WORDS: NATHAN CHADWICK | PHOTOGRAPHY: CNC MOTORSPORT AWS
A vital car in the development of the all-conquering Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth Group A touring car has emerged from a four-year restoration.
CNC Motorsport AWS has brought one of two Merkur XR4Tis built by Ford’s works team, Eggenberger, for the 1986 European Touring Car Championship back to life. The lessons learned on this car, plus other XR4Ti models racing in Europe, are what would go on to make the Ford Sierra Cosworth and its evolution version, the RS500, so dominant in Group A touring car racing in respect to outright wins.
The Merkur XR4Ti was a European-built Sierra designed for the American market, powered by a 2.3-litre turbocharged Lima engine. The Sierra Cosworth would use a 2.0-litre Pinto turbo, but much of the chassis learnings from the XR4Ti touring car were carried on into the Sierra programme.
Steve Soper and Klaus Niedzwiedz campaigned this car throughout the 1986 season. Things didn’t start well, with electrical issues ruling them out at Monza and an accident curtailing progress after ten laps at Donington. The pair landed the car its first podium at Hockenheim next time out, but a turbo issue forced retirement at the next round at Misano.
Eggenberger sat out the controversial Anderstorp round (which saw the Volvos disqualified on home ground) to focus on the Brno round, and as a result both examples of the Eggenberger XR4Ti lined up on the first row on the grid, with this car on pole. The race didn’t turn out quite as well as hoped, with another turbo failure for this car after 26 laps. Another retirement followed at the next two rounds, Zeltweg and the Nürburgring. Better was to come at the Spa 24 Hours, with Soper, Niedzwiedz and Siegfried Müller Jr finishing seventh, albeit 24 laps down on the winning BMW.
The next race, Silverstone, saw Soper in the lead for much of the race, but when Niedzwiedz took over the engine blew four laps later. The Nogaro round ended with a creditable fourth place, yet an accident put them out at Zolder, and a rear-axle problem curtailed their efforts at Jarama after 80 laps. The best was to come at season-ending Estoril round, with Soper and Niedzwiedz finishing in first, nearly a full minute ahead of the TWR/Bastos Rover.
After the ETCC season finished, the car was shipped to New Zealand for Soper and Neville Crichton to compete in the Wellington Street Race, finishing fourth. Buoyed by this success, Crichton bought the car to compete in the New Zealand Nissan Mobil races, before racing it in the Australia Shell Ultra Touring Car Championship. It was then upgraded to Sierra RS500 specification with a new drivetrain, suspension and rear quarters.
It was later owned by TraNZam racer Mark Petch, and fitted with the correct XR4Ti panels. It came to the UK for a full restoration by touring car specialist CNC Motorsport AWS, which is currently building the Rouse Continuation RS500 cars on which Magneto has reported previously.
The restoration has seen a new XR4ti engine installed, pumping out 340bhp, while the roll cage was remanufactured to the correct 1986 design. It has the correct and original Group A Eggenberger suspension and rare Getrag ‘long’ bellhousing, as well as its original Bilstein dampers, AP racing calipers and 17in BBS alloy wheels. It also has a brand-new FIA-approved fuel cell.
The car comes with FIA HTP papers and is eligible for racing events across the UK and Europe, and it has an invitation for Peter Auto HTC and Motor Racing Legends. “This is possibly one of the most significant cars of the Group A touring car era,” says restorer Alan Strachan. “Without the Merkurs, the Sierra Cosworth may not have endured the success they did. This is a fascinating car, driven by some of the biggest names of the time, and it comes with an extensive history of its time in New Zealand including pictures, race reports and period spare body panels. We also can offer an additional spares package and support with running the car.”
Although a price hasn’t been revealed at the time of writing, more details can be found from email@example.com