Savannah Postcard (4)

On my first morning, a Sunday, I crept out of my lodgings and strolled around the grid-system streets of old Savannah.

1995-2000 Mercury Mystique in Savannah, Georgia.

This postcard concerns what resembles an alternate-reality Ford Mondeo, the Mercury Mystique which Ford USA sold from 1995 to 2000. Why did it exist? It looks perhaps like a rejected Mondeo proposal. What it is, is evidence of increasing rationalisation of the global Ford product range. The Mondeo upon which Ford based the Mercury Mystique was intended to drag Ford’s mid-sized offering into the front-drive world where its main enemy, the GM Cavalier/Ascona, had been thriving for some time.

1995-2000 Mercury Mystique (probably 1998).

What happened here was a form of convergence or crash-meeting of two different product lines under one international banner.

For more than a decade, FoMoCo had two similarly dimensioned but differently-engineered cars in their line-up, one in the US and one in Europe. From 1983 to 1994, AmeriFord sold the Tempo (aka Mercury Topaz), a pretty nasty item with front-wheel-drive and an overall length of 4,488mm. During this time, EuroFord sold the RWD Sierra, a car of similar dimensions to the Tempo at 4,531 mm long.

This variety was costing lovely money. So, for the early ’90s, Ford wanted to rationalise their offerings with a ‘world car’. That platform would replace both the Tempo-Topaz twins and the Sierra, thereby achieving economies of scale. The resultant unified platform gave us the car we know as the Mondeo in Europe, a front-wheel drive vehicle of length 4,481mm.

In the US, the CDW27 platform appeared as both a Ford and a Mercury (today’s car). Mercury was a nameplate discontinued in 2011 after many decades of being not much more than a trim variant of Ford cars rather than a brand with unique body-shells. The car we see in the blurry photos is a late Mercury Mystique. You can recognise the doors as being very Mondeo; the lamps are somewhat like those of the Mondeo Mk 1, Phase 2 but probably not identical.

1995-1998 Mercury Mystique (source). Not so bad. The facelift is, in comparison, quite wretched.

The curious thing about this world car phenonomenon is that BMW and Mercedes had been using the strategy forever. They sold the same cars in the US as in the EU. That makes the quite marked differences between the Ford Mondeo and Ford Contour seem all the more puzzling. The existence of the Mercury variant makes somewhat more sense. Ford could, possibly have made do with near-identical Ford Mondeo/Contours and a differentiated Mercury Mystique (if they really had to). The redundancy is even more pronounced if you consider all the facelifts experienced by the Mystique in its short and un-storied life.

Engine fans will find that the EuroFords had far more engine variants than their US equivalents. I count two or three units for the US cars and five for the EU.

The lingering impression one gets of the US versions of cars we know as European market ones is that the American versions always seem like proposals not good enough to make the final cut. I don’t think there is one Americanised GM or EuroFord car that gained from federalisation.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

23 thoughts on “Savannah Postcard (4)”

  1. Not only did Ford’s or GM’s products not gain from federalisation, BMW’s or Mercedes’ also didn’t get better when federalised. Big bumpers, golden badges and glitzy lights don’t do them a favour.
    The best example is the reverse-federalisation of the Audi C2 2oo.

  2. Good morning, Richard. The rear lights of the Mercury Mistake (as it was nicknamed) draw my attention, as these are very different from the Mondeo. Still it does indeed look like a rejected Mondeo proposal.

    I can’t think of a car that gained from federalization, either.

    1. If the Mondeo Mk1 already looks like a rejected proposal, particularly in Phase 2 form, then what does that make the Mercury?

    2. Maybe a Mistake? I don’t know, Dave. I never liked the looks of the first generation Mondeo, especially the Phase 2.

      First time I drove the Mondeo, I thought it was pretty bad too, despite the favorable press. The car I sampled was a 1.8 four door that had done about 15,000 kilometers or so, if memory serves me right. It was a loaner my dad got after his E34 was in the shop for accident repairs. It must have been a case of ‘don’t be gentle it’s a rental’, because it felt like an old banger already.

      Later I drove two brand new 2.5 Mondeo’s, both the saloon and hatchback I think, and those were good cars.

    3. A Canadian penpal (e-pal?) had one. He hated me calling it that. 🙂

  3. I don´t think there is one Americanised GM or EuroFord car that gained from federalisation

    The 1978-1980 Ford Fiesta; that 1.6 Kent more than made up for the emissions equipment and extra weight and also had the added benefit of optional air conditioning. Performance was a fair bit more than “good”, and 35 mpg all day every day was still to be expected. I’d be hard pressed to be convinced this wasn’t a certifiable improvement.

    1. To my eye the Mercury Mystique is an improvement compared to both
      – the Mondeo and the Topaz.

      Especially the Mk1, the Mk2 was a victim of the Ford New Edge design, a bulletproof method to botch up every facelift (Fiesta, Scorpio, Mondeo). White was the wrong colour for every car of this design period.

      It’s a pity, the Mystique failed to save the elegance of the prototype version Premys :

    2. At first I thought the american Sierra XR4i (Merkur XR4 Ti) gained with the 177 bhp 2.3 Turbo engine instead of the indifferent 150 bhp 2.8 V6 Cologne; but it seems that four cylinder was very rough and not very nice to drive.

