By on October 28, 2010

From the blooming tree in the photo, it’s obvious that I didn’t just shoot this Tempo recently. But then it wasn’t just this past spring either; it was a year and a half ago. Why have I been temporizing? Few cars leave me feeling more conflicted than the Tempo: is it a Deadly Sin or a Greatest Hit? But I find myself in a temporary state of equanimity today, so let’s see if we can’t put the Tempo into proper perspective. Tempus fugit; it’s now or never.

As lowly as it may seem today, the Tempo played a very significant role in the salvation of Ford in the early-mid eighties. That crisis, not dissimilar to Ford’s recent one, also involved pulling Ford back from the brink of bankruptcy. Donald E. Petersen was Ford’s Allan Mulally of the time, and his task was formidable (see related article here). Ford’s product line going into the eighties was bloated and boxy, and almost took the Blue Oval down. A radical change was called for, and Petersen delivered, in a critical one-two-three punch, despite having limited resources.

Petersen placed his bet on aerodynamics, or at least the image of it. To get a clearer perspective of that, compare Ford’s Ghia Navarre Concept of 1980 (top) and the Ford Probe III concept of 1981 (below). What a difference a year and a fresh new direction can make. And the styling influence of the Probe on the Tempo is all-too obvious.

Strictly speaking, the Probe III more directly predicted Ford’s European Sierra, which arrived in 1983, one year ahead of the Tempo. It was shepherded in part by Bob Lutz, and replaced the boxy Cortina and Taunus. Built on a totally different RWD platform, the Sierra was initially challenged in winning over the generally conservative buyers of European mid-size Fords. And of course, the Sierra was the basis for the Merkur XR4Ti, one of Lutz’ less successful ideas.

Back to the USA: in 1983, the reskinned T-Bird arrived, the first of that succession of aero-punches. It was welcomed with open arms, including yours truly. The Tempo followed one year later, and the final killer blow (to GM, mainly) was the Taurus in 1986. The Tempo played a crucial role in paving the way for the Taurus, and getting folks increasingly used to the jelly bean look. The strategy worked, particularly so in California, where the shift away from GM cars was seismic, and a predictor of things to come. In that trend-setting state, Ford was suddenly cool, the last of the Big Three to enjoy that status there for a long time, if ever.

The Tempo’s first year (1984) was also its best ever, with sales exceeding 400k. The secret to its success: a fresh look, attractive pricing, and GM’s X-Body cars. With stickers starting at about $7k ($14k adjusted), the Tempo cost about the same as a Honda Civic four door, if you could get one then without a dealer mark-up. But the Tempo was roomier, offering interior dimensions closer to the Accord, which cost considerably more.

By 1984, GM’s X-Bodies, mainly in the form of the Chevy Citation, had imploded due to a number of recall and quality issues. The timing of the Tempo was perfect. Although sales drooped a bit after the first year, the Tempo was a strong seller for most of its ten-year (overly) long life, except for the last few years, by which time it was sorely long on tooth. By then, the Japanese competition had left it in the dust. But the Tempo did what Ford needed it to do, at a minimum. The question is how well did it go about doing it?

That’s the shadow side of the Tempo, and its almost identical Mercury Topaz twin. Let’s first look at how the Tempo was developed to get a better picture of its strengths and weaknesses. The Tempo was hardly a clean-sheet new car; the same applied to the T-Bird. While Peteren was betting the whole Ford farm on the all-new Taurus; he could only afford to bet the outhouse on the Tempo.

The Tempo was designed to replace the boxy, foxy Fairmont. But with FWD mania sweeping the land, the Tempo was built on an elongated gen1 Escort platform, stretched to the rear and pushed out at the sides a bit, but essentially identical from the cowl forward. That included the Escort’s front and rear MacPherson strut suspension, which seemed to promise more on paper than it delivered, at least in the US. The differences between the European and US Escort was most painfully felt in the suspension tuning, and the flaccid and imprecise manners of the early US Escort found its way into the Tempo. Ford’s Focus on excellent handling was still a ways off.

Ford wisely abandoned early notions of using the Escort’s weak-chested 1.6 L engine in the Tempo. Needing something a bit larger,they chose not to use their existing 2.3 L OHC four as used in a number of Ford’s other cars. Why? Undoubtedly, it was an expedient decision based on available resources. The 2.3 Lima four facility was probably running at or near capacity, meanwhile the transfer lines for the old Falcon six were going begging.

So instead of developing a nice modern and smooth new engine like the Hondas enjoyed, the Tempo’s four was basically a Falcon 200 CID OHV six with two of the cylinders lopped off, crowned with a new cylinder head. Dubbed the HSC, for “high swirl combustion”, it was a rather modest affair compared to the competition (except GM’s Iron Duke), and suffered from nasty NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), lacking any sort of balance shaft. Expedient yes; but not anything to be proud of by any stretch.

That included its power output, which went up and down over the years, randomly: it started with 90 hp in ’84 and ended with 98 hp, with way stations of 86 and 95 hp along the way. Thankfully, the carburetor only had to be suffered for the first year; a succession of ever-better fuel injection systems followed. But Ford’s advanced ECC-IV electronic engine computer was there from the get-go, even if there wasn’t much get-up and go.

If you were searching for that, there was a tempting-sounding HSO (high specific output) version on the option list some of those years. But with all of (don’t laugh) 100 hp, it was an oxymoron. Oh well. The Taurus’ Vulcan 3.0 L V6 with 130 hp finally became available in 1992, and put the misnamed HSO out to pasture.

Lest I forget, the Tempo was available with four wheel drive, starting in 1987, as a response to the growing popularity of the Subaru and Audi quattro. It was at the height of four-wheel drive passenger cars fad, a precursor to larger things to come. The driven rear wheels probably endeared the Tempo to some snow-belt customers, but it was not a big success, and disappeared after some years. That also applies to the Mazda-sourced 2.0 L diesel engine, that made all of 52 hp, but had a whopping 41/56 (old formula) EPA sticker. Ever see one; or should I say hear one?

So how did all of that development history come together behind the wheel? Before that though, let me say I was a bit smitten by the Tempo’s leading-edge looks when it first appeared, but my expectations were modest, based on experience with an Escort or two, my Turbo Coupe, and reading about the engine’s origins. A sleek new suit does not always make the car.

Stephanie and I took a kid-less vacation to explore New Mexico for a week, in the spring of 1984, and we were treated to a new Tempo sedan as our rental. My idea of exploration is not just the typical tourist stops, but the back roads and non-roads. We thrashed it all over the state, including trails normally associated with four wheel drive vehicles. The verdict: a travel companion that talked too much, tripped too often, and wouldn’t keep up the desired pace. The noisy, overworked four droned and thrummed perpetually. Handling was imprecise and flaccid. The suspension’s longish travel was a help, but better damping was sorely missed as the Tempo bounced along.

The best thing I can say is that the Tempo is that survived all the abuse I threw at it. Good thing I only dented instead of tearing off the oil sump on one particular rock. It would have been awkward to explain to the rental company what I was doing just there. Stephanie’s driver at home was a Honda Civic at the time, and let’s just say the Tempo was no Honda. Even less so in its latter days, when the Japanese competition had evolved several generations further.

The Tempo’s initial interior styling (picture is from an ’87, I think) wasn’t anywhere near as adventuresome and leading edge as the exterior might suggest. Ours was a horrific shade of red, and rather tacky. This was rectified somewhat in later years, but it appears that Ford’s interior stylists still had more of their feet in the late seventies than mid eighties.

The Tempo may have started out as a leading-edge trend-setter, but lived out its long life as a car your Mom or Grandma would drive. And its long life span probably also enhanced its reliability. Like much of Detroit’s cars, they tended to take a few years before they worked their kinks out. My memory tells me the Tempo never had any really blatant quality issues, but on the other hand, the early ones seem to all have disappeared.

