Which Ford Tempo is right for you?


That is, of course, the ages-old question for gearheads, no? We’ve all pondered which segment-bridging 1980s U.S. economy car we’d most like to spend a few dollars on and the answer, I think we can all agree, is the Ford Tempo. Built as an entry-level family car to bridge a gap between the penalty box Escort and the mid-size, Fox-platform LTD (and later Taurus), the Tempo and its Mercury Topaz cousin are historically significant for their early computerized engine management attempts, low coefficient of drag, and independent rear suspension with MacPherson struts, a first on a domestic car. Despite these developments, by the early 1990s, the Tempo and Topaz were the epitome of throwaway commuting appliances. As a result, you’re hard-pressed to find an example anywhere that sells for more than $2,000.

My first car was a 1985 Topaz with a 0-60 time measured in dozens of seconds and handling that can only be described as slightly less frightening than being a wounded wildebeest on the African Savanna during a drought. With that ringing endorsement and with tax-return season a mere eight months away, I offer this brief guide to which Tempo (or Topaz) matches up with your needs. If eight months is too long to wait, I recommend robbing a bank or organizing bum fights to make some extra cash so you can buy your dream compact (Don’t really do those things; that’s a joke). Make sure to bookmark this page so that you can return for all your Ford Tempo needs and so that you can send this page to your Tempo-curious friends.


Practical choice: You’re a planner, always a couple steps ahead of the present and out the door with time to drop the kids off at school, to grab a cup of oily gas-station coffee, and to arrive at the office parking lot with an extra moment or two to lament your forthcoming workday. Unfortunately, circumstances always conspire against you: The kids engage in fisticuffs and you have to pull over to break it up, lest one of them use the drooping headliner to suffocate the other. Later, you clobber the pothole you usually avoid and your four-door Tempo’s blown struts offer little comfort when the bump sends scalding coffee faceward. Luckily, your base-model Tempo wheezes out horsepower in the high double digits from its 2.3-liter “High Swirl Combustion” engine, so it can make a mournful noise from its broken exhaust to draw the world’s attention to your shameful morning.

When you arrive at work, this standard Tempo’s sturdy doors make a satisfying chunk as you toss the door closed and the mostly rust-free quarter panels competently absorb your repeated blows of frustration while your boss looks on in consternation from his or her BMW 3 Series. The big-for-its-class trunk capably holds three to four paper boxes of personal effects from your desk. A “prestine” example may last until the world’s end, at which time it will be piloted by human-sized cockroaches reeling down the twisted remnants of six-lane highways.


Self-loathing choice: As a kid, you gawked at dazzling Malaise Era personal luxury coupés chugging down your hometown’s boulevard. From afar, you saw self-important men and women enjoy the fruits of their labor with stretched American iron sporting a single elongated door per side. In a parking lot one day, you peered through the window of a 1978 Ford Thunderbird to see its lascivious red leather interior. Something twitched deep down in you and you knew you would have your own personal luxury coupé. Someday. As you count your pennies now, however, you notice that you’ve come up a little short on cash for purchase and the obscene gas costs of a V8 coupé.

So you compromise and throw down a small stack of twenties for your very own personal misery coupé a two-door Mercury Topaz. It still features inexplicably heavy, elongated doors and a push-button tape deck that works perfectly when the ambient temperature ranges from 63 to 67 degrees. The multitude of chirps, rattles, and screeches from various worn-out components lends the Topaz its own sense of gravitas that says, “This driver is going somewhere. Stay out of the way or your polished Jeep Comanche may be on the receiving end of a wayward sideview mirror.” Getyour very own personal misery coupé in Grand Rapids.


Performance choice: You’ve seen and heard a four-cylinder Tempo and you know that you’ll have none of its speed-challenged pedigree and blatting exhaust note. Luckily, Ford saw the light in the model’s final years and stuffed a Vulcan V6 under the bonnet, going so far as to mate it to a manual transmission in a lucky few examples. You love that early ’90s body cladding and know that this car has the makings of a sleeper: 130 horsepower, five-speed transmission, and independent rear suspension. This Tempo and you, well, you’ll show them all.

