By on July 5, 2010

It may not have been the best of cars, but it also was certainly not the worst of cars. While working my college job at Ford Credit, I arranged for my mother to purchase a brand-new, five-speed 1993 Topaz GS coupe for the modest sum of $8995 after all discounts and rebates. Over the next eleven years, she put 97,000 miles on the car. Her Ford “ESP” warranty covered the very few repairs it required up to the 60,000-mile mark, and it required nothing after that besides a set of tires and the occasional oil change.

It was a good, solid car, always starting in the winter, holding up to Mom’s indifferent attitude regarding carwashes (once a season) and interior cleanings (once a year) and surviving three different low-speed impacts with little cosmetic damage. Fuel mileage was reliably in the high twenties and it went to its next owner without so much as a single spot of rust.

Still, if one had to make a case against “the car that killed Mercury”, the Topaz would be, if not on trial, at least standing in the lineup of potential perps. Here’s why.

The Ford “Distempo” and Mercury “Slopaz” were variants of Ford’s “Erica” platform. The first Erica car was the 1981 Escort. Here’s a picture of a 1981 Honda Civic.

Twelve years later, the Tempo and Topaz were still occupying significant space and expected to occupy significant sales volume for Ford and Mercury dealers. Here’s a picture of a 1993 Civic.

Not pictured: the two major-revision generations of Civics available for sale between those two. You get the idea. Ford took their eye off the ball and focused instead on bringing products like the Explorer to market.

The Topaz could have used a few updates to help it fight the Civic, but instead FoMoCo decided to cut content and model variety for 1993. The base engine was the woeful, ninety-six-horsepower, pushrod-operated 2.3L eight-valver, nearly unchanged from the model’s 1984 debut. The all-wheel-drive powertrain was dropped, the sporting XR5 and LTS models disappeared, and the options list shrank dramatically. It wasn’t possible to get power windows on the two-door cars! Despite this, the Tempo and Topaz combined for over 230,000 units that year.

The best way to describe the Topaz driving experience would probably be “basic”. The shifter was long and sloppy, the brakes were indifferent, and power was meager. Steering feel was light and imprecise, and there was considerable pitch-and-roll from the suspension. The HVAC was strong, and the stereo wasn’t horrible. Seating was not sporty but was comfortable enough for front-seat passengers. The rear seat was occasional-use at best. While the Tempo/Topaz were supposed to have more room inside than the ’81 Escort, in practice the driving position and usable space were very similar.

How did Ford sell 230,000 units of a car that closely resembled the 1981 Escort, which itself was not particularly ahead of the curve on its initial release? The answer was pricing. I wrote the financing for a lot of Tempo and Topaz sales that year, and very few of them were sold for over eleven grand. Ten flat was about right, with an extra five hundred bucks for an automatic. The Mazda-based Mercury Tracer, nominally below the Topaz in the model lineup, actually cost more and had much less rebate money available.

The vast majority of Topazes were sold in “GS” trim, with a free Sport Appearance Package that added high-polish 14″ aluminum wheels. It wasn’t an ugly car, really, but it was just soooo outdated. I recommended one to my mother because I knew she didn’t drive much and I thought she would have an easier time getting in and out of the relatively tall and easy-to-access two-door.

It’s one thing for a Ford to sell on price. It’s quite another thing for a Mercury to sell on price, and the endless “DRIVE A NEW MERCURY FOR UNDER TEN GRAND!” ads in local newspapers across the country certainly didn’t do a lot for brand equity. The Contour and Mystique arrived in late ’94 to reclaim the segment for Ford, but those cars had their own problems and the Topaz buyers didn’t like the idea of paying $15,000 to replace the cars they’d purchased for just a little more than half that sum a few years before.

It seems difficult to believe, but when the Topaz arrived in 1984, Mercury was still a bit of a premium brand. Reading the Escort and Lynx brochures of the day makes this plain; the Lynx was equipped to a measurably plusher level than the ‘Scort. By the time the last Topaz was delivered, Mercury was a shiny badge and nothing more. It seems harsh to point the finger at a friendly, jellybean-shaped little sedan, but I don’t know where else to put the blame.