The Tempo: a band-aid that got Ford through a painful transition and served some folks well enough, but probably nobody complained when it was finally removed. A Deadly Sin? After reading the comments, definitely yes.

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103 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1986 Ford Tempo – A Deadly Sin?...”


  • avatar
    86er

    …but probably nobody complained when it was finally removed.

    What was it replaced with? I want to say Contour.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Ironically, the replacement Contour was a much better vehicle but never sold very well.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The Contour was kind of cramped compared to the Tempo, but not appreciably bigger than the Escort.  It was also relatively gutless.  Ford didn’t really think it through.
       
      What really killed Ford, though, was the Taurus trouble trifecta: epidemic transmission failures, the ovoid re-style and rampant cost-cutting.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The Contour was initially a lot more expensive than the Tempo, which hampered sales. Customers looking for another Tempo balked at paying more for a Contour.

      The cramped back seat didn’t help much, either.

      The problems with the 3.8 V-6 and the transmissions used in front-wheel-drive vehicles were compounded by the fact that they were installed in many of Ford’s most popular vehicles. That engine and transmission killed not just the original Taurus, but also the Windstar.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Didn’t Ford kill the Tempo and Escort with the release of the Contour? I know the Escort stuck around for a couple years before completely dying.

      On second thought never mind I think the Focus is what killed the Escort and Contour.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      ” That engine and transmission killed not just the original Taurus, but also the Windstar. That engine and transmission killed not just the original Taurus, but also the Windstar.

      Not unlike the way video killed the radio star.

    • 0 avatar

      @psar:  With the 2.8L V6 the Contour was pretty quick.  The 125 HP I4 was not as quick, but perfectly competitive with Altimas and Accords of the time.  It was a noisy little bastard though, that engine.
       
      The Contour’s biggest problems were price and rear seat room.  Oh well, it was a fun car in Sport guise with the V6 and a stick!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I bought one in 1995, the first year. Mine was the Mercury Mystique itteration because the V6 (2.5L, 165hp, DOHC, 24V) was much easier to find than on the Ford. It was a very nice, and well equipped car (Traction Control, Dual Air Bags, and a lot of other goodies), and it was fun to drive.
      The rear seat was too small, but the car was very close in size to the the Camcord of the time. The problem was that Ford could not decide which car should be the Camcord competitor. They settled on the Taurus, which meant that the Contour was over priced. They decontented it. I bought a 99 for my kids, but it was not as good a car as the 95.
      When the Focus came out they deleted the Contour. The Fusion is the real replacement for the Contour. The new Taurus is a size larger than the Fusion. and the Focus and Fiesta are the two smaller sizes.

    • 0 avatar
      Crosley

      I owned a new Contour with a 3.0 V6, it was actually a great car.  It probably was a sales flop because it couldn’t decide what it was.  It was just incrementally bigger than an Escort, the back seat was a complete joke.
      It was quite quick, I think it had around 200hp, and had incredible handling.  I bought it new and loaded for $13,900.  I believe it was actually CHEAPER at the dealership than the Escort (they had trouble moving them)
      That was the last Ford I bought.  Despite being a well-designed car, it had more issues than it should (all covered under warranty) and I tried to sell it as soon as the warranty ran out.  The reason why I haven’t since bought a new American car was the resale value was so bad, and I couldn’t give that car away.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually the Contour had a 2.5L V6 with 170hp.  Unless you got the SVT, which was 195-200hp depending on the year.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Ah, the good old days … when just barely good enough cars could sell hundreds of thousands per year. Ford has been fortunate to figure out that those days are over. I’m not sure if GM has gotten the memo yet.
     

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It says a lot that my maternal grandfather, who worked for and swore by General Motors, bought one of these instead.  We had it when he lost his license for DUI.  I think it eventually developed problems as it aged, but it start out as horribly as the Citation (which spat transmission bits after six months).
     
    My only real memory of it, though, was vomiting in a door pocket on the way back from Algonquin Park.  Otherwise it was unremarkable in a way that his previous car, and my paternal grandfather’s Dodge Aspen, where not, but it didn’t stop my parents from buying a Corolla instead.
     
    Ford could and should have done better with this car, but they fumbled it, the Contour and the Taurus just as Toyota and Honda perfected their offerings.

  • avatar
    BDB

    I had to drive one of these (the facelifted later version) as a hand-me-down in high school. It was better than the school bus, I guess. Whoever decided to put those godawful motorized seatbealts in ’80s/early ’90s cars ought to be shot, though.

  • avatar
    V572625694

    I went and test drove one of these when they were new. It felt like a big American car and just didn’t appeal to me. Wound up w/an Audi 4000S — much more fun, much more costly.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    These were weird times for what people expected in a car and what was provided. Sweet Honda’s, strange European stuff and goofy USA offerings.  I think these cars were awful in looks, engineering, etc.  But I will say this, they were tough and usually kept running a lot longer than you wanted them to.  I failed to kill a Escort GT of this era and it was a crappy car.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    These were weird times for what people expected in a car and what was provided. Sweet Honda’s, strange European stuff and goofy USA offerings.  I think these cars were awful in looks, engineering, etc.  But I will say this, they were tough and usually kept running a lot longer than you wanted them to.  I failed to kill a Escort GT of this era and it was a crappy car.

    • 0 avatar
      mtypex

      Cars are better thesedays, but the music is worse.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Cars are better thesedays, but the music is worse.”
      No kidding!

    • 0 avatar

      I had an ’89 Escort GT, and it was total crap.  The only thing it had going for it was that the 1.9 motor wasn’t an interference engine so when it broke yet another timing belt it didn’t destroy the motor.  My god, I hated that car.  It had a chronic problem with icing in the throttle body, so when it was humid the intake would ice up and the car would violently shudder and eventually die.  After 30 minutes or so, it would go again.
      It was also my first introduction to the practice of similarly-named cars in Europe and the US with vastly different drivability.  The Euro Escorts could actually be fun…the US versions could not.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    The back ends of these cars started out ugly. First there was a black cove panel between the taillights. Then they added an acre of red plastic with teeny back-up and directional lights. Later things got better for the coupe with a black filler to narrow the panel. The back-up and directional lights appear to have doubled in size, but only the bottom halves are functional.

  • avatar
    ctowne

    These things were tough as nails though. I had a co-worker who had the Mercury version, 2 door, with a V6 and a manual transmission. It was about as stupid fast a car as I’d ridden in to date (this was circa ’95 or so) I was *shocked*, because from the outside it was as unassuming as tapioca pudding.

    My brother received one as a loaner from the dealership when his car was in for repairs, and that was the most miserable ride i’d ever been in. (we called it “colgate” from it’s almost green paint) It was, however the toughest car I’ve ever seen.

    A 16 year old with a penchant for jumping things drove Colgate for 8 months (while his other F product was being repaired for jumping…things) and it held up, asked for more, and other than some bald tires upon turning it back in, was *no* worse for wear.

    amazing.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Paul – Thank you for stating your honest ambivalence of whether the Tempo is a Deadly Sin or a Greatest Hit. I love your story, but I’d vote for the former.

  • avatar
    441Zuke

    As a former owner of a black 93 mercury topaz coupe i will attest to that it’s high points are it is durable, cheap to own (repair) ,insure and it is by far one of the best snow driving cars i’ve ever driven (including trucks) and  thats about it.
    it broke in weird ways (it was ten years old and i did not help) i had to replace the aforementioned automatic seatbelt motor. the map lights would’t turn on/ turn off with out great effort the horn broke.it has  a odd plastic transmission gear the controlled when to shift it, that broke. the engine noisy which was made worse by the 3 speed auto and going 70 was an adventure.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Paul, are you sure that interior shot is post-1987?  My mom had an 87 or 88, and the doors and dash don’t look right.  But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, it spontaneously combusted about a decade ago.  It was a good car for mom, until the tranny went south at 120K, but definitely no enthusiast’s ride.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’m pretty sure that interior shot is of the sedan, which best as I can tell, is an ’87. I could be wrong. So I guess saying “post ’87″ is a mistake. I’ll fix it.