You drag it to the local club autocross and demonstrate your ability to wrestle with absurd front-weight bias and its accompanying understeer. You receive compliments on the Tempo’s skittering wheel-hop and on the sidewall flex of its 600-treadwear tires. While there, you get a line on a set of slicks that will help it understeer at higher speeds, but you ultimately balk on the deal when you realize that massive grip will certainly shred the suspension, mostly out of surprise. Detroit, of course, holds all the answers to your go-fast needs.

This blurry diagram is the blurry Patterson-Gimlin film for AWD Tempo hunters.
This diagram is the blurry Patterson-Gimlin film for AWD Tempo hunters.

Adventurous choice: You relish a challenge and are constrained neither by poor weather conditions nor by rough roads. You possess a knack for finding rare things and paying virtually nothing for them, mostly because they’re rare and not collectible. The all-wheel drive Tempo you seek is a rare model only made for a few short years until Ford’s product was overcome by a blanket of competing Subarus, Audis, and Toyota Corolla All-Tracs.

Sure, the transversely mounted driveline looks weird in diagrams and the push-button AWD transmission is only available as an automatic, but you know the real value in breaking down while crawling up mountain roads covered with a light dusting of snow. This is no mere compact car; this is a character-builder. Sightings are indeed rare, but rumors of them crop up periodically.


Excessive free time choice: You love working with your hands and have no misgivings about mechanical misadventure. You also enjoy a glut of spare time, seldom have anywhere to be, and love clouds of black smoke emanating from a four-door car. Without a doubt, you require a diesel Ford Tempo. Or, more likely, you require a small fleet of diesel Ford Tempos in various states of disrepair so you can cobble together one sometimes-running car. The rough, smoke-producing Mazda four-cylinder powerplant infuriates the normally smug Toyota Prius drivers, but you enjoy knowing that, when running, this oil-burner will get comparable fuel mileage.

Sometimes you get lucky and you can buy running his and her diesel Tempos with a parts car and a spare drivetrain in a rusted bundle. CraigsList, you are too much sometimes.

This shiny T-Drive prototype is probably Chinese pig iron now.

 Filthy rich car collector choice: You are either an eccentric billionaire or a billionaire desiring to be viewed as eccentric. Your oversized garage contains highly sought-after exotic machinery, but you want something to make visitors scratch their heads at your real or imagined esoteric nature. You exhaust all of your contacts within the Ford Motor Company until someone finally says they know where to find the eight-cylinder Ford Tempo prototype. You pay a princely sum for it sight unseen and then puzzle at the abandoned T-drive engine under the less-than-“prestine” hood.

“What is it?” an imaginary visiting auto journalist asks.

“This, my friend,” your arms form wide V to indicate the whole car, “is a Topaz in the rough.”


[Sources: TempoTopaz.com via Archive.org, Peoria CraigsList, Grand Rapids CraigsList, Detroit CraigsList, Lancaster, PA CraigsList, Minneapolis CraigsList, DrivingEnthusiast.net | Images: Mike Smith Flickr]

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53 responses to “Which Ford Tempo is right for you?”

  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    The only ones worth thinking about are the later ones with the Taurusesqe styling. Didn't early ones have automatic transmission issues related to some cheap plastic part? Some friends of mine owned one waaaaay back, and the transmission issue was a headache for them.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Mine was an automatic, which was pretty much the only thing on it that didn't break. But that's a story for another day…

    2. Chris Avatar

      My ford tempo has never had trans problems is a 1988 and has 500 987 km on it but engine is worn out

  2. GTXcellent Avatar

    My girlfriend back in high school had a GLS coupe that fit her perfectly – kind of pretty as a girl-next-door type, but not a whole lot of fun.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Jackie Stewart called it a "real driver's car." Maybe he's really into girl-next-door types.

