CraigsList: The nicest 1988 Mercury Tracer wagon in the world

Ever since I first ran across one at my first 24 Hours of LeMons race, I’ve been intrigued by the first Mercury Tracers sold in the U.S. Unlike the 1991 and later Tracers, these early examples did not share a platform with their contemporary Ford Escorts. They were instead rebadged Asian- and Australian-market Ford Lasers, which were themselves restyled Mazda 323s. And this one in Stark City, Missouri, must be the nicest Tracer wagon you’ll find left in the world. Here’s the entire ad text and follow the jump for a pocket history of the increasingly rare Tracer:

“This is a real clean nice little 4 cyl. 5 speed station wagon. It drives out real well. This will make somebody or family a great economical runner. The body is very straight, the interior is nice and clean. The engine has been very well cared for, oil changed on time. It has very good tread on all the tires, lots of life left. We also just put on a new alternator and master cyl. This car is ready to go. If you need a great little car at a reasonable price check this one out real hard. If we can answer any questions please feel free to call or e-mail. Thanks for taking a look.”

[Source: Joplin CraigsList]

For a car with more than 200,000 miles on it, the interior is magnificent and if it’s in running order, the buyer could expect tremendous gas mileage from this little ’80s econobox.
So what is the Tracer? Well, as we said above, it’s a restyled and rebadged Mazda 323. Ford connoissuers will know the 1991 and later Ford Escorts (and Tracers) shared a platform with the 323, but the 1988 Tracer’s position in history actually makes it more of a predecessor to the later Escort than the first-generation 1980s Escorts and also makes it the first 323-based Ford sold in the U.S.
The engine options on the Tracer were none; you got a single-cam, eight-valve Mazda B6 engine and you liked it. The 1.6-liter engine was only good for 88 horsepower, which was coincidentally the same output from the 1.9-liter Ford CVH engine in ’91 and later Tracers (except the Tracer LTZ, which scored the DOHC 1.8-liter BP engine used in the Escort GT).
In a world where the car guys retroactively admit the 1980s Corolla wagons weren’t complete crap, the Tracer Wagon doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its simple utility and durability. You can still find them on CraigsList if you poke around and quite a few of them have clocked more than 200,000 miles. With a standard five-speed transmission in an era where the four-speed was still common, they also were rated at 34 miles per gallon.
This particular Tracer has five doors, a splendidly square 1980s dash, and a beige interior in pristine condition down to the door cards and cargo straps in the back. It’s clearly been loved and I’d wager that not only does the drivetrain run superbly, but I’d also bet the seller has owned this car from new.
It’s not a Ferrari 250 nor is it a Toyota 2000GT, but this is its own kind of collector car. It won’t collect dust and it won’t collect monetary value, but its next owner inherits nearly three decades of utility.

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  1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    I always had a soft spot for these little cars. I like the 5-Door hatch the best, but the wagon's utility is hard to deny.
    They rust like crazy in places that use gravel and salt. A HS buddy of mine in MI saw his used one turned to dust in only a few years after buying it.
    I think the US ones were built in Mexico, but the Canadian ones were built in Japan or Taiwan.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      The one I saw in LeMons—and to date the only one of these to ever run in LeMons—was a five-door hatch with an automatic run by Byte Marks Racing. I don't remember exactly what broke on it, but they scrapped after only one race.
      <img src="; width="600">
      They replaced it, naturally, with an Escort GT that they still race. In fact, it just finished 10th at Barber at the last LeMons race.

  2. XRSevin Avatar

    How about a little love for its cousin?
    <img src="; width="600">

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      [youtube ogLHIJW75Fc youtube]
      Just happened to be featured on Hemmings's blog last week.

  3. Feds_II Avatar

    My first car was an '89 323 hatch with every option. It was a glorious little car that I beat the hell out of as only an early 20's male can. I believe the wagons got cart springs in the back instead of the multi link and coils on the sedans and hatches.
    Still, I would rock the hell out of this little Mazda…. er… Mercury.

  4. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    CraigsList: The nicest least crappy 1988 Mercury Tracer wagon in the world
    There, fixed it for you.
    As a former Escort owner, I object to "nice" and any derivative of that car being used in the same sentence.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      A fair assessment. I'd still buy this car if I had the money because, unlike Alan Cesar's Justy, the parts aren't made from unobtainium.

  5. Gwilson Avatar

    As someone who likes Escorts, currently owns a '95 wagon, and follows the cheap car ads in Craigslist, I can confidently say that $1850 for a 212k Tracer is ridiculous. Speaking as a connoisseur of $1400 cars that can still look respectable and run for years, there are a lot of more interesting, practical, and enjoyable vehicles out there in that $1850 price range. I'm talking cars that originally cost four times as much as the Tracer and have fewer years on them, fewer miles and bulletproof reliability. Large Volvos, for example.

    1. salguod Avatar

      Was going to post the same thing. I just bought my daughter a 2003 Protege LX with 127K this summer for $2K. And with an auto, power windows, remote locks, a sunroof, side airbags and ABS.
      This is a nice clean wagon but that's too much money.