    • 0 avatar

      If memory serves, a newish interior came along in 1988, the same year the sedans received a more formal roofline treatment. Only the dash was significantly changed, and not really for the better. Light and wiper controls were large knobs flanking the instrument pod.

      An ex-girlfriend had a 10-year-old 1988 or ’89 Mercury Topaz that had seen far better days. We towed it behind a U-Haul moving out to central California; she drove my much nicer ’94 Saturn SL2 (a “Homecoming” car, with the pearl white paint.) She also took the Saturn when visiting family back here in NM, so I was stuck with her Topaz for a week. A very LONG week.

      By that point, the engine had given up all but a handful of its 95 horses, and required frequent oil and coolant replenishment. What wasn’t leaked on the ground was probably mixing in the engine block… though to its credit, the car never died outright. In fact, it likely far outlasted our relationship.

      That was a very stupid time in my life.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      @Paul
       
      It is a 1986 or 1987 Tempo GL with minimal options sedan.  The coupes door would be much longer than one you have indicated here.  This one lacks a center armrest which is the giveway that it is a GL.  The LX and the Sport GL would have come with the armrest standard (100% sure on the LX, about 90% sure on the Sport GL).  I would have to see an exterior shot, or it would need to have its factory head unit for me to identify it as an 86 or 87.  The 86 had an analog FM tuner with the mechanical push button station resets.  During the 87 model year they went to a digital FM tuner during the middle of production, otherwise I believe the interiors are the same between the two years.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Tempo deserves “Deadly Sin” well ahead of the ’90 Corvette and ’77 Seville.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I knew the Tempo 2.3 was OHV, but didn’t realize its Falcon 200 lineage.  I’d argue that Ford made the right choice there, not because of factory capacity or engine refinement, but for durability.  The Pinto OHC 2.3 wasn’t known for its smoothness, and some of them had head gasket problems.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Same here with regards to Falcon 170/200 lineage of the 2.3.  As homely as they are – there are still a couple of these plowing my neighborhood streets doing low speed maneuvers.
       
      By 1988, the Toyota Corolla was a much better car in all ways.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    The interior picture above is from an ’86 or ’87 Tempo GL.  The Tempo underwent an interior and center stack transformation in 1988.

    If you watch this Ford commercial from 1988 at 10 seconds you’ll see the new 1988 dashboard, center stack and instrument cluster:

     
    In a quick search I found this:
     
    http://www.google.com/url?source=imgres&ct=img&q=http://www.carlustblog.com/images/2008/09/18/tempo4.jpg&sa=X&ei=t7HJTOShIcyinAf89OHSDw&ved=0CAQQ8wc&usg=AFQjCNEflMhVKojfPq0hk22BgMY2Tcb7-A
     
    Not the greatest picture but you can see how the entire dash and center stack is different.  The vertically mounted slider HVAC controls are replaced with a push button horizontally mounted setup.
     
    In 1985 the Ford Tempo offered a driver side airbag option if you were willing to give up a tilt steering wheel.
     
    A 1987 Ford Tempo GL Sport coupe, with the laughable 100 HP engine with throttle body fuel injection and a 5-speed manual was the first new car I ever bought.  Sticker was around $7900.  I only had it 17 months, an old Chrsyler rear ended me going 40 MPH and that was that.  I found it to be “acceptable” transportation.  Handling, acceleration, braking, none of it would be anything to write home about.  It got good fuel economy, it was reliable, and I got comments on the look.  I found this picture of one in Peru in black on black:
     
    http://www.google.com/url?source=imgres&ct=img&q=http://img3cdn.adoosimg.com/646b1ccb8fbadd6a1957dcf92e2d-1-3.jpg&sa=X&ei=46_JTKOoO4ScnweM0vzYDw&ved=0CAQQ8wc4JA&usg=AFQjCNFBERIpJMyUB1Tf6taIIjP72wwGew
     
    I found this GL Sport with the optional luggage rack on the trunk lid (gray bumper cover and the 14″ sport alloys shod with 185/70TR14 tires is the give away):

    http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2007/12/26/14/20/1987_ford_tempo-pic-26261.jpeg

    Here is a 1986 Ford commercial for the Tempo Sport GL, which says – well absolutely nothing about the car beyond it has a sport tuned suspension and a “high output” engine – yes all 100 screaming HP!

    Mine was two tone with a very nice dark blue upper with a dark gray lower.  The lower dark gray had some sort of coating on it that make getting tar, etc. etc. off much easier.  I had the basic options that a first time car buyer was looking for.  Tape player with an equally chuckle worthy premium sound package, tilt wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, oh and the trunk mounted luggage rack. I added a sunroof after the fact.

     
    I would say the Tempo was not a deadly sin for Ford (the sin was they didn’t update it enough in the 1998 refresh) but a stroke of genius.  Even if you think the Tempo was a piece of crap back then consider how bad the Fairmount it replaced was.  This was a quantum leap forward.
     
    Most of all, I miss having a $114 a month car payment!!!

    Finally, enjoy a ton of Ford Tempo TV ads, I don’t remember Ford promoting this car that hard.

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ford+tempo+commercial&aq=f

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Thanks for the first link, that’s the interior I remember.  I still like the looks of reskinned 1988+ Tempos.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Mine was two tone with a very nice dark blue upper with a dark gray lower.
       
      An ex-girlfriend of mine had that colour scheme on her ’94 sedan.  With the factory 7-spoke alloys, I thought it looked good.  Hers was in excellent condition.

  • avatar
    geeber

    This car isn’t a “Deadly Sin,” except in the sense that Ford allowed it remain on the market unchanged for too long. By the early 1990s, it was long-in-the-tooth compared to an Accord or Camry. But I remembered when it debuted – its style was miles ahead of the domestic competition, not to mention the Japanese offerings. Park a 1984 Tempo next to that year’s Chevrolet Citation or Dodge Aries…it’s no contest. The Ford is by far the best looking, and also has the best interior.

    The motorized seatbelts were in response to the federal requirement for passive restraints. The choices auto makers had were to install an airbag, or install those motorized seat belts. Customers overwhelming preferred the air bags. Interestingly, Ford did equip several Tempos with air bags in the 1980s on an experimental basis, so the decision to use the motorized belts on these cars for a few years is baffling.

    After the initial bugs were worked out, these cars gave buyers years of faithful service. And, even in the early 1990s, they still looked more advanced and had a more coherent design than their domestic competition – the Dodge Spirit/Plymouth Acclaim and Chevrolet Corsica.  

    The Tempo reminds me of a late 1960s Falcon – it did the job it was supposed to, without much fuss. It wasn’t a car you loved, but it wasn’t a car you hated, either.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      The Tempo was equipped with a “Mod-I” head-tilt steering column.

      The fact that the Ford cars appearing after, and around 1990, were equipped with a more-robust head-tilt column called the “PR” (for Passive Restraint) is an indication that the Mod-I would likely have lost its head at the tilt pivot due to the high bending forces generated when an unbelted driver nails the airbag should say something…

      Airbags are not just bolt-on devices… they require robust (in crash) and rigid substrate (against NVH due to that bag on the end of the colum flobbing around), i.e. column and IP-substructures. sensors, electronics, (Edit: not to mention front crumple zones in the basic vehicle structure) in short an SRS device has to be holistically-designed into the car.

      My guess is that by the time the DOT-passive-restraint spec came along 1) it would have been far too expensive to reengineer the Mod-I tilt & IP package for the few people who were willing to pay a premium for a drivers-side SRS airbag, 2) the limited experience and resources were being used to perfect these technologies for forward-model programs, 3) as well as the high variable cost associated with installing a 1-st gen SRS at that time (especially in a modest-margin vehicle like the Tempo.