      1. RegalRegalia Avatar

        Jackie got to get paid.

        1. Devin Avatar

          I read that as "got to get plaid", which is also accurate.

        2. P161911 Avatar

          Jackie got to get pLaid.

  3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    <img src="http://tanshanomi.com/temp/WeirdScienceAward.png"&gt;
    This right here should earn it the Hooniverse seal of approval.
    <img src="http://tempotopaz.com/main/images/content/87awd.jpg"&gt;

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      Re-engineering a FWD platform to an AWD platform usually ends up a little untidy, but this looks like something I'd come up with.

      1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        <img src="http://i.qkme.me/3vh7sa.jpg"&gt;

        1. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          Our comments need more image macro memes.

    2. ptschett Avatar

      Apparently equal-length halfshafts weren't a priority.

      1. engineerd Avatar

        You're not going to get torque steer from 90 hp.

        1. bhtooefr Avatar

          Depends on the repairs that's been done, and an old beater like this will almost certainly have gotten Chinese parts.
          I got quite vicious torque steer out of a 1986 Golf diesel, all of 52 hp and 71.5 ft-lbs. How? Chinese EMPI axles that didn't even try to be equal strength.

        2. jared Avatar

          Uh bro I gotta 93 5 spd with the hsc ohv/ cold air 16 pound injectors and sidepiped skunk pipes IT MOST CERTAINLY DOES CREATE TORQUE STEER , those engines where specifically made for more torque at lower rpm,s,and when you lay in to it yeah fo sho, and fuck all yall to each its own

  4. Gooberpeaz Avatar

    They were dangerous cars. Although suppressed by the FoMoCo Special Services Group, it got out that literally dozens of Tempo/Topaz drivers were killed. By boredom.

  5. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Where the F is our FTF? The premise of the article really should be "Could Any of These Amazing Tempo Choices Not Be Perfect For You?" I think we all know the answer to that question.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Rumor has it that FordTempoFan is currently living clandestinely in the boiler room of some middle school somewhere. He comes out at night and scares the crap out of the girls' volleyball team when they practice late.

    2. Vairship Avatar

      Perhaps Eric Rood = FTF?
      Arguments in favor: who else would write an article about "Which Ford Tempo is right for you"? Who else would spend that much time tracking down every Ford Tempo on Craigslist?
      Arguments against: FTF would never call a Tempo "the epitome of throwaway commuting appliances" or any of the other harsh language in this article.
      Hmm, seems we have a conundrum. Unless of course…
      <_< >_>
      ….Eric Rood = FTF in the Witness Protection Program…
      Hang on a second, someone's ringing my doorbell.
      Huh, that's weird, there are black Ford Tempos parked all over the street.
      What's that you say, the Secret Service? Nooooooooooo……..!!!!!

  6. Devin Avatar

    Once upon a time I knew a man who had a Topaz. We would make fun of him by calling it a grandmother's car, which made him very angry, which only made it funnier. One day, we went to the lake, and told stories on a MagnaDoodle that always ended with people doing it in the back of the Topaz and getting crabs. Then, we went for a drive around the lake, and shouted "TOPAAAAAAAAZ" at pedestrians.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      I doubt the validity of this claim, because crabs were neither a factory- nor dealer-installed option, so you couldn't get them from a Topaz.
      Also, what is this "it" that people were doing?

    2. Neen85 Avatar

      This is one of those stories that I imagine are centered around two age groups:
      1) 16 yr old boys camping trip with keystone light cans strewn about
      2) 5 yr fraternity gathering…with pbr cans strewn about

      1. Devin Avatar

        I think we had Budweiser instead of Keystone Light actually.

