By on November 20, 2017

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, door badging - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, AWD switch - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, instrument cluster - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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?

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, engine- ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.

1989 Ford Tempo AWD in Colorado Wrecking Yard, dealership badge - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.


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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Ford Tempo All Wheel Drive...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I never knew there was an AWD variant of the tempo. I know the later versions got the Vulcan v6. That, a 5 speed, and AWD would have been interesting. The SHO v6 would have been a legend.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    I dunno.
    These always looked a little dumpy/frumpy to me.
    The two-door was better – but still not good.

    I have to laugh at the Ford “Performance” stamp.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      They were dumpy cars, and their owners were unlikely to care about them. But they sure sold a ton of them. When I started out in the working world as a mechanic, each Tempaz was a gold mine of front end repairs. They had a real sloppy true MacPherson strut setup that always needed ball joints and tie rods.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My grandmother had a 4 cyl automatic Tempo from near the end of production (baby blue with a blue interior). It was the only fuel injected car she had that managed to have a stalling issue (and her mechanic couldn’t figure out how to fix it.)

  • avatar
    deanst

    A friend had the front wheel drive version of this car – the thing was so underpowered she would downshift just to get up some moderate hills.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    I just remember the big deal about the Tempo around here was that it seemed to be the first car where Ford pushed the “free air or automatic”. At the time it seemed like a big deal. Of course all the cars on the lot had air AND automatic.

    As for the AWD besides the the Tempo and the Subaru Loyale, I don’t know if anyone else was offering it in a car in this category.

    • 0 avatar

      Civic Wagovan 4×4
      Nissan Prairie 4×4
      Mitsubishi Colt 4×4
      Corolla 4×4
      Tercel 4×4

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Murilee mentioned the Camry All-Trac. The Pontiac 6000 offered AWD. I can’t think of any other small/mid sedans of that year that offered it off-hand though.

    • 0 avatar
      TDIGuy

      Note I said “in this category”. So by category I mean what I believe at the time were called “compact sedans”. So that knocks out everything in that list since they are either bigger or were tall wagons, or not available in Canada.

      • 0 avatar

        Compacts with 4×4. They’re competitors and they’re all compacts.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          None of those were compact sedans, they were wagons, tall wagons or microvans and the Tercel and Civic were subcompacts.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I’d agree Camry All-Trac, the Pontiac, Subaru’s Legacy misses it by a year (’90 for US). I guess you could include some flavor of Audi but at that point you’re in a wholly different price bracket, the same could be said for the Pontiac however.

            Tempo AWD MSRP: $10,860
            Legacy L Sedan AWD: $13,700
            Pontiac 6000 STE AWD: $22,600 (ouch)
            Audi 90 Quattro (5spd): $28840

            Adjusted for inflation, that Audi was $46k!! That’s just insane. Of course that also means that AWD Tempo was being advertised for about $22k in today’s money. Just consider how that Tempo compares to an AWD sedan today like a new Legacy or AWD Fusion for similar money.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The sticker in the back window brings to mind those who unfortunately pay good money to the phone scammers who impersonate police officers and request donations for “C.O.P.S” (“California Organization of Police and Sheriffs”) and similar ripoffs. They pull at your heartstrings with statistics about the number of officers killed in the line of duty and their poor widows and children, as if life insurance and death benefits were nonexistent.
    Those who fall for the scams (they are still ongoing) put the stickers in their windows, thinking that they will somehow get out of a speeding ticket that way.

    • 0 avatar

      @RHD – It looks kind of like the logo for one of those “fraternal order” organizations. Used to see these close to the “Welcome to (your city/town name here)” signs which had mini signs of the various organizations active in the community like the Lions, Odd Fellows, Masons, etc.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve seen a few of these but never with the ALL WHEEL DRIVE decals across the side like this example.

    Colorado special decal to help move it off the lot quicker?

    Hey Son I’ll give you a good price on that AMC Eagle you’re trading in! Look at this little All Wheel Drive beauty right here!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Another exception to the no Tempo rule should be the 3.0 Vulcan coupe with the 5 speed and handling package.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Another car(including the Topaz) that was everywhere, especially in blue collar Pittsburgh and then Poof! They were all gone. I remember seeing a few AWD variations in my youth, but they were probably all destroyed by being left in AWD all the time (and the mediocre build quality).

    Our family had two Tempos, an ’86 with a stick( traded on a 90 Lumina coupe) and an 88 we inherited from my grandmother after she passed in ’97 with only about 30k on it. My sister ran that 88 from school in Ohio and home for 4 years and one more year after graduating. She traded on an 02 RSX. The Tempo had developed a serious blow-by issue in its last year. I think it was just over 90k at that point, maybe 100k, but not much more than that.

    I didn’t hate the car, but I didn’t drive it all the time either. The 3 spd and the four were terrible, but the 2.3 could torque itself along. Very buzzy (and busy) at highway speeds or full throttle. It was typical domestic car at the time. “I’m fine for Point A to B, don’t ask for fun though.” It wasn’t terribly efficient either.

