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Merkur: Ford’s European Performance Brand that Could Have Been

The luxury car scene during the latter part of the 20th century was a bit of a mess. Modern American tastes for premium features and European performance were just starting to develop, and automakers were scrambling to get a piece of the pie. Staple brands like Lincoln, Buick and Cadillac were out — and hot new Germans like Audi and BMW were in. Wanting to capitalize on this phenomenon, and with a respectable portfolio of European-market vehicles of its own, Ford founded the Merkur brand in 1985 as a way to offer its European-flavored vehicles here in the United States.

Ford’s plan was to adapt these vehicles to U.S. regulations in order to reap the same sales benefits in its home country as it was abroad. Only things never quite got that far. The brand’s only two product offerings, the XR4Ti and the Scorpio, both arrived as de-tuned, watered down versions of what they were abroad, thus facing an uphill battle from the start.

Sold as the Ford Sierra in Europe, the XR4Ti arrived in the U.S. for the 1985 model year with a 175-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, available 5-speed manual and wind-tunnel-sculpted two-tiered rear spoiler, all packed into a sporty three-door hatchback shape. While an enticing proposition and with sales ultimately exceeding 40,000 units in total, XR4Ti popularity fell steeply after its first few years on the market, and it was ultimately discontinued after the 1989 model year as a result of "changing regulations" (aka, low demand).

I’ve seen two XR4Tis in recent memory, one of which is pictured above. It’s a 1989 model, from the car’s the final year of production.

Merkur’s other offering, the Scorpio, was a mid-sized, 5-door hatchback featuring a 144-horsepower 2.9-liter V6 — and it had even less of a chance. Hindered by a high base price and inferior power and performance compared to rivals like the Saab 9000 S, the Scorpio only lasted for two model years — 1988 and 1989. Its discontinuation came shortly after that of the XR4Ti, marking the end of the brand. Surprisingly enough, Ford did manage to move over 20,000 Scorpios during the short time that the model was on sale.

If you look at Ford’s brand portfolio right now, there’s room for a few vehicles in the spirit of the Merkur line. The Ford marque has a good grasp on churning out competitive, mainstream, production cars and trucks in large volumes. Mercury is gone, probably for the better, and the Lincoln lineup is largely a more modernized version of what it has always been — big comfortable cars for people who want a little style, but not too much. One has to wonder, with a stronger marketing push, more enticing product offerings, and less hindrance by federal regulations, could Ford’s European-flavored brand have survived? I have to think so, and I’d even go so far as to bet that it would be stealing some sales from Audi and Mercedes, were it still around today. Find a Merkur for sale

 Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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4 COMMENTS

  1. “The brand’s only two product offerings, the XR4Ti and the Scorpio, both arrived as de-tuned, watered down versions of what they were abroad, thus facing an uphill battle from the start.”  Ummmm, you need to research the Sierra a little deeper, with the exception of the RS Cosworth and RS500 Cosworth, the highest engine output of a Euro-spec Sierra was 148hp. The “de-tuned” XR4Ti came with 175hp.  (I’ll give you the 144hp Scorpio, but that’s it.)

  2. With increasing globalization of the industry, illustrated by Ford in particular, the line between American Ford and Euro Ford has been seriously blurred, almost eradicated.  The stated purpose of Merkur, to market European Fords in the U.S., is no longer really valid.  If the brand was still around today, it would have to be differentiated in some other way, and if Ford was interested in those kind of branding exercises, Mercury would still be around.

    • Agree 100%. There’s really no different cars in Europe vs. US anymore since the ONE Ford Mulally brought in almost a decade ago. It’s been extremely successful in the US. 

      I think Lincoln is trying to be different than in the past. The MKC and MKZ are both styled in a Euro-centric way to bring people in for smaller premium cars. Still no two doors or hatchbacks, but they could still come one day…
    • I think that a lot would be different had the brand gotten a foothold in the US during its first few years.  Didn’t mean to sound like I was making a case for more further brand fragmentation, rather, I was just visualizing a world where Ford had a US A4/S4/A5/S5 fighter in its portfolio.

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