Wednesday, October 23, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1989 Merkur Scorpio

This week we're looking at 1980s models from orphaned brands. Second up is a 1989 Merkur Scorpio.

It's been two years since Ford shuttered its Mercury brand due to slow sales and stagnant products. Mercury wasn't a bad brand, but it was little more than lightly restyled Fords marketed to women and old people. What people often forget is the existence of another brand, Merkur, that used to be sold through the same dealerships. Merkur was an unusual concept for Ford, an attempt to get Americans interested in a couple of their European offerings and compete in the burgeoning German luxury car market. What it was, was a couple of rebadged European Fords built in Germany, equipped with luxury touches, and sold at luxury prices. Ford of course couldn't call the new car Sierra (after the car on which the new models were heavily based), because GMC was already using that name. So the Sierra XR4i hatchback coupe and larger Scorpio sedan became the Merkur XR4Ti and the Merkur Scorpio. Merkur itself was a literal German translation of Mercury.

The Merkur Scorpio was a well-equipped, competent luxury car, and its base vehicle was very popular in its home market. Ford had all kinds of special benefits for Merkur owners like a 6-year warranty, free loaner cars and even a higher-than-average resale value if the buyer traded in for another Ford product later. So what happened? The cars were expensive to produce and import, which contributed to their high price tag. They were sold in the same dealerships as cheaper Mercury Sables, which looked somewhat similar (and some might say better). Unlike the European Sierra Scorpio, the U.S. Scorpio did not receive a sporty Cosworth model and was only available with one V6 engine (though a 5-speed manual transmission was a very rare option). The domestic Sable could be ordered with one of two larger V6s, and was available in sedan or wagon form. Five-door hatchbacks were not especially popular in the States at the time. The final blow to the Merkur brand was federal legislation mandating airbags and other safety equipment. The Sierra was never designed to meet those standards and could not be re-engineered on short notice, and was probably not profitable enough to justify the effort. So the Merkur Scorpio was killed after only two years on the market. A mere 22,007 were sold.

This car is a 1989 model, made in the final year of production. It is one of the cleanest Merkurs I've spotted in recent memory, and still displays well apart from some minor scuffs on the standard color-contrasting bumpers. Color is Diamond White over Nautilus Gray. This one appears to have the optional power moonroof and is probably well-equipped. I've long had a mild interest in these cars, even though they've never particularly appealed to me visually. Perhaps it's because they were always rare, and to me they don't look like anything else on the road. It's like a Sterling 827, one of those quirky bit players in the luxury car field that never caught on and is now just a nice older used car that happens to have limited parts availability.


Thanks to an astute reader for pointing out some erroneous statements in my original post!

2 comments:

  1. The Sierra and the Scorpio are different cars, the Sierra being smaller, although with similar styling. We in Europe (or at least in Sweden) never concidered these as luxury cars. The Scorpio was a big cheep car (here big cars are usually expencive) and if orderd it with a 4cyl and no equippment it was good value, loaded ones should be avoided since they breakdown. the Sierra was just cheep, a reskinned 70-ies Taunus/Cortina.

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    1. Thanks for the corrections! Your description also sounds like a good argument for why the Scorpio failed so badly as a luxury car in the US market.

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