I sold Mom’s Topaz for $600 to a friend’s father. He’d come out of a program to treat his alcoholism and we both thought the Topaz could be his ticket to work, recovery, and a better life. Two weeks later, he arrowed the green Mercury into a lightpost at a speed sufficient to knock the engine out of its mounts. Mom’s new whip was a Hyundai Elantra. I expected it to match the Topaz for reliability, but instead it proved to be a four-year trip through an ever-increasing series of minor (but expensive) repairs. In January of 2008, I called a halt to the Korean experiment and put Mom in a new Focus SES sedan. “It’s very sporty,” she reports, “just like the Topaz.”

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54 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1993 Mercury Topaz...”


  • avatar
    educatordan

    My grandmother had a Tempo four door. Four cyl, automatic, pathetic acceleration but it served her well after an early 80s Chevy Celebrity that had been a reliability nightmare for her. Until that is around 100,000 mile mark when it developed an issue with stalling that no one could seem to sort out.

    She replaced it with one of the last Buick Skylarks. 3.1V6, she thought that was a rocket after the Ford.

    One of my English professors in college (1995-1999) had a Topaz coupe with the V6 (proudly wearing little chrome badges declaring the fact.) The thing I remember the most clearly was thinking the guy was a prick and then hearing his tires howl every morning around 8am as he whipped around the faculty parking lot.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    The first Civic photo is actually a 1982 or ’83; the 1980-81, although essentially the same car, had round headlamps, hood vents, a slightly different dashboard, and less well integrated bumpers and side mirrors. (I owned an ’83 1300 4-speed through 1996 – a great car despite no a/c; very agile on its 12-inch wheels.)

  • avatar
    tech98

    My workplace had an 84 Topaz as a work vehicle up until recently – a horrid car. Tiny, miserable, cramped and with the steering feel and handling of a boat. It was a four-door, and the front doors were so tiny you had to contort yourself to fit inside. My co-worker who grew up driving Ladas said this was worse. It has made me highly skeptical of Ford products forever.

    FoMoCo sell this cut-priced K-Mart crapload for a decade, then whine about how no-one takes them seriously when they try to market a quality small vehicle at a non-discount price like the Fiesta. Make the connection, Dearborn.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      “FoMoCo … whine about how no-one takes them seriously when they try to market a quality small vehicle at a non-discount price…”

      This is exactly what happened with the Contour/Mystique.

      Ford was adament that they were not using these twins to replace the Tempaz/Toppo twins, that that Company had benchmarked the japanese sedans, the euro sedans, and was going to match/beat them on everything, and because they were so good, people would willingly pay the high base price, and Ford would make profit, woo-hoo!

      Consumer saw it differently, and saw the Taurus-twins as a better value, bigger for just a bit more cash, and began to gravitate there.

      Then began the gnashing of teeth in Dearborn, decontenting (even going so far as to eliminate the digital clock function out of the radio, or the stop-watch function out of the digital clock, or something like that), and, of course, the whining.

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    My buddy has one of these, though it’s a 4-door. I find the front seat remarkably cramped, especially compared to a 93 Civic. The interior hasn’t held up very well, though that’s common for all the Fords of that era that I’ve seen.

    He says it’s cheap to repair, but my brother’s 93 Civic has needed fewer repairs over the same period of time, and it has 100K more on the clock.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    Why, on every one of these I’ve ever seen, is the rear suspension in perma-squash mode (this includes the one pictured above)? It doesn’t seem to be an upkeep thing, either – I remember thinking this when they were new.

    I don’t recall the problem affecting older, ’80s version of the Tempopaz, and it seems to have affected the coupes more than the sedans, in my experience.

    • 0 avatar
      441Zuke

      I sadly owned a 93 temp black. if i remember correctly that squished problem arises from the aerodynamics of the car and overtime i just happens with no way of fixing it i replaced my shocks and struts at about 130000 miles (total waste of money) and the gangster lean was still intact.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    A 2008 Focus SES is actually fairly sporty, at least compared to a Corolla.

    Selling Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury all out of the same lot it’s not uncommon for us to recommend a Mercury product to someone who comes in for a particular Ford model where we don’t have the right color combination or option packages to match what they want. At first it surprised me how many people instantly reacted with objections about how the Mercury would undoubtedly be more than their budget would allow, or how they didn’t care about all the extra plushness. I used to go into how the Mercury was the exact same car, engine, transmission, suspension, materials, etc, with just a different grill and some minor interior style changes – then I learned better.

