(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.