built by Karmann in Germany, and a rising Deutsch Mark combined with a weak US dollar made profit margins on this car incredibly slim.
Just a little over 42,000 XR4Tis were sold before the Merkur brand was killed in 1989—in part because new laws meant a 1990 model year would require airbags for the US market. That makes this ill-fated sports coupe a rare find today. We found on Hemmings with an asking price of $11,000, and crucially, a car phone.
Today, it makes an interesting buy, since the XR4Ti had a lot of performance potential. Remember that this car was the basis for the wild Sierra Cosworth rally homologation special in Europe.
And while the contemporary BMW 3-Series was arguably the better car, the E30 is commonplace compared to the XR4Ti. Go to any local car meet, and you're bound to see an E30. A Merkur? There's hardly a chance. That's got to count for something.