    No one would ever believe me when I told them the Mercury didn’t cost any more than the Ford model with the same options, but if pulled them aside conspiratorially and offered “What if I could get you this Mercury for the same price as this Ford?” and didn’t bother to try to educate them that it was the same damn thing, suddenly people were a lot more interested.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      “What if I could get you this Mercury for the same price as this Ford?”

      LOL classic car salesman stuff. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “What if I could get you the Buick for the same price as the loaded Chevy?”

    • 0 avatar

      A used Yugo is more sporting than the current generation Toyota Corolla. The days of the F/X models are long gone.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Dan: Wasn’t GM’s business model, what if I could build a Chevy for what it cost to build a Caddie?

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1 I had a thought similar to yours a few days ago. I recalled back in the mid 80s when my best friends father was selling new and used cars at the local Buick/Oldsmobile/Chevrolet/Cadillac dealer. He showed my dad a 1984 Oldsmobile 98 Sedan FULLY LOADED. Auto leveling suspension, leather, the works. I looked at it, thought about the price difference between it and a Cadillac Fleetwood/RWD Sedan De Ville, and couldn’t fathom why anybody with any brains would buy the Caddy.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Loved our Tempo. This one doesn’t have Luxe trims– ours had a nice medium blue pinstripe fabric and woodgrain on the doors and dash trims. It had the lighted keyholes and all that stuff.

    Nice little car that lasted about 250,000 miles. Ate engine mounts, CV joints and that big round relay on the inside fender for breakfast.

  • avatar

    Wow, a few weeks ago it was the Ford EXP. I had a 1987 Ford Tempo GL Sport two-door 5-speed as my first car I bought myself. I got a great deal, about $7900 if memory serves me right and 7.9% interest. It was two-tone, dark blue and a very dark gray, AC, cruise control, the “digital” stereo (ooooooh), power mirrors and the luggage rack on the trunk. Added a sunroof (manual pop-up). I only had it 17 months. Got popped in the rear by a guy in a big Chrysler who pushed the trunk to the rear seat. I actually limped it home 54 miles in that condition. The car was totalled by the insurance company about 3 weeks later.

    I liked the car good enough. It was rather boring to drive as I remember. In 1987 I got a lot of comments on how good it looked, and it was sharp looking in the blue and gray trim. The shifter was right out of my EXP, the engine was anemic, and the brakes were not the best. When the OEM Michelin tires wore out I put on 205/60R14 Yokohama R-352 on them (if memory serves me correctly) and handling and on center feel greatly improved from the 185/70R14 rubber it was clad with from the factory. Seats were comfortable enough. I remember the ergonomics being pretty darn good.

    The biggest thing I look back upon is I could have gotten a 5.0 Mustang LX for the same bank, but I didn’t. Best decision of my life. I would have killed myself in the 5.0 Mustang for sure and the under powered Tempo was just what I needed to keep me out of trouble.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      IIRC, the 4 cylinder LX was about $8,000. I seem to remember at that time the 5.0 LX was closer to $10 or $11,000.

      In 1986 I was trying to deal on a SVO Mustang, and the dealer wouldn’t come one penny off of $16,000! The irony of it all, was that fairly well loaded Mustang GTs on THE VERY SAME lot were LESS THAN $13,000!

      I left that place and got something rather unique, one of the last Mercury Capri 5.0L Sport Coupes ever built. It was under $13,000 and had every option but the power seats. Talk about diluting the brand, a Mercury with more options cheaper than the equivalent Ford version. I didn’t care, the car had all of the stuff my wife liked and it freakin’ flew.

      The next year, a buddy of mine traded his dead-ass 1983 Z28 (the early 3rd gens were the worst!) for a new body 1987 Mustang GT, which was about $13,000.

      I remember the time well, as those were the most expensive cars we’d ever purchased, at that time.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid 80′s, my folks were looking for a car to replace their 1972 Chevy wagon. Dad was thinking of something smaller… of course, damn near anything would be smaller than a Kingswood Estate.

    One day, Dad showed up with a loaner Tempo. 2.3, auto. We took it for a spin up our local test track, a 1,500 foot mountain switchback. Yikes… the steering felt like it was attached with rubber bands and completely numb. The engine struggled to get up the hills, sounding like it was going to bust a nut at any time. The transmission hunted for gears and shifted roughly. You’ve got to be kidding, Dad. He took it back the same day.