      Edit: There were three ways of satisfying DOT’s Passive Restraint regulation: 1) Bags, 2) Moto-belts (Ford / Japanese), 3) Door-mounted belts (GM) … While the bags are the best of the three, at the time, for the reasons cited above, transitional technologies like 2 & 3 had to be employed. The trade-offs between 2 & 3 largely had to do with whether you were annoyed more by belts you had to climb under to get into the car (GM) or by belts that zipped by your head (sometimes winding around your neck when the door was opened) and that as they aged became blocky and jam-prone (the zip-belts had the advantage of having a conventional lap belt that firmly held a passenger in the seat vs. the GM-style belts which, depending on cushion shape and seating material, could allow front-seat occupants to slide all the way to the nearest door.)

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      To get an airbag on a 1985 Tempo (an available option) you would have to give up the tilt steering wheel.  Robert.Walter nails why they went to the motorized belts versus a standard driver side airbag.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      I have to agree with Geeber that the Tempo was a good car for Ford.  In addition to looking WAAAAY more modern than the competition from GM and Chrysler, the new Tempo exhibited a “quality feel” that was wholly absent in any other US car in the segment. 
      Honda and Toyota were expensive as could be in those years because of the “voluntary” import restrictions that constricted supply and resulted in expensive cars with dealer markups added on top.  The Tempo was a good car for a lot less.

      The problem with the Tempo was (like so many other Ford models) that it was allowed to linger way beyond its shelf life.  The replacement Contour may have been a better driving car when new, but it lacked the long-term mechanical durability of its predecessor (not to mention a decent rear seat).  The Tempo also stood up fairly well here in the rust belt.  I still occasionally see one on the road.  Offer me a K car, a Corsica or a Tempo and it is the Tempo hands down for me.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      ” Interestingly, Ford did equip several Tempos with air bags in the 1980s on an experimental basis, so the decision to use the motorized belts on these cars for a few years is baffling.”
      That was all about money. Back then, motor mouse seat belts were cheaper to implement than air bags and many cars came with those horrific belts. How the auto companies ever talked the government into agreeing that motorized seat belts were an acceptable substitute for air bags is beyond me.
       

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    It seems as though Ford offered at least 3 entirely different 2.3L I-4′s in those days – now I know why.

  • avatar
    PJungnitsch

    Tons of them in university, seemed to be a typical cheap student beater. I tried to follow a buddy once in traffic and lost him almost immediately in what seemed like a sea of Ford Tempos, all in that maroon red color.

  • avatar

    Paul you nailed it again.  I don’t say that very often, only because I didn’t grow up with many of the cars profiled on CC.
    My only addition is the Tempo GLS (or Topaz XR-5) from 1992.  It had the 3.0L vulcan, 5-speed stick, Mustang GT-looking ground effects with round foglights and a slightly better suspension.  (with stuff like a rear swaybar!) I remember it being quite the sleeper back then. If the V6 GLS came out in the mid-80s and stuck around till the end, the Tempo would be a “classic” by anyone’s metric.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I have only two enduring memories of the Tempo, the one time I drove one was an early 90s rental that had front seats that gave me an instant backache and had me saying anything but a Tempo to rental companies fora few years. This wasn’t so bad since I ended up in 2nd gen probes and an early Contour.
    The second memory was seeing a “sports” model Tempo in front of a Polish travel agency in Brooklyn in 1987 and doing a double take because with the 8 spoke alloy wheels and no chrome that 6 window Tempo looked almost exactly like a Sierra.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      I had one of those 1987 Tempo GL Sport models as a coupe.  The Sierra design influence was very evident in the sport model without the chrome bumpers, etc. etc. etc.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    BDB: You really hit the nail about those motorized seat belts.

    I got stuck with one of these in the early-mid nineties at the Hertz counter ‘way too often when traveling on business and I hated everything about them. Ford even inherited GM’s “half-way-down” mentality with the rear windows on four-door models, ditto with Taurus. I tried liking the Euro-styled refresh, but the proportions never worked for me. Was it a compact or mid-size car? I never figured that out and I’m not sure Ford did, either.

    I’m very happy “peripheral controls” – you remember – all the rocker switches placed around the rim of the gauge cluster, only lasted a few years – that, too, I hated after about 5 minutes.

    This car was a serious effort (the refresh), but the lack of refinement and clunky look, which summarizes most domestic cars of the period, only fueled the import fire that pretty much devastated the American auto industry because compared to the major imports from Honda and Toyota and Nissan, there was no comparison to the level of refinement the imports possessed.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      It’s funny that many of the Hondas and Toyotas from circa 1990 that you mentioned are still on the road – but not the Nissans.

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      I find that to be true also.  Those old boxy Maximas, Stanzas (or Stanza-Altimas), and Sentras from those years have vanished.  Oddly, the only older Nissan cars I ever see anymore are the Pulsars.  Somehow, despite low production numbers, those little things bested the others over the years. 

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Tempo/Topaz – how I grew to hate you – let me count the ways… I detailed the many failings of my 1990 Topaz in other articles on this blog; mostly on the demise of Mercury. I won’t go into the gory detail here, but it was one of the cars that completely turned me off of Fords probably permanently. The other was my 1991 Grand Marquis, but that’s another story. And I come from a Ford family. Well, I did.
     
    If Ford had a clue, instead of making a Mazda 626 coupe clone, they would have taken that chassis and clothed it with a true second generation Tempo body. We’d all be extolling the virtues of the second gen Tempo and toasting Ford’s good health throughout the past two decades. Instead, we got warmed over “World Car Escort” which wasn’t competitive when it debuted in 1980.
     
    Deadly sin? Hells yes.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Actually, they did. The Contour/Mystique was on that platform. Which was also shared with the 1s generation Mondeo in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Robert: Maybe I should have included a date on my rant. I was imagining more like 1988 instead of 1995 for the usage of the Mazda chassis. By the time the Mondeo was released, the Tempo was on a 15 year old chassis design. Had Ford released something like the Mondeo/Contour/Mystique sooner, they could have locked up a fair amount of compact marketshare, IMO.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    My first new car was an ’85 Tempo with a five speed.  I had traded a ’76 Pontiac Astre (Chevy Vega) for it. So it was a great car.  Had it nine years.  I cost a lot less than a Civic. The Tempo had the nicest interior of any car I ever had.  Padded door panels, dash. Very little hard plastic.  Only quality issue was inner tie rod ends every 30,000 miles.  It’s too pad Ford didn’t put a good little engine into it.

       

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Check out John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler teaching Iona Skye to drive a stick Tempo in “Say Anything.”
     
     

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Take a look again at Ford’s Ghia Navarre Concept … then realize you are looking at the theme for the rear-end of the EXP and LN7.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @ Robert: I hate to disagree with you (as I know you have intimate knowledge of these cars), but to my eye that looks like nothing more than a riff on the then-current Thunderbird. It almost has the same proportions as the later N-bodies from GM (Grand Am, Calais, Skylark).
       
      The original EXP seemed to echo the then-current Fox body Mustang and the LN7 had the first iteration of the bubble back hatchback window that the USDM Mercury Capri adopted in the 1983 model year. I really don’t see the similarity to the EXP/LN7 at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Look at the rear lights and go fwd to the c-pillar.  Then imagine replacing that flat rear deck with a curved glass turtle deck.  Bear in mind I said “theme” not “design”.  The vertical backlite, and even fwd to the b-pillar, is very GM-like. Fwd of the A-pillar reflects Honda’s very small amount of sheetmetal above the front wheel, and very slopey hoods due to the strut.towers and the engine being packaged to avoid flat hoods.

  • avatar
    DougD

    We had a 5speed on our ’89 and it was an enjoyable car without the slushbox, particularly on the highway.  Not flashy or fast, but it was surprisingly reliable and got the job done.  Being solid economical transportation usually doesn’t count for much on enthusiast forums, but it sure was for us.

