(first posted 11/2/2015) During the 1980s, Ford North America and Ford Australia both had bonafide Top 10 hits in the Tempo and Telstar, respectively. Strong sales performers, these cars – considered mid-size in Australia, but compacts in America – may have both been front-wheel-drive and dimensionally similar, but you need only look at the top-of-the-range models from each lineup to see how truly different they were.
A stretched version of the new-for-1981 Escort, the Tempo was for much of its life restricted to a naturally-aspirated, low-tech four-cylinder engine. Fairly reliable if unexciting, the Tempo was tremendously successful for Ford North America. It was one of three options for Ford Australia when it came time to replace the rear-wheel-drive Cortina.
The Cortina had been locally assembled and even featured Australian-engineered 3.3 and 4.1 six-cylinder variants, generally derided for their poor handling. Nevertheless, the Cortina had been a long-term fixture in the lineup. Its replacement – the also rear-wheel-drive Sierra – was nixed from consideration, perhaps due to its controversial styling. Ford Australia, having experienced great success with its first modern, front-wheel-drive hatchback, the Mazda-sourced Laser, decided to utilize Mazda’s expertise once again.
The Telstar, named for the satellites, was immediately embraced by the buying public and by critics alike. Crowned Car of the Year by Wheels for 1983, jointly awarded with the related Mazda 626 in a feat that would be repeated in 1992, the Telstar was praised for its modern style and balanced dynamics. Sedans were available in GL, S and luxury Ghia trims, while the hatchback – badged Telstar TX-5 – was available in either base or Ghia trims. The latter was available with push-button adjustable suspension and digital instrumentation. This was no Cortina!
Like the Tempo, there was initially only one engine offering: a naturally-aspirated, four cylinder engine. The Telstar’s 2.0 carbureted four produced 94 horsepower and 110 pound-feet of torque. Coinciding with a facelift in 1985, the Telstar range was topped with an imported TX-5 Turbo model. Although appreciably more powerful – try 22 more horses and 37 more pound-feet of torque – it was not a firecracker in the vein of, say, the Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo. Instead, it was marketed more as an executive express despite the compulsory five-speed manual transmission. As such, the equipment list included alloy wheels, two-tone paint, standard power windows, air-conditioning and AM/FM stereo. The price tag just cracked the $AUD20k mark, a hefty $4k leap over the base TX5 hatch and a whopping $7k over the cheapest sedan.
Against rivals, though, the pricing wasn’t too bad. Honda hiked up their prices for their third-generation Accord; understandable, considering the Yen/Australian dollar relationship at the time and Honda’s steadfast refusal to assemble Hondas locally. As such, the less powerful Accord cost more than the turbo Telstar and had two fewer doors. The first-generation Camry hatch was also imported and priced similarly, but was staid in both dynamics and appearance. The TX5 Turbo was priced around mid-range Fairmont and Holden Berlina territory, but was certainly targeting a different demographic (although the latter was available with a turbo six by 1987).
The first-generation Telstar remained in the Top 10 best-selling cars throughout its lifetime, although the TX5 Turbo’s contribution to that would have been marginal at best. Despite the Telstar’s consistent success during the 1980s, Ford Australia decided to drop the Telstar sedan just three years into its next generation in favor of the dire, Nissan Pintara clone Corsair. However, the imported TX5 hatchback, including an even more powerful turbo variant, remained. By the third generation, the turbo was dropped for a V6 and four-wheel-steering became the splashy, new, high-tech feature. The Yen/Dollar relationship soured even further during the 1990s, which sent TX5 prices skyrocketing up to $50k. This was more expensive than any of the regular-wheelbase Falcons, even the plush Fairmont Ghia. After 1996, the Telstar TX5 and sedan were retired in favor of the European-sourced Mondeo.
No matter which generation of Telstar you are talking about, the TX5s are always much rarer today than the sedans. This is especially true for the first-generation, of which I can’t recall the last time I saw a TX5, let alone a turbo. It was certainly a pleasant surprise seeing one after so long, and it’s a reminder that Mazda certainly helped Ford Australia throughout the 1980s. With its practical body, turbo engine and sharp visual enhancements, ’85-87 TX5 Turbo is one of the coolest Fordzas.
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William, I’m glad you said the Tempo was “fairly” reliable, as mine wasn’t by the time I got it when it was just seven years old. 🙂
I like the looks of this Telstar – it slightly improves the looks of the related 626 5-door, which I thought was already a great-looking car.
Agreed, the Telstar is considerably more attractive to these eyes than the roly-poly Tempo-Topaz twins, and if it was based on Mazda 626 mechanicals, all the better.
