Junkyard Find: 1989 Ford Tempo All Wheel Drive

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Ford Tempos (and their Mercury Topaz siblings) were sold in such vast numbers during their 1984-1994 run that I encounter plenty of examples during my junkyard explorations. Normally, I wouldn’t bother photographing a discarded Tempo/Topaz, for the same reason I won’t photograph a Chrysler Cirrus or Kia Sephia, but there are two exceptions to my No Tempos rule: the diesel-engined cars and the all-wheel-drive cars.

Here’s an extremely rare example of the latter type, spotted in a Denver area self-service yard last week.

I have yet to find a diesel Tempo/Topaz in a wrecking yard, but this is my second junkyard AWD Tempo, after this ’87 sedan I photographed a couple of years ago. Other than the Taurus MT-5, the Tempo AWD is my rarest of all 1980s Ford Junkyard Finds.

The all-wheel-drive system in these cars wasn’t a true AWD rig (as the term is used today by marketers and tedious terminology hair-splitters in online automotive debates), since there was no center differential. If you ran your Tempo or Topaz in all-wheel-drive mode for long distances on dry pavement, you’d wear out the tires at the very least and maybe break something expensive.

This one is in very nice condition. Is it possible that it has a mere 18,050 miles on the clock, or is it just a well-cared-for 118,050-mile car?

You couldn’t get the AWD Tempo with a manual transmission, but these cars did come with a higher-output version of the HSC four-cylinder engine, which was, essentially, two-thirds of a 200-cubic-inch straight-six. In 1989, the HSO version of this engine made 100 horsepower.

One thing about living in Denver is that I’m likely to find junkyard examples of most low-production-figure four-wheel-drive vehicles here, from the Camry All-Trac to the Stanza 4WD Wagon to today’s Tempo.

A more sophisticated way to express your driving ambition.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • AK2AR427 AK2AR427 on Nov 21, 2017

    I bought a mint condition sky blue 1990 Tempo in Anchorage for $500 about 10 years ago. Only flaw was seized up door locks so I kept valuables in the trunk. It was a comfortable car and unstoppable in the snow. The "HSO" 2.3 didn't make a lot of power and the 3-speed auto didn't help, but the gas mileage was excellent. It was fun to toss into an icy corner; use the handbrake to rotate the car and engage AWD mid-slide to power out. I miss the car and would pay twice as much to have it back.

  • Steve L Steve L on Jan 06, 2018

    I owned an '89 AWD Tempo for a couple of years. Overall, I liked the Topaz/Tempo cars and owned four of them. The All Wheel Drive car was the only one that I din't like. It was prone to wearing out the universal joints on the rear axles. That was the problem; universal joints instead of CV joints. I eventually removed the rear axles and ran it as a front wheel drive car. I didn't think that it ran in snow any better than the front wheel drive Tempos, either. All of my other Topaz/Tempos were good cars. The four cylinder engines were very reliable and they ran thru snow nicely. I traded my AWD Tempo for a plain jane '89 Taurus, which I loved.