[cars] I Loved An Import (and I Didn’t Know it)

Once upon a time, somewhere around 1989, when I knew a lot less about cars, I made fun of a friend, for his “Imported Escort” that I thought he paid too much for, and got too little. I did this because my dream car at the time was a GM G-Body: a GrandPrix, Monte Carlo, Cutlass Supreme. You know, V8 in the front, drive the wheels out back, and push a lot of Iron around in a 2-door, t-top chassis.

So, Omar, if you ever read this, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Oh, in hindsight, he did his mods wrong (a big subwoofer under the passenger seat “for the ladies”), but he got the car right.

Because today, I would buy that “Ford Escort” in a second.

Because that Escort wasn’t an Escort at all. It was something a little… better. It was, at least in North America, a Merkur XR4Ti. It was, undressed for the North American Market, a Ford Sierra Cosworth at its heart.

And, today, it hits all my buttons. It actually has done for about ten years.

Rear wheel drive. relatively high-pressure (14-17psi) turbo. Relatively light. And … distinctive… in appearance.

I would buy one today. I took a quick look on Ontario Kijijji, and you can get a well-maintained manual transmission 1988 model for around $4500. And yeah, that seems like a lot. But there weren’t many of these to begin with, and they’re becoming more and more scarce. A notable percentage of the ads I saw stated “Comes with parts car”. That’s good and bad. Good, lots of extra stuff to work with. Bad, another one of these that will never see the road again.

They’re a cool car, for a lot of reasons. In the land of affordable speed in the late eighties, there wasn’t a lot. My little brother had a ’91 Mazda MX6 GT Turbo which was fantastic, and again with the Mazda, the 323 GTX. FWD and torque steer of the gods in the MX6, and the GTX was … unusual, but both awesome.

But, at the end of the day, if you like performance, then RWD > FWD pretty much every time.

I’d love to have an old Merkur, gigantic wing and all (didn’t I mention the wing? That distinctive appearance? Here’s a picture) as a project car.

Because they give you a base to work from. There’s a ton of aftermarket, and great potential. Tons of information out there too. And, they hail from a simpler automotive time. You, as an enthusiast, get to explain that it’s not an Escort, it’s not even a European Escort, it’s a SIERRA; TOTALLY DIFFERENT CAR!

And, it’s got quirky stories. fr’instance, Car and Driver gave it a “10 best of 1985” award. Then, in 2009, took that award away when they made their 10 most embarassing award winners list. Personally, I think they were looking for a tenth car for the list. Every other vehicle with its award rescinded had actual issues: the Merkur had a wierd name, and “wasn’t a terrible car, but it sure was odd looking.” and “in sum, perculiar”.

There’s even a webcomic loosely based around one: Misfile

What can I say? Something about them screams “this needs to be fixed up”. So, again, I’m sorry Omar. You bought the right car back then. And sometime in the last twenty years, I bet you junked it, too.


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