    A week later, we tried the new Chevrolet Nova (the rebadged Corolla, aka “Toy-let”). 1.6, 3 speed auto. No problem getting up the hills. The transmission kicked down when it was supposed to and the engine would rev its little guts out all day long without complaint, doing everything you’d ask of it. The difference between it and the Tempo couldn’t have been more stark, and the price difference between the two was negligible. That very car came home to stay and clocked well over 200K before it was sold.

    Now, how many times have we heard stories like this?

    • 0 avatar
      scottcom36

      Yep, in ’95 my ex-wife was trading in her ’89 Tempo. NADA trade-in value was $1,500. If she’d had an ’89 Corolla, which cost about the same new, the trade-in would have been $3,000. Of course, if she’d had a Corolla, she might not have wanted/needed to trade it!

  • avatar
    SomeDude

    This only proves my point (well, one that I often make): all this talk about the reliability of some brands being superior and some being crappy is just talk. It’s all about perception. An illusion, once carefully crafted by the Japanese and now attempted by Hyundai.

    How come a friend of mine who owns a Cavalier has been driving it for more than decade, with the original transmission, no major repairs, while two others, a Camry Hybrid and a TSX, mainly drive loaners?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m not sure if we should be made at Ford for the Tempo/Topaz, or applaud them for giving their customers exactly what they wanted; a cheap car for its size which lasted reasonably long and was generally inexpensive to repair.

    Even so, I’m glad to have never owned one!

  • avatar
    441Zuke

    As i stated earlier i had the displeasure of owning said car. it brings about mixed emotions.this was my first car which was cool i could whatever i wanted but, i wanted a 80s firebird or camero with a sbc but i got this. 99000 miles. the interior was awful, the only thing i likes was the weird a/c controls. also the automatic seat belts were annoying and eventually broke. it leaked oil and had an awful 3 speed transmission(with a known sensor problem in the transmission that would fail and cause it not to shift out of first gear). On on the highway 70 mph was testing it. i swear it was geared for the double nickle speed limit. also frequently it broke motor mounts, tie rod, the exhaust fell off on the highway, leaked tranny fluid (before i got it). i moved on to a civic(a rice burner when i was 16) and quickly i realized the error of my ways

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    During the 90′s I worked with a fellow that had a topaz. Refrigerator white with a blue interior. That plain white paint only made the upside down bathtub effect more pronounced.
    He drove the car for a number of years with no complaints that I know of. Roominess would not have been a problem for him as he was fairly small.
    I never owned one myself, but I see a lot of them still on the road, the bodies do seem to hold up pretty well on our salted roads. Much better than the civics pictured, most of which rusted away long ago.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    I had an 84 Tempo, bought used. It leaked oil, from what appeared to be a front oil seal leak at the crankshaft. Every Tempo I’d pass in a parking lot looked like it had the same problem. So, I’ll change the seal. Book says drop the engine/transmission to the ground, lift the body over it, and you can go to work. I said, “no way” and tried to lower the front of the engine down past the frame to work on the seal. Got it positioned to where I was 1/2″ to getting the pulley sheave off, but just couldn’t get there. Guess what? The seal didn’t get changed. A little more investigation revealed that the PCV valve was gunked up and the oil then went to the next nearest weak point to leak. The front crank seal.

  • avatar
    jjklongisland

    None of you touched on the absolutely horrible crash rating etc. Being a firefighter I have seen many people badly hurt in these vehicles. Tempo’s, Topaz’s, etc. Bad news… Anyone who drives them with kids in them I want to knock on there window and tell them to walk, much safer…

  • avatar
    dwford

    My mom had an old Topaz, I think an ’84. Horrible little car – uncomfortable, slow, ugly. 2 years ago I put my mom in an ’08 Focus SE. Karma got it’s revenge when I had to drive it, and her, and 3 cats, 1000 miles to Georgia.

