By on April 22, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is an example of a vehicle that was fairly common in the early Nineties. However, the passage of time is never kind to low-value and oft-forgotten economy cars, so survivors like this little blue Tempo are quite a find.

The Ford Tempo and its vaguely differentiated brother, the Mercury Topaz, were all-new compact offerings for 1984. The front-drive two- and four-door sedans replaced the dated looking rear-drive Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr twins. Though Tempo and Topaz rode on the Ford Escort’s platform, they occupied the next size class up; their wheelbase was 5.5 inches greater than Escort, and overall they were seven inches longer. Both cars challenged the other new American compact on the market, the Chevrolet Cavalier. Ford was a bit slow in its development, so GM had a two-year head start with its entry.

The first-generation Tempo offerings lasted three model years, replaced by a thoroughly updated second gen in 1988. For its final year, the first-generation Tempo/Topaz added an all-wheel drive trim. Available on both two- and four-door models, it was the only year all-wheel drive was available on the two-door. Ford favored its better selling four-door Tempo and Topaz, so they received a major overhaul while the two-doors soldiered on with a facelift. The Topaz received a more formal and upright roof than Tempo, and adopted other exterior styling to match the Sable.

All models saw revised engine and transmission offerings for the second generation, and in 1992 the 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 entered the lineup. The other engine used was Ford’s 2.3-liter I4 (no Mazda engine on the second gen), which was offered in two different versions depending on model year. Available transmissions were of three-speed auto or five-speed manual varieties. Those manual transmissions were Mazda-sourced.

Customers who sprung for the luxury Tempo LX or AWD received extra interior chrome and wood trim not found on other models. Sadly for Ford, the luxury appointments weren’t enough to make the Tempo AWD a big seller in the pre-Subaru and AWD crossover world. It lasted only through 1991, which was the final model year of the 1988 bodywork. Trim rework occurred for 1992 as all models swapped black trim for body colored, plus other small changes. Tempo and Topaz remained in production through 1994, as the One Ford plan saw them replaced by the Contour and Mystique.

A minor bone to pick with Ford’s marketing here: The all-wheel drive is not full-time, but rather selected via a switch on the overhead console. It should not be engaged on dry pavement either, which firmly places it in four-wheel drive nomenclature as far as I’m concerned. In any event, today’s Rare Ride is located in Montana and is very tidy (aside from some light hail damage). With an automatic transmission and seat belts, this Tempo asks $2,950.

[Images: seller]

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56 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1989 Ford Tempo – Luxurious and All-wheel Drive...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    There used to be a very vocal group of Tempo fans on this site. Guess they got run off too.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Yes Ford originally marketed the Tempaz twins as AWD, but for 91 they came clean and started calling it a 4wd, the only change being the stickers on the fenders and trunk lid and the labeling on the switch. I had both “versions”. They were surprisingly common around here, I looked at a few before picking up the first one a little old lady car and it wasn’t too hard to find a replacement when the wife totaled that one.

    The port EFI 2.3 did come in two different versions, the standard one in FWD AT equipped cars and the “HO” version with it’s extra 1HP if you had a 5sp or AWD/4WD. The HO also was blessed with an aluminum valve cover proudly noting Ford Performance, instead of the stamped steel or plastic used on the different years of the standard version.

    All of the AWD/4WD cars had automatics as the way they made it happen was to replace the transmission pan with a transfer unit that was driven off of the bottom of the ring gear and selective thickness gaskets were used to set the backlash.

    They all came with a limited slip rear diff so with a good set of tires they were unstoppable in the snow as long as it wasn’t too deep as there was no increase in ground clearance. And yes that is genuine wood strips.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Wow, you know your Tempos, good info

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Thanks, I was working as a mechanic when these were still very plentiful on the roads. The wife also had a couple of them. You need to keep in mind that at the time you still had a lot of manual trans, axle shafts/boots didn’t last 200k, tune up intervals were much more frequent than 100k and no one used stainless exhaust systems. Additionally since they were based on the Escort, they were very familiar. At one point I could do a clutch on these in a little over 2 hrs, blind folded, with one arm tied behind my back.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Forgot to add, it wasn’t just a stretched Escort, they treated it to a full drawn and quartering and made it a bit wider. I don’t know if that was the original plan or not, or was driven by the length of the engine, As it was there was barely any clearance between the crank pulley and the frame rail. No way was that engine fitting in an Escort width engine compartment. So while the driver’s side axle shaft interchanged between the Tempo and Escort the passenger side one was longer for the Tempo.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I wonder how many of these are still floating around with the mouse belts? Ford doesn’t make replacements any more, and I’ll bet these are getting a little thin on the ground in junkyards.

    • 0 avatar
      randyinrocklin

      I’m getting worried about my 87 Supras, they don’t make the parts anymore and very few left at the junkyards. I did hear they might start making parts again Japan, but who knows after this virus debacle.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Interesting little car, I always wondered if they were any good in the snow, now I know .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Not only were they good in snow they were fun to drive in the snow, in that slow car fast kind of way. With good snow tires you could pretty much drive it flat out thanks to no center diff and a limited slip in the rear it was very predictable and controlable.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Thank you .