  4. Good morning Richard. You certainly have an eye for the, er, unusual in your postcards. One thing that strikes me about the misbegotten Mystique is just how extensively altered its outer skin was from that of the Mondeo, and to such meagre effect. Let’s take a look at too comparative photos:


    Not only are the front and rear ends different, but so are the bodysides. The Mystique has a deep groove in the lower flanks that must have required different inner door pressings as well. Was this change really worthwhile? If it was judged an improvement, then why wasn’t it incorporated into the Mondeo too? Even the bonnet, which at first glance looks identical to the Mondeo’s, has a subtle crease along its centre that doesn’t feature on the European Ford. Why so many changes? Was it simply a case of ‘not invented here’ syndrome, where Mercury’s designers had to put their own stamp on the car? Strange.

    1. That is truly remarkable. The politics behind this must be maddening, surely? At least, I cannot imagine a valid reason to do so many alterations with so little to show for it.

      That, by the way, is also why I suspect BMW, Merc and Audi manage to sell ‘world’ cars: they don’t historically have separate US and European branches; they came to the US ‘fully formed’, as it were. Prestige also plays a big part, in that it is probably easier to leverage the European-ness of their cars (and corresponding price tag) in the market segments they operate in. Like imported beer.

    2. I don’t see any significant improvement in the changes either, but I’m also not that familiar with Mercury’s design language.
      But since Ford built the car on two different continents – unlike Mercedes or BMW – and new press tools had to be made for the press shop in the USA anyway, it was probably possible to make slight changes without adding to the costs.

    3. That is curious! I’m inclined to believe Fred’s theory that the changes were made in the process of bringing production over to Missouri and Mexico. The USDM Contour facelift (Mk 1.5 Mondeo), despite featuring a largely similar front fascia to its European cousin, also has the Mystique’s deep-groove bodysides and full-width rear lamp cluster:

    4. They weren´t able even to install the same dashboard in the Mondeo and Contour…centre console, HVAC buttons and passenger side are very different

      Sadly, we couldn´t enjoy this in Europe

  5. Ah yes, the Americans and their failed attempts of making a world car. Or, making them they could. Making them attractive and competetive they couldn’t.

    The Chevrolet Chevette, made on the GM T-Car platform, aka the Opel Kadett C/Vauxhall Chevette. Made in the US until 1987 when its only redeeming quality was that it was the absolutely cheapest domestic product on the market.

    The Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, aka Simca/Talbot Horizon. Could’ve been a world car unless the American end of operation wanted to rebuild the car entirely from its Simca origins with a completely different front suspension set up which substituted the traditionally Chrysler front torsion bars for a contemporary MacPherson set up. Because of engine delivery problems or whatnot Chrysler was forced to buy engines from Volkswagen for their American sales, to the detriment of their bottom line.

    Instead of importing the future Sierra line Ford US developed the Tempo/Topaz line on the cheap with a substantial amount of tech from the Erica Escort, it is essentially an Escort that have been tweaked in different directions, leading to questionable driving dynamics.

    GM developed the J-car as a world car, but went the same way as Chrysler, having the Euro and American version diverge in different directions. The American J-Car used off the shelf components from the larger X-car, leading to the end product coming in overweight and underperforming, as those components were dimensionally larger and heavier. While Opel used off the shelf components from its own inventory more suitable for the segment. Opel also decided to change the body in white and grafted on a completely new and longer rear end an extended boot for
    the European market only, making the very idea of a world car a moot point.

    1. No, I believe the Mondeo was a full clean-sheet Ford EU design. You might be thinking of the Australian Ford Telstar, based on the Mazda 626:

      Or the first-gen North American Ford Fusion, based on the Mazda 6’s G-platform:

    2. Thanks for the info. I had both, a 1995 Countor and a 1995 Mazda 626. They seem to be quite similar but the 626 was a much better car overall.

    3. The Ford CD3 platform that came out in 2002 was Mazda derived. I’m not sure if it was derived from earlier the Mazda 626, or was a clean sheet design. “All New!” is a pretty slippery concept in the automotive world…

  6. It’s ironic that Ford had a genuine world car with the Model T, all those years ago.

    I guess the difference is that, politically, a European brand selling its wares in the US is different from a European division exporting vehicles to its American parent.

    I think the Mercury in the 3rd picture looks pretty good. I also thought that the Tempo / Topaz had a good reputation? I must admit to quite liking the way it looks – a more conservative booted Sierra, sort of.

    1. To judge tge design of the Mystique, let’s have a look at the european Mondeo, after Ford has updated its look.

  7. Did the mondeo and the mystique have the same lenght? The mercury looks longer to me.

    1. I think you’re right. I’ve looked them up and it looks as though they have the same wheelbase, but that the Mystique is about 8 inches longer.

  8. With all this ‘globalized’ Mondeo discussion, it occurs to me that there’s one variant we have yet to mention: Taiwanese Ford Lio Ho’s Mondeo ‘M2000’ facelift, presumably for the 2000 MY.

    It’s clearly based on the European car and not the Contour, but it is interesting that the ‘waterfall’ style grille almost comes close to approximating that found on the Mystique, though I’d argue the more rounded headlights give it a friendlier feel than the ‘angry’ curved lamps on the Mystique. The rear is simply an update on the European saloon’s ‘tulip’ taillight cluster, with a clear strip across the bottom rather than just a corner for the reverse light/turn signal. Overall the effect is meh, certainly not some of Lio Ho’s best work.

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