As the head administrator of the online Ford Tempo / Mercury Topaz car club (www.tempotopaz.com, now offline), I had strived to create a website that had the most complete documentation regarding these two cars. With all I had learned, I knew exactly what can be considered “Peak Tempo/Peak Topaz”. The 1992 Tempo GLS, Topaz XR5 or Topaz LTS. I just had to have one.
When the Tempo & Topaz were introduced in 1984, there wasn’t much available as far as sporty options. The closest thing to sporty was the optional suspension, which included the funky metric TRX rims and Michelin TRX tires (Wiki Link). In 1985, Ford introduced a new Sport package for the Tempo GL and Topaz GS, both 2- and 4-doors. The package included a higher output H.O. 2.3L engine, shorter final drive, stiffer suspension, 14” 7-spoke alloy rims, blacked out trim, and sportier interior appointments. In 1988, the Tempo/Topaz received a mid-cycle facelift and the sport package became it’s own trim level. The Tempo GLS was available as both a 2- and 4-door. The Topaz had a different trim name depending on the body style. The 2-door was called the XR5 and the 4-door was called the LTS.
1992 brought another minor refresh to Ford’s compact cars, and a big change to the GLS/XR5/LTS trims. Taking a play from the muscle car playbook, Ford wedged in a bigger engine from a larger car. The H.O. 4-cylinder was dropped, replaced with the 3.0L Vulcan V6 from the Ford Taurus. In the Tempo/Topaz, it made 130 HP (an increase of 30 HP over the H.O. 2.3L). A higher capacity 5-speed manual from the Taurus SHO was standard, with an optional 3-speed automatic. The suspension was stiffened even more and the 15” rims from the previous generation Escort GT were used. The exterior was augmented with a new front bumper featuring integrated fog lights, deeper side sills, and deeper rear bumper with a dual outlet exhaust tip. The 4-door Tempo GLS also featured a unique blacked out D-pillar. The sports interior was carried over, with the addition of a 120 MPH speedometer. Unfortunately, this last shot of adrenaline into the aging Tempo/Topaz didn’t light the sales charts on fire. In 1993, the GLS/XR5/LTS were cancelled making these a low production one year wonder.
I periodically searched Autotrader.com to find if any were for sale and where they were located. I didn’t care which variation, as long as it had a manual transmission. Many times I came up empty. Occasionally I would find one in the midwest or on the east coast, but I was only willing to trek about 1000 miles to get one.
[This is her sitting on the dealer’s lot, missing the GLS rear bumper.]
Then one day, there it was. 12 miles away at a used car lot here in San Diego. I could barely contain my excitement. I was hooked from the test drive and even though it wasn’t perfect, I had to have it. Just like a lot of cars from that era, the clear coat was flaking off on the trunk, roof and fenders. The rear bumper wasn’t the GLS rear bumper, but the one from the lesser trims. The reverse lights didn’t work. Some of the interior trim was loose or missing. I used that to negotiate a little bit off the asking price. After money exchanged hands, I now owned a car I had been searching 2 years for.
After driving the Topaz off and on for 8 years, the Tempo was (obviously) very familiar to me. That was, except for the power. The extra horsepower and torque from the V6 engine transformed the character of the car. Rowing the gears through the 5-speed manual transmission made the car a lot more fun to drive compared to the automatic in the Topaz. I surprised many cars pulling away from stoplights or when downshifting to pass on the freeway. The exhaust system had a much deeper growl than I was used to. I loved hearing the V6 growl, it almost sounded as good as the throaty GM V6 exhaust. I knew it wasn’t as powerful as newer V6-powered sedans, but I didn’t care. It compared very well to contemporary V6 powered compacts of the day. Fun torquey V6 and 5-speed manual trans in an unassuming package, I looked at it like a mini-SHO.
[Local Dyno Day. First Tempo the shop had ever dyno’d. 100HP to the wheels!]
I started to address the flaws in the car. The reverse lights ended up being a very easy fix. After removing the air filter housing, my suspicions were confirmed with a plug just resting on the transmission. When the clutch was replaced previously, the reverse switch on top of the trans wasn’t connected. Imagine my surprise when after only a few months, I managed to locate in a local junkyard a wrecked GLS in Bimini Blue with the correct rear bumper.