        I left snow country right as I began to drive .

        In California these were like Road Roaches (TM) ~ fleets of them every where plus mom,Pop and the old folks too loved them .

        Then at about age 10 they began hitting the BHPH lots and God knows that’s a death sentence to most vehicles, I don’t even see them in junkyards any more .

        Not really my cuppa tea but most I met who owned or drove them said they were good little cars .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I almost bought the last Tempo in 1994 which came in as a base 2 door with a 5 speed manual, air, and stereo for $6,499 in red, black, or white. Even in 1994 that was a really good buy for a new compact car. Wish I would have but at the time I bought a new 1994 Escort LX wagon. Maybe I should have bought the Tempos anyway especially the red one. I like the blue with the blue interiors on this Tempo–the blue interior is similar to my wife’s blue interior on her Escort and her Escort was silver with a slight blue tint on the outside which we both liked. How I miss blue and red interior in what we now have is basically all black on most new vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Tempo with the Vulcan V6 was, by the standards of the day, not slow. I got to experience the Topaz version new working at a Mercury dealership back then. They were rare though even then, though less so than the Capri (I remember 2 on the lot) and the FWD Continental (The same one was there the whole year and a half or so I worked there).

      • 0 avatar
        eng_alvarado90

        The GLS models equipped with the HSO engine and 5 spd were slow but fun. My dad had an 86, 2dr, Silver with contrasting dark gray bumpers and forged 7 spoke wheels. He purchased that car used back in 93, sold in 2000. Other than regular maintenance, it only needed a clutch and power steering pump.
        Very easy to work on

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        One of my least favorite college professors (working on the bachelor’s degree in 1995-1999) had a Tempo sedan V6 in fire engine red as his commuter car. He would drive in a way that you would hear the tires squealing before you saw him coming.

        That V6 in that tiny car would have been more enjoyable in a 0-60 run than the 307 Oldsmobile I was rocking at the time.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Interesting content. Power every, tilt wheel but no cruise control. Wonder if AWD killed cruise control as an option.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      This is weird, even my dad’s former Tempo GLS 2 dr had cruise and it was a 4cyl, 5 spd. I’m thinking the steering wheel may have got replaced at some point with one of a lesser model.
      An interesting fact is the cruise control (and if memory serves well also tilting feature) couldn’t be optioned when you opted for the driver’s side airbag. Yes, the Tempo was the first Ford to have an optional airbag back in 86, but very few were optioned as such and you can tell because the steering wheel is totally different. I have seen like 2 or 3 in person.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Weirdly my 1997 Escort wagon seemed to have power everything EXCEPT cruise. Uplevel stereo, some power seat controls, AC, power windows, auto trans but no cruise. It was a pain in the a$$ on long trips due to that fact.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Also not exactly true that the Tempo/Topaz was, “thoroughly updated in 1988. Coupe models soldiered on with the same sheet metal through the entire production run, until the coupe was eliminated.

    The coupe in particular, especially in 1987+ guise when the Tempo got flush headlamps and the 5MPH bumpers were better hidden, has aged well from a design stand point.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    My mom had an LX, same color as this in and out. I don’t remember it having the wood trim, and I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed. I actually liked the car quite a bit, it was a comfy little cruiser. The slushbox grenaded at about 80k miles, she got it fixed and sold it to a friend, couple years later it caught on fire while being driven.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Its so funny how just 30 years ago AWD was actually something nobody cared about.

    Today, this car would be selling like crazy (except for the being a sedan part).

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      30 years ago, new car buyers were better drivers, stick shifts were still fairly popular, and buyers were considerably younger.

      For many, it still seems like a huge waste for something that’s only going to actually save your life a couple times a year.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually around this time there was interest in AWD/4WD cars, at least from many mfgs. Subaru had been offering 4wd as a option for a while, Audi and AMC had some AWD offerings prior to this era. However all of a sudden many mfgs were offering some sort of system on one of more of their models. GM had an AWD version of the Pontiac 6000, Toyota went all in with All-Trac Camrys, Corollas, Tercels and even the Celica. Mitsubishi/Chrysler had a number of offerings, even Mazda had the 323 GTX. Then came the Explorer and everyone wanted a SUV body with their extra traction and the car offerings faded away for many years before their recent resurgence.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    ‘Tempo’ is one German word for speed. It would have sold well here.

    That was sarcasm.

  • avatar
    canam23

    My job gave me two of these, one an LX almost exactly like the one above but without 4WD. The other was a Tempo GT with the “High Output” motor, a whole 2 horse power more than the standard motor and a five speed stick. Both were actually not bad to drive and I loved the seats. However, their lifespan without serious repair was about 85K miles.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      The sporty Tempo was actually called GLS and depending on the year it had more horses than the basic HSC engine.
      For example the 86 GLS my dad owned made 100hp, a full 12 or 14 more horses than the contemporary GL or LX. And it was definitely enjoyable back then with the 5 spd
      Once MPFI was added to the HSC, it made no sense to keep the HSO alive (Ford could’ve updated it as well, but why bother if the engine was not widely available and the model as a whole was loosing market share?)