    We looked at the Contour for a replacement, but it was smaller inside and shockingly more expensive than the Tempo.  Waited a few more years then got an 01 Focus ZTS.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    First, and perhaps only, Topaz (or Tempo) I ever drove belonged to Ford Truck enginer Daniel May. It was a brand new, 1st-year, dark-blue 4dr with (IIRC) a manual trans. I thought it was OK to drive, but its overall design themes were far ahead of the pack (just as the Taurus was to proove a year later). I was driving a 5 year-old german Fiesta at the time (which I liked better due to acceleration and the feel of lightness).

    The later CDW27 (Contour / Mystique / Mondeo Mk I), was Ford NAAO’s attempt to take on Camry and Accord head-on with a high-quality, high-tech (Duratec dual OHC engine).

    This car (relatively) flopped because Ford saw it as a move up-market aimed to have higher profit margins and a more affluent demographic…  The affluent demographic were non-plussed, while the traditional Tempo/Topaz buyer couldn’t afford it, and too many of the remaining customers asked “why buy this car when for a bit more (IIRC 700 bucks) I can buy the larger Taurus with a useful backseat.)

    Even though the chassis of the Contour was engineerd by Ford Germany, I can say that from personal experience (I had a company car around 1996 with the big V-6 and while it was “powerful”, it was a bit noisy, and was a nervous bitch that wandered and found every non-uniformity in the pavement, even on newly-paved interstates, it was a very tiring car to drive, and when I later bought a new 1st-year Stratus, the Dodge was in an absolute sense very, very, good, and compared to the Contour was like driving Nirvana.)

    BTW, to add to the above steering column story, the Contour had what was known as the CDW27 column … this was also designed by Ford Germany and the boys there designed it to some standard, and to be both tilt and telescopically adjustable … but when the crash-tests were run for the US this column failed to stay locked in position (this usually causes problems with energy-pulse and driver chest g’s)… so for the first year these functions were blocked out and the column was fixed position only (and the column was safe, but just not adjustable) … until word came down from Alex Trotman (Ford CEO) that this had to be rectified ASAP (the lack of these features was seen as hurting the car’s premium positioning, and sales, in the market!  A good, better said great engineer, was assigned and was able to design a mechanism which allowed the tilt function to be restored … far as I recall, the telescopic feature was never implemented in the US market (despite the fact that many of the bits for telescopic adjustment remained in the column.) 

    This column was an orphan that was never used on any other Ford platform.

    • 0 avatar

      When we brought my Grandmother’s Taurus in for service the dealership usually had Contour Sport models with the V6.  They were a hoot to drive and has supremely comfortable front seats.  They were noisy though, and since we didn’t drive them for more than a day I never noticed the nervousness you mention, but road noise was pronounced.
       
      I almost got a Contour Sport V6 with the manual as my first car, but ended up with a ZX2 instead.  I think I should have held out for the Contour.
       
      Additionally, the Contour had a much nicer interior before the 1998 facelift.  The Mystique’s interior took it up another notch.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      There was heavy de-contenting on Contour after the first couple of years … even IIRC took the date function out of the digital clock!

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    My experience with these was limited to my youngest sister’s 86 Tempo 4 door, I think the GL, in any event, she and her husband bought this thing, sans radio new that year while living in Upstate NY at the Army base (Ft Drum if I recall right) up there as their first new car and then added a cheap after market stereo if I also remember right).
     
    Then in 1989, they moved back out here to Tacoma, then to Olympia where they live to this day and I remember seeing that car, dirty and in need of a very good scrub down with rubbing compound and a good waxing, of which I did and I think I cleaned the inside out too. I can’t remember if it had a stick or not (probably did) but what I DO recall was how dated the interior was and how HARD the seats were. Stiff vinyl with cloth inserts and it all felt CHEAP to me, and this car was white with the red interior.
     
    That was back when Ford in general, even the cheap jellybean shape just didn’t do anything for me, as they ALL looked rather pedestrian and ho hum, well, the Escort’s looks was probably the best of the lot.
     
    As for it being a deadly sin or not, it seemed to me that it was less trouble prone overall than either the Escort or the Taurus but none of them felt like Ford got it quite all right although the Taurus seemed to have it more right than the other two so some degree.
     
    Either way, we lived through them, and so did Ford and Ford is still with us today so that has to say something I would think. I DO remember reading in the paper back in 2006 when Ford was staring at possible bankruptcy and realizing they dropped the ball by dumbing down their product for the US market and set out to rectify that, the current Fiesta is the first proof of that so now we just have to wait and see how it all plays out as far as sales etc go.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    In comparison to the competition at the time (the craptacular K-car, the really craptacular GM X-cars, and the more expensive Japanese), the mediocre Tempo/Topaz were good enough to get by. As someone else mentioned, it was the equivalent of the 1960 Falcon, then Ford prez Robert McNamara’s car intended to get its passengers from point A to point B with nominal fanfare or expense.

    Car and Driver summed up the Tempo brilliantly in its first road test of the car:

    “Automotive quiche for a bacon-and-eggs America”.

  • avatar
    James2

    The Probe III brings back fond memories. Back in the 80s I was doing a high school paper on aerodynamics and Ford was bringing out the Probe series of concept cars (they claimed the Probe IV was more aerodynamic than a F-15 Eagle, iirc). Anyway, so I wrote to Ford and they were nice enough to send me a whole bunch of pamphlets and brochures on their aerodynamic work.

    The Tempo does not bring back fond memories. I rented one in 1990, damn thing almost got me killed on some busy downtown Seattle intersection as it stalled just as I was accelerating upon a green light. It must be the curse of that Falcon 200-cid six; same piece of shit 1-barrel-carbureted engine “powered” (like a hamster) my 1980 Mustang… worst engine ever built.

    As for the Merkur XR4Ti, the car wasn’t failure… Ford’s lack of marketing and/or imagination failed the car. Selling it through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships WITH the funny name = FAIL. But I guess they didn’t want it butting up against the Mustang. I wonder how a 2012 Mustang SVO would look with the biplane rear spoiler.

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      I (too briefly) had an ’85 XR4TI and between the 2.3L engine and the stock 14psi of boost it was a blast to drive!  In addition to Ford’s poor marketing for XR’s, they were quite expensive!  I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one day.  I’d aim for an ’88 or ’89 though.  I was never too keen on the biplane spoiler.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    At the start of my senior year of college the ol Mustang was drinking too much oil.  My Brother In Law recommended a salesman at the local Ford Dealrship and I went to see him.  The deal took a 1/2 hour and I had a new ’86 GL Sport Tempo, 4 drs, stick shift, AC, only option was the upgraded stereo.  Put $1,000 down and believe I had 36 payments of about $190.

    Great car!  NEVER had a problem (other than the girl that lost control of her car on the interstate on a bridge over the Mississippi river directly in front of me!  Insurance company wanted to total my car, due to low Tempo values, but eventually did repair it) with vehicle for seven years.  No rattles or squeaks and it got better mileage as it got older.  Maybe the stick shift was the key but power was not a problem.  Never used a drop of oil and I don’t even think any lights or fuses ever burnt out while I had it.  I sold it for a decent price when it was time to move up, although being in the finance industry I know that was unusual for this model.

    I worked for Ford Credit after college and this car was a staple of the finance co.  Good reliable transportation,  You could use as a family car due to its size, and it didn’t cost a heck of a lot.  The problems mostly came from buying a cheaper vehicle and then not maintaining it.  Nothing survives no oil changes, no washing, never vacuming, etc.

