Ryan’s turning a pile of XR4Ti parts into a rally car!
When I was a child, it was not uncommon to find me up at weird hours of the night watching F1 or World Rally coverage and cheering on my favorite drivers. I had a friend who I would chat about racing with, and he owned a Porsche 944! That car took us all over the twisty mountain roads around where we lived, and got us into thankfully not too much trouble while at times we tested our limits. I remember trying to drift for the first time on a mountain hairpin and almost ending up backwards in a guardrail; somehow I gathered it up without hitting anything and we went on down the road, hitting 90-something on the next straight. My friend’s passion for cars rubbed off on me, and he showed me what good motoring was like. That planted the seed that became the spark to my car story.
My car story
In college, I studied Aerospace Engineering, following my passion for loud things that go fast. During one summer semester, I stumbled upon a “For-Sale” sign for a non-running Suzuki Katana 600, and I soon found the carburetors (all 4!) completely apart on my desk for a number of weeks. After much research about the quirks of carbureted bikes, I trudged through all the cleaning and replaced all broken and missing parts to finally re-assemble the bike. IT RAN! It was the first triumph of my project vehicle saga, and I sold the bike for a handsome profit.
Starting my adult life, I kept up the maintenance on my daily driver, but never delved into performance modifications. I fed my go-fast addiction by attending and volunteering for racing events, including attendance at Wales Rally Great Britain, and volunteering at regional rallies in the Northeast US, as well as corner marshaling at the World Endurance Championship / United Sports Car Championship double header at COTA in Austin, Texas. My experience and exposure at these events drove my entry into rally, as my social media posts about the race at COTA lead me to talk with a driver and land my first spot in a rally car later that year. It was there in Texas, in a dusty carport, where I found my Merkur XR4Ti in a no-name town south of Dallas.
Group A legend
Coming from my current world of rallying, the Ford Sierra Cosworth was a well-known Group A rally car of the 1980’s. The US received this car with a different motor under the name Merkur XR4Ti. I knew eventually I’d like to move from the navigator’s seat into the driver’s seat and a cheap car with rally heritage was a great place to start. The previous owner had blown the head gasket on the motor and was looking to sell the car along with a trunk-load of parts. The price was hard to beat, and even though I fretted over the possible damage to the engine, I was eager for a challenge. I knew that even if I became fed up with the car and wanted to sell it that I could recoup the money invested because of all the extra parts. Ideally, I hoped that this car would be a good platform for a rally car.
Since then I’ve steeped myself deep in the world of the Merkur, the Mustang SVO, and the Thunderbird Turbocoupe: all cars that feature the turbocharged 2.3L engine. The first thing I discovered was my lack of tools… Most of the cost associated with the build has been tool purchases, not parts or labor costs. Fortunately, things have stabilized, and I now have a good basic set of tools for this—or any other—project. My goals for this car have softened somewhat since my purchase, and I’m now targeting Autocross and Rallycross events once she’s out and about and driving around. I’ll make an attempt at stage rally in the future, but will more likely buy a stage-ready car for that. In the meantime, work continues on the Merkur.
It’s been an amazing learning experience so far, going from brake jobs to engine swaps, learning all along the way. Anyone looking into my multiple spreadsheets can see engineering project management influencing the planning and structure of the project. Progress was both hampered and accelerated by a recent move, but now I finally have a dedicated garage space where I can stay hard at work. I’m currently working on the wastegate attachment for the turbo, and I look forward to sharing my progress. I’m glad to be a part of Gearbox Magazine and I hope I can bring Project SheaXR4 to life through future updates.