I’d love to know how Ford arrived at naming a car after an early communications satellite, or, for that matter, Chrysler naming their new little car (in the CC published earlier today) after an inert gas. “I know, let’s call it the Plymouth Argon! No, wait…”
I always figured that they decided on Telstar as it was in a similar spacey theme to the existing Laser. Of course that leads one to ponder how they arrived at Laser…
OMG, I feel like I’m looking at my old 87 Mazda 626LX hatchback, 5 spd, in the SAME charcoal metallic gray as the subject car.
I loved that car, although it needed valve seals(smoked on startup for 5 mins, then good thru out the day).
It was a fast car, even with the 2.0 liter. I’ve owned 5-6 of these 2nd gen 626s, and my 86 626GT turbo, was a rocket compared to my NA hatchee.
Leaving many a Mustang 5.0, Iroc Camaro and Conquest TSi, trailing behind. Lol
Sadly, I sold my 87 gray hatchback, to a supposed friend who needed a car.
He was giving me payments for the Mazda… I found it odd, I hadn’t seen him in awhile.
When I went to collect a payment, and noticed the 626 parked in the driveway with no plates.
I walked around to the front, to notice the car was smashed in a frontal collision… Totaled.
A very sad end to a very reliable car.
Here in NZ the Ford Telstar replaced the Ford Cortina from 1984 onwards from memory. I drove a 1985 2.0 litre Telstar as a government employee on cross-country runs from Christchurch down to Dunedin for example and across to the West Coast on other occasions. It was a quantum change upwards from the Mark 5 Cortina. Both were devoid of any power options whatsoever barring power assisted braking. So, there were no ‘electrics’, no power steering, no aircond, and just manual transmission. ALL the engine’s power went to the Telstar’s two front wheels and OMG could THAT car MOVE!!!
I regularly had it up to 190kph on unregulated (no cops) roads and it was there in a flash – and had plenty left to go… and it was rip-snortingly FAST through the gears.
Perhaps that particular Telstar was just a particularly good one! I suspect it was – because later the 12 valve models with a few basic power options fitted just couldn’t touch it for outright performance
I smiled at this as years ago I had a 1983 ford telstar ghia 2.0 manual, and this was 1994 , and the motor had been reconditioned in it,and yeah it was really fast aswell at the time of course, yeah I had extractors snd exhaust fitted ,and carb tuned and it actually did 200kph which was amazing for a 2.0 carb car ,
Another “alternate universe” version of a car quite familiar here. At least in pictured hatchback form I think it looks even better than the contemporary 626, and that turbo/5-speed must have made for a fairly entertaining ride for the mid 80’s. Nicely spotted!
I remember seeing the first generation Telstars in Japan. They were sold by Ford’s Autoroma dealer network along with the Laser hatchback and Spectron van. I liked how the headlights were flush to the grille like contemporary Fords of the era but I felt the front end looked rather inconsistent with the blocky, squared off Mazda Capella/626 window frames with inset windows.
These were also quite popular in Taiwan in the 80s and 90s, where they were locally assembled (along with the Laser, the 323 variant).
Yes, I used to see both the Telstar and the Laser everywhere in Taiwan; the Telstar was a common police car. But by the mid-2000’s they had pretty much disappeared and the Ford oval was seen almost exclusively on “global” models like Focus and Mondeo. In fact, the Tempo was also sold there and I still recall vividly being nearly run over by a tan Tempo in Taipei. The driver was making direct eye contact with me and accelerating flat out towards me while I was crossing Jenai Road. Fortunately it wasn’t a Telstar turbo or I might not be here to tell about it.
Mercury Tracer was also available in Taiwan. Did You see any?
Maybe the Topaz, but I thought at the time that all Escort/Tracer size Fords were the Laser variety. There were quite a few K Cars and GMC J Cars (US branded, especially Pontiac J2000) as well.
Interesting choice by Ford AU the Sierra was already in New Zealand by the time the Mazda Capella/626/Telstar emerged based purely on economics, it was cheaper to source cars from Japan than Europe, though the Telstar sold fairly well in NZ too there was even a specially tuned V6 Lostralia didnt see to celebrate Kiwi Paul Radisiches win in a Ford of the British touring car championship ironically in a Mondeo but there werent any Modeos on the market yet though after the demise of the Telstar they flooded in even the used JDM versions which developed a poor reputaion due to no parts availability they differ from the UK/NZ models.
Actually, the Telstar arrived in mid-1983 before the Sierra as Ford NZ continued assembling the Cortina wagon into 1984 (they bought all the excess CKD wagons from Ireland, hence the last few wagons had paint colours and trim that wasn’t available on the CKD kits designed for NZ).
