Rare Rides: The 1989 Ford Tempo - Luxurious and All-wheel Drive

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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4 of 56 comments
  • David David on Apr 23, 2020

    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."

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Apr 24, 2020

    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.

  • JOHN One is for sale on an ebay car donation site.https://www.ebay.com/itm/305579991767?itmmeta=01HYHVJ49MCC6HEWQY5AX9MX85&hash=item4725fca2d7:g:k9cAAOSw5V5mThFw
  • Scott So they are losing hundreds of millions of dollars and they are promising us a “Cheaper EV”? I wonder how that will look and feel? They killed the Fiesta because they claimed that they couldn’t make a profit on them and when I bought the first one in late 2010 they couldn’t deliver the accessories I wanted for it! Then I bought a 2016 Fiesta ST and again couldn’t get the accessories for it I wanted. They claimed that the components were going to be available, eventually. So they lost on that one as well! I don’t care about what they say anymore. I’ve moved on to another brand.
  • Michael S6 CX 70 or 90 will not be on my buying list. Drove a rental base CX 90 and it was noisy and the engine noise was not pleasant. Ride was rough for a family SUV. Mazda has to understand that what is good for Miata isn't what we expect in semi luxury SUV. My wife's 2012 Buick Enclave has much better Ride and noise level albeit at worse gas millage. Had difficulty pairing my phone with Apple CarPlay
  • Michael S6 What is the metric conversion between one million barrels and the number of votes he expects to buy.
  • NJRide This could give Infiniti dealers an extra product maybe make it a sub brand