    My thought has always been that if most cars were maintained like the average Volvo, they would last like an average Volvo.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    Ironically Paul, last night I posted an entry in my blog about the 1984 Tempo, mainly on focusing why just about all of them have been wiped from the road. I imagine it would be a good companion to this article; it gives a perspective on how problematic the early Tempos were.
     
    http://beaterbuilder.blogspot.com/2010/10/automotive-passenger-pigeon-1984-87.html

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Thanks; nice article. I didn’t remember that degree of chronic problems, but as I said, it’s pretty rare to see an ’84 -’86 Tempo. Deadly Sin it is then!

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    As posted by “DaveAclm” in Allpar.com on a humor topic proposing resurrecting the Dodge Spirit a few years ago:
    New Tempo prototype disintegrates during assembly

    DETROIT, MI — Shortly following an announcement that Ford Motor Company plans to reintroduce its popular economy sedan of the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Tempo, company engineers report that the prototype “just fell apart” during initial assembly.

    “We had assembled the first test engine and the unibody and were just beginning work on the brake system when the entire car just fell apart,” said a senior engineer for the New Tempo project, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    The prototype separated into subassemblies, which simultaneously developed critical and irreparable flaws, the engineer said.

    It comes as no surprise to industry analysts. “I would be somewhat amazed if this happened to the team working on the [Dodge] New Spirit,” said M. I. Anekspert of the automotive industry publication Wheels. “In that case, the original vehicle was fundamentally sound, with the exception of the four-speed transmission and some head-gasket designs.

    “But the Tempo was a piece of junk to start with. What in the world was Ford thinking?”

    The engineer working on the project said the problems shouldn’t be interpreted as too serious. “We’ll keep working, of course,” he said. “This has to be a strange fluke. I mean, you have to accept some setbacks in car design; no car has this kind of trouble by the time it gets to the public.

    “Well, there was my folks’ [Mercury] Topaz. Man what a turd that was — a real box, if you know what I mean. But that’s about the only example I can think of.”

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Paul,
    Why hte big run from GM in the eighties when the Celebrety series was quite a nice car.
    I think better than the Taurus.

    http://carbaze.com/car/index/3450/chevrolet-celebrity-eurosport-wagon/videos

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Trailer: My brother texted me the other day that his 1986 Chevy Celebrity finally quit running.
       
      He thought it was time to get a newer car.
       
      He replaced it with a 2001 Daewoo Leganza.
       
      It’s definitely newer…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Why has Paul not done a CC on a FWD GM A-body?  Those were almost as important to GM during the 80s as the K-car was to Chrysler.

  • avatar
    geo

    Tempos were very inconsistent, reliability-wise.  I once knew a couple who bought two of them, same year.  One was always in the shop, while the other was basically trouble-free for years, though they both had the same maintenance schedules.

    I remember a picture of a guy protesting outside of a Ford dealership, with a sign that said “I lost my job because I can’t get to work, because my new Ford Tempo is JUNK!” or something to that effect.  Many people had endless problems.  A friend of my dad’s couldn’t keep his out of the shop.

    However, I also know people who drove them endlessly without problems.  A friend had an ’87 with 420,000 kilometers with no issues: “I’ve only done minor stuff like the brakes and fluids” he said.  My mom’s friend had 320,000 kilometers, with the only problems being an oil leak, and engine mount problems.  My grandmother laoved hers, though hers was a later model.

    What was the key here?  Build quality?  These sorts of love-it-or-hate-it stories seem to be typical of Fords of that era, especially the Explorer and Taurus.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    I had a 1988 Topaz  (automatic) for a few years as a beater car. The basics of the car were very solid (engine and transmission).  For the cost of the car (whether you bought new or used –pricing was affordable) they were generally “okay” cars.
    It hit the target market of people who don’t care about impressing anyone about what they drive. The target was a good price point with decent gas mileage.  (overall not a “fun car” by any means, but Ford wasn’t trying for that with the Tempo / Topaz)

  • avatar
    sms38

    My first car was a fifteen year old duct-tape gray ’84 Tempo GL 5-speed with the Mazda 2.0 diesel. This was not a car well suited to Pennsylvania.  Need to go up a hill on a highway? You’d be lucky to get stay over 50 mph in fourth gear. Temperature drop below 20F overnight? If the block heater wasn’t plugged in, ride the school bus. (School bus was actually quieter.)
    It was cheap to buy, couldn’t go fast enough to do damage and repelled girls in droves. In other words, a parent’s dream car for their teenage son.
     

    • 0 avatar
      st1100boy

      I saw a diesel Tempo on I-64 in Illinois this week.  Tempos and Topazes aren’t that rare on the roads, but most seem to be the ’88+ reskinned versions.  This one was an early 4 door, white, with practically perfect sheetmetal.  Only a very slight bit of smoke and the tiny DIESEL badge on the front fender gave it away.  I wonder how many miles it had…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I have seen some of those here. Imported by individuals. Not nice looking, and some of them are being sold currently, I guess because they’re lacking parts.
     
    We got however the Sierra in 1985 and until 1994, with the Cologne V6 all of them. Good thing we didn’t get the Tempo.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    One of the things I remember about the Tempo/Topaz was that it had, of all things, really good interior acoustics. For a small car it seemed quieter than most, and I don’t recall ever having to shout while having a conversation in one. Also, while Ford’s sound systems weren’t really a match for GM’s during that era, they didn’t sound that bad in those cars.
     
    I also recall reading somewhere, might have been CR, that the dash controls in the ’88 Tempo were considered at the time some of the best in the industry.
    Now, concerning the Contour/Mystique, compared to the Tempo/Topaz, they were like night and day. I remember back in 1995 getting to drive my aunt’s then new Mystique LS with the V6. I was hooked! The combination of power and chassis composure was something I would never forget, and would use as a benchmark when driving other cars from then on. I was so impressed that I went on to buy not one, but two Contour V6 models, first a 97 and later a 2000. The ’97 was a mechanical nightmare that I managed to put almost 100k on in a little over three years, but the drive was so intoxicating that it caused me to trade it for the ’00.
     
    As for My aunt’s old 1995 Mystique? Well, it got passed around the family over the years, and last weekend it was officially given to me! It’s old, scratched, dirty and dented, but it still handles like a dream :)
     
    It’s too bad Ford doesn’t still offer a car in this size. (Focus was really the Escort replacement) In some ways I like to think of the Fusion as the spiritual descendant to the Tempo and Contour, so I guess all is not so bad.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My grandmother bought a used Tempo (one of the later ones) after a string of bad experiences with GM cars.  The 4cyl, four door, automatic, with motorized belts model developed a stalling issue around 100,000 mile mark.  None of her trusted mechanics could solve it.  It was traded on a very slightly used Buick Skylark sedan (one of the hawk nosed models.)
     
    My priest owned a 4×4 model that he used to service two churches that were about 20 miles apart in Northwest Ohio.  Come hell or high water, that man made it to church to say mass.

  • avatar

    I’ve only driven a pair of 1998 Ford Tempo L coupes but they where reasonably fun with a 5spd. The engine might have been more suited to a tractor but seemed to be quite robust. My silver 88 coupe for bought for $50 and ran like a champ with 388k kms on it.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    A bit of Tempo trivia is that after the ’88 or so update, the 4-door Tempo had eyebrows around the wheelwells, but the 2-door stayed with the older rounded stampings for the wheel openings.  Seems to me I’ve seen 2-doors with a mismatch of the eyebrowed front fenders and the more rounded rear fenders, but I can’t find any proof of it.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    . . . it was a rather modest affair compared to the competition (except GM’s Iron Duke) . . .
     
    It may be comparable to the Iron Duke, but I had an ’87 Grand Am coupe with one when I dated my ’94 Tempo girl and my car was much quicker.  Both had 3-speed autos.  The Duke had a little more power and torque, and my car may have been lighter too, but the big difference was the transmission.  The auto in the Tempo was the slushiest slushbox in slushville.  It didn’t have a lock-up torque converter, and the tach would show an 800 rpm drop when letting off the throttle at highway speed!  So the Grand Am got better mileage too. She preferred driving the Tempo because she didn’t have to push the brakes as hard.