    The steering was weird, very wooden but fairly direct. If you can recall seeing a Tempo under WOT acceleration, the front wheels did their best impersonation of the wheels on the “Back to the Future” Delorean, as in they’d have a severe camber change towards the outside. The 88 was Red with Red interior, crank windows but power locks(?). I liked the push-button HVAC controls and the odd fan knob and wiper control on the other side. I KNOW the ours did not have a tach (but the 86 with a stick did)

    I don’t think the V6 and AWD were even offered at remotely the same time . IIRC, the AWD died in 91 and the V6 didn’t show until the final 92 or 93 refresh of the Tempo.

    To think that the Contour/Mystique were a vast improvements! Such is context and hindsight…

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I had a ’94 Tempaz (can’t remember which one because it had a Tempo grille and Topaz tail lamps) 2 door with the 3.0L v6 and MTX. It was a fast car if you could keep traction and it pointed in a straight line. The front suspension was completely inadequate for that level of torque, but a skilled driver could beat a Civic SiR in a drag race.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        I remember Car and Driver had that with one of their cars too, it was a Ford with a Mercury airbag. I can only imagine how many times that happened on the assembly lines…

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          I know a guy who was an engineering supervisor at Oakville Assembly when they built the Tempaz there. He told me a story about a vehicle that was ordered by a foreman that they didn’t like. It went down the line as a 2 door on one side and 4 door on the other.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            Oh man, I really want to believe that story, but somehow I think heads would have rolled if they actually did it.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            If Mikey is out there…is that actually possible?

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            Re The Oakville Assembly 2dr/4dr ….I’m not saying its impossible many folks would need to be in on the prank. “Auto welding’ has been around 35 years. The engineers/trades people would need to manually put the body through the welders.

            I’m thinking Middle/ Senior management is not going to see the humour, at all.

            I can see maybe running “Pilot Vehicles” and the guys having a little fun ? Attempting such a stunt on a running product line , would be a major Career limiting Move.

  • avatar

    I’ll have the Tracer 5-door instead, for the same sorta money (?).

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    For the final year Ford did stop calling them AWD and called them 4wd, even though all the components were unchanged.

    They were virtually unstoppable in the snow because they had one thing no other car that drove both axles had at the time a standard limited slip rear differential. With 3 wheels always receiving power you and the low power output of the times you couldn’t turn a wheel even in very slippery conditions, it just went.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    My folks had one, the same red Plastic Fantastic interior. Very uncomfortable as I recall.

  • avatar
    srh

    My mom bought an AWD Tempo in 1988, from a dealer in the Mat-Su valley (a short jaunt from Anchorage). She gave it to me while I was in college. The AWD system didn’t last (despite being used only in winter conditions). I took it to a shop in Ann Arbor in ’95 because it was making a horrible clunk. They offered to fix it for $2000. As a college student that wasn’t going to fly so instead I paid them $200 to just take out the driveline that went to the back wheels. Fixed the clunk and converted my rare AWD tempo into an even more rare FWD variant of the AWD Tempo.

    I sold it to a friend for $1000 when I graduated. He drove it for another year or two, never changing the oil, until the car died an unceremonious death and got hauled to a junkyard in Ypsilanti.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Bummer – I was hoping to see at least one picture taken from a rear wheelwell (since the wheels are off) showing the rear suspension and differential hardware.

    Some friends of mine had an early Tempo way back when, and the one thing I can remember about it was their complaint about a small, cheap, plastic part in the automatic transaxle whose failure necessitated an expensive repair.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Someone’s grandma or grandpa died.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Had the Topaz version (2WD) of this vehicle. It had a leaky head gasket straight from the factory.
    It was fixed under warranty. I pulled a light tent trailer with it-it had the manual transmission.

    It was an OK car-sold it to my wife’s sister with like 60,000 miles on it.

    She drove it for a couple of years and got rid of it.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    It seems Ford Tempo Fanatic did not follow you to TTAC. I enjoyed his enthusiasm for these forgotten (and forgettable) cars.

  • avatar

    My friend had ’94 FWD which he drove with no problems to 240K miles and then passed it to his son for final destruction. He told me he replaced transmission fluid only once. I think it had V6 Vulcan and he told me that it had suspension derived from Taurus which did not had issues like original one. It also had weird self buckling seat belts. It was okay car for commuting and considering that did not require repairs pretty goo value (he bought it used). I can guess that it was on Escort platform. It is European size car like something between midsize and compact, e.g. like Corolla/Carina both on the same platform but Carina having longer wheelbase.

  • avatar

    Successor to this car would be Mondeo. Mondeo was superior in every aspect but did not sell as well as Tempo. I always wonder why American prefer to buy inferior products, probably has to be price. Altima is probably the true successor to Tempo.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      Inside Looking out-

      The back seats (legroom) in the Mondeo replacement were pathetic compared to the Tempo. The driving dynamics of the Contour/Mystique couldn’t be beat.

      I had one Mystique with the 4 cylinder-and two Contours with the V6.

      Yes-I was a fan.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Tempo Diesel manual would be the holy grail of Tempo’s.

  • avatar

    By the orientation of the digits on the odo my guess it’s a 118K car which seems more likely anyway due to it’s age.

  • avatar
    AK2AR427

    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.

  • avatar
    Steve L

    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.

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