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Cars That Were Too Kewl For the U.S.

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On: Fri, Sep 18, 2009 at 1:04PM | By: John Welch

Cars That  Were Too Kewl For the U.S.

Everyone has one car/car moment that they emotionally tie to their childhood. It may have been the family's first Camaro, an old Bronco that Dad used for hunting, Mom bringing home the neighborhood's first Taurus. Whatever the story may be, everyone has one. Mine involves a tricky Euro-brick with a faulty front suspension and the baddest wing this side of an Airbus— the Merkur XR4Ti. Muh Daddy considered himself a classy, adventurous Gent, the sort that would take a chance on an unknown import simply because it was wicked-fast. He woke me up at 5 a.m. one spring Saturday (if I'm not mistaken I was seven years old . . . maybe eight) the first time I had seen 5 a.m. on purpose, and instructed me to get dressed and head out to the drive way as quickly as possible. There it sat, ominous dark blue paint gleaming behind thick, fresh central Florida dew, our brand new Merkur Whatsitsfourteeeye.

Big, strange front fascia, weird, cubist rims, and that wing! The XR4Ti was a revelation in sheet metal— I had never seen anything like it! The blue demon's specifications made no difference to me at the time, I couldn't have told you what 'pound feet of torque' meant if I had a gun to my head. This is what I understood: FAST! To a prepubescent Floridian male, that's all that mattered. Strapping ourselves into the passenger compartment, we set out to unwind Poppah's new beast on the then empty North Lakeland back roads. And unwind we did. I have few memories that have stuck with me over time (I couldn't tell you what I ate yesterday), but this one sticks like two-stage epoxy on a hot day.

First gear ends abruptly, Dad breezes off the throttle, bangs second gear, and we listen to the turbo whining in pain as the tach passes five grand in second. Darting around left and right hand sweepers that would've caused lesser cars to understeer straight into a row of trailers, my Father couldn't stop mumbling, "Holy crap, this car is fast," over and over again. I agreed. Sixty-five hundred rpm, slam third gear, peel my head off the seat just long enough to witness the speedo-needle flash past 110 on its way to ever higher, death-defying speeds. Stop sign ahead, two lightning fast downshifts (my Dad was much like Cole Trickle— he had no idea what a 'break-in period' was, but the sonuvabitch could pilot an automobile like it was an extension of his own body), jump on the binders, Merkur screeching to a sideways halt. Quick check for traffic and we are off again, serenaded by the whistle and thrash of an over-boosted SVO fourbanger trying to reduce its motor mounts to baking soda. Working with little or no sleep, the adrenalin was enough to make this Dupont Jobber from Detroit into a regular Michael Schumacher. None of this was sinking in at the time; all I knew was that my Dad was the freaking man for buying such a ridiculous (even to an eight year old) far-out rocket ship as the strangely beautiful XR4Ti.

This is the part that sucks. While our Merkur XR4Ti was powered by the same 175 bhp coil-pack four that was under the SVO Mustang's hood, the Ford Sierra (the car which donated its chassis and styling for the Merkur) was much, much more ballsy. At the time, 175 bhp tethered to 2,800 lbs. of Eurobullet was respectable, easily dusting off contemporary Camaros and Mustangs. That 175 horse seemed like warp factor five to my young and, admittedly, uninitiated rear-end. The chassis performance was astounding, sheering the optic nerves from my eye balls during hard cornering. In my advanced age, travesties like the Internet and Michael Bay have come along and destroyed all my grand boyhood memories. Two minutes of Google searching is all it takes to become painfully aware of just how tame the XR4Ti actually was. That the Sierra could be had with a little package labeled 'Cosworth', not available on the detuned USDM, Merkur-badged version. Uhm, yeah, attach the word 'Cosworth' to a Ford and then hide your children and elderly. The Sierra Cosworth was a beast in every sense of the word: sensational power (225 turbocharged ponies as compared to the XR4's lowly 175), special suspension upgrades, and an even crazier wing design. If you were lucky enough to know someone within Ford's European production department, you could specify the RS500 racing version— 500 bhp, 2,100 lbs. and zero patience for fools. If my Dad's car was so unbelievably quick to me, imagine what a Cosworth would have done to my fragile little mind. It would have exploded, brains oozing from every orifice punched into my snotty little face. Sadly, there was never any Cosworth offered to the American buyer, so I'm forced to live with the knowledge that what I once considered the fastest car in the world was not even the fastest version of that car. Such is life I suppose, tiny moments of unabashed joy ruined years later by the accumulation of knowledge. Or maybe I just take these things harder than a person is supposed to. Who knows? who cares? I can already tell I'll be that pudgy old man at Barret-Jackson 2023, dropping a small fortune on a cherry 1988 Cobalt Blue Merkur XR4Ti. I can't wait.

Just how mean was the Sierra Cosworth? Here are a few short videos proving its '80's superiority:

A clip from the UK's 'Fifth Gear', wherein a Ford trounces a contemporary Mercedes— both cars are tuned by Cosworth

And here we have 'Top Gear', explaining the BTCC as well as demonstrating the RS500's dominance of the series,

Finally, uninterrupted race footage of these magnificent Fords beating each others fenders in . . .

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)


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