  • avatar
    nshore

    Long time lurker…
    I had a an 86 Tempo, 2 door, baby blue. Was a step up from my 85 Escort, but that’s not saying much. The auto was a slushbox, I would often resort to manually moving the shifter to wring more out of it. Still, it was pretty reliable, until the electrics gave out at 100K.
    Overall, just basic, no character. Don’t think I have ever missed it. Still, it seemed much better put together than the 85 Grand Am my friend had.
    My sister had a 5 speed Topaz version. A bit more fun…

  • avatar
    skor

    1986 Ford Tempo was the first new car I bought when I graduated college.  I needed basic, reliable transportation, and I found a stripper Tempo at the local Ford store (the dealer was a complete crook, BTW).  The car was black, no AC, no power anything for that matter, not counting brakes and steering. $8,200 out the door ($15.5K adjusted for inflation).   My recollections of the car was that it was perfect….for rental fleets.  It did nothing well, but it did nothing really badly either.  Up to 70K it was dead reliable — maintenance, tires and brakes.  After 70K things started going wrong.  Broken axle, bad fuel pump, dead ignition module.  I ended up giving the car to my father.  It was totaled in an accident when it had 100K miles.  The engine was rather bullet proof, I have no doubts that it would have gone to 200K.  For the money it was actually OK.  Ford’s big sin was they they did a Model T with this car, kept it in production long past its best-by date.

  • avatar
    FordDude

    I had a ’85 Tempo GL 2-door 5-speed in Burnt Orange with a Tan interior. It was trouble free (only oil, fluids, and brakes) for 127k miles. I loved it and it was faster that my buddies ’83 GLH. I traded it in for a Ranger longbed; better to haul my dirtbike around. The 5-speed Tempo was great to drive on the freeways and recorded many long distance point to point trips at warp speed.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I have driven a lot of Foci and Topi over the years. Combined with my experience with the same era Citation, Cavalier and J2000/Sunbird, allow me to recall my contemporary impressions of the Ford products when compared to the competition back then.

    The Ford Escort was my second FWD vehicle, my first being the GM X-car, Citation. The Citation lasted one year and started falling apart daily. While it was a useful design and economical, the Citation simply fell apart around me. The first time I power washed it, I accidentially removed all the chrome from it’s grille, thinking it was some kind of dirt. It was downhill from then on. My boss was so certain that my whining about the car was whining, he let me have his Escort. I loved the Escort, and refused to give it back to him. He got rid of the Citation when it took a dump on him on I-70 and made him hours late to a vital meeting, certifying to him my year’s worth of horror with the Citation.

    So, when the Escort lease was up, I got a Focus. It was better in every way, except in handling and braking. It wasn’t as nimble as either the Escort or Citation, and since I did a daily mountain driving, the Focus was not as much fun, even with the manual transmission. (Back then, I always got manuals because cars back then were so gutless climbing mountains.)

    But the Focus was a good car, if unexciting. It was better than the X-Cars, and the J-Cars I also had the option of driving back then. All the X-Cars and J-Cars knocked horrifically whenever you accelerated up hills. The engines literally felt as though they would explode and you had bolts and nuts being ran through the piston chambers. The GM dealer servicing these cars dutifully told us that the engines were supposed to knock because they were set to save fuel! (Remember that huge GM lie?)

    The GM cars sat low to the ground a-la-Honda and a-la-GM small cars right up to 2002 when the Saturn S series was replaced. That made them feel sporty, but rather impractical may times during the day. The Ford vehicles, however, sat higher and more like a larger car.

    The Focus was indestructible, although the 4 cylinder engines were a worry to the untrained ear. I had a Six cylinder Focus, and it was that combo with the four wheel drive that made the car a better vehicle. However, by this time, there were newer products to buy than the Focus/Topaz and the cars really never lost their dull and plodding road manners, even with the larger engines and transmissions. So, we saw these newer 6 cylinder/AWD vehicles as bonuses in order to move this old iron out of Ford lots.

    Then there was the price. The Focus was a deal. They were dull, but they were a big value. In Topaz fashion, they were the cheapest Mercurys you could buy, which wrecked Mercury’s image, in my opinion. The Escorts/Tracers were better, but cost as much, GM was still peddling those craptastic JCars which weren’t worth anything, and the Japanese cars were better and you paid too much for them to boot. So while they were Plain Janes, they were still a good value when you live on the company dime.

    So I have farted in many a Focus/Topaz in my life and have driven hundreds of thousands of miles in them. My brother actually owned a Focus for 12 years and it rarely had a malfunction.

    A real vanilla car for a real VanillaDude, I’d say. I really don’t deserve better, but I usually stive for better than this.

  • avatar

    My daughter needed a cheap car. We found a ’94 Tempo with a 5-spd that had been owned by one family, then sold to their daughter’s boyfriend who decided he wanted a Firebird. She paid $900 for it with 134K miles. The brake lines needed replacement and shifter stabilizer rod also rusted out. Tempos with manuals weren’t too common so I couldn’t find it as a junkyard part and Ford had obsoleted it out of the parts catalog. Fortunately, a transmission shop was able to jury rig the stabilizer so we could get it into all gears. I think they had to work on it once more. She finally got rid of it when her mom offered her a hand me down Intrepid.
     
    I think she had less than $1,500 in it and drove it for more than 20,000 miles. Not a bad car. Maybe not a Civic, but not crap either.

  • avatar
    aamj50

    Almost 90 posts about the Ford Tempo.
    We are a weird bunch here, aren’t we?

  • avatar
    CynicCritic

    My 1985 Ford Tempo was the worst car I ever owned. Bought from the dealer slightly used (1 yr. old) with low k’s for the same price I was willing to pay for an ’83 Pontiac 6000 STE (older model year, higher k’s) that the salesman forgot to put a “hold” on when I was there earlier in the week. I showed up at the dealership on a Saturday morning with a cheque in hand. I should have left the dealership with the same cheque in hand…

    Coolant leaks. Drivetrain shudder. Fit and finish issues. One day, the car just started to ride worse than it did before, with no apparent root cause.

    I only logged about 50k on the car over 3 years before I curbsided it for $1700 and was thankful to get that much for it. 
     
    Fast foward to today… my 2007 Ford Focus wagon is shaping up to be the best car I ever owned. It was my first brand new car purchase. At 63k, fit and finish is still good, steering is tight, nothing is broken, all knobs and controls still work as advertised, and it’s still a pleasure to drive. I hope to get 160 – 200k from it, and based on past history, I think this is feasible.

    Based on my experience, I would have to put the Tempo in the “Deadly Sin” column. It took me around 20 years to look at Ford again, and that was only because my Focus was reasonably priced with “Employee Pricing” and a low fixed percentage finance rate. If the imports were offering the same incentives when I was in the market to buy, it’s likely I wouldn’t have considered Ford again.

    • 0 avatar
      FJ20ET

      Early Tempo’s were atrocious. But after 1987 they got better. Way better.

      Be thankful you didn’t get that 6000 STD er STE. The A-bodies were JUNK. The only reason you can(occasionally) see one is;

      A: were built for so damn long.
      B: They sold really well(not a compliment. The renault 9[alliance] was the best selling car in france. People can and will buy crap. Repeatedly.) and usually had elderly owners. The ones I see have abnormally low km’s.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    I had an 89 Topaz LTS as my first car in HS.  It was slow and looked like an old man car, but it had power everything and a sweet vavle cover that said “Ford Performance”.  I proceeded to put smoked headlight covers and fog lights on it, as well as a sub in the trunk.  The only good thing about the car was that it was clean.  My friends at the time had mostly Dodge Sundances and i could beat them all day at stoplight drags.  The transmission finally went on the car and I donated it, which I attribute to running at 20 mph in reverese then jamming it in drive a few too many times.  But hey, it was the easiest (and only) way to smoke the tires on it.  Overall it was a pos but I have alot of fond memories of beating the piss out of it.

