So I have now officially owned my 1986 Merkur XR4Ti for an entire year. In this year, I learned how to drive stick, taught myself how to heel-toe rev-match, completed several successful journeys, and was only stranded once. Lets start by talking about some of the work that has gone into the car.
After the initial debacle of getting the car home, un-sticking the front brakes, and rebuilding the cooling fan, (you can read about all of this here) we began making the car as comfortable and reliable of a daily-driver as possible. This included replacing miscellaneous bits and pieces around the car with new ones that actually worked. My dad and I fixed the hood release that only worked when it wanted to, strengthened the rear parcel shelf, remedied a horrible rattle the exhaust system developed, and did basic maintenance under the hood that should be expected when buying an older car.
Pictured: At least I won't lose it in the parking lot
Also on the list is the installation of speakers and a radio. When the car was being built for Top Gear, the idea was to make it functional for TV. This means that after removing the aftermarket stereo system that had been installed previously, replacing it was not the top priority. This means that there was no music for the trek from Chicago to California for filming, much to the annoyance of the driver as I am told.
As the wires were still in tact all we had to do was mount speakers and away we went. While the original radio in the car most likely would've been functional, I decided that listening to Led Zeppelin off my iPhone via Bluetooth was preferable to listening to Blondie via the horrible excuse for classic rock stations we have around here. A new head unit was in order.
There was also an extensive amount of cleaning that took place. It isn't like the car was trashed or anything, Hardigree did his part to keep it pretty tidy, but after 28 odd years a lot of nastiness can accumulate.
Pictured: Sometimes you have to improvise when the seats are out of your car.
My dad also got to try his hand at fiberglass repair as the drivers door card was torn and falling apart in places.
Now comes the part where I reveal the biggest setback and issue with the car to date. The issue occurred early in the year, the car was finally running well and while my manual driving skills were moderate at best at the time, I decided to drive down the road to get some food for a friend and I. This was my first time actually going anywhere in the car, but confidence grew as I approached my destination and the car hadn't caught fire or anything. So there I am, waiting to pull up to the speaker and order my sub-par chicken nuggets. The line was taking a very long time so I put the car in neutral and engaged the E-brake as there was a slight incline. The line moves, I take off the E-brake, put my foot on the brake pedal and it goes straight to the floor. No brakes.
Let me take this paragraph to address the ridiculousness of drive through lanes. These things tend to be fairly narrow with tight turns and traditionally feature very high curbs on either side of the car. I find it amazing that the people that plan these things out still design them the same way even though watching mothers drive their minivans up on the curb while rounding the corner and falling off violently as children and dogs fly around in the back is quickly eclipsing baseball as America's national pastime. The mother is always somehow so engrossed in her phone conversation that she rarely notices the medium sided car accident her children just experienced.
So back to the 'No brakes' thing. With cars both in front and behind and high curbs on either side I had to balance the E-brake and clutch to get through the line until I could find an opening to escape and find a parking spot to await my mother who upon receiving the rescue call didn't even hang up the phone before she was out the door in a panic.
Pictured: My car looked like this for 4 weeks
The weird part comes when my dad and I go back to the parking lot later in the day and find that the brake pedal is solid as ever. He drives the car home and we decide the issue must be a leaky brake master cylinder, so I contact Merkur Midwest and get one ordered. We install the new master cylinder to find that we are getting no fluid at the rear brakes and the pedal will not pump up to give a firm pedal. Another email exchange and another master cylinder arrives days later. This chain of events happens several times before we decide to try a newly rebuilt cylinder straight from Cardone. This takes several weeks to obtain and arrives to yield the same results. After several weeks my car up on jack stands going through something like 5 different cylinders, the problem was uncovered.
Originally, the car was an automatic, but was converted to a 5-speed at the request of Top Gear. The car also has rear disk brakes as opposed to the drums that came standard. For some reason, possibly as a result of these modifications or a mismatched part over the 28 years of the car existing, the brake pedal when not pressed did not have the master cylinder fully decompressed meaning it would not build pressure when pumped. The issue was discovered because when the pedal went soft, I was able to put my foot behind the pedal and pull back toward me and it would pump right up. The addition of a few spacers between the master cylinder and the firewall and the brakes were functioning perfectly. It's always the stupid little things.
As far as performance enhancements go, the car already had a different computer allowing more boost as the automatic cars aren't able to boost as high. In its current state I am running 15 psi with the knock sensor removed. Removing the knock sensor made a world of difference because it's not constantly killing power in fear of the engine knocking. These few little things teamed with the basics like spark plugs and wires and such really make a difference.
This picture was taken at a Merkur Club meet in Chicago in 2009 by me. 11 year old me and my father drove 2 hours in his '88 Merkur XR4Ti to attend the meet where I saw the car that just 5 years later would be sitting in my garage. The black paint was immaculate, its really a shame that it got covered up.
Doug DeMuro bought his Ferrari 360 around the same time I bought my Merkur. While he took to Jalopnik a few weeks back to say that his year of Ferrari ownership was a disappointment, my year of Merkur ownership was certainly not a disappointment. Most of my year was spent making the thing work properly and waiting for snow to melt, but the months afterward more than made up for it.
Pictured: Why don't more cars have dual wings?
While Doug has now sold his Ferrari to move on to bigger and better things, I still have the XR and even bought a winter car to help protect it and slow the spread of rust.
It has been a great year of ownership with many great drives and good times had. I have to thank Matt Hardigree of course for selling me the thing, my dad for letting me buy it and helping me work on it, and the crew up at Merkur Midwest for putting up with my questions and supplying parts.
My car is currently in storage for the winter in my grandmas garage, but that didn't stop me from sneaking in a drive on a nice day last week. This last year has been great, and I look forward to the years to come. See you next year.