Huw Evans
November 1, 2008
84-'92 Lincoln Mk VII LSC
Price Range: $800-$3,500
Pros: A true Hot-Rod Lincoln, strong acceleration, Mustang mechanicals
Cons: Air suspension can be problematic, early cars a bit on the slow side

After pedaling a succession of outsized two-door luxury liners, Lincoln took a different approach for its new-for-'84 Mk VII. Although some style elements paid homage to the past, this was a slippery aero coupe and, in fact, the first U.S. car to use flush-mounted headlights. It was initially offered in base, ritzy Versace, Bill Blass, and LSC versions. The latter was the more performance-oriented version, with beefy Goodyear Eagle GT radials mounted on cast-aluminum wheels. A sophisticated air suspension system and standard four-channel antilock brakes (another first on domestic cars) delivered a supple ride yet allowed the car to corner at limits previously unheard of for a Lincoln. Although the LSC was initially powered by the same 165hp throttle-body-injected 302 V-8 as other models, for 1986 and again in 1987, it got a shot in the arm, first with the Mustang's 200hp sequential 5.0L V-8 and then the stronger 225hp version along with bigger wheels and tires. In post '87-'92 trim the car was a serious performer, with 0-60-mph times in under eight seconds out of the box. Because it shares much of its driveline and architecture with the contemporary Fox Mustang, from engine parts to replacement coil spring kits, transmissions and rearend upgrades can easily be found. Today the Mk VII truly represents tremendous bang for the buck and $3,500 should net you a rather decent example.

85-'88 Merkur XR4Ti
Price Range: $500-$3,500
Pros: A true Euro Ford, fun to drive, lots of performance potential, beat the imports at their own game
Cons: Turbo engines often need attention, good examples getting hard to find

A captive import and often considered the brainchild of then Ford of Europe VP Bob Lutz, this was in essence an Americanized version of the '83-'84 Ford Sierra XR4i. The Sierra was a mainstream European family car that debuted in 1982, replacing the long-running Cortina/Taunus. The XR4i was the original sporting three-door version, powered by a 2.8L V-6 engine. For 1985, the decision was taken to import a modified version of this car to North America under the Merkur brand as the XR4Ti, where it would be sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, effectively replacing the LN7. The main differences between the Merkur and its European counterpart centered around the bumpers, lights, and driveline. The XR4Ti was powered by a version of the 2.3L "Lima" four-turbo engine then found in the Thunderbird Turbo Coupes and Cougar XR7s. With a five-speed manual gearbox, the little four-banger was rated at 175 hp and 145 with a three-speed automatic. Peppy acceleration, combined with a rigid unibody, rear drive, and fully independent suspension, made the XR4Ti an exceedingly fun to pilot little car and an excellent platform for road racing and rallying. It lasted until 1989, when Ford pulled the plug on the Merkur brand. Today, these cars have a cult following and a number of specialists exist in North America, including BAT (British American Transfer), North American Cosworth Specialists, and Rapido Group. Parts interchangeability with the Sierra (including the fearsome Cosworths) and a surprising number of performance upgrades means you can build one of these into a true street/track terror. Our scan of the classifieds revealed that good ones can be had for well within our $3,500 ceiling. For more info on these cars, contact the Merkur Club of America (merkurclub.com).

'89-'97 Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar
Price Range: $1,800-$3,500
Pros: Solid, roomy, well-equipped cars, supercharged models quite fast
Cons: Not a huge range of performance parts available, 3.8 engines can be fragile

The last car we've chosen for our Ford list is the MN12 Thunderbird/Cougar--in production from 1989 to 1997. Crowned Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for its debut season, it rode on a longer wheelbase than its predecessor and boasted all-independent suspension, which helped deliver an excellent ride and good handling for a car of its size. Most interesting of this breed are the '89-'95 Super Coupes, with their selective ride control, 3.8L supercharged V-6, and five-speed manual gearbox. When shopping for one of these, be careful as quite a few are for sale that need engine work--the V-6 was prone to blowing head gaskets and suffered from overheating problems. However, that makes them dirt cheap to buy--$1,500-$2,000 for a solid example--and once running, you get a lot of car for the money. The Cougar, like its '83-'88 predecessor, boasted more formal styling, with a near vertical back window. The XR7s shared the Super Coupe's driveline for '89-'90, but then switched to a 200hp 5.0L V-8 and four-speed automatic for '91, shared with that year's new Thunderbird LX. For 1994, the LX and Cougar XR7 got the 4.6L modular V-8, which lasted through the end of production. These cars, particularly the Super Coupes and XR7s, are starting to gain popularity again and make for great cruising and long-distance cars. More aftermarket parts are appearing for them, particularly engine and driveline mods, and if you ask us, now is the time to get one as prices look set to rise in the not too distant future.