      2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        The two demographic groups most likely to be driving a Mercury Topaz at one specific point in time:
        1) 16 yr old boys camping trip with keystone light cans strewn about
        2) 5 yr fraternity gathering…with pbr cans strewn about

        1. Devin Avatar

          Hey now, grandmothers still represent a healthy portion of the Topaz owning public. Where do you think the teenagers and frat boys get them from?

    3. mac350 Avatar

      You can only get crabs while sitting on a tractor in a wet bathing suit – or is it vd?

  7. mkep819 Avatar

    I did stuff in a Tempo that I'm not proud of.
    …I drove it.

  8. engineerd Avatar

    My first car was a 1985 Topaz. Cranberry red with a matching crushed velour interior. It was fantastic. Annual CV boot (and sometimes half-shaft) repairs were offset by reliability. Until one day it just didn't start.
    I worked with a guy that would only drive diesel Topazes (Topazi? Tapazae?). He, at one point, owned 4. Whenever one came up for sale he bought it.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      The Latin word is variously given as topazios, topazius, topazos, and topazus, corresponding to the plural form topazii for the first two and topazi for the second two. The word almost certainly does not refer to the mineral now called topaz but instead to a variety of other yellow to greenish-yellow minerals used as gems, such as olivine and quartz.

      1. dr zero Avatar
        dr zero

        Well look at the geologist, using his learning and such.

      2. engineerd Avatar

        Shmarty pants.

      3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        Not to be confused with Topaz Nazi.

  9. Number_Six Avatar

    Only two things could bring a smile to the face of someone driving a Tompo: excesssive tire-squeal in a slight curve or road-head. Or both, for the flawless victory.

    1. FЯeeMan Avatar

      There's a third thing: getting out of it.

  10. Kogashiwa Avatar

    This is the best buyer's guide ever written by anyone about anything.

    1. gomerpig Avatar

      I know, I can't believe I almost didn't read it

  11. mac350 Avatar

    A very wise man once said "30 years ago a man bought a brand new 1984 Tempo. He took it home and put it up on blocks. He washed and waxed it. He covered it with cosmoline. Now, it is absolutely worthless."

  12. MVEilenstein Avatar

    My cousin drive a black 2-door – 1994 model, I think. It really doesn't look all that bad.

  13. Hopman Avatar

    at one pint growing up, my parents owned an apppiance white Tempo GL with a light blue interior. We bought it from my mom's parents for a buck and it served us for about 5 years. Not a bad little car.

  14. ummagumma82 Avatar

    Back in the day, our family car was a 1984 Tempo. From what I recall, it had a huge appetite for CV joints and coolant hoses. My dad spent seemingly every weekend in the garage, yelling profanities at it and throwing tools. Early models were also known for their extremely poor crash-test performance. And this was in an era when it was still perfectly acceptable to hold your kid in the seat with one hand while using the other to smoke a cigarette, so only the most epic death traps got any attention.
    It was preceded by a 1979 Dodge Aspen, and replaced by a 1990 Mercury Sable. Because of those three cars, I *still* feel like driving 100 miles away and making it home without any problems is an accomplishment.

  15. SSurfer321 Avatar

    My 2nd car was a blue AWD Tempo with those DAMN automatic seatbelts. The AWD was fun in the snow. I had it two years before it started puking coolant and overheating all the time. I wasn't much of a wrench back then so I just got rid of it. I think I traded it in for a '96 Mustang V6. Another poor decision 🙁

  16. ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    Eric, that was fun to read, thanks. You know how some groggy mornings you flush the toilet and realize that you need to blow your nose, so you go and grab a wad of toilet paper, blow your nose, and throw it down, AND it goes down with the same morning flush!! It can make you happy all morning! This post was such a pleasant surprise for me, that last line was perfect, have a great day too.
    Also, it should to be pronounced personal misery couPAY.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Metaphor of the day award goes to…

    2. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      …and this is why Hooniverse is teh bets car site evar!
      I've never received a better compliment.