  • avatar
    DougD

    We had one with a 5-Speed, and the manual transformed it into a decent little car. Auto ones were very thrashy on the highway. The “Tiny Topaz” served us well for years until it started to rust and we gave it away. The guy we gave it to used it for 2 more years then sold it for $500. We’d probably still be driving it if we’d kept it.
    We had that exact reaction to the Contour/Mystique. Less interior space for twice the money – great! We waited and got a Focus ZTS instead.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    In the 1980s, the Japanese domination of the US car (not truck) market began in earnest and to this date their grip is still very much intact. Mr Baruth’s excellent summary of the Tempo/Topaz saga has this revealing point: refusal by Ford’s accountants and product managers to do any significant upgrades for a decade on a car that should have been made over completely at the four year mark. In the 80s, you could expect a new, from the ground up, Civic, Accord, Camry, Corolla, Celica, 323, 626, Sentra, or Maxima every four to five years. Instead, Ford chose to let the Tempo/Topaz platform fester, just as the Taurus platform (as decent as it was in 1986) extend to 1995 with only a minor face lift in 1992. During that time, they watched the Accord and Camry garner all the accolades and more importantly, register approval with an entire generation of consumers who were tired of mediocre cars from Detroit with bland styling and dreadful driving dynamics. To paraphrase from Bill Clinton, “It’s the cars, stupid”.

    I don’t believe that American engineers are inherently dumber than their Asian counterparts, but time and time again we see miserable, short-sighted management preventing them from keeping up with the competition in any meaningful way. US fleet sales kept the manufacturing lines open, but my memory of the Ford Tempo, which I received often from Hertz as a rental during my business travel, was that of pig. I was stunned one day in 1987 in Miami when I was offered a Toyota Camry instead of the usual Tempo. As I drove north on I-95 up to West Palm Beach, I was shocked by the difference in feel between the two cars: the Camry had a seat that didn’t feel like a stack of Charmin toilet paper rolls, steering that didn’t feel like turning a pole in a jar of warm peanut butter, a transmission that didn’t constantly hunt between third and fourth gears, ergonomics that made sense, and a pleasant driving experience with very little body roll and outstanding outward visibility. It was so far superior to the Tempo that I vowed never again to drive one of those abominations if I could help it.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The model run of the Tempo/Topaz was when Detroit completely ignored building vehicles that were competitive with the Japanese offerings and accelerated their long downhill slide in car marketshare. As mentioned, Detroit concentrated on SUVs & trucks because the profit was so much greater. Detroit literally gave away the car market to the Japanese brands and to this day struggles to gain any of it back.

  • avatar
    Adam Omelianchuk

    I am sorry, but at the risk of displaying bad internet manners, I must indulge myself of some invective against this post. If there was ever a preposterous statement uttered on a blog this would be my nomination” “It [the Mercury Topaz] may not have been the best of cars, but it also was certainly not the worst of cars.” Um, no, I am sorry to say that this car was absolutely awful in all respects and a website named “The Truth About Cars” ought to know better.

    I owned a second generation 94 model that was given to me as a graduation gift after college. That was much to be thankful for as it came cheap, but not long after some mild use did we discover the truth of the proposition that the cheapest price gets you the cheapest product.

    The car was obviously built by idiots as everything went wrong. From the power windows to the water pump to the fuel pump to air conditioner to the oil cover, everything was defective and terribly unreliable. Its pathetic 3 speed automatic transmission could not even park (much less shift) right as it failed to engage a simple sensor that it allowed it to start the next time the ignition was turned.

    As for performance a 4 cylinder Toyota pickup truck can handle and break better, and that is not saying much. The engine was decent enough when it wasn’t leaking a quart of oil every hundred miles, but an engine that is rated at less than 90 BHP ought to get better than 23 MPG in the city.

    Lastly, the looks of this car reveals a level of ugliness only a committee of designers could come up with. Every corner, every line, and every angle is a blood-curdling scream of a mind fully surrendered to empty management slogans and gutted of any and all artistic creativity No one who has any aesthetic sense at all could produce such an eyesore. Being seen in this vehicle as a single 20 year-old male brought a sense of shame that I will never live down.

    It is no wonder that Eric Peters named this car an “automotive atrocity” in his similarly titled book. Consumer Reports recommended that all models in all years produced be avoided due to numerous complaints of poor reliability. Mercifully, this car was put out of its misery and Ford moved forward with the Contour/Mystique (though that is another story). I feel sorry for anyone that has had to live with a car like this. I remember my roommate, who had obtained a far more reliable 87 Accord (for $90 at an impound lot auction–200,000 miles on it), had similar feelings of pity for me.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Around 1988 I had a loaner Tempo for about a week. It seemed like an OK little car, until I made a right turn from a stop and goosed it to get into traffic. Torque steer jerked the steering wheel out of my hands. Caught me completely by surprise. First front wheel car I had driven. Nearly soiled my gotchies. Still don’t like FWD.