Ok I left NZ in 84 and Sierras were already on the roads, they must have had all three on the market simultaneously, never saw any more Sierras untill the turbo race cars that ran in the Aussie touring car series Aussie didnt have them as road cars.
As I recall, the output of Mazda’s turbocharged fours of this period were pretty clearly underrated. The U.S. equivalents had 120 hp for the 2-liter (FE-T) and 145 hp for the later 2.2-liter (F2-T), but their performance was considerably stronger than the ratings suggested.
Curiously, Ford also sold the Telstar in the Japanese domestic market during this period, although it never sold nearly as well as the equivalent Capella. I assume it was some kind of reciprocal trade deal.
Such an interesting vehicle. I’ll be honest I had very little prior knowledge of this car before. Thanks for an excellent writeup!
For us eurolads Telstar was equal to very reliable and officially marketed Mazda 626. The Tempo/Topaz was a successful private import star as these were never been officialy marketed here…as well as the Protegé/M323/Laser and the Escort LX/Tracer. Unbeatable cars anyway.
Ohh…I almost forgot to mention the very early imports of Kia Capital (Korean Mazda 626)! Unfortunatelly these have died till the late ’90-s here.
I don’t know how you do it William but you find the most boring cars imaginable and somehow make an interesting story out of them.
One Ford would have been a huge benefit to the North American market in the 1980s if this had been our Tempo instead of what we got. To me, the Tempo was some mixture of weird, ugly, and awkward. The four door was particularly awful.
The Telstar seems a much more mainstream ’80s design, and the name is kind of cool, even if a bit stuck in the 1950s.
These were the closest thing Ford had to a performance car in Australia at the time (with the Laser TX3 turbo), and have held up pretty well. I remember a comment in a road test of either a TX5 turbo or an MX6 turbo where they said you could just about do an overtaking move without actively steering the car; floor it and it would torque-steer into the next lane, and then back again when you lifted off. I haven’t driven one to know how much of an exaggeration that is!
One minor point, I don’t remember the sedan being dropped, and it was definitely available in the 3rd gen model in 1991.
The sedan was indeed available for the second-generation until the Corsair was introduced. Then, it was just the TX5 remaining as Ford’s “premium” mid-size offering. What isn’t clear to me is where the Telstars were made. The first TX5 Turbo was imported, yes, but I cannot determine if all TX5s were (I know sedans were locally-built). Then, the second-generation… It seems perhaps the sedan was but only briefly? It’s all rather hazy.
Pretty sure the Telstar Turbo wasn’t offered new in New Zealand. We got the all variants of the Sierra Cosworth new though, which was more than ample compensation! But having said that, the Australian Design Rules emission requirements meant that many cars were hugely down on power versus the same model (and less-emissioned engine) sold in New Zealand. This was certainly the case in the early 1980s with the Telstar’s smaller Laser sibling, so it’s quite possible that the Turbo Telstar’s power output was actually similar to the non-turbo NZ Telstar’s, thus negating the need for the car in the NZ market.
As an aside, I hadn’t seen a Telstar (or equivalent 626/Capella) on the road in a few years, but someone had a mint-condition ’84 Ghia sedan at the Church next door to where I work last weel! #CCeffect
All the series 1 (AR / AS) model Telstars and TX5’s were built locally in Australia in Adelaide and Geelong. The Turbo versions were all imported from Japan.
All series 2 ( AT / AV) models regardless of trim were imported. The build quality on the imported models was far superior than the locally built cars. Also, the locally built series 1 cars rust significantly more than the imported models.
In Australia the sedan variant was dropped in November 89 and replaced with the Nissan Bluebird based Coursair.
The sedan was offered up until 1994 in NZ in the same body shape, sold as a Ford Orion. Very minor styling tweaks over the Telstar and TX5 models from 90-91.
Ford NZ didn’t offer the TX5 turbo variant, they did however offer the TX5 GT, which was visually identical to the Australian offered TX5 Turbo. They received the Japanese spec interiors and engines. Instead of a single cam 108kw 2.2, they were offered with a 104kw 2.0 DOHC.
I live in SA and im pretty sure i have one of the last 1987 as tx5 turbo’s. its only done 165,000kms. such a rare car but the parts are soo hard to find, after spending about 5 thousand to make the car perfect it got defected (too low) and now has to go through the pits. i am just hoping it passes as i miss it on the road.
AARON, There are some still a few AS Tirbo’s floating around. Parts can be found still, if you know where to look. Lots of New Old Stock parts are on ebay and parts can be found on Gumtree. There is a guy wrecking one on the Telstar page on Facebook.