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    Never thought that my H.S. Drivers Ed car would be a classic!

    It was Beige with a beige interior & the engine put out more decibels than horsepower.  Comments about the 3 – speed auto are spot on, it put the “slush” in slushbox.

    Did I mention that the school was on top of a hill?

    In all fairness, the fit & finish of the interior, while not exactly stylin’, was on par and the body felt solid (or am I confusing “solid” for “heavy”?).

    I don’t know how they compared to the Escort but when I was in Jr. High I envied my classmates who came to school in them because we had the even worse Chevrolet Chevette.

    Later, my parents had 2 Tauri (sp?).  One was the first in town.  They each had the air conditioning go out, the wagon’s went out twice if I recall.

    They unwisely replaced the wagon with a Caravan only to see its tranny grenade at 40,000 mi.

    The Mailbu that followed was indestructible by comparison, even if as uninteresting as a bar of ivory soap.

  • avatar
    zenith

    Over the years that the Tempo used to be a staple of the rental business, I rented several of them.
    They seemed to be very pleasant, bland cars. They were gutless compared to Iron Duke-equipped GM cars, but seemed to have nicer interiors. Didn’t drive any one of them in extreme heat or cold which is probably why I didn’t have fuel system troubles.

    This information about all the fuel system troubles changes my perception. My two TBI-equipped Iron Duke cars( ’85 Skylark & ’87 Pontiac 6000) never gave me a moment’s trouble with fuel systems. Ditto, the 2.5 TBI engine in my ’89 Voyager.

    According the articles linked-to, Ford had stalling/stumbling issues long after they went to fuel injection. Why were they so far behind GM and Chrysler?

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I wouldn’t call the A-body cars junk. They had there glitches early on but became quite reliable in the later 80′s and throughout the 90′s. The 82-86 cars were known for steering racks that bound up in the colder weather and the few 85-87 models that came with the 440 overdrive transaxle were known for early failure. The 82-85 Century and Cieras also could be had with one of GM’s worst gas engines in years, the 3.0 liter Buick V6. From about 1987 onwards these cars improved with better racks, generation II Tech IV’s, 2.8 liter port injected V6′s, Buick 3.3 and 3.8 SFI engines and the far better 4T60 transaxles. The Tempos were similar in this regard. The early ones had tempermental carbed engines, electrical glitches, plastic ball joints that went south with as little as 40K miles ruining your front tires in the process and were known for being under suspension and tired until some of the sport varients came about. The alter Tempos with the Taurus Vulcan 3.0 liter V6 and larger tires and touring suspension were far better but it was a shame Ford couldn’t fit the 4 speed transaxle in there(in non electronic form of course).

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    I drove a borrowed Tempo from Boston to Buffalo and back.  I still remember the drone of its engine.  But I was also surprised that everything worked, the car basically worked all around, nothing was falling off.  Kind of reinforced in my mind that Fords could last.  Haven’t bought a Ford yet though.
     
    Great site, btw.

  • avatar
    minifan

    I am definitely late to this party, but here are some memories of these beasts.
    My wife- girlfriend at the time- had an 84 topaz when we met in 86.  Hers was a GL 5 speed. clean, low mileage car, but definitely had first model year problems. The vinyl seat fabric was horridly unpleasant to sit on for any length of time, and de Sade himself probably had design control of the seats overall.  they forced an awful slouching spine alignment. Man, did they suck.    The unvented distributor cap mounted low on the front of the transverse engine caused a multitude of problems.  as did the carbureted fuel system.  they finally corrected the distributor issue with a replacement cap on recall, but the car still coughed bucked and stalled at speed in moisture situations.  we ran gallons of gas line de-icer thru that tank. replaced several sets of plug wires, too. the truly perverse cooling system had a steel pipe with some  bizarre coupling on the back side of the engine tight against the firewall.  Her car used to use coolant regularly till this pipe finally started spraying from that kluge connection to the block/manifold.  The parts guys had no idea what the piece was till we showed it to them.  It was a 1 model year item. cost a ton of money (to us) getting it replaced because of the awful access. this was surely never a part of any falcon/fairmont engine.  Then the car chewed up its cv boots and started the tinworm thing .   by 1990 we switched to a higher mileage 1984 mazda 626 for improved reliability and performance. That was my last Ford experience unless you count Mazdas for the blue oval.

  • avatar
    Buyford

    I had 6 Tempos, from 84-90 and i loved them all but i loved the full injected ones better, they were cheap to fix and run and very relieable. I was cleaning cars ( at a Ford dealership) when the Contours/Mystics came out new ,  i thought they were a piece of crap then and still do. No wonder they didnt sell very good, we call the Mystics…..Mistakes….hehe, thats just about the size of it.
    Bill

  • avatar
    RedTDI

    I had an 86 Ford Tempo LX Diesel for 400,000km. Other than the problem of getting the valves adjusted by grinding the shims down and changing the Timing belts every 100k, it was a wonderful vehicle to drive. Always got me 55mp/Impg on the highway and always over 40 in town until the day I turned it in. What I liked about it was it was loaded with every option available for the time.

    I never had any starting problems with it in cold weather right down to -37c and that was not plugged in after being parked for a week at my camp that we couldn’t drive into. It took a full minute of glow plugging to get it going but it started and ran a bit rough for 15-20 seconds. The key was 0w-20 Synthetic Diesel Artic Oil in the colder weather.

    The 98 Jetta TDI I had up until 2 years ago had almost twice the power but didn’t perform near as well as a comfortable vehicle to use.

    When the Cruse comes out with a diesel in 2013, I will likely get back to another American Diesel.

  • avatar
    laurelm

    I honestly thought this would be listed as one of the worst cars ever! I had a hand-me-down 1986 Tempo in 1990 from my older sister for whom my parents bought it new. As soon as she was out of school, she bought her own and gave this freebie back. It was that bad. The electrical system was so bad that it never had all of the lights working at the same time. They went out so often, we couldn’t keep up on replacing them. The displays frequently showed all kinds of problem such as over-heating, that were not real. Twice with my sister, and twice with me, it ran away with us on the interstate, and then mysteriously shut down. It almost killed me by accelerating to over 100 mph for several miles with my foot on the break before my parents helped me get something else. Thank goodness it happened on an interstate on a Sunday afternoon. I’m glad some of you got a reliable one, because the one I had was a piece of junk.

  • avatar
    guy922

    The Tempo is by no means impressive by 21st Century standards. However, I wouldn’t call it a deadly sin. I think that though the powertrain options were fairly bleak early on, The Tempo and Topaz marked a starting point where they seemed to be able to do small cars better than GM and Chrysler. The looks were always far more cohesive than the likes of a K-car or a Horizon/Omni or a Citation, Chevette, Cavalier, etc. Even as a kid in the late 80′s and early 90′s, I found the Tempo very intriguing at that time. Chrysler is probably my least favorite from the same time period as the 84-94 Tempo. Their offerings all had a very “Parts bin overflow” feeling. The Gm small cars were a little better, but never the less generic. Corsica? Yawn. And is it just me but I remember looking at the front seats of early production Corsicas and wondering “Why are the seats so thin and crappy looking?”

    As a kid I would have probably been happier to ride in a Tempo than in a Corsica. Or a Horizon. I think that even the Escorts looked better than what GM and Mopar were peddling back then.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “As a kid I would have probably been happier to ride in a Tempo than in a Corsica”

      I’ve owned examples of both, and let me tell you, both were of similar grade automotive slurry. Perfectly fine cars in their day, but degraded equally badly over the years.

      Thinking about it, I hated the Tempo slightly more because of their crude and disposable front suspension design. The Corsica was a bit more conventional by contemporary standards and held up better. Tempos were a front end mechanic’s gravy train.


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