[Now with the correct GLS bumper on it. Blacked out D-pillar also visible here.]
I also started making a few modifications to the car. My goal with this car was to upgrade with factory looking modifications. I replaced the AM/FM Cassette with a factory Ford AM/FM CD player. I replaced the rubber shift boot with a leather shift knob and boot from a Taurus SHO. I swapped the 15” GLS rims for the 15” Cougar rims off of my Topaz. The GLS 4-door never came with a factory rear spoiler. On eBay I located the spoiler from a GLS 2-door and installed it on the trunk. Even though the car looked stock, it was still uniquely my own and just enough different for me to be satisfied with it.
[The 3.0L Vulcan V-6. Also visible is the prototype strut tower bar from a forum member.]
The next summer, the Tempo stranded me. I was on my first big road trip with the Tempo, heading to Albuquerque for a friend’s wedding. After a stop in Flagstaff, AZ for gas, the alternator light came on. I trip to the local AutoZone confirmed that the alternator was toast. You would think that since the 3.0L Vulcan was a popular engine in the Taurus, parts would be readily available. Not in this case. In order to get the Vulcan V6 into the tight Tempo engine compartment, the entire front accessory drive had to be redesigned. None of the parts stores in Flagstaff had this unique part available. It would be 3 days to get one in Flagstaff. My partner James was able to locate one in San Diego. When he arrived, we quickly went to work replacing it in the hotel parking lot. Pulling the alternator out of the box, it was clear that it was not a new part. It had greasy fingerprints all over it. Installing it confirmed, it also wasn’t working. James had been sold a core return! So the next day, we rented a tow dolly and towed the Tempo all the way back to San Diego. The manager of the store sure did get an earful the next day.
Several months later, I noticed a small puddle of coolant underneath the car. I traced the leak and found the water pump was leaking. The water pump was located on the back of the engine, next to the firewall. Replacing the water pump required removing the entire intake manifold and rear head to get to it. Man was that a pain in the ass. While the intake was off, I replaced all the spark plugs and the head gaskets as well. I wasn’t about to pull the intake off again in the near future. Other than that, I never had any other issues with the car in 4 years of ownership.
Next came time to deal with the peeling clear coat. Just as I had done with my Topaz (COAL), I did all the bodywork on my own. Lots of sanding to smooth out the clear coat. I also filled in some of the smaller nicks, scratches and a few small dents. After performing all the prep work, I took some time off work and drove back to Albuquerque for a visit with my parents. My dad and I did it again. We sprayed on several coats of Bimini Blue metallic, followed by 3 coats of clear. Once I came back to San Diego, more elbow grease polishing out the orange peel from the top clear coat for a mirror like shine.
[Looking sharp with the 16″ Mustang Pony rims on it.]
Once the repaint was complete, I turned my attention to the suspension. I replaced all 4 struts, which really tightened up the handling. Just like with my Topaz, finding custom wheels in that odd 4x108mm bolt pattern was a pain in the ass. However, a lot of Ford cars did have that bolt pattern. I decided on a set of 16×7” Mustang Pony rims from the early 90’s Fox body Mustang. It wasn’t a perfect fit however. Since these rims were from a RWD car with a different offset, they stuck out just enough that at full compression (say, when going over a speedbump) would cause the outside edge of the tires to rub the lip of the fender. A little rolling of the fender lip cured this problem. Also, a full steering lock the inside of the tire would rub on the inner fender liner. I adjusted my driving style to counter that, no more full lock turns.
[l-r: my 1993 Topaz GS — my 1992 Tempo GLS — roommate’s 1992 Topaz LTS]
After being at my job for a little more than 5 years, and a few promotions I was starting to make some decent money. While I enjoyed my two cars and loved all the work that I put into them, I was getting the urge to indulge in an automotive desires that I had since I was a young boy. Living in southern California, it was the perfect place to own a convertible. After a lengthy search, and selling off a couple of other cars, I found my convertible. The Tempo was relegated to occasional driving duty. It wasn’t too long until I listed it for sale. A young college kid purchased it. I’m not sure he knew what he bought (probably only a dozen or so folks would have), he was just looking for reliable transportation with a manual trans. I hope it served him well.