  • avatar
    mountainman

    My friend had a 1993 Tempo – we took it on a ski trip – we really did not think it would make it, but it did. He put almost 200k on that ugly smelly green thing before it died. I remember getting whacked in the head a lot with the automatic seatbelts.

    Still, the Tempo/Topaz was better than the Lynx. My dad had one, and the all-plastic (if you could call it that) interior literally fell apart.

    My neighbors had the old (a la ’81) Civics (two of them). There was a hailstorm and they were trashed. He loved those cars. I think they still look good to this day (without the dents, of course).

  • avatar
    BDB

    An ’89 was my family’s second car when I was growing up (the other being an ’86 Aerostar). I remember the back seat seeming cramped even when I was 7 years old, and for some reason about 7 out of every 10 times I stepped out of the car and touched the sheetmetal to close the door, I would get a small shock. Something about the cloth, I guess.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I remember around 1990 some local car lot had bought 50 Tempos and advertised them for $1999. They were obviously fleet cars as they were all optioned the same, had roughly the same miles and had that slight paint discoloration where rental company stickers had been removed.

    Two of my friends each bought one, cherry picking for the ones in best mechanical condition. One picked a car that was in good shape mechanically and drove well, but had a missing rear seat cushion. The salesman told them to take out a seat from one of the slags and put it in the one they wanted. It didn’t quite match, but he didn’t care. He drove it for 5 years with little or no trouble.

    I had a 1984 Subaru GL with 150,000 miles on it and was thinking it’s getting close to trade-in time. I checked a couple of them out. They left me underwhelmed and determined to put a few more miles on the Subie.

  • avatar
    buzz phillips

    I had a TOPAZ in 1984. I Had a lot of rear suspension problems and replaced rear tires often.

  • avatar

    I bought a 91 Topaz with 60k miles for $600 about 6 years ago. It had the 4 cylinder with the 3 speed, and was dog slow, and high revving on the highway. The air conditioning and heat were great, and I find that typical of for products from that era. The most memorable aspect of the design for me was the seating position. I am 5’10, and It was hard to sit in without my head brushing the roof. You had to adopt a weird seating position to fit, and you never needed to use the sun visors, because the top of the windshield was about even with your eyes. The steering was indeed numb, and forced me to drive more caution. I thought I was maturing as a young adult, but when I got my second Protege my old hooning habits returned.

    The car did ride very smoothly, until the frame started rusting where the rear wheel attached to the frame. This caused one of the wheels in back to lean outward at the bottom. Foolishly driving in the snow with the car in this condition caused me to come closest to death as I ever have in any vehicle.

  • avatar

    Well I had 2 of these and as the post says, it was not the worst but not the best car, actually I have fond memories of these 2 Ford Topaz we owned,it was a car that was within our budget, I was just married and bought one 86 Sport version, 4 speed Manual 2 door (heavy ones!) and power windows.
    We went to visit my wife’s folks on a 1,600 Km trip each way across all northern Mexico wihout any incident.
    As it was a manual I didn’t had any problems with the revs for the gears… even when the road was across the Tarahumara sierra.
    It was certainly not a powerful car, but for a small family car it was just ok.
    That car was sold to my younger brother 2 years later and kept it 2 more, with 170K Km on the odometer.
    Then I got the second, a year old 91 Ford Topaz, by the way, the one on the image looks more like the “Transition” model from the first to the 2nd gen here it was just 2 yearsfrom the 88 to the 90, here in Mexico Ford offered year and a half models at that time…it was replaced by the 90 and a half squared trunk one.. like this one
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/1988-91_Ford_Tempo.jpg
    When our first Son arrived we bought the second car, it was a 5 speed manual, 4 door sedan, all manual windows.
    We travelled no less than 4 times the road to my in laws on that car and 3 times to south of Mexico, in 2000 I sold that car with 204K Kms on the odometer and in much better condition than the one pictured above in the link.
    The achilles heel of these models…
    Power, the Hydraulic Steering seals, the seals of the valve lifter cover (Top engine aluminum cover) that sweated oil and could be very easily repaired, one solenoid as stated in another reply…
    Other than that with synthetic olil changes in time and proper care of the CV Joint boots it gave no problem at all.
    Absolutely it was not a sports car at all.
    The 6 cyl version of than model was sold in Mexico as the Ghia.

    Saludos!