  17. Arco777 Avatar

    I owned a 90 model Tempo AWD that I purchased in 2008 for $500. I lived in Alaska at the time and bet that's one of the few places you could find an AWD model. The light blue metallic paint looked factory fresh and so did the interior. The only issues the car had were a non-blinking left turn signal (stayed solid) and the power lock actuators were seized. I loved that car. Still miss it badly!
    The 2.3 HSO (High Specific Output) 4-cylinder was no major powerplant, and the auto trans didn't help things. It wasn't quick but it was reliable for me. Interior was comfortable and reasonably roomy. I really couldn't find any faults with the car. The gas mileage was great and it was a perfect commuter car for Alaska.
    Mine had snow tires (no studs though) and even in front wheel drive mode it powered through deep snow quite impressively. In AWD mode it was unstoppable. I quickly learned to have great fun coming into a 90 degree corner in FWD, handbrake to rotate the rear end around, hit the AWD switch and power out of the turn. Seriously, it was a blast in the snow and ice.

  18. mwc5851 Avatar

    My parents had a 1984 Mercury Topaz Blue Max edition. The 'new computerized engine controls' often left us stranded along the interstate. Ford always towed it in an replaced the computer. After about 4 replacements, they stopped failing. The tale tell sign before failure was a strong odor in the car smelling like someone getting a curly permanent at the local salon.
    The Blue Max Topaz was a 5 speed and if you had enough road, you could bury the speedometer. This car also had special size wheels and tires. Replacement tires had to be special ordered from Michelin to fit the custom rims. The car also had problems with the rear alignment. The 'Ford engineers' visited our car a few times trying to figure out why our Topaz ate its rear tires, crazy amount of cupping. The Blue Max also featured a trunk mounted luggage rack with wooden slats. The finish on these wood rails peeled and we had to keep wood stain on them for protection.
    If climbing a long hill, the 'computer' would turn off the AC so you would make it to the top. We just learned to hit the AC button before we started up the hill. My parents kept the car for 3 years before trading it on a 1987 Taurus LX.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      I'm not saying I ever buried the speedometer, but I'm saying that if I did, I would have needed about three miles of straight country road, which were located conveniently all around me where I grew up.
      The AC thing probably would have applied had it ever worked in the car by the time I got it.

  19. salguod Avatar

    When I traded my fun but excruciatingly unreliable Nissan Pulsar SE at the local Ford dealer, they offered me a Tempo or an Escort for the same money. I chose the Escort and I'm glad I did. It was bullet proof, roomier, prettier and a hatch so more practical.
    I never liked Tempos.

  20. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    My friend's family had a Topaz as the "first car" for a series of kids as they got their licenses. We called it the Dopaz, or DopeA$$ or various other creative names.
    It was awful, but if it survived that family's driving and maintenance habits over at least 3 young drivers, it couldn't be all bad.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Exactly what happened with my family. It was tired when my sister got it first and it somehow lasted another six torturous years at the hands of teenage drivers.

  21. B Hanson Avatar
    B Hanson

    I have a 1994 Topaz as a daily driver and it's been great for the last 5 years (and 120,000 kms) that I've owned it. It has been rolled once and gets used as an off-road vehicle occasionally and aside from it's poor fuel economy (22 mpg) and needing a new harmonic balancer every 40,000 kms or so I have no complaints. It has required less maintenance in 5 years than our '99 Protege in the 2 years and 40,000 kms that we've owned it. The AC even still works. I only paid $400 for it and it died right now it would owe me nothing.
    [URL =http://s1017.photobucket.com/user/bvolks/media/Sept302013027_zpsbcb51d37.jpg.html][IMG]http://i1017.photobucket.com/albums/af296/bvolks/Sept302013027_zpsbcb51d37.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

  22. Chris Bedwell Avatar
    Chris Bedwell

    I think I may have been your target audience. But I just want you to know how much I enjoyed your article on the detestable Ford Tempo.