The Carchive: The 1987 Mercury Topaz

It’s Friday night, and, oh… well, nobody’s going to be reading this, anyway. I could write absolutely anything on the inauguration day of a new US president; everybody will be out drinking vast quantities of alcohol either to celebrate or to try to forget. Not I, though. Your loyal servant is here when it matters, on hand to share pages from old car brochures. Welcome to The Carchive.
Today’s offering is appropriately American, but not necessarily a car that’s widely revered. Why? Well, it’s a 1987 Mercury Topaz, that’s why.

“Our commitment to quality and safety isn’t just something written on paper. It’s built into our cars”
That actually sounds a bit like a Presidential pledge, doesn’t it? The Mercury Topaz was, as everybody with a vague interest in mediocrity should know, the twin of Ford’s Tempo, built 1984 to 1994. It was built in two phases, and this ’87 brochure refers the first generation, albeit the type restyled after ’85 with a different front clip and other detail improvements.
There were some strange differences between the Tempo and the Topaz – saloon versions of the latter lacked the third side windows of the former and had a more formal look to it. The year after this brochure was printed, both versions would get a thorough redesign.
“The real beauty of the way it looks is the way it works”
What now? Well, the guff in the brochure tells us “The shape before you appears elegantly simple. It is not. In fact, it is a very complex shape achieved only through extensive computer-aided design and more than 450 hours of wind-tunnel testing”. Yet, despite all this, they still ended up with the Topaz. Would it have been so hard to have built the similarly sized, aerodynamic, fine handling Ford Sierra Stateside instead? Think of the savings in development.
“Equally impressive are Topaz’s front-wheel drive, efficient 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine and full independent suspension – something you won’t find on many cars in this class”. No. Indeed not. Especially in “high-output” 100hp form.
“Topaz is full of surprises, including a surprisingly roomy interior”
Well, this was certainly true. A transverse engine meant a nice, long cabin and plenty of room front and rear. Five could sit in relative – though not excessive – comfort. And though Topaz was more upscale than Tempo, it still didn’t overwhelm with luxury fripperies.
“Topaz GS Sport. The sports sedan you can justify in very practical terms”
I actually reckon the coupé version was a pretty good-looking car. And, of course, there was my favourite Tempo / Topaz feature on the options list – all-wheel drive. While it may not have transformed the family-friendly Mercury into an all-conquering rally monster, no doubt it made it pretty sure-footed when the going got cold.
Please hit the comments with all your tales of Mercury magnificence or, alternatively, all your Topaz Traumas. Once upon a time there was a friendly lunatic by the handle of FordTempoFanatic. If you’re out there, comrade, chime in.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Ford Motor Company. You know, it would be pretty cool if Mercury were still around. With the present craze for reinventing the past, I reckon we need a new Cyclone)

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9 responses to “The Carchive: The 1987 Mercury Topaz”

  1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    Fun fact, the Tempo/Topaz 2.3 was basically two thirds of the old Falcon 200ci straight six, yet made about the same amount of power.

  2. Alff Avatar

    Whatever happened to FTF?

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      Funny, reading this article and that was all I could think of as well. The only voice of insanity reason that can honestly extol all the virtues of this machine.

  3. JohnComposMentis Avatar

    The Topaz and Ford Tempo were my rental car nemeses in the 1980s. It seemed like I always got stuck with one or the other with their oddly cramped interiors, clunky drivetrains, and awkward handling. Then one day I was handed the keys to a Mercury Mystique (=Ford Contour, =~ Ford Mondeo). All was forgiven.

    1. MattC Avatar

      I started driving in the mid 1980’s. My best friends parents had a Tempo. I just remember how exceedingly boring that was to drive. (It also went though tie rod ends like crazy) . Contrast that to a Honda Accord if the era and the differences are stark

  4. tonyola Avatar

    In 1984, Mom talked Dad into buying a white 5-speed Topaz coupe with TRX suspension to replace their aging 1977 Grand Marquis sedan. I guess she liked the style without doing much research into what the car actually was. I drove the car several times and I found the engine to be coarse and not rev-happy, the shifter was notchy, interior assembly was iffy, and the whole car felt crude even compared to my Honda CRX 1.5. Dad was put out at the fact that he had to buy special and expensive TRX tires after a couple of years. My parents ended up hating the car and traded it in for a Sable wagon in 1986 – a much better car.

  5. Maymar Avatar

    I’d have been interested to see if Ford could have made a North Americanized Sierra profitably in the same price range as the Tempo/Topaz. For what it’s worth, the Merkur XR4Ti (nee Sierra XR4) sold for about twice as much as a Tempo. Obviously, North American production and a more basic spec would shrink that difference a bit, but still, the price jump from the Tempo to the Contour (born as Mondeo) suggests it couldn’t have been done profitably. Moot anyhow, since by ’83, GM and Chrysler had already embraced FWD for their competing products.
    I don’t have a ton of experience with the Topaz, except my parents getting one as a rental when our Sonata was written off. As a 9-year old, I was pleased enough (it was a coupe!), but I don’t know if I’d care for it now (certainly not with the auto and I4).

  6. Scoutdude Avatar

    Actually development cost of the Tempaz was pretty low since it shared the basic platform and some other bits with the Escort. There is actually a Tempo AWD wearing Topaz tail lights sitting on the side of my garage. It was actually a parts car for a Topaz 4wd that was totaled. I had bought the Tempo just in case and of the AWD/4wd specific parts needed replacement. With OK winter tires the thing was unstoppable in the snow and ice until things got too deep. Note I did say AWD and 4wd because when they were introduced they were marketed as AWD. Apparently Ford got tired of being called out on the fact that they really were a single speed electronic shift 4wd so they eventually changed the badging.
    They were only available with the AT because of how they handled the transfer case. It was installed in place of the pan and the ring gear which hung down in the pan drove another shaft that stuck out under the passenger side axle. That had a right angle that sent the power to a conventional drive shaft and interesting differential. all of which were equipped with traction lock. Because a 1;1 ratio on the angle drive would produce uneven wear and harmonics and driving off of the transaxle ring gear the front and rear ratios do not match to make it all work out.

  7. Alcology Avatar

    I had a Tempo that I took on a trip just like the front page of the brochure. Blast in the snow! No problems at all. Plus it was all bordello all the time on the inside with red velour.