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Youall should post images of the uptrim models. The differences aren’t huge, but I do believe our Tempo LX had about 6-8 different materials on the door panel alone. Deeply padded vinyl tops secured by a nice woodtone metal trim band, vertical navy pinstripes on a medium blue velour topping a hard plastic and carpeted lower with black trims around the window/lock controls. The pullcup/armrest portion was of that gorgeous type of padding that GM uses a lot– the kind that’s so soft– it warps. It was quite upscale/plush. Mom chose it over the last Diplomat, and it was so good– she went on to drive Ford for 13 years. 8-9 of them in this very car.

    Mom’s onto a 2006 Stratus now. It’s quite superior to the Tempo, in every way except trim. That old Tempo had such nice trims.

    I’d go into it again for comedic effect, but it’ll just be lost in translation.

    Did I mention that LX/LS models had REALLY nice trims?

  • avatar
    geeber

    This article highlights what went wrong with the Tempo/Topaz. It wasn’t that they were initially bad vehicles; it’s that they went on for way too long in their original form. (The same could be said about GM’s J-cars.)

    If Ford had taken a page from the Japanese playbook, and introduced a thoroughly updated and refined version of the Tempo/Topaz every 4-5 years, it would have a car selling at Camry/Accord levels today.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I bought my mom a very lightly used Tempo in the late 80s. It was perfect for her: reasonably comfortable, good mileage, and she doesn’t care about acceleration or handling. We shopped it against some upscale GM cars and I actually thought the Ford had a nicer interior. Worked great until the tranny went south at 125k, cost a couple grand to fix it.

    She sold the car to my brother’s father-in-law. His business partner was a volunteer fireman, one day they were in the shop when a call came over the scanner about a car on fire. “Hey, isn’t that your father-in-law’s address?” he said. Yep, the car lit up as he was pulling in to his driveway. Rest in peace little blue Tempo.

  • avatar
    Monty

    Why is anybody comparing this car to the Japanese vehicles? When the Tempo/Topaz twins were designed Ford was targeting the domestic competition – at the time Honda and Toyota weren’t much more than a blip on the charts.

    In context, the Tempo/Topaz was the best by far from the Big Three. GM was still praying nobody would notice just how bad the X cars were, and Chrysler thought it best to make every car in its line-up a derivative of the K-car platform.

    Honestly, not that the Tempo/Topaz were all that great, but with the Taurus/Sable big brothers they were by far the best that Detroit had to offer. And if Dearborn had bothered to update them, as many have suggested, we would be now arguing about the relative merits of the Tempo versus the Corolla or Civic.

    The schizophrenia of Detroit is astounding sometimes, neh? Ford was quite capable of introducing a good car, but then they would let it wither on the vine. GM would introduce a half-assed car, watch as sales plummeted, then start all over again with another half-assed “import killer”, only to repeat the cycle all over again.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      Too true about the GM equivalents. These Ford cars absolutely trampled the Cavalier/Corsica. Our Tempo 2.3 lasted roughly twice the mileage of my Aunt and Uncle’s Corsica 2.0. Dodge’s Spirit was good competition for Tempo, and the related LeBaron makes this Topaz an exercise in futility.

  • avatar
    eamiller

    The Tempo/Topaz do mark a relatively minor footnote in history. They were available with a driver’s side airbag as early as 1985 as an option. First Ford to do so. Not sure the reasoning behind it, unless the vehicles served as a testbed for Ford engineering. Eventually, in the 2nd gen model, they added the dreadful motorized seatbelts as standard, though I believe the airbag was still an option that deleted the driver’s side motorized belt.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      The reason for the driver’s side airbag option was due to a Federal mandate that all government fleet vehicles were to be equipped with such a device.

      It was an initiative to help spur the automakers into offering more vehicles with airbags, the thought process being that fleet sales would absorb some of the fixed costs inherent in tooling up for airbag production.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    My mom had the 4-door version as well. A total PIA. Gutless, quite possibly less sporty than the Dodge Omni it replaced, and nearly imossible to re-sell in 2003 when she bought a Toyota Corolla. I had a much easier time reselling her 9-year old Dodge Omni for $1,600 than I had re-selling her 10-year old Topaz for a final price of $800. I can only chalk it up to my youthfull inexperience that I didn’t try to talk her out of buying the Topaz in the first place.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    My mom had a 93 Mercury Tracer LTS that she bought in 95. That car took lots of abuse for a very long time.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Had one. Boring. Only Ford that I’ve ever had than never used oil. Tranny started slipping and there was no way I was going to invest enough to get it fixed. Made sure that I went back to RWD for my next vehicle.