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    When I was in high school the local priest had a Tempo AWD in this color. It seemed like just the thing for someone who had a large rural territory to cover and 2 churches that he was assigned. On the other hand he must not have found the AWD too handy because he replaced it with a base 4 cyl Beretta in black, mouse fur grey interior, and whitewall tires.

    My grandmother inherited a Tempo like this (minus AWD) when her 2nd husband passed away. By the time she got rid of it the car was having stalling issues in hard left turns. The pointy nosed Skylark that replaced it (3.1 V6) seemed like a better car by every measure.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Mom replaced hers with a V6 GrandAm. Definitely a better car, but that mouse-gray interior was a let down compared Tempo’s Sanctuary of Blue. At least it was painted 90s Teal, so it had that going for it.

  • avatar

    My friend owned one in 90s. It ran 250K miles with no issues other than few leaks later in life which were tolerated. According to him he replaced transmission fluid only once at 100K miles. After 250K miles he gave it to his son as a first car and bought Camry. He told me that his Tempo was based on or had suspension from Taurus. Engine was Vulcan 3.0L.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    This had to be one of the last A/T cars without overdrive. I always thought, one wouldn’t fit.Yes, the engine bay was tight with the v-6. I owned a ’94 and, it was a blast.4 snow tires for winter was plenty in Michigan but the body would surf over deeper snow.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This particular Tempo in the photo spread has indeed seen some tender care, as it appears to be in a very tidy condition for a 30+ year car.

    Only gripe is that the owner should have cleaned the headlights with any of the ubiquitous headlight restore kits available.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Semenak

      Better yet, replace them both. I replaced mine after 15 years. Huge difference. Still for sale $51.08 for both including new bulbs and, free shipping. https://www.autopartswarehouse.com/sku/Ford/Tempo/Replacement/Headlight/1994/LX/6_Cyl_3-dot-0L/SET-20-1676-88.html

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Thanx ! .

        I just looked up the headlights for my 2001 Ford Ranger, it’s $60 for the pair .

        ? Has anyone used these aftermarket headlights ? . do they go opaque faster than the originals ? .

        TIA,

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Hey Nate,

          I have had good luck so far with the ‘TYC’ headlights on a few vehicles (but they haven’t been on the vehicles for a year yet).

          3M has upgraded their “39175 Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit” to include the “Quick Headlight Clear Coat” which seems to work well (on the vehicle where I recently went that route).

          The “39173 Quick Headlight Clear Coat” is available separately for 7 bucks at Amazon – you could certainly apply the clear coat to a brand new aftermarket headlight (the main reason they go opaque is due to ultraviolet exposure, and the clear coat is a UV protectant).

          The 3M clear coat is a wipe-on application vs. some other UV products which are spray-on.

          3M information page:
          https://tinyurl.com/y99pbu9w

          The new headlights will generally make a dramatic difference in the ‘face’ of your truck (eyes are the window to the soul, yada yada).

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            For your truck, I highly recommend getting new turn signal lamp assemblies too – 5 bucks per side (rockauto):
            – TYC 18566300
            – TYC 18566400

            Take the grille off, scuff it with a Scotchbrite pad, wipe it down with 90% rubbing alcohol and shoot it with your choice of Dupli-Color from the parts store.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            THANK YOU ! .

            I polished these and they’re O.K. but not clear like glass as they should be .

            Agreed, they add to the looks but I’m after safety, I’m old and no longer like driving after sunset .

            I used to enjoy driving in the wee hours of the night/morning, not so much now .

            The 3M UV coating sounds good too .

            -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Sure – you’re very welcome! Be careful with the aim of your new headlights:
          – Step 1 – mark the level of the old ones (if you like the aim of the old ones) on the garage door or on a ‘story stick’
          – Step 2 – roughly match the screw adjustment of the new ones to the old ones before you put them in
          – Step 3 – match the garage door markings or the story stick
          – Step 4 – park in the street (if it’s level) and true them up more
          – Step 5 – take your adjustment tools and go for a long drive at night in different conditions and adjust them further (including the high beams)

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Thanx .

            I’ve been doing headlamp adjustments since the 1960’s I have a few places I know where the lot is dead level and a nice flat wall painted white…

            Rock Auto has taillights, turn lights and headlamps, we’ll see, right now I’m hard up again$t thing$ .

            The taillights on this trucklet are nice, I think it spent most of it’s previous life in a garage or carport .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    David

    No pic of the 4wd switch? That’s the one thing that makes this car unique. Follow up pic please :D “The all-wheel drive is not full-time, but rather selected via a switch on the overhead console.”

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Did not know that Ford made a 4wd Tempo. Someone that worked at the same company as myself had a Tempo handed down from his parents. He was not mechanically inclined, but still tried to do repairs. Usually his father had to step in so he could drive to work. Eventually they were doing something to the electrical system that involved removing the battery. Apparently the battery did not get installed correctly as later there was a major short in the wiring which melted most of the harness. After some dithering the partly burnt Tempo was sold to a junk yard.

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