  • avatar
    Doc

    The gear shift knob brings back memories for me. It was molded at a small injection molding company in Commerce Township Michigan. I used to sell the plastic resin to them. Ford specified an acetal plastic material for it. A shiny and very hard material totally unsuited to this type of appearance part. The knob had a fake leather grain on it but looked ridiculous because it was so shiny and also the gate (used to fill the mold) was on the side of the shifter knob and was plainly visible after being trimmed off at the plant. Acetal is a very gassy material which had the effect of leaving a big dull blush mark right on the top of the knob. It looked awful.

    You just do not see things like this on even the cheapest of cars today.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    You can tell the folks who owned and lived with these cars as opposed to the people who happened to rent one, once upon a time.

    The owners (myself included) all seem to have the same stories, cramped interior, many repeated repairs, tranny issues, lousy fuel mileage, etc.

    When this site bemoaned the death of Mercury that I outlined the problems with my last two Mercurys (and Ford products), probably permanently. My Topaz was the next to the straw that broke the camel’s back with Ford products, the Grand Marquis WAS the final straw.

    I don’t care what the motoring press and Alan (Mulally) says, I’ll take my chances with almost anyone else instead.

  • avatar
    skor

    My father had an 86 Tempo, bought new for $8,300. Dull little car that did nothing very well, but nothing very badly either. Required no repairs, except for tires brakes, for the first 70K miles. Good value for people who view cars as nothing more than an appliance. BTW, the pushrod 4 that was installed in these things was Ford’s old I6 with two cylinder lobbed off. Nice way to save money on tooling, Ford.

  • avatar

    I had a ’94 4-door with the 3.0 v-6. I kept driving it until 2008. The transmission died and I let it go. Interior was okay for me, 6’3″ 200 lbs. Not much backseat room though. 25 m.p.g. all the time and, with 4 snow tires in winter, very capable in snow. The only major repairs, A/C compressor and oil pan ( it rusted out) .

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Two things that surprised me with those cars. One, they were rather quiet compared to other cars that size, and two, the acoustics in them were rather good, which help the stereo sound better than it probably should have.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I worked at Budget Rent A Car during these years and know this car very well because they filled our fleets across the United States and Canada. Budget handled Mercurys, and so I know the Topaz.

    Even new, these cars were dull. They could be brand new, have the four wheel drive option, or even the V6 engine and they would still be dull. They steered without enthusiasm. We would get them filled with options and throughout the year we would get new ones on a regular basis, but even the newest of the newest Topazes were dull.

    Sometimes they didn’t appear dull. Occassionally there would be a nicely painted one with a sporty look, or a richly colored one with an expensive look, but as soon as you move out of the lot, these cars reminded you of the powdered blue Topaz you unloaded last month.

    We had other cars I preferred. The Corollas were excellent but too small for my height. The Sables were awesome. The new Tracer was better than the Corolla, expecially the LTS models which were outstanding. We handled Lincolns, so I have a soft spot in my heart for Continentals and Marks. We also handled Mazdas and ended up spending an entire summer jammed into a Miata, which was fun, but way too much like a little girl’s car for me.

    We never charged a lot for renting a Topaz. We didn’t have to. The Topaz was our entry level economy car, our compact car, and sometimes our midsize car, depending on availability at the moment. We always knew they would return in one piece and that they would not break down. They were great rental cars.

    And that is what they were. Great rental cars. I wouldn’t want to have ever bought one. My brother did and it lasted forever, but still, that is an awful lot of dull to deal with over a decade.

  • avatar
    donutguy

    I had a ’88. Owned it for 9 years….beat the living snot out of it- never replaced a thing except tires. It was very dependable but ugly and slow as a freight train.

  • avatar

    In 1997, I inherited my mother’s 1993 2 door Ford Tempo.  Mom loved that car and was sad to see it go, but I was off to college and needed a car (she ended up with a 1997 Escort).  I had the car for two years with little problem up until I started looking for a new car.
     
    I had already test drove a car and they had driven the Tempo and made the offer.  Between that time and when I actually traded it in, something electrical REALLY messed up.  Both headlights went out, the high beam light was on when the low beams were on, the heater fan only worked on low, the radio only worked when the door was open, etc.  I coasted the Tempo into the dealer, locked it, tossed them the keys, and got into my new car and drove away.


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